Earthly Knowledge and Heavenly Wisdom
III. The Human Being in Waking and Sleeping II
4 February 1923, Dornach
As we have discussed before, we must understand the evolution of humanity in order to be imbued with the consciousness we need to be human beings in the true sense of the word.
In the first lecture of this series, I used an analogy to show the importance of a consciousness of time. I explained that insects go through certain metamorphoses in harmony with the course of the year. They follow this course even in their physical form, and undergo in each season the bodily processes specific to it. Their whole life cycle is closely connected with the cycle of the year. We must find a way to enter similarly but consciously into the whole evolution of the earth, the whole history of the earth. We must know how our soul experiences had to be constituted in ancient times, how they had to be in the times since then, and how they need to be today.
In ancient epochs of human evolution, humanity received strength for knowledge and for life from the Mysteries. Those who were to be initiated into the Mysteries had to realize that the exercises they were about to undergo would finally lead them to an experience of death. They knew that they had to pass consciously through death during their earthly life in order to understand their immortal, eternal being. This was the secret at the core of the ancient Mysteries: to arrive at a vital conviction of one's immortal being through a conscious experience of death.
In our recent talks we have seen the reason for this. In those ancient times, human beings had no other way to gain self-knowledge than to think of what would happen to them immediately after death. Back then, people were free thinking beings like us only after death. Only after death did people in ancient times consider themselves independent beings, autonomous individualities. The ancient sages told their students to look beyond death if they wanted to know what a true human being is. They had to experience a reflection of death in the Mysteries to become convinced of their eternal life and immortal being. Essentially, then, to seek the Mysteries was to seek death in order to find life.
Things have changed; people are different nowadays. What people in ancient times experienced after death, namely, becoming thinking and free beings in their own right, we now have to achieve in the time between birth and death. But how can we do this? As we gain more and more self-knowledge, we first of all must get to know our thoughts. However, our thoughts, particularly those developed since the first third of the fifteenth century, since the time of Nicholas of Cusa, are actually dead thoughts; they are corpses. 1Nicholas of Cusa, 1401-1464, German prelate and philosopher. Ordained, later created cardinal and bishop. Wrote treatises for church councils as well as on mathematics and philosophy. Anticipated Copernicus by his belief in the earth's rotation and revolution around the sun; conducted botanical experiments. What lived in them was alive in our pre-earthly existence. Before we descended to earth as soul-spiritual beings, we lived a spiritual life. With the beginning of our earthly life, this spiritual life died, and we now experience this dead spiritual life in us as our thinking.
The first thing we must realize is that while we can arrive at true self-knowledge in our age — that is, we can know ourselves as soul-spiritual beings — the object of our self-knowledge is dead; it is a spiritual corpse. Something coming from the will, which is actually in nothingness during our sleep and yet anchored in the astral body and the I, must flow into this dead element. The I must stream into the dead thoughts and bring them to life.
That is why in ancient times the candidates' inner life was carefully calmed down during initiation. In a sense, the ancient initiation was actually a kind of soothing of the candidates' inner forces and capacities. Basically, the candidates underwent a training that led to a soothing of their inner excitement, as it were, to an appeasing of the inner emotionalism of everyday life. As a result, what filled their whole being in their ordinary life, the divine-spiritual forces that live and weave throughout the cosmos, was subdued. The candidates could then sink into a kind of sleep. In this state of semi-consciousness dimmed almost to the level of sleep, they could then evoke what is otherwise experienced only after death: peaceful thinking and awareness of their own individuality. In a sense, the ancient initiation was a system for soothing and calming down.
The longing to be soothed and calmed down has largely persisted into our time. People feel good when they are given the ancient principles of initiation. But this is no longer appropriate for modern human beings. In our time, we can approach initiation only when we are profoundly and intensely convinced that we find our thinking when we look into ourselves, that this thinking is dead, and that therefore we do not need to look for death any longer. We bear death within us in our soul-spiritual being. While the candidates of the Mysteries in ancient times had to be brought to the stage where they experienced death, modern candidates increasingly have to realize that they have death in their soul-spiritual life, that they bear death within them and, therefore, do not need to look for it. On the contrary, they have to bring their dead thoughts to life through inner, creative will.
This bringing to life of our dead thoughts is the aim of everything I have presented in my book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds. 2Rudolf Steiner, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment, 3rd ed., (Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1986). This book is intended to help us let our will burst forth into our soul life so that we can wake up. Ancient initiation had to be a kind of lulling to sleep, but modern initiation must be a kind of awakening. What we experience unconsciously during sleep must be carried into the innermost core of our soul life. We must inwardly wake ourselves up, as it were, through our own activity.
To be able to do this, we must understand the concept of sleep in all its ramifications. We must be aware of the current anthroposophical understanding of sleep. For example, let us compare two people, one who knows nothing about what anthroposophy teaches and one who has taken in anthroposophy not only by passively listening or reading, but with real inner interest. The one who does not know anthroposophy is like a sleeper compared to the other who has been awakened by it — similar to how we wake up in the morning when we reenter our physical body after the unconsciousness of sleep. We will have the right attitude to anthroposophy and the right orientation in the Anthroposophical Society only when we see it as giving us something that is like our waking up in the morning.
In other words, we can compare learning about anthroposophy with the transition from the unconsciousness of sleep to a new perception of the outer world. Descending into our physical body when we wake up, in a sense, gives us a world — not just knowledge, but a world. In the same way, becoming deeply absorbed with anthroposophy also gives us a world. It gives us knowledge that is at the same time also a world, and we can awaken to this world. As long as we see anthroposophy as just another world view, we do not have the right attitude to it. We develop the right attitude only when we feel ourselves awakening in the process of becoming anthroposophists. We are actually waking up when we realize that the concepts and ideas the world has given us are dead, mere corpses of thoughts and ideas, but that anthroposophy will awaken them for us.
If you understand this correctly, you will be able to rise above the things that are usually said against anthroposophy. People often say that those who are not anthroposophists can really learn something in the world these days because they obtain evidence to help them prove their conclusions about things. Anthroposophy, on the other hand, is said to make claims that remain unproved. However, most people do not know how things really stand with their so-called proofs; for if they did, they would have to realize that all the natural laws and all the thoughts we have developed based on the world are, in effect, dead. People would find this out if they experienced their thoughts properly. What is being proven to us is actually dead and therefore cannot be understood. Only when we understand this can we realize that we do not understand precisely what was being proved to us. Similarly, we do not understand a corpse because it is nothing but the remains of a living person. We can understand the corpse only when we know what it was like while still imbued with life.
Thus, we have to realize that what is considered proven truth can, in fact, not be understood at all if we consider it more deeply. Indeed, what our civilization offers will be illumined for our understanding only when it catches fire from the spark of anthroposophy. If a scientist told us that he can prove his science but that we have no proofs for our knowledge, then the right answer would be that while he certainly can prove everything in his way, we will not understand what he has proven until we bring the light of anthroposophy to bear upon it. That is what an anthroposophist would reply to a non-anthroposophist out of a heart brimming with living spiritual life. Anthroposophists would have to say that the scientist is lulling himself to sleep with his knowledge about nature. In fact, the scientist will have to admit that there are limits to his knowledge and that he cannot even approach the spiritual realm with his science. We anthroposophists can tell scientists that while they justify their sleep with a theory, we want to refute this justification of their sleep by waking them up.
I mentioned this also in the first chapter of my book Riddles of the Soul as well as in many lectures. 3Rudolf Steiner, Von Seelenratseln ("Riddles of the Soul"), vol. 21 in the Collected Works (Domach, Switzerland: Rudolf Steiner Verlag, 1983). I explained that those people who remain stuck at the level of present-day civilization actually admit that there are many insurmountable limits to knowledge. This puts their minds at ease, but it also means that they do not want to wake up at all but want to stay asleep. To reach the spiritual world in the way appropriate for our time, we must struggle inwardly with the tasks of our soul at the very point where other people come up against the limits of knowledge. As we begin our struggle with the ideas that demarcate those limits, gradually and step-by-step a view into the spiritual world will open up. To achieve this, we must take what anthroposophy offers in the way it is intended.
When you read the first chapter of Riddles of the Soul, regardless of how imperfectly it may be written, you will see my intention in writing it. I wanted to help people realize that if they remain stuck at the level of our present civilization, the world will be boarded up for them, so to speak. With the natural sciences we can progress only so far, then we come to where the world is as though boarded up. That chapter was my attempt to clear away the boards. If you have the feeling that you are pulling away the boards that have enclosed the world for centuries now, when you can regard the words in my book as tools for this pulling away, then you really approach the soul-spiritual. Most people have only an unconscious feeling that chapters such as this are written with pen and ink. Indeed, they are not written with a pen, but with soul tools intended to tear away those boards, that is, to clear away the limits of natural science through inner soul work. When you read such a chapter, you must work too and be active in your soul.
Sometimes people get strange ideas from reading anthroposophical books. I can understand these ideas, and usually do not refute them because they are of a certain value for the individual having them. For example, concerning my book An Outline of Occult Science, some people have had the idea to illustrate it so that it could be presented in pictures, and they thought they would be doing the book a favor with this. 4See Lecture Two, note 9. In fact, people have even shown me samples of such pictures. I have nothing against that; if the sample pictures are good, we can admire them, and it is certainly nice to paint such pictures. But what is the longing that gave rise to this idea? It is the longing to take away the most important thing that can be developed through reading An Outline of Occult Science, and instead to present people with pictures that once again board up the world for them.
What matters most in reading this book is not to rebel against what civilization has brought us — in spite of the decline of our language and the awful state of writing and publishing nowadays — but to accept it in such way that, in reading, we overcome all this and go beyond it to creating on our own the pictures that are presented in the awful printer's ink in the book. The more unique and individual pictures each reader is able to create in his or her mind, the better. However, if somebody else draws these pictures for the readers, he boards up the world for them, so to speak. Of course, I do not want to deliver a lecture against painting what is presented in imaginations in my An Outline of Occult Science, but I do want to point out that everybody needs to have the experience of taking it in actively.
These things have to be understood in the right way in our time. People must realize that anthroposophy is not something they can take up the same way as other things. Rather, anthroposophy requires a change in our way of thinking and feeling — in our being. Consequently, when you hear an anthroposophical lecture on astronomy, you cannot simply compare it with ordinary astronomy, using one to substantiate or refute the other. That would not make any sense. Instead, you have to realize that you can understand the anthroposophical view of astronomy only when your thinking and feeling have changed. For example, when we see the anthroposophical view on any issue repudiated and then use the same methods as the refutation to present our counterargument, we accomplish nothing, absolutely nothing. Both sides merely argue back and forth within the same framework. That is not what it's all about. What matters is rather that anthroposophy is carried by a new life — that is indeed absolutely necessary in our time.