Earthly Knowledge and Heavenly Wisdom
II. The Human Being in Waking and Sleeping I
3 February 1923, Dornach
Today I would like to begin by telling you about an episode in nineteenth century philosophy to give you an idea of the great changes that have taken place in the soul life of Western humanity. As I have often emphasized, people nowadays are convinced that human beings have always thought, felt, and perceived the same way we do now. Any differences corresponded to the childlike level of development in earlier times; of course, our thinking has now reached the level of maturity. To arrive at real insight into the human being we must be able to understand how people thought in former times. Then we will not feel so proud of what fills our souls. When we realize how completely the ideas and thoughts of educated people have changed in the course of just a few decades, we will get an idea of the radical change that has taken place in human soul life over long periods of time. We spoke about this change yesterday.
One of the best known Hegelian scholars of the nineteenth
century was Karl Rosenkranz. 1Karl Rosenkranz, 1805-1879, German professor of philosophy.
Student of Hegel. See his book Aus einem Tagebuch ("From a Diary"), Leipzig, 1854, p. 328ff. After stints in several
other places, he was professor of philosophy at the Königsberg University for many years. Although he was a Hegelian,
Rosenkranz's understanding of Hegel was colored,
first, by his thorough study of Kant — he looked at Hegel
through Kantian glasses, so to speak — and, second, by his
study of Protestant theology.
2Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, 1770-1831. German philosopher.
Last of the great German Idealist system-building philosophers;
created monistic system reconciling opposites by means of
dialectic process. Viewed history as similar process, dialectic of
thesis and its implied antithesis leading to synthesis. Exerted great
influence on Kierkegaard and Existentialists, on Marx, and on the
Immanuel Kant, 1724-1804, German philosopher. Developed his own critical philosophy in which he sought to determine the nature and kinds of human knowledge, the necessary categories of consciousness, and their ethical and aesthetic consequences. Among other things he wrote Critique of Pure Reason, 1781, revised 1787. Thus, in this man of the mid-nineteenth century, Protestant theology, Kantianism, and Hegelianism merged.
Hegelianism pretty much disappeared from the world view of educated circles in the last third of the nineteenth century in Central Europe; therefore we can hardly imagine how deeply rooted in Hegelianism educated people still were in the 1840s. That is why it will be difficult for us to imagine what a soul such as that of Karl Rosenkranz was like. In the 1840s, Rosenkranz was a person whose thinking conformed to what was then expected of a man who had left behind the old, useless way of thinking, and had fallen in with modern enlightenment — in short, a man who was not superstitious according to the definition of that word in the 1840s. We can think of Rosenkranz, then, as having reached the highest level of education of his time.
One day in 1843, Rosenkranz was going for a walk and met a man named Bon with whom he had such an interesting conversation that he later wrote it down. 3No information on Bon could be found. Bon was a native of Thuringia, and he was by no means as much a product of his time as Rosenkranz was. For his part, Bon probably thought that Rosenkranz had been taken in by the latest ideas. He probably took Rosenkranz for a man who was in a way unprejudiced yet could no longer understand the good old wisdom that Bon himself still had.
In 1843, as I said, these two men had a conversation. Bon had been educated at the University of Erlangen where he had studied mainly with the philosopher Schubert. 4Gotthilf Heinrich von Schubert, 1780-1860, professor of natural sciences. Wrote Symbolik des Traums (“Symbolism of Dreams"), 1814. Now Schubert had a touch of pietism, but he was still full of the older wisdom that placed great emphasis on being able to penetrate the essence of the human being by means of special, dreamlike states of consciousness. Schubert had great respect for this traditional wisdom. He believed that if one could not bring to life something of the good old wisdom in one's own inner life, then even the modern wisdom would not really teach one anything about the human being. The works of Schubert are very interesting in this regard. Schubert liked to immerse himself in the many revelations of dream life as well as in abnormal soul conditions, or, as we would say today, in the soul conditions of a genuine medium — one who is not a fraud — and in the kind of clairvoyance that has been preserved from ancient times as an atavism. In short, Schubert liked to study the abnormal and not-fully-awake states of soul. That is how he tried to gain insight into the human being.
Well, Bon was one of Schubert's students. After his studies, Bon came here to Switzerland and took up a spiritual stream of which most present-day Swiss probably know nothing at all. I am referring to the philosophy of Gichtel, which Bon then adopted. 5Johann Georg Gichtel, 1638-1710, German theosophist. Developed a mystical theology that alienated him from orthodox Lutheran doctrine. He was a disciple of Jakob Böhme and compiled the first complete edition of Böhme's works (1682-83); founded a sect that survived in Holland and Germany until recent times; synthesized his doctrine in Theosophia practica (1701-22). I do not know whether many Swiss people of our time realize that Gichtelianism was fairly widespread not only in the rest of Europe — for instance, in the mid-nineteenth century it had become established in Holland — but was also quite well known here in Switzerland. Gichtelianism was what had remained of the teaching of Jakob Böhme throughout the eighteenth century and even in the nineteenth century. 6Jakob Böhme, 1575-1624. German mystic. He was first a shoemaker, then had mystical experience in 1600. Jakob Böhme's teaching spread throughout many countries, including Switzerland, in the form in which Gichtel presented it, and this was how Bon met it.
Well, Rosenkranz had read a great deal, and even though his Kantianism, Hegelianism, and Protestant theology did not allow him to find his way in inward activity into something like Jakob Böhme's teaching or even into Gichtel's watered-down version of it, he did at least understand its terminology. He was interested to hear such a strange person as the Gichtelian Bon speak.
As I said, Rosenkranz wrote down the conversation that took place in 1843. At first, they spoke about a subject that did not have any unduly incomprehensible aspects for Kantians or for nineteenth-century Hegelians. In the course of their talk, Rosenkranz said it was really unfortunate that all sorts of outer disturbances could keep one from really thinking deeply about a problem. In Rosenkranz's words we can already feel what appeared later to a far greater degree, namely, the nervousness that is so common in our age. We only need to remember that among the many clubs and associations that were formed before the war in Central Europe there was one that originated in Hanover dedicated to the prevention of noise. Its members wanted to lobby for laws against noise so that they could sit quietly and think in the evenings without being disturbed, for example, by a neighboring inn. There were newspaper articles propagating this association for the prevention of noise. The idea of founding such a club is, of course, a typical expression of our nervous age.
We can feel from Karl Rosenkranz's comment that all kinds of things going on around them could disturb people when they wanted to think or write a book. You can practically feel the nervousness. It seems Bon had real understanding for the complaint of a man who wants to think without being disturbed. He told Rosenkranz that he could give him some good advice in this matter. And then Bon suggested that Rosenkranz practice unreceptiveness.
Rosenkranz was thunderstruck and could not believe his ears: he was supposed to practice unreceptiveness! He did not really understand this. So Bon explained to Rosenkranz what he meant by unreceptiveness. He said that Rosenkranz should strive to become firm in himself so that the "turba" of the other processes around him did not disturb his own constellation, so that he could maintain the "pure tincture" of his own "astrum."
Well, Bon had learned from the Swiss Gichtelians to say that one should strive not to be disturbed in one's own constellation by the turba of the processes in one's surroundings so that the pure tincture of one's own astrum could remain intact. As I said, Rosenkranz understood these terms. I think nowadays not everyone understands them, not even all the people who think themselves very learned.
What did the Gichtelian Bon actually mean? Well, you have to keep in mind that Bon was rooted in ideas that came down from Jakob Böhme. I told you a bit about Böhme recently; I said that he collected traditional folk wisdom, from which he learned much that people nowadays would refuse to accept. This folk wisdom has been preserved in some contemplative people in expressions such as the one I quoted from Bon. Back then, people still connected something that was in a certain sense inwardly alive with such expressions, because they still had traditions going back to what their ancestors had taken in through ancient clairvoyance.
That kind of clairvoyance was based on forces coming from the person's bodily nature. Yet, this should not lead us to say that this ancient clairvoyance lived in the physical body, for then we would fail to realize that everything corporeal is permeated by spirit. Actually, the ancient clairvoyants drew the dreamlike images they saw before their soul out of the forces of their corporeality. The forces pulsating in the blood and the breath and even those living in the changing substances of their body rose up like spiritual steam, so to speak, and gave the ancient clairvoyants the grandiose world pictures I have often described to you. Ancient clairvoyance was actually drawn up out of the body.
The ancients gave the name "tincture" to what was revealed when the clairvoyant felt the whole world bathed in a violet light and himself living in a violet cloud in this light, and felt at one with himself. Clairvoyants felt this tincture as their own, as connected to their organism. They felt it as their very own astrum. The Gichtelian Bon called this inwardness, which was drawn up out of the body, the pure tincture of one's own astrum.
But the time had already come — actually it had already begun much earlier — when human beings could no longer draw up such things out of their corporeality. The ancient clairvoyance had long since ceased to be suited to people. That is why people like Jakob Böhme or Gichtel felt that it was difficult to bring such old ideas and images to life for oneself. People had lost the ability to live in these old images, since they practically vanished as soon as they appeared. People felt uncertain about them and tried as hard as they could to hold on to these fleeting inner images, which in those days could still be evoked by the inner sound of the old words. Once people experienced this pure tincture of their astrum in themselves, they felt that anything coming from the outside would immediately push away their inner images. The disturbing influence that lived spiritually in things and events around them was called turba.
The state of soul people achieved by immersing themselves deeply into the inner sound of the old words was not to be disturbed by this turba — after all, people wanted to hold fast to their human essence by preserving this traditional inner life. This is why they strove not to take in anything from the outside and to live only in themselves. They became unreceptive in order not to have to let in anything from the outside.
This unreceptiveness, this living in oneself as I have just explained it, is what Bon recommended to Rosenkranz. You see, here we can get a glimpse of the soul life of a very ancient time, a soul life that existed still in the Gichtelian circles in the middle of the nineteenth century though it was already in decline and fading away. But this soul life had once been an inner participation in the divine-spiritual world through dreamlike, clairvoyant pictures that made people feel more as heavenly beings than earthly ones.
This ancient state of soul was possible only because people had not yet developed the clear thinking we now have. Actually, people do not yet have much of a sense for this pure thinking of modern times, which was first developed in the natural sciences and discussed for the first time in The Philosophy of Freedom. 7See Lecture One, note 2.
Let us look at an area of the natural sciences where we can see particularly clearly what I will be talking about, namely, astronomy. Under the influence of Copernicus, astronomy has simply become cosmic mechanics, a kind of description of the world machinery. 8Nicolaus Copernicus, 1473—1543, Polish astronomer. Made astronomical observations of orbits of sun, moon, planets. Gradually abandoned accepted Ptolemaic system of astronomy and worked out heliocentric system in which the earth rotates daily on its axis and, with other planets, revolves around the sun. Prior to this, people still believed that spiritual beings were embodied in the stars. Medieval scholasticism spoke of the spiritual being of the stars, of the intelligences inhabiting the stars and being embodied in them, and so on. The idea that everything out there is merely matter, empty of thought, and that human beings alone have thoughts about it all has come only rather recently. In earlier times, people used to form pictures that were connected with what they believed about stars and constellations. They saw them as imbued with inner life. Back then, people related to the world not through pure thinking; they were connected with it through something of a living soul nature. People then gradually developed pure thinking.
Of course, in ancient times people also had thoughts, but they received them together with their clairvoyance. They received their clairvoyant pictures from the world around them, and then they derived their thoughts from their clairvoyance. They did not yet derive pure thoughts directly from external objects. The characteristic feature of modern times is that human beings are learning to comprehend the world through their pure thinking, which is developed further in the process.
Bon's suggestion can be traced back to people who did not experience sleep as we do. We merely think, and we experience sleep as a state of unconsciousness interrupted by dreams, of which we do not think very highly — and rightly so, for due to the modern constitution of our soul, dreams do not mean much. As a rule, they are only reminiscences of our inner or outer life, and their content is of little value and use. Thus, the main characteristic of sleep is unconsciousness. This was not always the case. Jakob Böhme himself certainly experienced a kind of sleep during which his consciousness was filled with real insights into world mysteries.
People like Jakob Böhme and Gichtel were still able to enter into that state of soul through working at it diligently. They realized that when we look at sensory objects with our eyes, then use other senses to perceive the world, and then use our thoughts to further understand what our senses perceive, we can come to many interesting insights into the world. Yet, the true mysteries of the world will not be revealed to us in this way. All we will get is just an outer picture of the world.
Both Jakob Böhme and Gichtel knew states of consciousness in which they were neither sleeping nor merely dreaming; rather, their consciousness was filled with insights into the true mysteries of the world that are hidden behind the sense world. In fact, they valued these insights more than what their senses and intellect disclosed to them. Mere thinking was not yet of great significance for these people.
They also knew the counterpart to this, namely, that human beings can perceive without using their bodies. For in those states of consciousness that were neither sleeping nor dreaming, they also knew that their essential being had, for the most part, tom itself free of their body but had taken the force of the blood and the breathing with it. Thus, they knew that human beings are inwardly connected with the world, but while they are awake, their body obscures this connection.
However, when people become to a certain extent independent of their bodies in the waking state, they can gain insights into the mysteries of the world through the subtler forces of their bodies. These forces were drawn up out of the body by clairvoyance, as I have explained. From such special conditions of sleep, people learned what sleep actually is. Jakob Böhme and Gichtel realized that when they were asleep, the finer members of their being were outside in the subtler elements of nature. They felt themselves immersed in these subtler elements of nature. When they woke up, they realized that their subtler being, which had been in the finer elements of nature during sleep — even during sleep without consciousness — was living in them also when they were awake. They understood that they were filling their body with their subtler being when they were feeling and thinking — of course, back then thinking was not yet pure thinking. They knew that this subtler humanness lived in the pictures they were forming while they were thinking.
In brief, in those days people saw real meaning in the statement that what we are in sleep continues to live in us when we are awake. In fact, they felt this state of sleep continue to pulsate in them as a kind of soul blood when they were fully awake and conscious. People like Jakob Böhme and Gichtel realized that even when they were awake they were still continuing to sleep because what happened in them during sleep continued in the waking state.
This is a very different feeling from the one we have — we who have moved on to pure thinking, to pure intellectual thinking. When we wake up in the morning, we usually draw a clear line between what we were in sleep and what we are in the waking state. In a sense, we take nothing from sleep into our waking life. What we were in sleep ceases to exist the moment we begin to wake up. Indeed, modern humanity has outgrown the states of consciousness that were still alive for people like Bon. In the process, modern humanity has brought to full realization something that has been present in rudimentary form since the first third of the fifteenth century. This full realization was achieved through the transition to purely intellectual thinking in waking life. That is what dominates all people nowadays. We do not think in pictures anymore. Instead, pictures are generally thought to be mythology, as I explained yesterday. People nowadays think only in thoughts and they sleep in nothingness.
In fact, that we nowadays sleep in nothingness has a profound significance. The statement, "I sleep in nothingness," would not have made sense to Jakob Böhme, but it has meaning for us. We are not nothing when we are asleep; we keep our I and our astral body during sleep. So we are not nothing, but we tear ourselves away from the sense-perceptible world, which we comprehend with our intellect when we are awake. At the same time, when we are asleep, we also tear ourselves away from the world Jakob Böhme and others perceived in abnormal states of consciousness with the subtler forces of their physical and etheric bodies, and which they took with them into sleep.
In other words, when we are asleep, we tear ourselves away not only from the world of the senses but also from the world of ancient clairvoyance. And the world we then enter between falling asleep and waking up is a world of the future; therefore, we cannot perceive it. It is the world into which our earth will be transformed in those stages of development I have called Jupiter, Venus, and Vulcan in my book, An Outline of Occult Science. 9Rudolf Steiner, An Outline of Occult Science, 3rd ed., repr., (Spring Valley, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1989). These planet names do not refer to present-day planets but to ancient evolutionary stages and are therefore capitalized. Thus, we modern people who are drilled to think intellectually live in nothingness when we are sleeping. We are not nothing, as I have to stress again and again, but we live in nothingness because we cannot yet experience the world we live in, which is the world of the future; it is as yet a nothing to us.
However, it is precisely through our ability to sleep in nothingness that our freedom is guaranteed. For from the moment of falling asleep until we wake up, we are becoming accustomed to being free of the world and living in nothingness. Thus, it is when we are asleep that we become independent. It is very important to realize that the way we sleep guarantees us our freedom. The ancient clairvoyants, who still perceived the old world but not the future one, could not become completely free human beings because the process of perception made them dependent. However, resting in nothingness while being asleep makes people of our times really free.
Thus, we have seen two contrasting, complementary pictures of modern humanity. First, when we are awake, we live in thoughts that are purely thoughts and nothing else. These thoughts no longer contain pictures in the old sense (which, in any case, people now regard as myths). Second, when we are asleep, we live in nothingness, and in that way we free ourselves from the world and become conscious of our freedom. The images in our thoughts can no longer compel us because they are mere pictures. Just as mirror images cannot compel us to do anything and cannot cause any events, so the pictures of things we have in our thoughts cannot force us to act.
Therefore, when we take hold of moral impulses with our pure thinking, we act upon them as free beings. No emotion, passion, or inner bodily process can compel us to act upon the moral impulses we can understand with our pure thoughts. At the same time, we are able to act on these mental images, these pure thoughts because during sleep we are free from all natural laws in our body. During sleep we become truly free souls that can act on the "unreality" of our thoughts. In contrast, people in ancient times remained dependent on the world even in sleep, and therefore they were not able to act on "unreal" impulses.
Let us look more closely at these two aspects of modern humanity. We can have pure thoughts that are purely intellectual, and we live in our sleep in nothingness; there we are real, but the world around us reveals nothing to us. Now comes the crux of the matter: You see, it is inherent in our nature that, as a result of everything we have gone through, we have become inwardly weak-willed. Of course, people nowadays do not want to admit this, but it is nevertheless true that we have become inwardly weak in our willpower.
This can be understood from a historical perspective. We need only look at the great spiritual movements that spread in earlier times to see the kind of will impulses the founders of religions, for example, worked with. This kind of inner will impulse has been lost to modern humanity. That is why people nowadays allow the outer world to teach them what to think. They study nature and develop their purely intellectual thoughts based on the natural processes and beings they perceive, as though their inner being were really only a mirror reflecting the world. Indeed, people have become so weak that they are terribly afraid when someone produces thoughts out of himself rather than merely "reading" them in nature. Thus, pure thinking initially developed in modern humanity in a completely passive way.
This is not meant as criticism, for if humanity had right away made the transition to actively producing pure thinking, all kinds of impure fantasies from the past would have entered into pure thinking. Humanity has certainly learned a valuable lesson by allowing itself to be seduced by grandiose philistines, such as Bacon of Verulam, into developing concepts and ideas based on the outer world, into letting the outer world dictate everything to them. Gradually, people have become accustomed to not living in concepts, ideas, and thinking, and to letting the outer world hand them their thinking, so to speak. For some people, this process is direct; they study nature or historical documents, for example, and that is where they get their thoughts about nature or history. These thoughts then live in them. But most people get their concepts in school; their concepts are drilled into them.
Nowadays, people are flooded from earliest childhood with concepts that have been developed passively on the basis of the outer world. In this respect, modern people are actually like a sack that is open on the side. They take things in from nature and mirror them inside. These mirror images, then, are their ideas. Actually, their soul is merely filled up with concepts of nature. If people nowadays were to trace their concepts to their source, they would soon find that what I told you is true.
Ever since the fifteenth century, people have been taught this passivity of thinking, and now they consider it almost a sin to be inwardly active and create one's own thoughts. Of course, we cannot create thoughts about nature by ourselves; we would only pollute nature with all sorts of fantastic ideas if we tried to do that. Yet, we have the source of thinking within us. We can think thoughts of our own; in fact, we can imbue the thoughts we already have with inner reality. This can happen when we have enough will to push our night being into our waking life, to think not merely passively but rather to insert our being, which has become independent during sleep, into our thoughts. This is possible only with pure thoughts.
My main reason for writing The Philosophy of Freedom was to explain that we can insert our I-being into our modern thinking. At the time, I could not express it in the same words as I do now, but it really is true that when we are asleep, we free our I-being, and then we can insert it into our pure thinking. We become aware of our I-being in pure thinking when we live actively in our thoughts.
Now, let us assume anthroposophy were presented in the same way as the modern sciences. People then would take in anthroposophy in their usual manner, namely, through passive thinking. Of course, all that is needed to understand anthroposophy is sound common sense; one does not have to accept it on faith. Anybody with sound common sense can understand it. Nevertheless, if we presented anthroposophy just like the natural sciences, people would understand it only passively, just as they do in their thoughts about outer nature.
Of course, there are people who claim to have derived their thoughts from anthroposophical research. But they say they themselves cannot stand up for these thoughts because they have merely taken them in. Similarly, many people often say they have assimilated some ideas of spiritual science. We often hear people stress that the natural sciences say such and such, while spiritual science says this or that. What does it mean when people claim to have heard something from spiritual science? It means that the persons in question reveal that they are stuck in passive thinking and want to take in spiritual science only with this passive thinking. However, as soon as people decide to create in themselves the thoughts anthroposophical research gives to them, they will become able to defend the truth of these thoughts with their whole personality for, in the process, they will have experienced the first stage of truth.
In other words, people nowadays generally are not yet able to use the strength of their will to pour the independent reality they experience during sleep into the thoughts of their waking life. People who want to be anthroposophists — and not simply accept anthroposophical thoughts passively but really assimilate them — must pour what they have been during their dreamless sleep into the pure thoughts of anthroposophy with the help of their strong will. Those people will then have reached the first stage of what we can legitimately call clairvoyance. Then they live clairvoyantly in the thoughts of anthroposophy.
Anthroposophical books must be read with a strong will,
and we must bring more than just our waking life to them.
We must not read anthroposophical books in the way we
usually read: intermittently, every day only a little bit. Generally,
people read only with their waking life. Of course,
that is good enough for reading Gustav Freytag or Dickens
or Emerson, but not for reading anthroposophical books.
10Gustav Frey tag, 1816-1895, German writer. Champion of German
liberalism and German middle classes.
Charles John Huffam Dickens, 1812-1870, English novelist. Chief
works include Oliver Twist (1837—39), A Christmas Carol (1843),
David Copperfield (1849-50), Bleak House (1852–53).
Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882, American essayist, poet, and Unitarian minister. His first published work, Nature (1836), contained the gist of his Transcendental philosophy, which combined strains of European Romanticism, Oriental supenaturalism, and American optimism and practicality.
To read anthroposophical books, we really must enter into them with our whole being. Since we are unconscious during sleep and have no thoughts then — though our will is, of course, still there — we must put our whole will into the reading of anthroposophical books. If you make the contents of an anthroposophical book the object of your will, then you will become immediately clairvoyant, at least in your thoughts, through this exercise of your will. You see, this will still has to enter those who represent our anthroposophy. If this will completely permeates and electrifies those who represent anthroposophy, then anthroposophy will be presented to the world in the right way. This does not require any magic but only a forceful will that brings more than one's waking life to bear on anthroposophical books. These days people do not even use all of their waking consciousness to read. Of course, it is enough to activate a few small bits and pieces, a few minutes, so to speak, of waking life to comprehend what is contained in newspapers; it does not take a whole day of our waking life. However, anthroposophical books come alive for us only if we immerse ourselves in them with our complete being.
This must be kept in mind, especially by those who want to be leading figures in the Anthroposophical Society. For it is extremely detrimental to this society when anthroposophy is proclaimed by people who cannot stand up for it. We need to find the way from a merely passive, intellectual experiencing of anthroposophical truths to an immersion in them with our whole being. Then anthroposophical teaching will no longer be presented in a deadbeat and feeble way with phrases like, "Anthroposophical sources have assured us that ...Instead, people will be able to proclaim anthroposophical truths out of their own experience, at least in the most accessible areas, such as medicine, physiology, biology, and the social sphere.
While we cannot yet reach the sphere of the higher hierarchies on that first level of clairvoyance, nevertheless we can make the spirit in our immediate surroundings the subject of our state of soul. It is a matter of will in the most comprehensive sense whether or not there will be people in our Anthroposophical Society who can give testimony — and we need a valid, living testimony based on their own direct experience of a living source of truth — of the inner truth of anthroposophy.
In addition, there must be personalities in the Anthroposophical Society who, if I may use the paradoxical expression, have a certain amount of goodwill for the will. These days, people talk about any arbitrary wish as "will," but a wish is not the same as will. Some people wish for a particular matter to turn out in such and such a way. That is not will. Will is an active force, and that is largely lacking nowadays. People of our time generally do not have it. However, it must not be lacking in the Anthroposophical Society. There, a strong will must be anchored in calm enthusiasm. That is one of the necessary conditions for the life of the Anthroposophical Society.