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The Karma of Materialism
GA 176

3. Rhythm in Breathing and Cognition

14 August 1917, Berlin

I spoke last time about the fact that, had evolution run its intended course, earthly man would not have strayed from his appointed place in the cosmic order. This is well known and is imaginatively expressed in various religions in such symbols as that of original sin and the like. Viewed in the light of spiritual science this aspect of mankind's evolution is directly connected with the fact that man's essential nature—that is, earthly man's essential nature—manifests itself through breathing. I indicated last time that the rhythm of the breath, and with it knowledge, cognition, was predestined to be man's most significant experience during his earth-existence. Last time I summarized briefly things spoken about on earlier occasions, namely that the rhythm of breathing is in wonderful harmony with the cosmos. I mentioned how, in a normal human life, the number of days equals the number of breaths drawn in one day. And I pointed to other numerical relationships which give evidence of the harmonious agreement that exists between our microcosmic breathing process and the great cosmic processes within which we are placed.

It can be shown, not only through the findings of spiritual science, but also through external observation, that the rhythm of breathing, more than anything else, shows man to be a microcosm, a little world. Man's breathing copies the processes of the Great World, the macrocosm. However, in regard to man, far too little attention is paid to slight differences, to individual characteristics. The fact is that there are no two people whose breathing is exactly the same, because each individual sounds, as it were, a different chord within the cosmos. However, in man's present earth-existence everything connected with the rhythm of the breath remains unconscious. Only under abnormal conditions or through some illness does the process of breathing become conscious. Our normal consciousness functions at a level above the process of breathing and is, as a consequence, not so closely bound up with the cosmos. If cognition had been based on the rhythm of breathing instead of processes in the brain our whole relation to, and knowledge of, the world would be different. It is because our cognition is dependent on the brain that we were forced out of what should have been our normal relationship with the macrocosm.

This secret of the breath is indicated in religious records, such as the Old Testament, when it says that the Divine Spiritual Being, concerned with the guidance of mankind, breathed into man the breath of life and he became a living soul. In the sense of ancient atavistic clairvoyance this is an absolutely true rendering of the facts. As far as his intellect is concerned man has a different relationship to the cosmos before and after the Mystery of Golgotha. This is because the brain and not the breath became the bodily foundation for knowledge.—In order to deepen our understanding we have considered the Mystery of Golgotha from many aspects; today we shall approach it from yet another.

It is true to say that before man was exposed to the influence of Lucifer, his knowledge, indeed his whole relation to the world, was intended to be different. Knowledge was to have been based on the rhythm of the breath. But before the Mystery of Golgotha, due to the Luciferic influence, the process of cognition developed higher up in man's organism and became related to the head and sense organs instead of to the chest and breathing. This is looking at it purely from the point of view of the body but in this connection the body itself has a deeper significance. The difference in man before and after the Mystery of Golgotha is not likely to be perceived or acknowledged by natural science. For although the difference is considerable it can be ascertained only by subtler means Before the Mystery of Golgotha, as Anthroposophy explains, man had as a matter of course a relationship with spiritual beings in the cosmos, with the beings of the higher Hierarchies. But what was the relationship? Among the beings of the Hierarchies we distinguish to begin with, immediately bordering on the human realm, the Angeloi, the Archangeloi and so on. Therefore the nearest beings to whom we look up, when we turn to the spiritual world are the Angeloi. As human beings we have a relationship to the Angeloi and they in turn feel their relationship to man. It is not a matter of indifference to the Angeloi what kind of relationship they have to man. When we turn our attention to this relationship we can begin to understand the difference in human beings before and after the Mystery of Golgotha.

The remarkable fact is that before the Mystery of Golgotha an intimate relation existed between the activity and being of the Angeloi and the human intellect. One could say that before the Mystery of Golgotha the Angeloi dwelt mainly in man's intellect. Man knew nothing of this but as a consequence he had, though in decreasing strength, atavistic, imaginative clairvoyance. When I said that before the Mystery of Golgotha the Angeloi dwelt in man's intellect, this holds good for his life between birth and death. It was different in man's life between death and new birth. Then the Angeloi, and especially the Angels belonging to individual human beings, dwelt in the memory man had of his sense impressions. They dwelt in pictures of what had surrounded man in the world of the senses on earth. The result was that in his life between death and new birth—before the Mystery of Golgotha—man had a vivid knowledge of what took place on earth. In a sense one could say that the Angeloi carried up to man knowledge of what was happening on earth.

This gives an idea of man's relation to the Angeloi before the Mystery of Golgotha. Afterwards this relationship gradually changed. So what relationship does man have now to the beings of the Hierarchy of the Angeloi? Now it is the case that, although we are not conscious of it, the Angeloi dwell in our sense perceptions between birth and death. When we open our eyes and look around at everything that surrounds us affecting our senses we are not aware that our Angel dwells in the sun rays which penetrate our eyes making objects visible. The beings of the Angeloi live in waves of sound, in the rays of light and color and in other sense perceptions. The reason man does not know he is surrounded by the Angeloi is because he transforms his perceptions into mental pictures and into these the Angeloi do not enter. It has often been emphasized in our lectures that the spiritual world must be visualized all around us and not in some far away cloud-cuckoo-land. The spiritual world is literally everywhere about us and it is possible to explain quite concretely in what sense it surrounds us as in this case in regard to the Angeloi. Yet no consciousness of the Angeloi enters our intellect between birth and death. By contrast man is at present very conscious of his relation with the Angeloi between death and new birth because then the Angeloi dwell in his intellect.

What I have just explained has significant consequences for human life. Let us go back for a moment to man as he was before the Mystery of Golgotha. Then the Angeloi, particularly his own Angel dwelt in his intellect; this made his senses in particular accessible to luciferic powers. In ancient times man's consciousness in general was accessible to luciferic influences. This has changed since the Mystery of Golgotha. As I have just explained the beings of the Hierarchy of the Angeloi who weave and move—borne on rays of light and color and on wings of sound—do not penetrate our intellect. As a consequence our intellect is exposed to the attacks of ahrimanic powers during our life between birth and death. Whereas before the Mystery of Golgotha man was exposed essentially to the attacks of Lucifer; since the Mystery of Golgotha the intellect is particularly exposed to the influence of ahrimanic powers. Their main objective is to stifle man's consciousness of his connection with the spiritual world. All the tendencies to materialism that man develops in his life of thought stem from this direct relationship between his intellect and the attacks of Ahriman. And if the materialistic tendencies, which are fully described in these lectures, have the upper hand in our time, we must not forget that they originate in the confusion which Ahriman strives to promote in the human intellect.

What is the real significance of these things? As already mentioned the process of breathing is subconscious, but that to which I have just referred; i.e. man's connection with the Angeloi, is not conscious either. That however lies above our consciousness. What happens in our breathing lies below our consciousness; what happens within us through the interaction with the spiritual world nearest to us lies above our consciousness. Within this process above our consciousness is actively working the force that entered the world through the Mystery of Golgotha, whereas earlier it was the force of Jehovah that worked in man. If we deepen our insight into the spirit—I say expressly into the spirit—of a writing such as the Book of Job, and realize how graphically it depicts the sway of the Jehovah force in human evolution, it gives us a picture of how the force worked which gave man life through the breath. As described there it worked in the forces of heredity down to the third and fourth generations.

In order to discover the corresponding force at work after the Mystery of Golgotha we must turn to the Christ. Just as the force of Jehovah is related to man's process of breathing so is the force of Christ, indeed the whole Mystery of Golgotha, related to that process I have just described as lying above man's consciousness. One could say that man's breathing has been deprived of consciousness through the luciferic influence. In compensation man is given the possibility to attain that higher consciousness of which I spoke; this will mean for man to unite with the Angeloi through the senses and the intellect. To compensate as it were for that which was taken from him; i.e., cognition through the rhythm of the breath, man is to be given, through the impulse flowing from the Mystery of Golgotha, cognition through a higher consciousness. There were people of deeply religious natures in the Orient who strove, before the Mystery of Golgotha, to bring consciousness into their breathing. To imitate this procedure today is harmful. The aim of the breathing exercises, described in Oriental writings, was to irradiate the process of breathing with consciousness. But in regard to certain higher knowledge man's earthly consciousness is doomed to be powerless. These ancient practices are being imitated today because it is not realized that through Lucifer man has been deprived of the possibility to irradiate his breathing with knowledge.

He is instead, since the Mystery of Golgotha, to attain a connection with the spiritual world through the development of a higher consciousness. If we were able to cognize; i.e. attain knowledge through our breath, then with every inhalation we would be conscious, not of inhaling air, but of taking in the force of Jahve; and with every exhalation we would know we exhaled Jahve. In a similar way man is now to become conscious that the beings of the Hierarchy of the Angeloi approach him and retreat from him rhythmically; that the spiritual world flows towards him and again ebbs away as it were. But man will attain this higher consciousness only if the impulse of the Mystery of Golgotha influences him more and more.

Fundamental issues can sometimes only be characterized by the use of strange words. In order to describe truth one must not shrink from using appropriate terms. Through Lucifer's influence the process of breathing became dulled as I have just described. True, it is meant pictorially, but if rightly understood one will feel the objective reality in the picture. Jahve's original intention was for man to be conscious of Him in every breath drawn into the body and conscious of His withdrawal with every exhalation. But Lucifer became Jahve's opponent and the consciousness, inherent in the force of Jahve, was shut off from man's consciousness. And now comes the point where one perforce must use strange, severe words in order to give a true description: Jahve had to forget human beings, insofar as their life on earth is concerned, because He could not enter their consciousness. It really did happen that the Being from whom the Jahve-force issued and other spiritual beings within the spiritual world forgot man, just as we may forget something. They forgot man, lost him from their consciousness. The consciousness was rekindled through the Mystery of Golgotha. If from primordial times, up to the Mystery of Golgotha, the tragic words were spoken: And the Gods forgot mankind; then since the Mystery of Golgotha we must say: And it is once more the Gods' will, by and by, to remember mankind. For the sake of human beings the Gods gradually will penetrate with their forces just that from which man otherwise would grasp none of the spirit: the wisdom connected with the human brain, the life of ideation connected with the human nervous system. Heaven wishes to behold the earth, to behold from above what is below. The necessary window was opened when the Being of Christ, through the baptism in the Jordan, entered the personality of Jesus. The words: “This is my beloved Son, this day have I begotten him” denotes the fact that what is above will once more behold what is below, that the forces from above can now stream in and out of that which is below, not however through man's breathing but through his thoughts and ideation. The time, since the Mystery of Golgotha, has been essentially a time of preparation. We are now at the turning point when something else must come, than was previously in the working of the Mystery of Golgotha. That we should become aware of this is of immense importance.

Everything that has taken place so far has been in the nature of preparation. Up till now only exceptional individuals have been able—through spiritual knowledge—to draw near the Mystery of Golgotha. The time has come when a greater part of mankind, through spiritual science, must come to understand the Mystery of Golgotha. Why is this so essential?

Many secrets are connected with an understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha. People often ask: How can I find a relationship to Christ? Certainly it is a question that is justified. But anyone with insight will know that it is a question that cannot be answered just like that. Let me make a comparison: we see objects by means of our eyes, but the eyes we do not see. For the eyes to be able to see they must be unable to see themselves. They see mirror images but not themselves. That which does the seeing cannot itself be seen. Since the Mystery of Golgotha man must see the spiritual world through the impulse coming from Christ just as he sees external colors through his eyes. We do not see the eyes through which the colors, etc. are seen, nor do we see the Christ impulse through which we see the spiritual world. This is why the Mystery of Golgotha is veiled in mystery and the history of the event is also veiled. Since the Mystery of Golgotha the historical event associated with it cannot be discovered by historic means. To seek for Christ historically like any other event in history would be like trying to induce the eye to see itself. It is inherent in the Mystery of Golgotha that Christ Jesus cannot be found like Plato, Socrates or any other historical personality, through historical documents. It lies in its very nature that accounts of it are not historical, they were given by human beings who were inspired. Accounts of the Mystery of Golgotha can always be proved not to be historical records in the usual sense. We would become spiritually ill in the course of human evolution in the moment it became possible to include the Mystery of Golgotha among other historical events. Nor in that case would we be able to see it rightly; if we saw it historically it would be like an injured eye seeing itself. A healthy eye sees objects but not itself. If a chip has become embedded in the eye it will see a dark space before it and begin to perceive itself; but that is abnormal perception. Similarly an abnormal perception of the Mystery of Golgotha would come about if it did not have an aspect which externally is imperceptible and therefore enables man to perceive spiritually. This is a secret connected with the Mystery of Golgotha. The remarkable thing is that this strange situation did not exist for man before the Mystery of Golgotha. In ancient times before Christ had descended to the earth man knew, through his atavistic clairvoyance, that Christ was there above in the spiritual world and that He would come. Hence there is remarkable prophetic evidence which shows there were human beings who were conscious, through direct personal experience, of the Christ who was to come. It is a paradox that man could know of Christ as long as He had not yet come to the earth. From the moment He had come man could no longer know of Him in the same way. Just as one experiences the eye when one perceives, so the Christ-event had to be experienced in the time after the Mystery of Golgotha, and not known historically.

It is interesting to see how these things, which I am now explaining in the light of spiritual science, are dealt with in the Gospels. But we must leave that to some other occasion.

Thus it was inevitable that from early on, in the development of Christianity, faith was emphasized rather than knowledge. Christians were not to expect knowledge concerning the Mystery of Golgotha but experience it inwardly through faith. Yet the Mystery of Golgotha is meant to illumine our world of concepts, for ideas born of faith are also concepts, are also our mental pictures. Furthermore, that is the realm in which the impulse from the Mystery of Golgotha meets all the attacks of Ahriman. Our intellect is the arena where the impulse of Christ fights the impulse of Ahriman. Man's evolution, his purely external evolution on earth, will take its course and Ahriman will not be as fettered as he is now. The “Thousand Years” will elapse and man will need a different force, he must have something over and above mere faith with which to establish the Christ impulse in his earthly consciousness. What is this different force?

This different force is spiritual knowledge through which man spiritually should make his own what we call the impulse of Christ. It will enable him to find within himself the strong force with which to protect the Christ impulse in his consciousness against the attacks of Ahriman. The Christ impulse is established in the world and Ahriman cannot abolish it. That is beyond his strength. Ahriman cannot alter the fact that Christ came into the world through the body of Jesus of Nazareth. But what he can do is so to transform the concept, the mental picture of Christ in the human intellect that man experiences a pretense, instead of the Christ impulse. This means he creates a false picture of Christ. Man is exposed to the danger that while he may talk about Christ his intellectual picture of Christ is inspired by Ahriman. Those who are able to review modern cultural developments in their true forms seldom find any accurate picture of Christ in men's mind; more often than not they are distorted by Ahriman. By no means is it always the real Christ whom the adherents of Christianity call Christ. Ahriman clouds and confuses the human intellect in many ways in order to attain his goal, not least in those places where men are apt to seek religious counsel. There one can encounter peculiar views. Suppose one asks a Catholic theologian about his real opinion concerning the Virgin Mary. Certainly most would only give the reply he had been instructed to give, but let us leave that aside. There are some who have developed theological cognition beyond the level of mere instruction. In such cases one invariably finds a strange similarity between the cosmic picture of the heavenly church and the earthly woman Mary. This view comes about because for the Catholic theologian the Virgin Mary is identical with the symbolic woman in the Apocalypse who has the moon beneath her feet, the sun at her breast and the seven stars above her head. Thus, in order to visualize the meaning of the spiritual concept it is transposed into an earthly reality. Certain passages in Catholic writings demonstrate that Catholic theologians still look upon the Virgin Mary as identical with the woman in the sun with the moon at her feet and the stars above her head. Here the spiritual, the cosmic-spiritual is seen completely in terms of the earthly; and in fact the cosmic aspect is disappearing more and more through Ahrimanic influence. Nowhere does it disappear more thoroughly than from man's conception of Christ. There is very little inclination today to acknowledge Christ as the Great Cosmic Spirit who descended from cosmic heights to dwell in the human body of Jesus of Nazareth. Many people have an aversion to admit it; they believe it truly Christian to bring as little as possible of a cosmic aspect into the concept of Christ. This attitude would have been quite impossible for a theologian in the 14th century. This fact may not be demonstrated by history because external history is itself distorted.

Ahriman's whole interest lies in diverting man away from the spiritual, towards the material. What is material is indeed also spiritual but its spirit lies hidden within the earth. Ahriman does need much cunning and the use of many a trick in order to prevent man from seeing any cosmic aspect in the personality of the Christ. Nevertheless one finds descriptions of Christ which are strikingly ahrimanic; they are bereft of everything supersensible and are deliberately made to appear purely human. Particularly in social-democratic literature is this very common; not to mention painters who have done everything possible to eliminate every suggestion of a cosmic quality from their figure of Christ. Some years ago there was an exhibition here in Berlin of paintings of Christ, a whole series of ahrimanic paintings one after the other. And then there are all the self-appointed preachers who officially or unofficially speak in a sectarian manner about the Christ with no awareness that Ahriman has them by the collar and induces them to present his version of the Christ impulse and not one in which the true impulse of Christ is effective.

The true and therefore effective Christ impulse can in our time be presented by no other means than spiritual science. For spiritual science is concerned with spiritual perception which is attained outside the body and therefore where the possibility exists of beholding again the Christ in His true form. As long as one is within the body the eye can indeed behold colors but it cannot behold itself. When one betakes oneself out of the body in spiritual perception one beholds the impulse of Christ through the Christ impulse itself; just as when one sees oneself from the outside one sees the eye. What man can find in spiritual science he cannot find in any historical account to be a description of Christ in His spiritual form. Just as spiritual science can describe a faculty of sight which is on a level higher than that of the eye, so it can describe the Christ impulse through which the spiritual world becomes visible. It is therefore possible to attain insight into the Christ impulse, but insight does not prevent attacks from Ahriman. They must be met with courage. The reason people do not want to know about the concept of Christ attained through spiritual science is because of a subconscious fear that as soon as the Christ impulse is understood it will arouse Ahriman's opposition. How can this ahrimanic opposition be recognized at the present time?

In the future it will take other forms. Today it comes to expression in the fact that we have a natural science and accounts of history both of which are ahrimanic and they consequently present cultural development and historical events their way. The very nature of concepts developed on this basis excludes the Christ impulse. In these concepts Ahriman must inevitably work because he works in man. With concepts such as these it is indeed possible to evolve a philosophy of life which includes a general concept of God but they can never lead to an understanding of Christ. Christ may be spoken of but is not understood. That is the case even in a philosopher like Lotze.12Rudolf Lotze 1817–1881 German Physician and Philosopher And Harnack,13Adolf von Harnack 1851–1930 Professor of Theology having no ideas of his own on the subject, mentions the name of Christ only because it appears in religious documents in the Bible and so on. Other theologians fail to speak of the real Christ for similar reasons. Thus Harnack's Christ has no other attributes than those applicable to a universal Godhead; or he may go to the other extreme and simply describe the man Jesus.

To understand Christ through spiritual science it is necessary to grasp the spiritual-scientific concept of Christ in the full awareness that all external knowledge—whether in the form of natural science or history—far from leading to an understanding of the Christ impulse actually opposes it. This opposition is there in anti-Christians today who, in contrast to mere belief, attempt to apply natural-scientific or historical concepts to the Christ event. It is essential to understand that there has to be an inner opposition because here two worlds are in conflict. We must enter courageously into the conflict between Christ and Ahriman. A comprehensive view of life will accept that the conflict exists and expresses itself for example in the fight between Christ and Ahriman.

I have often said that Lucifer acts in partnership with Ahriman. They work together. They both have great interest in deluding man concerning the necessity of this inner conflict. They therefore go all out to eliminate the realm that opposes them. To this end they conjure up in man's mind ideas such as: “In tune, in harmony with the infinite.” Why do such mental pictures arise in man? They do because he is inwardly too much of a coward to face the conflict and much prefers Lucifer-Ahriman to invent “harmony with the infinite” for him. However it is an attitude that is the equivalent of going through life blindfolded, seeking only appeasement. Modern man shrinks from the many-sided battle to attain spiritual insight; this attitude is bound to call up opposing forces just as they appear when something right, which ought to be furthered is left neglected. It is because man, during recent centuries, has endeavoured to avoid the inner battle between powers which must of necessity oppose one another, that this battle assumes such a terrible form in the external world today. This consequence is as inevitable as the expulsion from Paradise was a consequence of the luciferic temptation. We see man today, in all spheres of life, being satisfied with creating a mere semblance of inner peace for himself. It is an inner peace which has a meaning only between birth and death. In so doing he prevents one side of the inner conflict to come to expression, of course that to which he prevents expression is always the Christ impulse. Thus the natural conflict has to find an outlet some other way. Now, when you find in various publications descriptions of the so-called contradictions supposed to exist in my writings you will now be able to view these with deeper insight and recognize the ahrimanic impulse in them.

Instead of overcoming the forces he necessarily must overcome, by facing them, man tries to avoid the conflict. This has all kinds of adverse effects. If one tries to avoid the conflict it will make its appearance in a different form. Nothing pleasant is prepared by those who strive to do away with the conflict. Working with spiritual science one continuously meets people who, out of their deepest needs, ask: Why is there evil, why is there pain in the world? These questions are often asked in an attempt to grasp how it can be that a good God allows evil to exist. In an attempt to answer such questions one may draw attention to the fact that no one will deny that all the good in the world, all that is excellent and full of wisdom is a manifestation of the Godhead. Thus if it is felt that God's goodness must be vindicated then we already stand on the premise that wisdom is to be ascribed to a good God. But why does a good, wise God allow evil to exist? To this the following may be said: Begin by visualizing a minute pain, let us say you cut yourself and feel a slight pain. Every pain arises when something is exposed to any kind of destruction. It is just that it is not always so obvious how the pain first came about. Let us now imagine that it is not a question of a cut by a knife but that a particularly sensitive spot on the body is exposed to very hot sun rays. This may not at once result in actual blisters but the beginning is there. Therefore a change in the tissue has occurred which is felt as a slight pain. If now the heat of the sun acted more strongly on an even more sensitive spot a greater injury would result. And now imagine that two particularly sensitive places in our head were, aeons ago, exposed to the rays of the sun. Man at that time had not the faculty of sight but the two places in his head became painful whenever the sun rose. At these places the tissue was injured and pain arose in consequence. This process went on for long ages and the healing resulted in the formation of the eyes; they came into being as a result of injury. True as it is that the eyes convey to us the beauty of the world of color so is it also true that they could only come into being through injury caused by the heat of the sun to places particularly sensitive to light.

Nothing in the way of joy, happiness, blessedness has come about except through pain. To refuse pain and opposition is to refuse beauty, greatness and goodness. Here one enters a domain where one can no longer think as one pleases; here one is subject to what in the Mysteries was called “iron necessity.” True as it is that great harmony exists in the world, true as it is that the present harmony had of necessity to arise through pain, it is equally true that the Christ impulse cannot be attained through painless, sensuous feelings of well-being such as those conveyed by the idea of being “in tune with the infinite.” The Christ impulse can only be reached by courageously facing the conflict that plays itself out in our intellect—or in our consciousness in general—between the Christ impulse and the ahrimanic impulse. It is a conflict we cannot lightheartedly distance ourselves from by saying “without harmony we remain unfulfilled; in order to attain the Christ impulse we must rise above the conflict in our understanding.” This can be seen quite concretely in the most diverse instances. For example someone may strive to understand the world through natural science; as a consequence he fails to find the Christ impulse. He may later learn to understand the world through spiritual science and as a consequence he now does find the Christ impulse. In such a case it is essential to recognize that one is faced with a contradiction, but in the very contradiction there is also agreement. Contrary to the belief of many it is not a question of adhering solely to one or the other science, nor can one be substituted for the other. Rather could they be compared with the right and left ear; both are necessary for proper hearing for the very reason that the hearing in one ear does not coincide with that of the other ear. What matters is not whether two things can be made to agree but in what sense there is harmony between them.