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The Human Soul in Relation to World Evolution
GA 212

9. The Contrasting World-Conceptions of East and West

17 June 1922, Dornach

Today I would like to speak about an aspect of Anthroposophy which closely concerns the being of man.

It is obvious that our contact with the world between waking and sleeping is, to begin with, through our senses. We perceive different aspects of the world around us through our various senses. By means of a certain inner soul activity we build up a picture of the world on the basis of our impressions. With this I merely want to indicate how anyone may observe the course and content of his waking state. However, our existence within the world embraces not only the waking state but also that of sleep. While we sleep we are, with our soul being and our `I', outside of our body in a realm which is unknown to ordinary consciousness.

What I have just said is applicable to present-day man in the way his soul life has developed since the 15th Century. I have often indicated the extraordinary importance of this particular period in mankind's evolution.

The question arises: What is our relationship, in our sleeping state, to that realm which is closed at least to our ordinary consciousness? There are difficulties in describing this relationship, especially at this point in mankind's evolution, unless we bear in mind that man has evolved and has gone through a great many different stages. At present, in our so-called civilized age we find, when we consider man's soul life, that he must exert himself considerably when forming concepts and mental pictures. We are often thoughtless when we regard earlier periods of human life which did not have such systems of education as we now find necessary. We are superficial in the way we look at that culture which arose, in ancient times, over in the East, although the human beings were not undergoing education from childhood as is the case nowadays.

In present-day Europe it is practically impossible to imagine how differently education was regarded in the ancient Orient. Yet things were created of an exalted nature, uplifting to heart and mind. One need only think of the Oriental writings such as the Vedas and all that is contained in the wisdom of the Orient. Today everything originating in mental activity is evaluated on the basis of the circumstances of a person's upbringing and education and on what, as a result, he further accomplishes in life. The necessity to be educated and well informed is, in the first place, because each individual today must be able to form his own thoughts about life. Without this ability he would be lost in the modern world. Man has actually not yet come very far in the art of formulating thoughts. It is essential, particularly in the system of education, that progress is made in furthering the art of formulating concepts about the external world.

The necessity for this began already in ancient Greece. In Greece, though strongly influenced by the Orient, arose the first cultural life within Europe. A system of education developed which included a rudimentary cultivation of mental activity. In the Orient no appeal was made to mental effort and this still influenced Greek cultural life; in general, no exertion was made to form one's own mental pictures of external objects. Socrates1Socrates, 469-399 B.C. Athenian philosopher. is rightly admired within Western culture as one of the first to induce people to form their own concepts.

However, it would be quite wrong to conclude that man was obliged to produce his thoughts by his own effort within the cultural life of the West, while there was no life of thought in the Orient. Indeed, a powerful thought life existed and the further we go back in Oriental culture the stronger and the more powerful it was. We find already before the existence of the Vedas and the Vedanta philosophy a powerful thought life. As I have often pointed out, the Vedas, the Vedanta philosophy, do not represent the very first stages—which were not written down—of Oriental spiritual life. It had all fallen into decadence two or three millennia ago. People of the Orient today live in the afterglow of a once quite remarkable thought life, but a thought life utterly different from ours. We must exert ourselves—indeed, we have to sweat inwardly—forgive the crude expression, which is meant only figuratively—in order to produce our thoughts, whereas Oriental thought life was inspired. Thoughts and thought combinations arose in the ancient Oriental of their own accord. His picture of the world was inspired in him; he felt that what he thought was bestowed upon him. Inner exertion in combining thoughts was unknown to him. Between waking and sleeping he felt that thoughts were granted him. This colored his whole soul life; he felt grateful to the Gods that they bestowed thoughts upon him. The Oriental felt that when, as a human being, thoughts lived within him, it was because divine spiritual power streamed into him. It was a completely different attitude to thought life from ours.

In ancient times in the Orient the life of thoughts and feelings were not so separate as they now are for ordinary consciousness. Because man felt his thoughts bestowed upon him he also felt uplifted by them and a religious feeling united itself with every thought. He felt he must approach, with religious devotion, the powers that bestowed the readymade thoughts and thought combinations upon him.

If one seeks the external objective reason why Oriental man experienced the world in this way, one finds that it is because his sleep life was different from that of modern man. During sleep our soul and our `I' abandon the body mainly in the region of the head; the organs of metabolism and limbs are not separated from man to the same degree. These parts are still penetrated by man's `I' and soul being during sleep. I have often spoken of this but should like to place it before you once more schematically. Let this be man when awake (see drawing, left). The `I' and soul being, which I have drawn in red, penetrate the physical and etheric bodies. It would be wrong if I drew sleeping man in such a way that I had the physical and etheric bodies lying on the bed and simply drew the `I' and astral body (or soul) alongside. I must draw it so that—when the physical organs and limbs are here (drawing, right, white lines)—I draw the `I' and soul being outside man only in relation to the head. For, strictly speaking, it is only in regard to this region that man in sleep is separated from his physical and etheric bodies (red).

When we go back to those ancient times of which we spoke, the situation was different. During man's sleep the organs of his head—mainly the system of nerves and that part of the breathing system that penetrates the head—were the scene of activity for those divine spiritual beings who were concerned with the earth.

It is simply describing the reality to say that in the very earliest days of mankind's evolution on earth, divine spiritual beings withdrew from man when he woke up. When he slept they took up their abode in the human head, which was then bereft of man's `I' and soul being. During his sleep, divine spiritual beings carried out their activity in the head. When man woke in the morning—i.e., when he again sank into his head—he found the result of this activity. The divine spiritual beings regulated his nerve processes and worked right into the blood circulation. Through the ether body they exerted their influence even in the organic processes in the physical body. In general, the human beings were not clearly aware of this. Only those schooled in the Mysteries realized it; the great masses of humanity experienced it but without full awareness. Thus, when he woke man found the result of the Gods' activity in his head. And when he perceived the configuration of his thoughts, during waking life, it was because during sleep Gods had been active in his head. Thus, ancient Oriental man found every morning a heritage left by the Gods during his sleep, with the consequence that he felt his thoughts to be inspired within him. He felt the Gods' deeds as inspiration. In other words, the divine spiritual beings did not inspire man directly during his waking life; they did it during his sleep by pursuing their own activity in his head.

In those ancient times man's social behavior was induced by inspiration. Divine spiritual beings could completely regulate earthly affairs. Through their activity during man's sleep they brought about a mutual trust among human beings and also the obedience felt by the great masses towards their leaders, and so on. There was interaction throughout between the divine spiritual world and the earthly world in the ancient Orient. It was possible because man's whole organization was different.

I have often mentioned the fact that people nowadays imagine that throughout history man has always been as he is now. They assume that the physical nature of his body was the same and so, too, his soul being and the spirituality of his `I'. When a modern historian writes about ancient Egypt and deciphers its documents, then he thinks that though the people were not as clever as he is, they nevertheless thought, felt and acted more or less as he does. The view is that if one goes back far enough then man appears as a kind of higher ape, a state from which he then progresses to—well, to whatever the historian imagines. Nevertheless, it is assumed that from the time historical records began, man has been the same as he is now. This is assumed both in regard to his thinking, feeling and willing, and in regard to his etheric-physical organization.

However, that is not the case; man has altered quite considerably, also during historical times. Just consider the instance I mentioned earlier of how the physical sight of the ancient Greeks differed from ours. They did not see the color blue as we see it; they saw in fact only the reddish color shades. Modern man is mistaken when he thinks that the Greeks, because they were surrounded by beauty, particularly appreciated the beautiful blue of the sky. The Greek did not really differentiate between blue and green; he saw plainly the warm reddish-yellow colors. The sky to him therefore looked quite different from the way it is seen with normal consciousness today. The eyes have changed in the course of mankind's evolution, though in inner subtle ways. In fact, the whole sense system has become different in the course of historical times; and in the Orient, in those ancient times we are considering, the senses were so organized that man could not be deluded by them, nor did they prevent his devoting himself to the result of the divine deeds that remained in his organism when he woke from sleep.

Gradually, man's senses changed and caused him to become so intensely connected with the external world that the moment he woke his attention was drawn away from that which as a heritage was left in his organism. Because man was now differently organized the Gods no longer carried out their activity in his head during sleep. This activity no longer furthered mankind's evolution; had it continued it would not have benefited man. On the contrary, as man has now, through his senses, become so strongly absorbed in the external world he would no longer be able to pay attention to what the Gods bequeathed to him during the night. Their activity would no longer be felt as inspiration, and as a consequence of not being taken into man's consciousness it would flow back into the body, causing the organism to become old prematurely.

Man could live united with the world of the Gods because in ancient times, unlike today, his senses were not particularly orientated towards the external world. In his waking state he could absorb what he had experienced in sleep. This was a real living with the Gods, for though he could not behold them with his senses, man, in ancient times, was at least adapted to experience their deeds.

Later, in the millennium before the Mystery of Golgotha, man's senses, particularly the eyes, began to develop—also in the Orient—the sensitivity to external impressions which they have now. The system of senses gradually developed to what it later became. At first man retained, in addition, in his system of nerves, what still enabled him to experience the divine spiritual deeds. His experience of them had formerly been in their purity—i.e., not mingled with sense perceptions. But now they were taken up by the senses. This had the strange result that for a large part of mankind the Gods, the spiritual beings, were drawn, as it were, into the physical organization. In consequence, what had formerly been a pure spiritual experience of divine spiritual beings, became a belief in ghosts.

The belief in ghosts is not so very ancient; what is ancient is the pure spiritual beholding of divine spiritual beings. Belief in ghosts arose first through the mingling of sense perception with beholding the divine. When the culture of the Oriental Mysteries penetrated into Europe, for example, into the magnificent spiritual life of Greece, into Greek art and philosophy, there followed in its wake, also, the seeing of ghosts by the general masses of people.

Thus, in the last millennium before the Mystery of Golgotha, the former pure spiritual perception which the Oriental people possessed, had fallen into decline. It had become, particularly by large sections of the masses, a kind of perception of ghosts. This belief in ghosts wandered over into Europe; in the Orient it had been pure spiritual perception but had now become transformed into something physical. Thus, it can be said that the belief in ghosts is the last offshoot, the end product of a lofty, albeit dreamlike, spiritual seeing, which had once signified a cultural flowering in mankind's evolution.

I have described how in ancient times Oriental people felt that during sleep the head was the earthly scene of activity for divine spiritual beings. This was something of which people in general were dimly aware; those who had undergone initiation in the Mysteries were fully conscious of the fact. What I have described has a counterpart in the cultural life that has since developed.

The cultural life of more recent times is still in its early stages. The further West we go the stronger it comes to expression. To the ancient Oriental it would have made no sense had he been told that thoughts do not pulsate through the will. He knew from experience that what lived in his will, and even in his blood, was something bestowed upon him by the Gods. They formed his thoughts and during sleep they developed a powerful force in him which he experienced as inspiration.

Even today, when we look towards the East, we find, for example in the philosophy of Soloviev,2Wladimir Soloviev, 1853-1900. Russian philosopher. the last remnants of how things were experienced in the past. And, clearly, Soloviev would have found it incomprehensible if told that thought is not a force that impels and carries the will. However, it is the opinion today, especially in America, that thought is not the ruling factor in man. Physiology and biology as developed in America are clear demonstrations of this view. When one goes into the finer details one finds that science in America is, in this respect, something quite different from that of Europe, let alone the Orient. Modern man in the Western world is all too aware that he produces his thoughts himself. Thoughts, however, must relate to something, so it is maintained that far more important for man than the thoughts he absorbs, is the kind of family into which he is born, the way he is brought up, the political environment in which he grows up, the religious denomination he might join. All these things act on his emotions and determine his will. Thus, the will is supposed not to be directly influenced by thoughts, but is determined by such environmental factors as family, politics, country and so on. Thus, in America, in fact, Western man in general, is of the opinion that thought is not the ruler in man; at most its position is that of prime minister. The ruler is the human organism with its instincts and will impulses. Quoting Carlyle2Thomas Carlyle, 1795-1881. English philosopher and historian. it is said that thought may be a devoted minister, but its function is only that of an executive. And it must be emphasized that today's broad mass of humanity thinks likewise, shown by its eagerness to confirm that ancient traditions should be superseded. This is why there is today such an interest in the study of primitive man. It is thought that he lived through instincts and desires of which his thoughts were only a kind of mirror image.

Thus, today Western man looks into his inner being and asks why it is that he is driven by instincts and cravings. To him they appear devoid of spirit because he is not yet organized to perceive the spiritual in them. Yet every instinct or craving, whether good or bad, is spiritual. It may be a very evil instinct that comes to expression in one or another person, but even the most brutal urge is spiritual. The human race is always in the process of development; it must advance to such spirituality that when man looks into himself and perceives his instincts, urges and cravings he sees everywhere in them the spiritual. This will come about in the future.

It makes no difference in this respect whether a person has good or bad instincts; if they are bad it is because either Luciferic or Ahrimanic spirits hold sway in him. But they are spirits.

The assumption that the driving force in man is his instincts is, as far as being aware of the spiritual reality is concerned, similar to the earlier assumption in regard to ghosts. In ancient times spirituality was perceptible to man in the Orient. As it evolved further it became, as I have described, in the first millennium before the Mystery of Golgotha, a belief in ghosts, a perception of ghosts (see drawing, blue).

From where we are at present within world evolution we look back to a time when a belief in ghosts emerged from a former spirituality; at the same time, we look towards the future and foresee a time when once again pure spiritual perception will emerge. But at present we also have a belief in ghosts, in inner ghosts. Those who believe in outer ghosts fail to see the spiritual reality in them and regard them as something that can be seen with physical eyes. Western man today, when he looks into himself, also fails to see the spiritual reality. The way he regards instincts, urges and cravings makes them into ghosts which today precede a future spirituality (red), while the ghosts of old followed an earlier spirituality (blue).

One could also say that from East to West an ancient pure spirituality developed which was followed, in the course of time, by a belief in ghosts, of which remnants are still with us. From West to East, approaching us, a later spirituality is developing which will become reality in a far distant future. The way modern man visualizes urges, instincts and cravings, in which the beginning of the new spirituality reveals itself, makes them as ghost-like as the former ghosts. This outlook makes the educated person regard with disdain the common belief in ghosts. At the same time, he attributes to man ghost-like instincts, urges and cravings. What he does not realize is that the belief in ghosts held by the masses, has as much scientific validity as his belief in desires, urges and instincts. His belief is in ghosts announcing a new beginning just as the masses have a belief in ghosts that marks an ending. Our European civilization has become so chaotic because it is the scene of collision between the old and the new ghosts.

In a West-East aphorism I have briefly characterized how, on the one hand, modern man has been for some time influenced by the ancient heritage of Oriental spirituality which has become a belief in ghosts, and how, on the other hand, he is influenced by the beginning of a spirituality that is now germinating which, through a materialistic interpretation, has turned man's instincts, urges and desires into ghosts. Those which are usually called ghosts are spirits which appear materialized through man's organization. The modern ghosts, pointing to the future, consisting of man's urges, instincts, desires and passions, have not yet become dematerialized; they have not yet become spiritual.

Man's inner soul life, particularly in Europe, takes its course within this peculiar chaotic condition created by the interaction of old and new ghosts. It is essential that man attain spiritual insight in order to arrive at a clear understanding of both. Not only man's view of the world is dependent upon such insight; but also, human life on earth as a whole is dependent upon it. That this must be so follows from the fact that it is not only man's spiritual or cultural life that is derived from his particular nature; but also, his life of rights or political life and his economic life.

But what is the origin of this particular development? I said that the earthly concern of the Gods, of the divine spiritual beings, was within the human head. We differentiate threefold man into the nerve-sense man, whose abode is mainly in the head, the rhythmic man, who lives in the middle, and the metabolic-limb man consisting of the limbs and their continuation inward in the organs of metabolism (see drawing). We differentiate this threefold man and we know that during the sleeping state of humanity in ancient times the Gods, when carrying out their earthly task, made the human head their scene of action. What is the situation at present?

The Gods also carry out their activity in present-day humanity during sleep, but no longer in the head; now it takes place in the metabolic-limb organism. The significance, the all-important point about this is, that for man, the metabolic-limb system remains unconscious also during his waking state. You will remember how I have often spoken about the fact that man is awake in his conceptual life, but completely unaware of what happens deep down in the organism to cause a muscle to carry out a movement. When present-day man has a mental picture of lifting his arm or moving his hand he has, in his ordinary consciousness, no awareness of how his mental life affects his organism. This remains unconscious even during the waking state. In other words, the scene of action of the Gods on earth nowadays is such that—unlike the situation in ancient times—man's natural evolution prevents him, to begin with, from taking possession of the divine heritage when he wakes.

Divine spiritual processes take place in man, today, between falling asleep and waking, but his present nature prevents him from having any impression while awake of the Gods' activity during sleep. In ancient times, man was so constituted that his very organization enabled him to feel his thoughts to be inspired. Present-day man produces his own thoughts, and divine spiritual deeds do not yet enter into this activity; mankind must first reach the appropriate stage of development. This is precisely the task—I would say cosmic task—which Spiritual Science must set itself. And a system of education must be part of such a plan, to enable human beings to recognize, out of their own effort and in full consciousness, the divine spiritual deeds within them. When this stage is reached man will also cease to see his urges and instincts as inner ghosts. The way they are imagined at present they are as much ghosts as the external ones. The external ghosts are not mere delusions; they are divine spiritual forces which appear materialized by being incorrectly seen through man's senses. The divine spiritual forces active in man today are seen incorrectly when they are visualized as urges and instincts.

The external ghosts are scorned today, but what is looked upon as a science deals with nothing but inner ghosts. Man must participate to bring about the transformation intended for him within cosmic evolution. Impulses in this direction ought to permeate every aspect of our culture. This would provide the possibility for man to overcome the forces of decline in their chaotic interaction with forces of ascent against which man still fights, and then strive towards the future stages in mankind's evolution by being inspired and motivated from the spirit. On this everything depends.

What I have tried to convey to you today can be seen as a kind of contemplation of the East in relation to the West, though from an esoteric point of view. Contemplation of East and West is at present altogether timely—I do not use the expression in a trivial sense. It is only through such considerations that mankind can arrive at the relevant level of consciousness.

Thus, in earlier times of earth evolution during sleep (the human being is “man” also during sleep when he does not have his physical body about him) man was in such a relationship to the Gods that he could behold, with eyes of soul and spirit, how they took up their abode in his head. In his waking state all that remained of this experience was a kind of afterglow in his life of feelings. Man became ever more distant from the divine spiritual world which he nevertheless perceived as in a dream when he looked back after having plunged into the body. That was the earlier situation; later, he only felt after waking that he was inspired.

Since then the Gods have drawn deeper down, as it were, into his physical body and man has now entered into such a connection with the Gods that they make his metabolic-limb system the scene of their activity within his earthly nature. However, as man does not completely forsake his earthly nature during sleep, he will, as a consequence, be able to experience again—coming from the divine world—impulses of will and also impulses for his life as a social being—i.e., for his relationship to other human beings—not, however, during sleep—he must experience these spiritual impulses as a complete human being while awake. It can only be attained through increasing conscious knowledge of the spiritual world. To attain this must become man's strongest aim.

This was what I wanted to convey to you as a contribution to an East-West contemplation.