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Anthroposophy, An Introduction
GA 234

2. Meditation

20 January 1924, Dornach

Yesterday I had to show how we can observe ourselves in two ways, and how the riddle of the world and of man confronts us from both directions. If we look once more at what we found yesterday, we see, on the one hand, the human physical body, perceived—at first—in the same way as the external, physical world. We call it the physical body because it stands before our physical senses just as the external, physical world. At the same time, however, we must call to mind the great difference between the two. Indeed, yesterday we had to recognise this great difference from the fact that man, on passing through the gate of death, must surrender his physical body to the elements of the external, physical world; and these destroy it. The action of external Nature upon the human physical body is destructive, not constructive. So we must look quite outside the physical world for what gives the human physical body its shape between birth (or conception) and death. We must speak, to begin with, of another world which builds up this human body that external, physical Nature can only destroy.

On the other hand there are two considerations which show the close relationship between the human physical body and Nature. In the first place, the body requires substances—building materials in a sense—although this is not strictly accurate. Let us say, it has need of the substances of external nature, or, at least, needs to take them in.

Again: when we observe the external manifestations of the physical body—whether it be its excretions, or the whole body as seen after death—it is nevertheless substances of the external, physical world that we observe. We always find the same substances as in the external, physical world—whether we are studying the separate excretions or the whole physical body cast off at death.

So we are compelled to say: Whatever the inner processes going on in the human body may be, their beginning and end are related to the external, physical world.

Materialistic science, however, draws from this fact a conclusion that cannot be drawn at all. Though we see how man, through eating, drinking and breathing, takes in substances from the external physical world and gives these same substances back again, in expiration, in excretion or at death, we can only say that we have here to do with a beginning and an end. We have not determined the intermediary processes within the physical body.

We speak so glibly of the blood man bears within him; but has anyone ever investigated the blood within the living human organism itself? This cannot be done with physical means at all. We have no right to draw the materialistic conclusion that what enters the body and leaves it again was also within it.

In any case, we see an immediate transformation when external, physical substances are taken in—let us say, by the mouth. We need only put a small grain of salt in the mouth and it is at once dissolved. The transformation is immediate. The physical body of man is not the same, in its inner nature, as the external world; it transforms what it takes in, and then transforms it back again. Thus we must seek for something within the human organism that is, at first, similar to external nature and, on excretion, becomes so again. It is what lies between these two stages that we must first discover.

Try to picture this that I have said: On the one hand, we have what the organism takes in; on the other, what it gives of including even the physical body as a whole. Between these are the processes within the organism itself. From the study of what the human physical organism takes in we can say nothing at all about the relation of man to external nature. We might put it this way: Though external physical nature does destroy man's corpse, dissolving and dissipating it, man does, with his organism, ‘get even’ with Nature. He dissolves everything he receives from her. Thus, when we commence with man's organs of assimilation, we find no relationship to external nature, for this is destroyed by them. We only find such a relationship when we turn to what man excretes. In relation to the form man bears into physical life, Nature is a destroyer; in regard to what man casts off, Nature receives what the human organism provides. Thus the human physical organism comes eventually to be very unlike itself and to resemble external Nature very much. It does this through excretion.

If you think this over you will say to yourself: There, outside, are the substances of the different kingdoms of Nature. They are, today, just what they have become; but they have certainly not always been as they are. Even physical science admits that past conditions of the earth were very different from those of today. What we see around us in the kingdoms of Nature has only gradually become what it is. And when we look at man's physical body we see it destroys—or transforms—what it takes in. (We shall see that it really destroys, but for the moment we will say ‘transforms’.) At any rate, what is taken in must be reduced to a certain condition from which it can be led back again to present physical Nature. In other words: If you think of a beginning somewhere in the human organism, where the sub-stances begin to develop in the direction of excretions, and then think of the earth, you are led to trace it back to a similar condition in which it once was. You have to say: At some past time the whole earth must have been in the condition in which some-thing within man is today; and in the short space of time during which something incorporated into the human organism is transformed into excretory products, the inner processes of the organism recapitulate what the earth itself has accomplished in the course of long ages.

Thus we look at external Nature today and see that it was once something very different. But when we try to find something similar to its former condition we have to look into our own organism. The beginning of the earth is still there. Every time we eat, the substances of our food are transformed into a condition in which the whole earth once was. The earth has developed further in the course of long periods of time and become what it is today; our food substances, in developing to the point of excretion, give a brief recapitulation of the whole earth-process.

Now, you can look at the vernal point of the zodiac, where the sun rises every spring. This point is not stationary; it is advancing. In the Egyptian epoch, for example, it was in the constellation of Taurus. It has advanced through Taurus and Aries, and is today in the constellation of Pisces; and it is still advancing. It moves in a circle and will return after a certain time. Though this point where the sun rises in spring describes a complete circle in the heavens in 25,920 years, the sun describes this circle every day. It rises and sets, thereby describing the same path as the vernal point. Let us contemplate, on the one hand, the long epoch of 25,920 years, which is the time taken by the vernal point to complete its path; and on the other hand, the short period of twenty-four hours in which the sun rises, sets and rises again at the same point. The sun describes the same circle. It is similar with the human physical organism. Through long periods the earth consisted of substances like those within us at a certain stage of digestion—the stage midway between ingestion and egestion, when the former passes over into the latter. Here we carry within us the beginning of the earth. In a short period of time we reach the excretory stage, in which we resemble the earth; we hand over substances to the earth in the form they have today. In our digestive processes we do in the physical body something similar to what the sun does in its diurnal round with respect to the vernal point. Thus we may survey the physical globe and say: Today this physical globe has reached a condition in which its laws destroy the form of our physical organism. But this earth must once have been in a condition in which it was subjected to other laws—laws which, today, bring our physical organism into the condition of food-stuffs midway between ingestion and egestion. That is to say, we bear within us the laws of the earth's beginning; we recapitulate what was once on the earth.

You see, we may regard our physical organism as organised for taking in external substances—present-day substances—and excreting them again as such; but it bears within it something that was present in the beginning of the earth but which the earth no longer has. This has disappeared from the earth leaving only the final products, not the initial substances. Thus we bear within us something to be sought for in very ancient times within the constitution of the earth. It is what we thus bear within us, and the earth as a whole has not got, that raises us above physical, earthly life. It leads man to say: I have preserved within me the beginning of the earth. Through entering physical existence through birth, I have ever within me something the earth had millions of years ago, but has no longer.

From this you see that, in calling man a microcosm, we cannot merely take account of the world around us today. We must go beyond its present condition and consider past stages of its evolution. To understand man we must study primeval conditions of the earth.

What the earth no longer possesses but man still has in this way, can become an object of observation. We must have recourse to what may be called meditation. We are accustomed merely to allow the ‘ideas’ or, mental presentations [Vorstellungen], whereby we perceive the world, to arise within us—merely to represent the outer world to ourselves with the help of such ideas. And for the last few centuries man has become so accustomed to copy merely the outer world in his ideas, that he does not realise his power of also forming ideas freely from within. To do this is to meditate; it is to fill one's consciousness with ideas not derived from external Nature, but called up from within. In doing so we pay special attention to the inner activity involved. In this way one comes to feel that there is really a ‘second man’ within, that there is something in man that can really be inwardly felt and experienced just as, for example, the force of the muscles when we stretch out an arm. We experience this muscular force; but when we think we ordinarily experience nothing. Through meditation, however, it is possible so to strengthen our power of thinking—the power whereby we form thoughts—that we experience this power inwardly, even as we experience the force of our muscles on stretching out an arm. Our meditation is successful when we are at length able to say: In my ordinary thinking I am really quite passive. I allow something to happen to me; I let Nature fill me with thoughts. But I will no longer let myself be filled with thoughts, I will place in my consciousness the thoughts I want to have, and will only pass from one thought to another through the force of inner thinking itself. In this way our thinking becomes stronger and stronger, just as the force of our muscles grows stronger if we use our arms. At length we notice that this thinking activity is a ‘tension’, a ‘touching’, an inner experience, like the experience of our own muscular force. When we have so strengthened ourselves within that our thinking has this character, we are at once confronted in our consciousness by what we carry within us as a repetition of an ancient condition of the earth. We learn to know the force that transforms food substances within the body and retransforms them again. And in experiencing this higher man within, who is as real as the physical man himself, we come, at the same time, to perceive with our strengthened thinking the external things of the world.

Suppose, my dear friends, I look at a stone with such strengthened thinking. Let us say it is a crystal of salt or of quartz. It seems to me like meeting a man I have already seen. I am reminded of experiences I had with him ten or twenty years ago. In the mean-time he may have been in Australia, or anywhere, but the man before me now conjures up the experience I had with him ten or twenty years ago. So, if I look at a crystal of salt or of quartz with this strengthened thinking, there immediately comes before my mind the past state of the crystal, like the memory of a primeval condition of the earth. At that time the crystal of salt was not hexahedral, i.e. six-faced, for it was all part of a surging, weaving, cosmic sea of rock. The primeval condition of the earth comes before me, as a memory is evoked by present objects.

I now look again at man, and the very same impression that the primeval condition of the earth made upon me, is now made by the ‘second human being’ man carries within him. Further: the very same impression is made upon me when I behold, not stones, but plants. Thus I am led to speak, with some justification, of an ‘etheric body’ as well as the physical. Once the earth was ether; out of this ether it has become what it is today in its inorganic, lifeless constituents. The plants, however, still bear within them the former primeval condition of the earth. And I myself bear within me, as a second man, the human ‘etheric body’.

All that I am describing to you can become an object of study for strengthened thinking. So we may say that, if a man takes trouble to develop such thinking he perceives, besides the physical, the etheric in himself, in plants and in the memory of primeval ages evoked by minerals.

Now, what do we learn from this higher kind of observation? We learn that the earth was once in an etheric condition, that the ether has remained and still permeates the plants, the animals—for we can perceive it in them too—and the human being.

But now something further is revealed. We see the minerals free from ether, and the plants endowed with it. At the same time, however, we learn to see ether everywhere. It is still there today, filling cosmic space. In the external, mineral kingdom alone it plays no part; still, it is everywhere. When I simply lift this piece of chalk, I observe all sorts of things happening in the ether. Indeed, lifting a piece of chalk is a complicated process. My hand develops a certain force, but this force is only present in me in the waking state, not when I am asleep. If I follow what the ether does in transmuting food-stuffs, I find this going on during both waking and sleeping states. One might doubt this in the case of man, if one were superficial, but not in the case of snakes; they sleep in order to digest. But what takes place through my raising an arm can only take place in the waking state. The etheric body gives no help here. Nevertheless if I only lift the chalk I must overcome etheric forces—I must work upon the ether. My own etheric body cannot do this. I must bear within me a ‘third man’ who can.

Now this third man who can move, who can lift things, including his own limbs is not to be found—to begin with—in anything similar in external Nature. Nevertheless external Nature, which is everywhere permeated by ether, enters into relation with this ‘force-man’—let us call him—into whom man himself pours the force of his will.

At first it is only in inner experience that we can become aware of this inner unfolding of forces. If, however, we pursue meditation further, not only forming our ideas ourselves, and passing from one idea to another in order to strengthen our thinking, but eliminating again the strengthened thinking so acquired—i.e. emptying our consciousness—we attain something special. Of course, if one frees oneself of ordinary thoughts passively acquired, one falls asleep. The moment one ceases to perceive or think, sleep ensues, for ordinary consciousness is passively acquired. If, however, we develop the forces whereby the etheric is perceived, we have a strengthened man within us; we feel our own thinking forces as we usually feel our muscular forces. And now, when we deliberately eliminate, ‘suggest away’ this strengthened man we do not fall asleep, but expose our empty consciousness to the world. What we dimly feel when we move our arms, or walk, when we unfold our will, enters us objectively. The forces at work here are nowhere to be found in the world of space; but they enter space when we produce empty consciousness in the way described. We then discover, objectively, this third man within us. Looking now at external Nature we observe that men, animals and plants have etheric bodies, while minerals have not. The latter only remind us of the original ‘ether’ of the earth. Nevertheless there is ether wherever we turn, though it does not always reveal itself as such.

You see, if you confront plants with the ‘meditative’ consciousness I described at first, you perceive an etheric image; likewise if you confront a human being. But if you confront the universal ether it is as if you were swimming in the sea. There is only ether everywhere. It gives you no ‘picture.’ But the moment I merely lift this piece of chalk there appears an image in the etheric where my third man is unfolding his forces.

Picture this to yourselves: The chalk is, at first, there. My hand now takes hold of the chalk and lifts it up. (I could represent the whole process in a series of snapshots.) All this, however, has its counterpart in the ether, though this cannot be seen until I am able to perceive by means of ‘empty consciousness’—i.e. until I am able to perceive the third man, not the second. That is to say, the universal ether does not act as ether, but in the way the third man acts.

Thus I may say: I have first my physical body (oval),1The drawings in this volume are reconstructions of those freely drawn by Rudolf Steiner in coloured chalks on the blackboard. Some were made progressively but as depicted here they are from the completed sketches. Reproduction in colour is impracticable. then my etheric body, perceived in ‘meditative’ consciousness (yellow), then the third man, which I will call the ‘astral’ man (red). Everywhere around me I have what we found to be the second thing in the universe—the universal ether (yellow). This, to begin with, is like an indefinite sea of ether.

Diagram 1

Now the moment I radiate into this ether anything that proceeds from this third man within me, it responds; this ether responds as if it were like the third man within me, i.e. not etherically, but ‘astrally’. Thus I release through my own activity something within this wide sea of ether that is similar to my own ‘third man’. What is this that acts in the ether as a counter-image? I lift the chalk; any hand moves from below upwards. The etheric picture, however, moves from above downwards; it is an exact counter-image. It is really an astral picture, a mere picture. Nevertheless, it is through the real, present-day man that this picture is evoked. Now, if I learn, by means of what I have already described, to look backwards in earth-evolution—if I learn to apply to cosmic evolution what is briefly recapitulated in the way described—I discover the following:

Diagram 2

Here is the present condition of the earth. I go back to an etheric earth. I do not find there, as yet, what has been released through me in the surrounding ether. I must go farther back to a still earlier condition of the earth in which the earth resembled my own astral body. The earth was then astral—a being like my third man. I must look for this being in times long past, in times long anterior to those in which the earth was etheric. Going back-wards in time is really no different from seeing a distant object—a light, let us say—that shines as far as this. It is over there, but shines as far as here; it sends images to us here. Now put time instead of space: That which is of like nature with my own astral body was there in primeval times. Time has not ceased to be; it is still there. Just as, in space, light can shine as far as here, so that which lies in a long gone past works on into the present. Fundamentally speaking, the whole time-evolution is still there. What-ever was once there—and is of like nature with that which, in the outer ether, resembles my own astral body—has not disappeared.

Here I touch on something that, spiritually, is actively present and makes time into space. It is really no different from communicating over a long distance with the help of a telegraph. In lifting the chalk I evoke a picture in the ether and communicate with what, for outer perception, has long passed away.

We see how man is placed in the world in a quite different way from what appears at first. And we understand, too, why cosmic riddles present themselves to him. He feels within that he has an etheric body, though he does not realise it clearly: even science does not realise it clearly today. He feels that this etheric body transforms his food-stuffs and transforms them back again. He does not find this in stones, though the stones were already there, in primeval times which he discovers, there as general ether. But in this ether a still more remote past is active. Thus man bears within him an ancient past in a twofold way; a more recent past in his etheric body and a more ancient past in his astral body.

When man confronts Nature today he usually only studies what is lifeless. Even what is living in plants is only studied by applying to them the laws of substances as discovered in his laboratory. He omits to study growth; he neglects the life in his plants. Present-day science really studies plants as one who picks up a book and observes the forms of the letters, but does not read. Science, today, studies all things in this way.

Indeed, if you open a book but cannot read, the forms must appear very puzzling. You cannot really understand why there is here a form like this: ‘b’, then ‘a’, then ‘l’, then ‘d’, i.e. bald. What are these forms doing side by side? That is, indeed, a riddle. The way of regarding things that I have put before you is really learning to read in the world and in man. By ‘learning to read’ we come gradually near to the solution of our riddles.

You see, my dear friends, I wanted to put before you merely a general path for human thinking along which one can escape from the condition of despair in which man finds himself and which I described at the outset. We shall proceed to study how one can advance farther and farther in reading the phenomena in the outer world and in man.

In doing this, however, we are led along paths of thought with which man is quite unfamiliar today. And what usually happens? People say: I don't understand that. But what does this mean? It only means that this does not agree with what was taught them at school, and they have become accustomed to think in the way they were trained. ‘But do not our schools take their stand on genuine science?’ Yes, but what does that mean? My dear friends, I will give you just one example of this genuine science.—One who is no longer young has experienced many things like this. One learnt, for example, that various substances are necessary for the process referred to today—the taking in of foodstuffs and their transformation within the human organism. Albumens (proteins), fats, water, salts, sugar and starch products were cited as necessary for men. Then experiments were made.

If we go back twenty years, we find that experiments showed man to require at least one hundred and twenty grammes of protein a day; otherwise he could not live. That was ‘science’ twenty years ago. What is ‘science’ today? Today twenty to fifty grammes are sufficient. At that time it was ‘science’ that one would become ill—under-nourished—if one did not get these one hundred and twenty grammes of protein. Today science says it is injurious to one's health to take more than fifty grammes at the most; one can get along quite well with twenty grammes. If one takes more, putrefying substances form in the intestines and auto-intoxication, self-poisoning, is set up. Thus it is harmful to take more than fifty grammes of protein. That is science today.

This, however, is not merely a scientific question, it has a bearing on life. Just think: twenty years ago, when it was scientific to believe that one must have one hundred and twenty grammes of protein, people were told to choose their diet accordingly. One had to assume that a man could pay for all this. So the question touched the economic sphere. It was proved carefully that it is impossible to obtain these one hundred and twenty grammes of protein from plants. Today we know that man gets the requisite amount of protein from any kind of diet. If he simply eats sufficient potatoes—he need not eat many—along with a little butter, he obtains the requisite amount of protein. Today it is scientifically certain that this is so. Moreover, it is a fact that a man who fills himself with one hundred and twenty grammes of protein acquires a very uncertain appetite. If, on the other hand, he keeps to a diet which provides him with twenty grammes of protein, and happens, once in a while, to take food with less, and which would therefore under-nourish him, he turns from it. His instinct in regard to food becomes reliable. Of course, there are still under-nourished people, but this has other causes and certainly does not come from a deficiency of protein. On the other hand, there are certainly numerous people suffering from auto-intoxication and many other things because they are over-fed with protein.

I do not want to speak now of infectious diseases, but will just mention that people are most susceptible to so-called infection when they take one hundred and twenty grammes of protein [a day]. They are then most likely to get diphtheria, or even small-pox. If they only take twenty grammes, they will only be infected with great difficulty.

Thus it was once scientific to say that one requires so much protein as to poison oneself and be exposed to every kind of infection. That was ‘science’ twenty years ago! All this is a part of science; but when we see what was scientific in regard to very important matters but a short time ago, our confidence in such science is radically shaken.

This, too, is something one must bear in mind when we encounter a study like Anthroposophy that gives to our thinking, our whole mood of soul, a different direction from that customary today. I only wanted to point, so to speak, to what is put forward—in the first place—as preliminary instruction in the attainment of another kind of thinking, another way of contemplating the world.