By Rudolf Steiner
At the present time the words "occult science" are apt to arouse the most varied feelings. Upon some people they work like a magic charm, like the announcement of something to which they feel attracted by the innermost powers of their soul; to others there is in the words something repellent, calling forth contempt, derision, or a compassionate smile. By many, occult science is looked upon as a lofty goal of human effort, the crown of all other knowledge and cognition; others, who are devoting themselves with the greatest earnestness and noble love of truth to that which appears to them true science, deem occult science mere idle dreaming and fantasy, in the same category with what is called superstition. To some, occult science is like a light without which life would be valueless; to others, it represents a spiritual danger, calculated to lead astray immature minds and weak souls, while between these two extremes is to be found every possible intermediate shade of opinion.
Strange feelings are awakened in one who has attained a certain impartiality of judgment in regard to occult science, its adherents and its opponents, when one sees how people, undoubtedly possessed of a genuine feeling for freedom in many matters, become intolerant when they meet with this particular line of thought. And an unprejudiced observer will scarcely fail in this case to admit that what attracts many adherents of occult science--or occultism--is nothing but the fatal craving for what is unknown and mysterious, or even vague. And he will also be ready to own that there is much cogency in the reasons put forward against what is fantastic and visionary by serious opponents of the cause in question. In fact, one who studies occult science will do well not to lose sight of the fact that the impulse toward the mysterious leads many people on a vain chase after worthless and dangerous will-o'-the-wisps.
Even though the occult scientist keeps a watchful eye on all errors and vagaries on the part of adherents of his views, and on all justifiable antagonism, yet there are reasons which hold him back from the immediate defence of his own efforts and aspirations. These reasons will become apparent to any one entering more deeply into occult science. It would therefore be superfluous to discuss them here. If they were cited before the threshold of this science had been crossed, they would not suffice to convince one who, held back by irresistible repugnance, refuses to cross that threshold. But to one who effects an entry, the reasons will soon manifest themselves, with unmistakable clearness from within.
This much, however, implies that the reasons in question point to a certain attitude as the only right one for an occult scientist. He avoids, as much as he possibly can, any kind of outer defence or conflict, and lets the cause speak for itself. He simply puts forward occult science; and in what it has to say about various matters, he shows how his knowledge is related to other departments of life and science, what antagonism it may encounter, and in what way reality stands witness to the truth of his cognitions. He knows that an attempted vindication would,--not merely on account of current defective thinking but by virtue of a certain inner necessity,--lead into the domain of artful persuasion; and he desires nothing else than to let occult science work its own way quite independently.
The first point in occult science is by no means the advancing of assertions or opinions which are to be proven, but the communication, in a purely narrative form, of experiences which are to be met with in a world other than the one that is to be seen with physical eyes and touched with physical hands. And further, it is an important point that through this science the methods are described by which man may verify for himself the truth of such communications. For one who makes a serious study of genuine occult science will soon find that thereby much becomes changed in the conceptions and ideas which are formed--and rightly formed--in other spheres of life. A wholly new conception necessarily arises also about what has hitherto been called a "proof." We come to see that in certain domains such a word loses its usual meaning, and that there are other grounds for insight and understanding than "proofs" of this kind.
All occult science is born from two thoughts, which may take root in any human being. To the occult scientist these thoughts express facts which may be experienced if the right methods for the purpose are used. But to many people these same thoughts represent highly disputable assertions, which may arouse fierce contention, even if they are not regarded as something which may be "proven" impossible.
These two thoughts are, first, that behind the visible world there is another, the world invisible, which is hidden from the senses and also from thought that is fettered by these senses; and secondly, that it is possible for man to penetrate into that unseen world by developing certain faculties dormant within him.
Some will say that there is no such hidden world. The world perceived by man through his senses is the only one. Its enigmas can be solved out of itself. Even if man is still very far from being able to answer all the questions of existence, the time will certainly come when sense-experience and the science based upon it will be able to give the answers to all such questions.
Others say that it cannot be asserted that there is no unseen world behind the visible one, but that human powers of perception are not able to penetrate into that world. Those powers have bounds which they cannot pass. Faith, with its urgent cravings, may take refuge in such a world; but true science, based on ascertained facts, can have nothing to do with it.
A third class looks upon it as a kind of presumption for man to attempt to penetrate, by his own efforts of cognition, into a domain with regard to which he should give up all claim to knowledge and be content with faith. The adherents of this view feel it to be wrong for weak human beings to wish to force their way into a world which should belong to religious life.
It is also alleged that a common knowledge of the facts of the sense-world is possible for mankind, but that in regard to supersensible things it can be merely a question of the individual's personal opinion, and that in these matters there can be no possibility of a certainty universally recognized. And many other assertions are made on the subject.
The occult scientist has convinced himself that a consideration of the visible world propounds enigmas to man which can never be solved out of the facts of that world itself. Their solution in this way will never be possible, however far advanced a knowledge of those facts may be. For visible facts plainly point, through their own inner nature, to the existence of a hidden world. One who does not see this closes his eyes to the problems which obviously spring up everywhere out of the facts of the sense-world. He refuses to recognize certain questions and problems, and therefore thinks that all questions can be answered through facts within reach of sense perception. The questions which he is willing to ask are all capable of being answered by the facts which he is convinced will be discovered in the course of time. Every genuine occultist admits this. But why should one, when he asks no questions, expect answers on certain subjects? The occult scientist says that to him such questioning is natural, and must be regarded as a wholly justifiable expression of the human soul. Science is surely not to be confined within limits which prohibit impartial inquiry.
The opinion that there are bounds to human knowledge which it is impossible to pass, compelling man to stop short of the invisible world, is thus met by the occult scientist: he says that there can exist no doubt concerning the impossibility of penetrating into the unseen world by means of the kind of cognition here meant. One who considers it the only kind can come to no other opinion than that man is not permitted to penetrate into a possibly existing higher world. But the occult scientist goes on to say that it is possible to develop a different sort of cognition, and that this leads into the unseen world. If this kind of cognition is held to be impossible, we arrive at a point of view from which any mention of an invisible world appears as sheer nonsense. But to an unbiased judgment there can be no basis for such an opinion as this, except that its adherent is a stranger to that other kind of cognition. But how can a person form an opinion about a subject of which he declares himself ignorant? Occult science must in this case maintain the principle that people should speak only of what they know, and should not make assertions about anything of which they are ignorant. It can only recognize every man's right to communicate his own experiences, not every man's right to declare the impossibility of what he does not, or will not, know. The occult scientist disputes no one's right to ignore the invisible world; but there can be no real reason why a person should declare himself an authority, not only on what he may know, but also on things considered unknowable.
To those who say that it is presumption to penetrate into unseen regions, the occult scientist would merely point out that this can be done, and that it is sinning against the faculties with which man has been endowed if he allows them to waste instead of developing and using them.
But he who thinks that views about the unseen world are necessarily wholly dependent on personal opinion and feeling is denying the common essence of all human beings. Even though it is true that every one must find light on these things within himself, it is also a fact that all those, who go far enough, arrive at the same, not at different conclusions regarding them. Differences exist only as long as people will not approach the highest truths by the well-tested path of occult science, but attempt ways of their own choosing. Genuine occult science will certainly fully admit that only one who has followed, or at any rate has begun to follow the path of occult science, is in a position to recognize it as the right one. But all those who follow that path will recognize its genuineness, and have always done so.
The path to occult knowledge will be found, at the fitting moment, by every human being who discerns in what is visible the presence of something invisible, or who even but dimly surmises or divines it, and who, from his consciousness that powers of cognition are capable of development, is driven to the feeling that what is hidden may be unveiled to him. One who is drawn to occult science by such experiences of the soul will find opening up before him, not only the prospect of finding the answers to certain questions which press upon him, but the further prospect of overcoming everything which hampers and enfeebles his life. And in a certain higher sense it implies a weakening of life, in fact a death of the soul, when a person is compelled to turn away from, or to deny, the unseen. Indeed, under certain circumstances despair is the result of a man's losing all hope of having the invisible revealed to him. This death and despair, in their manifold forms, are at the same time inner spiritual foes of occult science. They make their appearance when a person's inner force is dwindling away. In that case, if he is to possess any vital force it must be supplied to him from without. He perceives the things, beings, and events which approach his organs of sense, and analyzes them with his intellect. They afford him pleasure and pain, and impel him to the actions of which he is capable. For a while he may go on in this way: but at length he must reach a point at which he inwardly dies. For that which may thus be extracted for man from the outer world, becomes exhausted. This is not a statement arising from the personal experience of one individual, but something resulting from an impartial survey of the whole of human life. That which secures life from exhaustion lies in the unseen world, deep at the roots of things. If a person loses the power of descending into those depths so that he cannot be perpetually drawing fresh vitality from them, then in the end the outer world of things also ceases to yield him anything of a vivifying nature.
It is by no means the case that only the individual and his personal weal and woe are concerned. Through occult science man gains the conviction that from a higher standpoint the weal and woe of the individual are intimately bound up with the weal and woe of the whole world. This is a means by which man comes to see that he is inflicting an injury on the entire world and every being within it, if he does not develop his own powers in the right way. If a man makes his life desolate by losing touch with the unseen, he not only destroys in his inner self something, the decay of which may eventually drive him to despair, but through his weakness he constitutes a hindrance to the evolution of the whole world in which he lives.
Now man may delude himself. He may yield to the belief that there is nothing invisible, and that that which is manifest to his senses and intellect contains everything which can possibly exist. But such an illusion is only possible on the surface of consciousness and not in its depths. Feeling and desire do not yield to this delusive belief. They will be perpetually craving, in one way or another, for that which is invisible. And if this is withheld, they drive man to doubt, to uncertainty about life, or even to despair. Occult science, by making manifest what is unseen, is calculated to overcome all hopelessness, uncertainty, and despair,--everything, in short, which weakens life and makes it unfit for its necessary service in the universe.
The beneficent effect of occult science is that it not only satisfies thirst for knowledge but gives strength and stability to life. The source whence the occult scientist draws his power for work and his confidence in life is inexhaustible. Any one who has once had recourse to that fount will always, on revisiting it, go forth with renewed vigour.
There are people who will not hear anything about occult science, because they think they discern something unhealthy in what has just been said. These people are quite right as regards the surface and outer aspect of life. They do not desire that to be stunted, which life, in its so-called reality, offers. They see weakness in man's turning away from reality and seeking his welfare in an unseen world which to them is synonymous with what is chimerical and visionary. If as occult scientists we do not desire to fall into morbid dreaming and weakness, we must admit that such objections are partially justified. For they are founded upon sound judgment, which leads to a half truth instead of a whole truth merely because it does not penetrate to the roots of things, but remains on the surface. If occult science were calculated to weaken life and estrange man from true reality, such objections would certainly be strong enough to cut the ground from under the feet of those who follow this spiritual line of life. But even in regard to such opinions as these, occult science would not be taking the right course in defending itself in the ordinary sense of the word. Even in this case it can only speak by means of what it gives to those who really penetrate into its meaning, that is, by the real force and vitality which it bestows. It does not weaken life, but strengthens it, because it equips man not only with the forces of the manifest world but with those of the invisible world of which the manifest is the effect. Thus it does not imply an impoverishment, but an enrichment, of life. The true occult scientist does not stand aloof from the world, but is a lover of reality, because he does not desire to enjoy the unseen in a remote dream-world, but finds his happiness in bringing to the world ever fresh supplies of force from the invisible sources from whence this very world is derived, and from which it must be continually fructified.
Some people find many obstacles when they enter upon the path of occult science. One of these is expressed in the fact, that a person, attempting to take the first steps, is sometimes discouraged because at the outset he is introduced to the details of the supersensible world, in order that he may, with entire patience and devotion, become acquainted with them. A series of communications is made to him concerning the invisible nature of man, about certain definite occurrences in the kingdom of which death opens the portals, and regarding the evolutions of man, the earth, and the entire solar system. What he expected was to enter the supersensible world easily, at a bound. Now he is heard to say: "Everything which I am told to study is food for my mind, but leaves my soul cold. I am seeking the deepening of my soul-life. I want to find myself within. I am seeking something that will lift my soul into the sphere of the divine, leading it to its true home; I do not want information about the human being and world-processes." People who talk in this way have no idea that by such feelings they are barring the door to what they are really seeking. For it is just when, and only when, with a free and open mind, in self-surrender and patience, they assimilate what they call "merely" food for the intellect, that they will find that for which their souls are athirst. That road leads the soul to union with the divine, which brings to the soul knowledge of the works of the divine. The uplifting of the heart is the result of learning to know about the creations of the spirit.
On this account occult science must begin by imparting the information which throws light on the realms of the spiritual world. So too, in this book, we shall begin with what can be unveiled concerning unseen worlds through the methods of occult research. That which is mortal in man, and that which is immortal, will be described in their connection with the world, of which he is a member.
Then will follow a description of the methods by which man is able to develop those powers of cognition latent within him, which will lead him into that world. As much will be said about the methods as is at present possible in a work of this kind. It seems natural to think that these methods should be dealt with first. For it seems as though the main point would be to acquaint man with what may bring him, by means of his own powers, to the desired view of the higher world. Many may say, "Of what use is it for me that others tell me what they know about higher worlds? I wish to see them for myself."
The fact of the matter is that for really fruitful experience of the mysteries of the unseen world, previous knowledge of certain facts belonging to that world is absolutely necessary. Why this is so, will be sufficiently brought out from what follows.
It is a mistake to think that the truths of occult science which are imparted by those qualified to communicate them, before mention is made of the means of penetrating into the spiritual world itself, can be understood and grasped only by means of the higher vision which results from developing certain powers latent in man. This is not the case. For investigating and discovering the mysteries of a supersensible world, that higher sight is essential. No one is able to discover the facts of the unseen world without the clairvoyance which is synonymous with that higher vision. When however, the facts have been discovered and imparted, every one who applies to them the full range of his ordinary intellect and unprejudiced powers of judgment, will be able to understand them and to rise to a high degree of conviction concerning them. One who maintains that the mysteries are incomprehensible to him, does not do so because he is not yet clairvoyant, but because he has not yet succeeded in bringing into activity those powers of cognition which may be possessed by every one, even without clairvoyance.
A new method of putting forward these matters consists in so describing them, after they have been clairvoyantly investigated, that they are quite accessible to the faculty of judgment. If only people do not shut themselves off by prejudice, there is no obstacle to arriving at a conviction, even without higher vision. It is true that many will find that the new method of presentment, as given in this book, is far from corresponding to their customary ways of forming an opinion. But any objection due to this will soon disappear if one takes the trouble to follow out these customary methods to their final consequences.
When, by an extended application of ordinary thought, a certain number of the higher mysteries have been assimilated and found intelligible by any one, then the right moment has come for the methods of occult research to be applied to his individual personality:--these will give him access to the unseen world.
Nor will any genuine scientist be able to find contradiction, in spirit and in truth, between his science, which is built upon the facts of the sense-world, and the way in which occult science carries on its researches. The scientist uses certain instruments and methods. He constructs his instruments by working upon what "nature" gives him. Occult science also uses an instrument, but in this case the instrument is man himself. And that instrument too must first be prepared for that higher research. The faculties and powers given to man by nature at the outset without his co-operation, must be transformed into higher ones. In this way man is able to make himself into an instrument for the investigation of the unseen world.
With the consideration of man in the light of occult science, what this signifies in general, immediately becomes evident. It rests upon the recognition of something hidden behind that which is revealed to the outer senses and to the intellect acquired through perception. These senses and this intellect can apprehend only a part of all that which occult science unveils as the total human entity, and this part is the physical body. In order to throw light upon its conception of this physical body, occult science at first directs attention to a phenomenon which confronts all observers of life like a great riddle,--the phenomenon of death,--and in connection with it, points to so-called inanimate nature, the mineral kingdom. We are thus referred to facts, which it devolves on occult science to explain, and to which an important part of this work must be devoted. But to begin with, only a few points will be touched upon, by way of orientation.
Within manifested nature the physical body, according to occult science, is that part of man which is of the same nature as the mineral kingdom. On the other hand, that which distinguishes man from minerals is considered as not being part of the physical body. From the occult point of view, what is of supreme importance is the fact that death separates the human being from that which, during life, is of like nature with the mineral world. Occult science points to the dead body as that part of man which is to be found existing in the same way in the mineral kingdom. It lays strong emphasis upon the fact that in this principle of the human being, which it looks upon as the physical body, and which death reduces to a corpse, the same materials and forces are at work as in the mineral realm; but no less emphasis is laid upon the fact that at death disintegration of the physical body sets in. Occult science therefore says: "It is true that the same materials and forces are at work in the physical body as in the mineral, but during life their activity is placed at the disposal of something higher. They are left to themselves only when death occurs. Then they act, as they must in conformity with their own nature, as decomposers of the physical body."
Thus a sharp distinction must be drawn between the manifested and the hidden elements in man. For during life, that which is hidden from view has to wage perpetual war on the materials and forces of the mineral world. This indicates the point at which occult science steps in. It has to characterize that which wages the war alluded to, as a principle which is hidden from sense-observation. Clairvoyant sight alone can reveal its workings. How man arrives at awareness of this hidden element, as plainly as his ordinary eyes see the phenomena of sense, will be described in a later part of this book. Results of clairvoyant observation will be given now for the reason already pointed out in the preceding pages, that is, that communications about the way in which the higher sight is obtained can only be of value to the student when he has first become acquainted, in the form of a narrative, with the results of clairvoyant research. For in this sphere it is quite possible to understand things which one is not yet able to observe. Indeed, the right path to higher vision starts with understanding.
Now, although the hidden something which wages war on the disintegration of the physical body can be observed only by the higher sight, it is plainly visible in its effects to the human faculty of judgment which is limited to the manifested world; and these effects are expressed in the form or shape in which mineral materials and forces are combined during life. When death has intervened, the form disappears little by little, and the physical body becomes part of the rest of the mineral world. But the clairvoyant is able to observe this hidden something as an independent member of the human organism, which during life prevents the physical materials and forces from taking their natural course, which would lead to the dissolution of the physical body. This independent principle is called the etheric or vital body.
If misunderstandings are not to arise at the outset, two things must be borne in mind in connection with this account of a second principle of human nature. The word "etheric" is used here in a different sense from that of modern physics, which designates as "ether" the medium by which light is transmitted. In occult science the use of the word is limited to the sense given above. It denotes that which is accessible to higher sight, and can be known to physical observation only by its effects, that is, by its power of giving a definite form or shape to the mineral materials and forces present in the physical body. Again, the use of the word "body" must not be misunderstood. It is necessary to use the words of every day language in describing things on a higher plane of existence, and these terms, when applied to sense-observation, express only what is physical. The etheric body has, of course, nothing of a bodily nature in the physical sense, however ethereal we might imagine such a body to be. As soon as the occultist mentions this etheric or vital body, he reaches the point at which he is bound to encounter the opposition of many contemporary opinions. The development of the human mind has been such that the mention of such a principle of human nature is necessarily looked upon as unscientific. The materialistic way of thinking has arrived at the conclusion that there is nothing to be seen in a living body but a combination of physical substances and forces such as are also found in the so-called inanimate body of the mineral, the only difference being that they are more complicated in the living than in the lifeless body. Yet it is not very long since other views were held, even by official science.
It is evident to any one who studies the works of many earnest men of science, produced during the first half of the nineteenth century, that at that time many a genuine investigator of nature was conscious of some factor acting within the living body other than in the lifeless mineral. It was termed "vital force." It is true this vital force is not represented as being what has been above characterized as the vital body, but underlying the conception was a dim idea of the existence of such a body. Vital force was generally regarded as something which in a living body was united with physical matter and forces in the same way that the force of a magnet unites itself with iron. Then came the time when vital force was banished from the domain of science. Mere physical and chemical causes were accounted all sufficient.
At the present moment, however, there is a reaction in this respect in some scientific quarters. It is sometimes conceded that the hypothesis of something of the nature of "vital force" is not pure nonsense. Yet even the scientist who concedes this much is not willing to make common cause with the occultist with regard to the vital body. As a rule, it serves no useful purpose to enter upon a discussion of such views from the standpoint of occult science. It should be much more the concern of the occultist to recognize that the materialistic way of thinking is a necessary concomitant phenomenon of the great advance of natural science in our day. This advance is due to the vast improvements in the instruments used in sense-observation. And it is in the very nature of man to bring some of his faculties to a certain degree of perfection at the expense of others. Exact sense-observation, which has been evolved to such an important extent by natural science, was bound to leave in the background the cultivation of those human faculties which lead into the hidden worlds. But the time has come when this cultivation is once more necessary; and recognition of the invisible will not be won by combating opinions which are the logical outcome of a denial of its existence, but rather by setting the invisible in the right light. Then it will be recognized by those for whom the "time has come."
It was necessary to say this much, in order that it may not be imagined that occult science is ignorant of the standpoint of natural science when mention is made of an "etheric body," which, in many circles must necessarily be considered as purely imaginary.
Thus the etheric body is the second principle of the human being. For the clairvoyant, it possesses a higher degree of reality than the physical body. A description of how it is seen by the clairvoyant can be given only in later parts of this book, when the sense in which such descriptions are to be taken will become manifest. For the present it will be enough to say that the etheric body penetrates the physical body in all its parts, and is to be regarded as a kind of architect of the latter. All the physical organs are maintained in their form and shape by the currents and movements of the etheric body. The physical heart is based upon an etheric heart, the physical brain, upon an etheric brain, and the physical, with this difference, that in the etheric body the parts flow into one another in active motion, whereas in the physical body they are separated from each other.
Man has this etheric body in common with all plants, just as he has the physical body in common with minerals. Everything living has its etheric body.
The study of occult science proceeds upwards from the etheric body to another principle of the human being. To aid in the formation of an idea of this principle, it draws attention to the phenomenon of sleep, just as in connection with the etheric body attention was drawn to death. All human work, so far as the manifested world is concerned, is dependent upon activity during waking life. But that activity is possible only as long as man is able to recuperate his exhausted forces by sleep. Action and thought disappear, pain and pleasure fade away during sleep, and on re-awaking, man's conscious powers ascend from the unconsciousness of sleep as though from hidden mysterious sources of energy. It is the same consciousness which sinks down into dim depths on falling asleep and ascends from them again on re-awaking.
That which awakens life again out of this state of unconsciousness is, according to occult science, the third principle of the human being. It is called the astral body. Just as the physical body cannot keep its form by means of the mineral substances and forces it contains, but must, in order to be kept together, be interpenetrated by the etheric body, so is it impossible for the forces of the etheric body to illuminate themselves with the light of consciousness. An etheric body left to its own resources would be in a permanent state of sleep.(1) An etheric body awake, is illuminated by an astral body. This astral body seems to sense-observation to disappear when man falls asleep; to clairvoyant observation it is still present, with the difference that it appears separated from or drawn out of the etheric body. Sense-observation has nothing to do with the astral body itself, but only with its effects in the manifested world, and these cease during sleep. In the same sense in which man possesses his physical body in common with plants, he resembles animals as regards his astral body.
Plants are in a permanent state of sleep. One who does not judge accurately in these matters may easily make the mistake of attributing to plants the same kind of consciousness as that of animals and human beings in the waking state; but this assumption can only be due to an inaccurate conception of consciousness. In that case it is said that, if an external stimulus is applied to a plant, it responds by certain movements, as would an animal. The sensitiveness of some plants is spoken of,--for example, of those which contract their leaves when certain external things act upon them. But the characteristic mark of consciousness is not that a being reacts in a certain way to an impression, but that it experiences something in its inner nature which adds a new element to mere reaction. Otherwise we should be able to speak of the consciousness of a piece of iron when it expands under the influence of heat. Consciousness is present only when, through the effect of heat, the being feels pain or pleasure inwardly.
The fourth principle of being which occult science attributes to man is one which he does not share in common with the rest of the manifested world. It is that which differentiates him from his fellow creatures and makes him the crown of creation. Occult science helps in forming a conception of this further principle of human nature by pointing out the existence of an essential difference between the kinds of experience in waking life. On the one hand, man is constantly subjected to experiences which must of necessity come and go; on the other, he has experiences with which this is not the case. This fact comes out with special force if human experiences are compared with those of animals. An animal experiences the influences of the outer world with great regularity; under the influence of heat and cold it becomes conscious of pain or pleasure, and during certain regularly recurring bodily processes it feels hunger and thirst. The sum total of man's life is not exhausted by such experiences; he is able to develop desires and wishes which go beyond these things. In the case of an animal it would always be possible, on going far enough into the matter, to ascertain the cause--either within or without its body--which impelled it to any given act or feeling. This is by no means the case with man. He may engender wishes and desires for which no adequate cause exists either inside or outside of his body. A particular source must be found for everything in this domain; and according to occult science this source is to be found in the human "I" or "ego." Therefore the ego will be spoken of as the fourth principle of the human being.
Were the astral body left to its own resources, feelings of pleasure and pain, and sensations of hunger and thirst, would take place within it, but there would be lacking the consciousness of something lasting in all these feelings. It is not the permanent as such, which is here designated the "ego," but rather that which experiences this permanent element. In this domain, conceptions must be very exactly expressed if misunderstandings are not to arise. With the becoming aware of something permanent, lasting, within the changing inner experiences, begins the dawn of "ego consciousness."
The sensation of hunger, for instance, cannot give a creature the feeling of having an ego. Hunger sets in when the recurring causes make themselves felt in the being concerned, which then devours its food just because these recurring conditions are present. For the ego-consciousness to arise, there must not only be these recurring conditions, urging the being to take food, but there must have been pleasure derived from previous satisfaction of hunger, and the consciousness of the pleasure must have remained, so that not only the present experience of hunger but the past experience of pleasure urges the being to take nourishment.
Just as the physical body falls into decay if the etheric body does not keep it together, and as the etheric body sinks into unconsciousness if not illuminated by the astral body, so the astral body would necessarily allow the past to be lost in oblivion unless the ego rescued the past by carrying it over into the present. What death is to the physical body and sleep to the etheric, the power of forgetting is to the astral body. We may put this in another way, and say that life is the special characteristic of the etheric body, consciousness that of the astral body, and memory that of the ego.
It is still easier to make the mistake of attributing memory(2) to an animal than that of attributing consciousness to a plant. It is so natural to think of memory when a dog recognizes its master, whom perhaps it has not seen for some time; yet in reality the recognition is not due to memory at all, but to something quite different. The dog feels a certain attraction toward its master which proceeds from the personality of the latter. This gives the dog a sense of pleasure whenever its master is present, and every time this happens it is a cause of the repetition of the pleasure. But memory only exists in a being when he not only feels his present experiences, but retains those of the past. A person might admit this, and yet fall into the error of thinking the dog has memory. For it might be said that the dog pines when its master leaves it, and therefore it retains a remembrance of him. This too is an inaccurate opinion. Living with its master has made his presence a condition of well-being to the dog, and it feels his absence much in the same way in which it feels hunger. One who does not make these distinctions will not arrive at a clear understanding of the true conditions of life.
Memory and forgetfulness have for the ego much the same significance that waking and sleeping have for the astral body. Just as sleep banishes into nothingness the cares and troubles of the day, so does forgetfulness draw a veil over the sad experiences of life and efface part of the past. And just as sleep is necessary for the recuperation of the exhausted vital forces, so must a man blot out from his memory certain portions of his past life if he is to face his new experiences freely and without prejudice. It is out of this very forgetfulness that strength arises for the perception of new facts. Let us take the case of learning to write. All the details which a child has to go through in this process are forgotten. What remains is the ability to write. How would a person ever be able to write if each time he took up his pen all his experiences in learning to write rose up before his mind?
Now there are many different degrees of memory. Its simplest form is manifest when a person perceives an object and, after turning away from it, retains its image in his mind. He formed the image while looking at the object, A process was then carried out between his astral body and his ego. The astral body lifted into consciousness the outward impression of the object, but knowledge of the object would last only as long as the thing itself was present, unless the ego absorbed the knowledge into itself and made it its own.
It is at this point that occult science draws the dividing line between what belongs to the body and what belongs to the soul. It speaks of the astral body as long as it is a question of the gaining of knowledge from an object which is present. But what gives knowledge duration is known as soul. From this it can at once be seen how close is the connection in man between the astral body and that part of the soul which gives a lasting quality to knowledge. The two are, to a certain extent, united into one principle of human nature. Consequently, this unity is often denoted the astral body. When exact terms are desired, the astral body is called the soul-body, and the soul, in so far as it is united with the latter, is called the sentient soul.
The ego rises to a higher stage of its being when it centres its activity on what it has gained for itself out of its knowledge of objective things. It is by means of this activity that the ego detaches itself more and more from the objects of perception, in order to work within that which is its own possession. The part of the soul on which this work devolves is called the rational- or intellectual-soul.(3) It is the peculiarity of the sentient and intellectual souls that they work with that which they receive through sense-impressions of external objects of which they retain the memory. The soul is then wholly surrendered to something which is really outside it. Even what it has made its own through memory, it has actually received from without. But it is able to go beyond all this, and occult science can most easily give an idea of this by drawing attention to a simple fact, which, however, is of the greatest importance. It is, that in the whole range of speech there is but one name which is distinguished by its very nature from all other names. This is the name "I." Every other name can be applied by any one to the thing or being to which it belongs. The word "I," as the designation of a being, has a meaning only when given to that being by himself. Never can any outside voice call us by the name of "I." We can apply it only to ourselves. I am only an "I" to myself; to every one else I am a "you," and every one else is a "you" to me. This fact is the outward expression of a deeply significant truth. The real essence of the ego is independent of everything outside of it, and it is on this account that its name cannot be applied to it by any one else. This is the reason why those religions confessions which have consciously maintained their connections with occult science, speak the word "I" as the "unutterable name of God." For the fact above mentioned is exactly what is referred to when this expression is used. Nothing outward has access to that part of the human soul of which we are now speaking. It is the "hidden sanctuary" of the soul. Only a being of like nature with the soul can win entrance there. "The divinity dwelling in man speaks when the soul recognizes itself as an ego." Just as the sentient and intellectual souls live in the outer world, so a third soul-principle is immersed in the divine when the soul becomes conscious of its own nature.
In this connection a misunderstanding may easily arise; it may seem as though occult science interpreted the ego to be one with God. But it by no means says that the ego is God, only that it is of the same nature and essence as God. Does any one declare the drop of water taken from the ocean to be the ocean, when he asserts that the drop and the ocean are the same in essence or substance? If a comparison is needed, we may say, "The ego is related to God as the drop of water is to the ocean." Man is able to find a divine element within himself, because his original essence is derived directly from the Divine. Thus man, through the third principle of his soul, attains an inner knowledge of himself, just as through his astral body he gains knowledge of the outer world. For this reason occult science calls the third soul-principle the consciousness-soul, and it holds that the soul-part of man consists of three principles, the sentient-, intellectual-, and consciousness-souls, just as the bodily part has three principles, the physical, etheric, and astral bodies.
The real nature of the ego is first revealed in the consciousness-soul. Through feeling and reason the soul loses itself in other things; but as the consciousness-soul it lays hold of its own essence. Therefore this ego can only be perceived through the consciousness-soul by a certain inner activity. The images of external objects are formed as those objects come and go, and the images go on working in the intellect by virtue of their own force. But if the ego is to perceive itself, it cannot merely surrender itself; it must first, by inner activity, draw up its own being out of its depths, in order to become conscious of it. A new activity of the ego begins with this self cognition,--with self-recollection. Owing to this activity, the perception of the ego in the consciousness-soul possesses an entirely different meaning for man from that conveyed by the observation of all that reaches him through the three bodily principles and the two other soul-principles. The power which reveals the ego in the consciousness-soul is in fact the same power which manifests everywhere else in the world; only in the body and the lower soul-principles it does not come forth directly, but is manifested little by little in its effects. The lowest manifestation is through the physical body, thence a gradual ascent is made to that which fills the intellectual soul. Indeed, we may say that with each ascending step one of the veils falls away in which the hidden centre is wrapped. In that which fills the consciousness-soul, this hidden centre emerges unveiled into the temple of the soul. Yet it shows itself just here to be but a drop from the ocean of the all-pervading Primordial Essence; and it is here that man first has to grasp it,--this Primordial Essence. He must recognize it in himself before he is able to find it in its manifestations.
That which penetrates into the consciousness-soul like a drop from the ocean is called by occult science Spirit. In this way is the consciousness-soul united with the spirit, which is the hidden principle in all manifested things. If man wishes to lay hold of the spirit in all manifestation, he must do it in the same way in which he lays hold of the ego in the consciousness-soul. He must extend to the visible world the activity which has led him to the perception of his ego. By this means he evolves to yet higher planes of his being. He adds something new to the principles of his body and soul. The first thing that happens is that he himself conquers what lies hidden in his lower soul-principles, and this is effected through the work which the ego carries on within the soul. How man is engaged in this work becomes evident if we compare a high-minded idealist with a person who is still given up to low desires and so-called sensual pleasures. The latter becomes transmuted into the former if he withdraws from certain lower tendencies and turns to higher ones. He thus works through his ego upon his soul thereby ennobling and spiritualizing it. The ego has become the master of that man's soul-life. This may be carried so far that no desire or wish can take root in the soul unless the ego permits its entrance. In this way the whole soul becomes a manifestation of the ego, which previously only the consciousness-soul had been. All civilized life and all spiritual effort really consist in the one work, which has for its object to make the ego the master. Every one now living is engaged in this work whether he wishes it or not, and whether or not he is conscious of the fact.
Again, by this work human nature is drawn upward to higher stages of being. Man develops new principles of his being. These lie hidden from him behind what is manifest. If man is able by working upon his soul, to make his ego master of it, so that the latter brings into manifestation what is hidden, the work may extend yet farther and include the astral body. In that case the ego takes possession of the astral body by uniting itself with the hidden wisdom of this astral principle. In occult science the astral body which is thus conquered and transformed by the ego is called the Spirit-Self. (This is the same as what is known as "Manas" in theosophical literature, a term borrowed from the wisdom of the East.) In the Spirit-Self a higher principle is added to human nature, one which is present as though in the germ, and which in the course of the work of the human being on itself comes forth more and more.
Man conquers his astral body by pushing through to the hidden forces lying behind it; a similar thing happens, at a later stage of development, to the etheric body: but the work on the latter is more arduous, for what is hidden in the etheric body is enveloped in two veils, but what is hidden in the astral body in only one.(4) Occult science gives an idea of the difference in the work on the two bodies by pointing out certain changes which may take place in man in the course of his development. Let us at first think of the way in which certain soul-qualities of man develop when the ego works upon the soul; how pleasures and desires, joys and sorrows, may change. We have only to look back to our childhood. What gave us pleasure then, what caused us pain? What have we learned in addition to what we knew as children? All this is but an expression of the way in which the ego has gained the mastery over the astral body, for it is this principle which is the vehicle of pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow. Compared with these things, how little in the course of time do certain other human qualities change, for example, the temperament, the deeper peculiarities of the character, and like qualities. A passionate child will often retain certain tendencies to sudden anger during its development in later life.
This is such a striking fact that there are thinkers who entirely deny the possibility of changing the fundamental character. They assume that it is something permanent throughout life, and that it is merely a question of its being manifested in one way or another. But such an opinion is due to defective observation. To one who is capable of seeing such things, it is evident that even the character and temperament of a person may be transformed under the influence of his ego. It is true that this change is slow in comparison with the change in the qualities before mentioned. We may compare the relation to each other of the rates of change in the two bodies to the movements of the hour-hand and minute-hand of a clock. Now the forces which bring about a change of character or temperament belong to the hidden forces of the etheric body. They are of the same nature as the forces which govern the kingdom of life,--the same, therefore, as the forces of growth, nutrition, and generation. Further explanations in this work will throw the right light on these things.
Thus it is not when man simply gives himself up to pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, that the ego is working on the astral body, but when the peculiarities of these qualities of the soul are changed; and the work is extended in the same way to the etheric body, when the ego applies its energies to changing the character or temperament. This change, too, is one in which every person living is engaged, whether consciously or not. The most powerful incitement to this kind of change in ordinary life is that given by religion. If the ego allows the impulses which flow from religion to work upon it again and again, they become a power within it which extends to the etheric body and changes it as lesser impulses in life effect the transformation of the astral body. These lesser impulses, which come to man through study, reflection, the ennobling of feeling, and so on, are subject to the manifold changes of existence; but religious feelings impress a certain stamp of uniformity upon all thinking, feeling, and willing. They diffuse an equal and single light over the whole life of the soul.
Man thinks and feels one thing to-day, another to-morrow, the causes of which are of many different kinds; but one who, consistently holding to his religious convictions, has a glimpse of something which persists through all changes, will relate his thoughts and feelings of to-day, as well as his experiences of to-morrow, to that fundamental feeling he possesses. Thus religious belief has the power of permeating the whole of the soul-life. Its influences increase in strength as time goes on because they are constantly repeated. Hence they acquire the power of working upon the etheric body.
In a similar way the influences of true art work upon man. If,--going beyond the outer form, colour and tone of a work of art,--he penetrates to its spiritual foundations with his imagination and feeling, then the impulses thus received by the ego actually reach the etheric body. When this thought is followed out to its logical conclusion, the immense significance of art in all human evolution may be estimated. Only a few instances are pointed out here of what induces the ego to work upon the etheric body. There are many similar influences in human life which are not so apparent at the first glance. But these instances are enough to show that there is yet another principle of man's nature hidden within him, which the ego is making more and more manifest. Occult science denotes this second principle of the spirit the Life-Spirit. (It is the same which in current theosophical literature is called Budhi, a term borrowed from Eastern wisdom.) The expression "Life-Spirit" is appropriate, because the same forces are at work within it as are active in the vital body, with the difference that when they are manifesting in the latter the ego is not active. When, however, these powers express themselves as the Life-Spirit, they are interpenetrated by the ego.
Man's intellectual development, the purification and ennobling of his feelings and of the manifestations of his will, are the measure of the degree in which he has transformed the astral body into the Spirit-Self. His religious experiences, as well as many others, are stamped upon the etheric body, making it into the Life-Spirit. In the ordinary course of life this happens more or less unconsciously; so-called initiation, on the contrary, consists in man's being directed by occult science to the means through which he may quite consciously take in hand this work on the Spirit-Self and Life-Spirit. These means will be dealt with in later parts of this book. In the meantime it is important to show that, besides the soul and the body, the spirit also is working within man. It will be seen later how this spirit belongs to the eternal part of man, as contrasted with the perishable body.
But the work of the ego on the astral and etheric bodies does not exhaust its activity, which is also extended to the physical body. A slight effect of the influence of the ego on the physical body may be seen when certain experiences cause a person to blush or turn pale. In this case the ego is actually the occasion of a process in the physical body. Now if through the activity of the ego in man, changes occur influencing the physical body, the ego is really united with the hidden forces of the physical body, that is, with the same forces which bring about its physical processes. Occult science says that during such activity the ego is working on the physical body. This expression must not be misunderstood. It must on no account be supposed that this work is of a grossly material nature. What appears as gross material in the physical body is merely the manifested part of it; behind this are the hidden forces of its being, which are of a spiritual nature. When the ego puts forth its energies in the manner described, it unites itself, not with the outer material manifestation of the physical body, but with the invisible forces which bring that body into being and afterwards cause it to decay. This work of the ego on the physical body can only very partially become clear to man's consciousness in ordinary life. It can become fully clear only when, under the influence of occult science, man consciously takes the work into his own hands. Then he becomes aware that there is a third spiritual principle within him. It is that which occult science calls the Spirit-Man, as contrasted with physical man. (In theosophical literature this "Spirit-Man" is known as Atma.)
Again, with regard to the Spirit-Man, it is easy to make a mistake. In the physical body we see man's lowest principle, and on this account find it hard to realize that the work on that body should be accomplished by the highest principle of the human entity. But just because the spirit active within the physical body is hidden under three veils, the highest kind of human effort is needed in order to make the ego one with that which is the hidden spiritual energy of the body.
Occult science, therefore, represents man as a being composed of many principles. Those of a bodily nature are:
the physical body, the etheric or vital body, the astral body.
The soul-principles are:
the sentient-soul, the intellectual- or rational-soul, the consciousness-soul.
It is in the soul that the ego diffuses its light. Of a spiritual nature are:
the Spirit-Self, the Life-Spirit, the Spirit-Man.
It follows from what was said above that the sentient-soul and the astral body are closely united and in a certain sense are one. Similarly, the consciousness-soul and the Spirit-Self form a whole, for in the consciousness-soul the spirit shines forth, and thence irradiates with its light the other principles of the human being. Hence occult science also speaks of man's organization as follows. The intellectual-soul is simply called the ego, because it partakes of the nature of the ego, and in a certain sense is the ego, not yet conscious of its spiritual nature. We thus have seven divisions of man:
(1) physical body; (2) etheric or vital body; (3) astral body; (4) Ego; (5) Spirit-Self; (6) Life-Spirit; (7) Spirit-Man.
Even one accustomed to materialistic habits of thought would not find in this sevenfold organization of man the "fanciful magic" often attributed to the number seven, if one would only keep strictly to the meaning of the above explanations without himself injecting arbitrarily the idea of something magical into the matter. Occult science speaks of these seven principles of man in exactly the same way, only from the standpoint of a higher form of observation of the world, as allusion is commonly made to the seven colours that make up white light, or to the seven notes of the scale (the octave being regarded as a repetition of the keynote). As light appears in seven colours, and sound in seven tones, so is the unity of man's nature manifested in the seven principles described. No more superstition attaches to the number seven in the case of occult science than when associated with the spectrum or with the scale.
On one occasion when these facts were put forward verbally, the objection was made that the statement about the number seven does not apply to colours, since there are others beyond the red and violet rays, invisible to the eye. But even in this respect the comparison with colours holds good, for, in fact, the human being expands beyond the physical body on the one side, and beyond the Spirit-Man on the other; only to the methods of spiritual observation of which occult science here speaks, are these extensions of the human being "spiritually invisible," just as the colours beyond red and violet are physically invisible. This explanation becomes necessary, because the opinion so easily arises that occult science does not seriously apply itself to scientific thinking, but treats such matters unscientifically. However, one who carefully considers the meaning of the statements made by occult science will find that in reality it is never at variance with genuine science; neither when it brings forward the facts of natural science as illustrations, nor when its statements are directly connected with natural research.
The nature of waking consciousness cannot be fathomed without observing that condition which man experiences during sleep, and the problem of life cannot be approached without studying death. Any one failing to perceive the importance of occult science may distrust the manner in which it studies sleep and death. Occult science is, however, capable of appreciating the motives from which such distrust arises. For there is nothing incomprehensible in the assertion that man exists for an active, purposeful life, that his acts depend on his devotion thereto, and that absorption in such conditions as sleep and death can result only from a taste for idle dreaming, and can lead to nothing else than vain imaginings.
The refusal to accept anything of so fantastic a nature may readily be regarded as the expression
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Publication Date: 04-22-2014
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