This is the 2nd of 15 lectures given by Rudolf Steiner at Berlin, that date from October, 1910 through March of 1911. There are also two “extra” lectures included in this lecture series, from December 14th 1911 and January 25th 1912. The title of these lectures is: Spiritual Science's Answer to the Large Questions of the Present Time, in German the title is: Antworten der Geisteswissenschaft auf den Grossen Fragen des Daseins.
This is the 2nd of 15 lectures given by Rudolf Steiner at Berlin, that date from October, 1910 through March of 1911. There are also two “extra” lectures included in this lecture series, from December 14th 1911 and January 25th 1912. The title of these lectures is: Spiritual Science's Answer to the Large Questions of the Present Time, in German the title is: Antworten der Geisteswissenschaft auf den Grossen Fragen des Daseins.
This lecture was translated from a shorthand report, unrevised by the lecturer, by an unknown translator. It is presented here with the kind permission of the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland. The Bn/GA is 60.
Donated by the Los Angeles Steiner Library, this lecture has been made available to everyone.
Life and Death
October 27, 1910
If we take note of many an observation which is made on the relation of man to Life and Death to-day, we may be reminded of a sentence which Shakespeare gives to the gloomy Hamlet:
Such an utterance might be made by many an one who is subject to the suggestive effect of the many conceptions of the times which are acquired in the field of natural science, and who, might feel himself moved to follow up all the movements after death of the separate substances which compose the human body. He might feel himself justified in asking first of all: “What becomes of the oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, etc., which build up the human body after the death of man?” Quite apart from the fact that there are many people to-day who are influenced by the suggestive phrase: “the indestructibility of Matter,” there are, again, others who entirely lose the ability of imagining anything in the whole vast unending space other than matter and its operations.
We can see from many an observation on the nature of death, or one which establishes the idea of an antithesis between life and death, how much depends, in expositions of this kind, on establishing conceptions and ideas in the most exact manner possible. It happens again and again that no account is taken of the fact that “death” and “life” form an antithesis which depends on the nature of that to which it refers, and that, one who makes a closer observation dare not speak in the same way of the death of a plant or an animal as of a man. To what extent this is the case shall be explained in this lecture. How little we understand the expressions used in this sphere may be shown by the fact that in the physiology of the great naturalist, Huxley, for instance, the following is to be found. It is there said, that we must distinguish between the local death and the death of the tissue in an organism, and it is expressly stated that the life of man depends on the brain, lungs and heart, but that this is a threefold condition which we could really reduce into a twofold one; that, in fact, if we could maintain the breathing by artificial means, we might quite well remove the brain of a man and he would continue to live. That means that life would continue, even if the brain were taken away. That is to say, that when a man is no longer able to form a conception of what is around him or of what is taking place within him, and if life could be maintained merely as a life-process in the organism through artificial breathing, the organism would still continue to live in the sense of this definition of natural science, and we could not really speak of death, although no brain were there at all. That is an idea which ought to make clear to anyone who — though he might not care for a life without a brain, at least find such a definition plausible — that this explanation just shows that the definition of life given by natural science is not at all applicable to man in this form. For no one would be able to call the life of an organism — even a human one — the life of man himself, even if other respects the facts hinted at were quite correct.
Now to-day we are, perhaps, somewhat further advanced even in the field of natural science than ten years ago, when one was almost embarrassed in speaking of life at all, and when all life was traced back to the life of the smallest living creatures. This life in the smallest organisms was looked upon as a complicated chemical process. According to this view, if this definition were extended to a conception of the universe, one could only speak of the smallest parts of life as living on, so that only a conservation of matter could then be spoken of. Now, to-day, on account of the investigations on radium, for instance, the idea of the indestructibility of matter has become a more uncertain one.
I will now only draw your attention to the fact that natural science to-day is already attempting to speak of a sort of independence, at least of the smallest living creatures. It states that the smallest living creatures propagate themselves by fission; one divides itself into two, two into four, and so on. There we could not admit of a death, for the first lives on in the second and when these die they both live on in the next ones.
Now those who wished to speak of the immortality of unicellular beings have sought for a definition of death, and just this definition of the nature of death is extremely characteristic. They have found the main characteristic of death is that it leaves a corpse behind, and as unicellular beings leave no corpse behind, they, therefore, cannot really die. Thus the characteristic of that which has to do with the deepest foundations of life is sought in what life leaves behind. Now it will be clear without further explanation, that what remains behind of life passes over gradually into lifeless matter. So lifeless matter now becomes in death the outer organism of the smallest, most complicated living creature. Yet if we wish to take into account the significance which death has for life, we must not look at what is left, at what becomes lifeless matter; but must seek the cause, the principles of life, in life itself, while it is there.
I said that one cannot speak in the same sense of death in plants, as in animals and man, because an important phenomenon is not taken into consideration there. It is also found in certain of the lower animals, for example, in the ephemera; and consists in the fact that most plants and lower animals have the peculiarity that as soon as the process of fructification is established and the possibility of a new living being is created, the dying off of the old one then begins. In the plant the backward process, the process of dying off, begins the moment it has taken into itself the possibility of forming a new plant. One can therefore say quite certainly of those plants in which this can be observed, that the cause which has taken away life from them lies in the new living being or beings, which have left no life behind in the old being.
Through simple reflections one could convince oneself that this is so. There are certain plants which endure, which blossom again and again and bear fruit; and on which ever new plant-forms, like parasites, are, as it were, planted on to the old stem. But there you can convince yourself that they purchase the possibility of recreating themselves by thrusting certain parts of themselves into the realm of the lifeless, into death, — that is to say, they surround themselves with bark. We are quite justified in saying of a plant which can surround itself with bark, which can bear lifeless matter and yet continue to live, that it has a surplus of life; and because of this superfluity which it will not give up — only giving up what is necessary for the young organism — it must make itself secure by thrusting death outside. Thus it can also he said that every living being which possesses the possibility within itself beyond the bringing forth of a new creation, is confronted with the necessity of continually mastering life within itself, since it takes up inorganic lifeless matter. This can be adequately observed both in the animal and in man.
There we have a separation between life and death in the being itself. We have an exchange between a living member which develops in one direction, and a continual sinking-into itself of another member which is developing in the direction of death. If we now wish to draw near to the inmost being of man from this point of view, we must certainly bear in mind something of what has often been said before, but which is never superfluous, because it does not as yet belong to the ordinary recognised truth.
If we rest on quite ordinary conceptions — as we will to-day in the first half of the lecture — and then proceed to the question of life and death from the point of view of Spiritual Science, we must remember that what is taken into account here is certainly very little recognised to-day, for it has to do with a truth which is just as new to the man of to-day as another truth, which now belongs to the trivialities, was new, and even unknown, to the world of three centuries ago. I have often, pointed out that it is taken for granted to-day by the natural scientist, or by one who builds up his observations on natural-scientific conceptions, that it is an acknowledged fact that “everything living is born from the living.” (Of course, I am speaking here with the limitation which this sentence bears in the world of natural science. We need not embark on the question of primeval generation for instance, for it can be noticed right away that the analogous sentence which is mentioned there is also made use of in the world of Spiritual Science). Not long ago the great natural scientist, Francesco Redi, had to fight for this sentence, “Everything living is born from the living,” with all his energy. For before the appearance of this Naturalist of the 17th century, it. was considered quite possible, not only in lay circles. but even in scientific ones, for new organisms to generate from putrefying river-mud or from decaying organic matter. This was believed of worms and fishes. The idea, that the living can only develop from the living is not yet old, for only a few centuries ago Francesco Redi called forth such a storm of passion that he only just escaped the fate of Giordano Bruno. When we consider how the “fashions of the time” alter, we can judge of the fate of this truth that we must again proclaim here. For this truth, “Life can only originate from life”, called forth at that time a storm of anger. Those who feel themselves impelled to draw from the well of knowledge similar truths in other spheres, are no longer delivered to the flames of the funeral pile to-day. That is no longer the fashion. But they are made fun of; a man who communicates such things is turned into ridicule; those who are impelled to proclaim such things as relate to Spiritual, development, are condemned to suffer a Spiritual death. But the fate of the above-mentioned truth also consists in its having become a self-evident fact, a, triviality, for him who is capable of judging.
That error, then, was the cause of this truth, “Life can only originate from life”, not being recognised? A quite simple error in observation! The scientists looked at that which was immediately before than, but did not try to penetrate to the fact that the origin of a living creature lies in a seed left behind by another living creature; so that a new living organism of a certain kind can only originate because a former living organism leaves behind it a seed of a similar kind. That is to say, they looked at the environment of the developing organism, but should really have looked at that which was left behind by another living organism which was developing within this environment. This was done all through the centuries, up to the time of Francesco Redi. Quite interesting details might be gathered from books which had just as much weight in the 7th and 8th centuries as the authoritative writings of the most modern natural scientist of to-day, and in which was noted and classified quite exactly how, for instance, hornets develop from the decaying carcase of an ox; wasps from a donkey's carcase, etc. That was all nicely set out. Exactly in the same way in which mistakes were made in those times, mistakes are being made to-day in regard to the soul and spirit of man. How is this?
A human being enters into existence and his individual development, begun at birth, is observed. on into later life. It is seen how the form, the different capacities and talents develop. (We will speak more exactly of this development in a later lecture). But if the scientists wish to know the nature of the human form, the nature of that with which we are dealing, they ask the question: “What are the hereditary relationships? From what sort of environment was the man born?” That is just the same method as when they look at the mud surrounding the worm which is coming forth from it, and not upon the egg. In what is formed as disposition, as different capacities in man, an exact distinction must. be made between what is characteristic, what is brought over from parents and grandparents and so on, and a certain kernel which he who observers truly will not fail to recognise. Only he who approaches the spirit and soul-element as did the naturalists before Francesco Redi will be able to deny that there is a kernel in man which presents itself clearly and which cannot be referred back to what is inherited from parents and grandparents, etc. In what is developing in a man we therefore have to distinguish that which comes from the environment from that which can never be produced from that environment.
As regards the exterior of a living plant or animal, we shall always find that the new being coming forth is in reality concerned with developing according to the species of its predecessors. Take the highest animals. How far do they carry that out? As far as is in accordance with the species, and for this they are planned. Certainly many will say: “Has, then, a horse, a dog or a cat no individuality?” And they will suppose that one might just as well describe the individuality of a cat, a horse and so on — perhaps even write their biography — as we could that of a human being. If anyone likes to do this, let him do so, but we should not take it as real, but only as symbolical, as when, for example, a school task is set for pupils, such as was set for myself and my school-fellows, for which we had to write the biography of our pens! One could, then, even speak of the biography of a pen: But where truth is concerned it is not a question of attending to analogies and comparisons, but of laying hold of the essentials. What is individual in man is not that which makes him one of the species, but that which makes of him the quite distinct individual that every man is. Every man is working towards the formation of what is individual in him, just as the plant works towards the formation of the species. Every development, every advance in education or in historical evolution, rests on the fact that man goes a stage further than the mere species, in the development of the individuality.
If there were in each man no individual spirit and soul kernel which develops in a Spiritual way, as the animal develops in his species, there would be no history. One could then only speak of an evolution of the human race, but not of a history or of a cultural development. Therefore, natural science speaks of the development of the species, of a kind of evolution in the horse, but not of a history.
In the development of every man we have to see a spirit and soul kernel which has the same significance as the species for an animal. The species in the animal kingdom corresponds to the individual in man. Now in the animal kingdom every creature which tends towards what is according to species, repeats the species of his ancestors and can only originate on the basis of the physical nature of the seed of his ancestors; so the individual part of each separate man cannot originate from anything which is here in the physical world, but solely from something which is of a Spiritual nature. That is to say that a Spiritual kernel, which enters into being at the birth of man, does not merely refer back to the species “man”, in so far as man goes back to a Spiritual ancestor, to a being who has progressed, who does not belong individually to the species “man”, not, indeed, to any “species”, but to this same human individuality. If then, a man be born, there is born with him an individual kernel which is not attached to anything else than to this individual human substance. As the animal seeks his species so does man seek his own individual human being. That is to say that this individual kernel when it appears at birth has been here before, just as the germ of the species was there for the animal. We must look in the past for the spirit and soul-substance, which is the Spiritual — not physical — kernel of this individuality which is developing Spiritually. Only a man who cannot see that the soul and spirit do not develop from within the general human organism, will deny that the conclusions just drawn are correct.
Every individual human life thus carries within itself the proof that it already existed before. We are, therefore, led back from an individual human life to an individual Spiritual seed and from this again to another Spiritual seed; that is, we are led from our own individual life back to a former individual life — and then, of course, to our next life. An unbiased observation of human life proves this to be just as much a necessity as the truth proclaimed in the sphere of natural science. Suppose anyone with an unprejudiced mind were to say: “Nothing can be known about that”, then if he draws this conclusion again and again he might end by saying: “I cannot do otherwise than accept this conclusion; if I do not I am sinning against all observation and logic.” In spite of this, however, this truth about the repeated earth-lives is still but little recognised; but this truth that the Spiritual can only originate from the Spiritual, will certainly make its mark in human cultural life and will be more quickly accepted than the other truth which has been characterised. The time will come when men will realise that beliefs have changed in this respect, just as we do not now believe that lower animals, fish, etc., could originate from river-mud.
If we follow, in the further course of its life, this individual kernel of the human being which one can see, as it were, come into being at birth, it appears to a certain extent in a. two-fold aspect; and this more especially in the growing human being, in youth. It appears there as something which requires a progressive development of the whole man. And he who can truly observe the intimate life of youth, who has learned to observe the child, not only from the outside but also from within, who remembers what he himself experienced in this respect, will admit that what is in him now was not there up to a certain age, but only showed itself later as a feeling of power, as a feeling of life, as a content of life which works in an extremely elevating way. What we carry within us as the individual core of our being works not only on the outer living form, but continues to work even into the most elementary formations and functions of life. When man arrives at a certain maturity and has the opportunity of taking up many things in the outside world, then this individual kernel of his being works so that he enriches himself, adapts himself to the outer world and gathers experiences. When, however, we observe this correlation between the individual core of man's being and what comes to pass in the course of his life — not only through what he learns and hears but also through experiences such as happiness and sorrow, pain and joy, we shall then see in this Spiritual life itself the same correlation on a higher plane, to that between the new embryo of the plant which develops in the blossom of the old one and the old plant whose life is taken away from it by the new seed.
If we extend this observation to the tree, we shall be able to say: “There, also, life is ever taken away, in that the tree turns into wood in the plant kingdom, but in its place certain things in the tree change into dead lifeless products: inorganic bark surrounds the tree.” In the same way we see, when we look at human life more closely, not only a progressive development but one which allows the Spiritual being of man to advance and grow, allows it to unite itself to the outer world; and as it grows ever more and more, we see it coming into conflict with the old condition; that is to say, it comes into conflict with its own self. That happens because it could in its youth build up and form organs according as it required them, while now in the further course of life this process is no longer possible; it must now go on living in a hardened life condition. So we see that when our life enriches itself by development in the course of time, when we take in what is new and thereby enrich the individual core of our being, we come into conflict with what envelops this kernel, with what we have built around it, and which is in process of growing. As long as we grow, and in so far as we thus grow, we do not take up into ourselves any Spiritual process of death. Only when we receive what is exterior to ourselves do we take in the Spiritual process of death. That is really the case throughout the whole of life, though it is less apparent in childhood than in later life. So we can say that in the realm of the spiritual, a Spiritual growing and dying takes place in the inner being of man. But in what does that process which takes place there consist? We can understand it well if we look at it for once in a lower form and take under observation anything from the realm of ordinary life, in order to form, as it were, conceptions and ideas concerning the higher realms of being. Let us take fatigue, for instance. We speak of fatigue both in the animal and human being. We must first gain an idea of the nature of fatigue. I cannot now go into all the ideas which have been collected on the subject, but we will observe the whole process of fatigue in relation to the life process. We can say that man becomes tired because he uses his muscles, and therefore fresh forces must be carried to the muscles. In this case we might say that man tires because he uses up his muses through work of some kind. Such a definition appears very plausible at first sight, only, it is not true. But it is the case to-day that we work with ideas which just merely touch the surface of things lightly, we do not wish to penetrate to the depths, For just think, if the muscles could really become fatigued, how would it be then with the muscles of the heart? They do not tire at all; they work day and night continuously, and the same is the case with other muscles in the human and animal bodies. This gives one the notion that it is not correct to say that in the relationship between work and muscle there is anything which can explain fatigue.
When does an animal or a man become tired? When their work is not occasioned through the organism nor through the life-process, but by the outer world itself; that is to say, by the world with which a living being may come into relationship through its organs. Thus, when a living being carries out work by means of it consciousness, the organs concerned becomes fatigued:. In the life-process itself there is nothing which could occasion fatigue. So that the life-process, the whole of the life organs„ must be brought in contact with something which does not belong to them, if they are to become fatigued.
I can only draw your attention to this important fact, in the development of which some extremely fruitful points of view can be found. Thus, only that which is brought to a living being by way of a conscious process, of an incitement to consciousness, can occasion fatigue. It would consequently be absurd to speak of the fatigue of plants. We can, therefore, say that in everything that can fatigue a living being something which is foreign to it must really be present, something which does not belong to its own nature must be introduced into it.
We, can therefore, say that every disturbance of the life-process which comes about though fatigue, points to the fact, even in a quite inferior realm, that that which we have in our soul-life is not born simply from our physical life, rather does it stand positively in contradiction to the laws of that life. The contradiction between the laws of the life of consciousness and those of life and the life-process alone explains what is present in fatigue — of this you can convince yourselves if you consider it more exactly. For this reason we can say that fatigue is an expression testifying that that which comes to a life-process must be foreign to it, if it is able to disturb it. Now, the life-process can really equalise what is used up through fatigue, by sleep and rest. What is used up is compensated for by something new, which enters in place of the life-processes.
Now, an inner process of exhaustion appears in the individual human life, for the reason that man enters into relationship with the outside world. The old, which was present in the germ, enters into an exchange with the new. The result is expressed in that the individual life-kernel is transformed during individual life, but it must also for this reason throw off what has become wooden, as it were, what it has itself formed from its birth onwards. The cause of death is the calling to a new life within the human soul, just as in the animal organism the disposition to fatigue can only be caused by its entering into exchange-relationship with what is new and foreign to it. We might, therefore, say that the process of death, of gradually dying off, is one which is better understood if one takes its opposite into consideration, in which the soul stands in relationship with the organic, and which expresses itself in fatigue. Hence, we really have the seed of death in our innermost being during the whole of our individual life. We could not develop further, however, we could not possibly carry what we already are at birth a step further, if we did not in ourselves associate death with life. As fatigue is connected with the execution of exterior work, so is the thrusting off, the killing of the outer covering, with enrichment and higher development of the individual life-kernel. The psychic and Spiritual process of life and death — represents with great clarity what we might express thus; “We purchase the higher form, the further development of our life, by the beneficial act of thrusting off from us what we were before. No development would be possible if we could not thrust-off the old, for we advance through, and together with what we have worked into the new of our soul and spirit. What forces are in that? Such forces as are the fruits of our past life! We certainly can experience the seeds of these fruits, and can experience our observations of life, we can do much else in life, but we cannot organise these into ourselves nor really carry them over into our external covering. For we do not build our covering of what we learn in one life — or at most only to a limited extent — we build it according to what we have become in our last life. We can, therefore, only build up our life by making use of what we have acquired in our past life, and we can continue to develop by thrusting off the old from us — as the tree does its bark — and passing into death. With what we then take with us through death, we are able to build up our next life, for it contains in itself the same forces as have built up our Spiritual growth when we develop freshly and happily in our youth. It is of the same nature as these. We have absorbed it from our life experiences and with it build ourselves a future living organism, a future bodily covering, which will carry within it as the germ of a future blossom, what we have gained in one life. With regard to such things as these the question is always asked, over and over again: “What help is it, after all, to man, to hear about repeated earth-lives, if he is not able to remember his former lives, if the memory of his former lives is not present?”
It lies, indeed, in the nature of the Spiritual culture of to-day that we are not yet in a position to meditate and reflect upon questions of the soul and spirit life as freely as over the things of natural life. But we must make it clear to ourselves that it is possible to develop ideas and conceptions on these questions of the soul and spirit life, in exactly the same way. We can only do this if we really observe it more exactly, if we ask ourselves what must be the position of the human memory in general; what is the nature of the human memory? There is a point of time in the personal human life, which can lead very easily to the gaining of opinions on these questions. It is the following:
We all know that there is a time in the normal life of man to-day, of which there is no memory in later life. It is the time of his earliest childhood. In the normal life of to-day man remembers up to a certain point of his childhood, then memory disappears.
Although it is quite clear to him that it is his own Spiritual I, or ego, which has built up his life, yet he lacks the power of stretching his memory beyond this point. He who examinee many children's lives, will be able to make one observation from them. It can of course only be substantiated in external life, but notwithstanding this, it is correct. From the observation of the soul of a child we discover that remembrance goes back just as far as to the point of time when the idea of “I,” the conception of his own Ego, arises within him. That is an external important fact At the moment when the child, of his own accord, no longer says: “Charles: wants this,” or, “May wants that,” but says “I want this,” from the point of time when the conscious conception of the Ego begins, remembrance also begins. Whence comes this remarkable fact? It comes because something else is necessary for remembrance, besides the coming into contact, as it were, once or always with an object. We can come into contact with an object ever so often without any recollection of it being necessarily called forth. Remembrance rests, namely, on a quite definite soul-process, a quite definite Spiritual inner life-process, of which we can become aware if we take the following into account.
One must distinguish between the perception of an object or experience, and the conception or idea of this object or experience. In the process of perception we have something that can always recur if we stand before the object again; but in the experience we have something else besides. When we come into contact with something, and have taken in an impression of it through the eye or ear, we have then taken into ourselves something more than an inner impression of it; what we take with us is that which remains in the conception or idea and which can embody itself in the memory. That, however, must first come into being. I know that what I have just said will be very much doubted by valiant followers of Schopenhauer, by those who assert that our conception of the universe is only our idea of it. But that lies in the confusion of perception with idea. Both must be emphatically differentiated. The idea is something which is reproduced. No matter how often the outer experience can arise, if it does not receive the inner impression of the idea, it cannot be incorporated in the memory; when, on the other hand, it is stated that the idea is nothing more than what presents itself to the perception, we need only bring to notice that the idea of a hot piece of steel, no matter how hot, will quite certainly not burn any one; but the sense-experience of it will. There we have the difference between idea and sense-perception. Therefore we an say that the idea is a sense-experience turned inwards. But with this turning inwards, with this outer rebound of the object, which is in reciprocal relationship with the inner being of man, and through which the inner impression is occasioned, something else comes into consideration. Whatever is experienced inwardly in our sense-life is embodied in our Ego by every sense-impression, and by everything that we can experience in the outer world. A sense-perception can even be there without being incorporated in the Ego. In the outer world it is impossible for an idea to be kept in the memory, if it be not received inwardly into the realm of the Ego. So that in every conception we form from a sense-experience and which can be retained in the memory, the Ego stands as the point of departure. An idea which comes into our soul-life from outside, can in no way be separated from the Ego. I know, indeed, that I am speaking figuratively; but all the same these things signify a reality, as we shall see in the course of the next lectures.
We can imagine that the experience of the Ego presents something like the inner surface of a sphere, seen from outside; then the sense-experiences come along and the self-mirroring of these experiences within the sphere give rise to the idea. For that, however, the Ego must be present in every single sense-perception. The Ego-experience is in everything which can be embodied in the memory; it is actually like a mirror which rays back the experiences to us within; but the Ego itself must be there. From this we learn that as long as the child does not receive the perceptions of ideas in such a way that they become conceptions, as long as they only approach the child from the outside as sense-perceptions, and are only experienced externally between the Ego and the outer world without being transformed into an Ego-experience, as long as the child has no conception of the Ego, then no Ego-mirror, as it were, veils from him what is round about him. Just as long as that lasts, one notices that the child imagines into the surroundings many things which adults do not understand. Only through the memory of what is past, can that emerge which the Ego has already taken up, so that it is thereby pressed into the memory. When the Ego-perception appears, the Ego places itself before the ideas as a mirror; but what lies before the time of the Ego-perception can not be called forth into the memory. Therefore man always comes into touch with the outer world in such a way that his Ego experiences all the events with him, his Ego is always there. This does not imply that everything must enter his consciousness, only that his experiences do not remain merely as sense-perceptions but are transformed into ideas.
So we can now say that the inmost kernel of man, from whose centre has developed that which has now been described as passing on from incarnation to incarnation, is veiled by the Ego-conception, as is usually found in man. Man places himself before his memory with his Ego-development of to-day. It is thus quite explicable that his memory only extends as far as the sense world.
Now, can a proof be offered, through experience itself, that this can become other than it is? Can we speak of an “Extension of Memory” back into former incarnations? That is self-evident from the mere definition, if it is grasped, of what lies behind the individual Ego centre, which we ourselves cover over, as it were. If we begin to grasp it we met also perceive our inmost nature and being, we see what man does in human life; — not only what he does in common, but in his own individual life. Is there a possibility of looking behind the Ego, as it were? Yes, certainly there is. This lies in that inner soul-life of which I have already spoken, in the introductory lecture. If a man really undertakes to develop his Soul, by a severe and methodical training, in such a way that the slumbering forces within it begin to germinate, and the soul stretches out beyond itself, he can only do so by appropriating, with a certain inner renunciation, ideas which are not such as those in which the ego-experience is immediately present. The Ego-experience places everything in which it takes part before the kernel of one's being. For the training of the soul man must therefore appropriate ideas in which the Ego-experience is not present. For that, reason the inner soul exercises which a man undertake must be done in a quite definite way. What he embodies in his soul-life depends on the content of the meditation, and he must embody something that certainly in acceptable to the inner nature of the soul, but which does not, relate to anything external. What is there that is not related to anything external? Only meditation; but meditation is as a rule applied to the outer world, therefore it is not serviceable to him who wishes to rise to the higher worlds. A life of idea must therefore be developed which calls forth, in pictures and symbols which are continually placed before the soul, such an activity in the Ego that it would form ideas it never could have formed before when it wished to acquire the truth of the ordinary sense-world. The soul must therefore incorporate into itself pictures and symbols which do not appear when we survey the external through out Ego-experience.
When we observe this, we have the following experience, about which we can only say something definite by pointing to that condition into which men enters again and again, namely, the condition of sleep. Through felling asleep, all ideas, all pain end sorrow, and so on, which man has experienced during the day, sink into indefinite obscurity, The whole conscious life of man goes down into indefinite obscurity and returns when the man wakes up again in the morning. Compare the life of consciousness in waking-up and in going to sleep. So long as man obtains only conscious impressions from the external life of the senses, he brings back with him in the morning, only what he had in his consciousness in the evening. He wakes up again with the same content in his consciousness; he remembers the same things, thinks the same thoughts, and so on. But when a man undertakes, in the specified manner, an inner training in which the Ego is not present, the position is different. He then notices, certainly, that his first step in progress consists in feeling on awaking, enriched through sleep; he feels that what he had taken up before going to sleep comes back to him with a richer content. So that he can now say: “Now I have looked behind the Spiritual world which the Ego does not cover up and, as a fruit of that, I embody into the life of my consciousness something that I had not gained from the sense-world, for I have brought it with me out or the world of sleep.”
Such are the first steps of progress in one who is leading a Spiritual life of the soul.
Now, the further possibility steps in that he may now, even during the waking-day life, fill himself with a content not permeated by the Ego-experience, although the Ego is there. The Ego-experience must take its place beside this content, just as it does with the content of all physical experiences. If. we take this into account we must say that he alone who is able to look behind the Ego can gaze into the Spiritual content of a human being — he who treads such a path will often come near to developing certain feelings. The nature or these feelings will also show the nature of the way. Thus we must learn: — to be free from desire and especially to overcome fear and anxiety as regards coming events. We must learn to say in a calm and passionless way: “No matter what comer to me, I will accept it.” and we must not only put this to ourselves as a dry abstract conception, but must make it part of our innermost feeling. We need not become fatalists on this account (a fatalist thinks, that everything happens of itself), but we must use this means of intervening in life. If we are able to instil into the Ego this absolute balance as regards feeling and sensation, it drives with such force towards the Spiritual being of man that it separates the Ego from the perceptions which are already in our consciousness. So we remain standing within the Ego-world, yet receive a new world of inner soul-experiences. These make it alone possible for us to see, in its true individual form, the inmost kernel of man's being, which certainly develops from birth onwards as that which springs from a former life, but which could not be recognised before in its true reality. We must first see it as it is, as it really is in the present, and how it works. Now can we remember something towards which we had never turned our eyes? Just as the child has not that in his consciousness which took place before the development of his Ego-perception, so can man not keep in his memory those experiences of his former births which are not based on a knowledge of the inner kernel of man's being, on the feelings and sensations of the soul and spirit kernel, which is in every man.
He who really goes through this, who learns above all to purchase for himself a retrospect into former lives by looking towards the future with equanimity and resignation, will see that the former earth-lives are not merely a logical sequence, but that they prove to be a reality through a newly-born memory, which is really called forth. For that, however, one thing is necessary. The possibility of looking into the past can only be purchased by desirelessness, equanimity and passivity towards the future. To the extent to which we are prepared to experience the future in our feelings and sensations and are able to shut out our Ego with regard to the experience of the future, so far are we in a position to look into the past. The mere man develops this equanimity, the more nearly does he approach the point of time when the past earth-lives will become a reality for him. Thus we can give the reason to the objection often made, that for the ordinary human life no remembrance is there. This objection is just as if a child of four were brought to us, with the remark: “This child cannot count”, concluding from this that consequently a man could not, wither count! To this one could only reply: “Wait till the child is ten years old, he will then be able to count; therefore, man can count.” The recollection of former lives is a question of development! Therefore is it necessary that one should learn to think over what, through the force of logical conclusion. has been taken as the point of the lecture to-day. It will then he found that a living spiritual soul-kernel may be present in man and that we carry it through death into a new life, as we have carried it through birth into this life.
So Spiritual Science points in no simple way, yet in a way that is substantially correct, to what, is eternal in man as regards “life” and “death.” And we may say that the logical conclusion about death and life in regard to the human being informs right away that in this human individuality the possibility is also present of gaining the memory of past lives. Then people need no longer say that unless we can remember our past lives they are of no use! Is only that which we can remember of use to us? We bear in us the fruits of past lives; we develop in ourselves in the present life without our knowledge, what we have brought over from former lives; and when we begin to look back into former earth-lives, the memory of them is certainly there. We can then say to ourselves what a good thing it was that in former times we were unable to remember back. This memory of the past can only be won in the way I have characterised as regards feelings and sensations towards the future life, but that is not all; it can only be made endurable by an attitude of soul such as has been described. Should it be aroused by artificial means and should man at the same time lead a life of desires and appetites permeated by egotism, then his soul and spirit-life must lose its balance and he must become unhinged. For certain things belong together, and others repel each other.
What is eternal in man, what comes into life through birth, that goes over from life into the Spiritual worlds through death and reappears in new embodiments; and bound up with that is the fact, that we can only evolve higher in new embodiments if we make use of the fruits of the former life. To-day I wished to point out the relations to the kernel of man's being and these two ideas. When we have this in view we shell no longer give as our answer to the question as to the nature of life and death; “The nature of death is to be learnt from the corpse”. Rather shall we say: We sought in the innermost being of man that which must bring forth new life; but in order that new life may come into being, the old must gradually die off and finally be quite extinguished, just as the old plant when it is one year old dies off, so that the new plant may take life from it. He who observes the world of death in this manner will not consider that which remains behind as a corpse, but will look in every being for those characteristics of life which are carried over into a new life. Although Shakespeare may make the gloomy Danish Prince utter that which to many appears evident from the absolute facts of the science of to-day:
If such a remark applied to the process of dying, we will yet turn, while observing man from the point of view of Spiritual Science, to the Spiritual kernel of man's being which goes through birth and death and through ever new life. We then gain the assurance, if we do not follow the ways of Oxygen, Carbon, and Nitrogen, but seek the ways of life by considering what the real kernel of Man's being experiences, that we may place opposite the words of Shakespeare this other point of view.