Theosophy, by Rudolf Steiner, , at sacred-texts.com
In the midst between body and spirit lives the soul. The impressions which come to it through the body are transitory. They are present only as long as the body opens its organs to the things of the outer world. My eye perceives the color of the rose only so long as the rose is opposite to it and my eye is itself open. The presence of the things of the outer world as well as of the bodily organs is necessary in order that an impression, a sensation, or a perception can take place. But what I have recognized in my spirit as truth concerning the rose does not pass with the present moment. And, as regards its truth, it is not in the least dependent on me. It would be true even although I had
never stood in front of the rose. What I know through the spirit is timeless or eternal. The soul is placed between the present and eternity, in that it holds the middle place between body and spirit. But it is also the intermediary between the present and eternity. It preserves the present for the remembrance. It thereby rescues it from impermanence, and brings it nearer to the eternity of the spiritual. It stamps eternity on the temporal and impermanent by not merely yielding itself up to the transitory incitements, but by determining things from out its own initiative, and embodying its own nature in them by means of the actions it performs. By remembrance the soul preserves the yesterday, by action it prepares the to-morrow.
My soul would have to perceive the red of the rose always afresh if it could not store it up in remembrance. What remains after an external impression, what can be retained by the soul, is the conception. Through the power of forming conceptions the soul makes the corporal outer world so far into its own inner world that it can then retain the latter
in the memory for remembrance and, independent of the gained impressions, lead with it thereafter a life of its own. The soul-life thus becomes the enduring result of the transitory impressions of the external world.
But an action also receives permanence when once it is stamped on the outer world. If I cut a branch from a tree something has taken place by means of my soul which completely changes the course of events in the outer world. Something quite different would have happened to the branch of the tree if I had not interfered by my action. I have called forth into life a series of effects which, without my existence, would not have been present. What I have done to-day endures for to-morrow; it becomes permanent through the deed, as my impressions of yesterday have become permanent for my soul through memory.
Let us first consider memory. How does it originate? Evidently in quite a different way from sensation or perception, because these are made possible by the corporality. Without the eye I cannot have the sensation "blue." But in no way do I have the
remembrance of "blue" through the eye. If the eye is to give me this sensation now, a blue thing must come before it. The corporality would always allow impressions to sink back into nothingness if it alone existed. I remember; that is, I experience something which is itself no longer present. I unite a past experience with my present life. This is the case with every remembrance. Let us say, for instance, that I meet a man and recognize him again because I met him yesterday. He would be a complete stranger to me were I not able to unite the picture perception with my impression of him to-day. The picture of to-day is given me by the perception, that is to say, by my corporality. But who conjures that of yesterday into my soul? It is the same being in me that was present during my experience yesterday, and that is also present in that of to-day. In the previous explanations it has been called soul. Were it not for this faithful preserver of the past each external impression would be always new to a man.
As preserver of the past the soul continually gathers treasures for the spirit. That
[paragraph continues] I can distinguish right from wrong follows because I, as a human being, am a thinking being, able to grasp the truth in my spirit. Truth is eternal; and it could always reveal itself to me again in things, even if I were always to lose sight of the past and each impression were to be a new one to me. But the spirit within me is not restricted to the impressions of the present alone; the soul extends its horizon over the past. And the more it is able to bring to the spirit out of the past, the richer does it make the spirit. In this way the soul transmits to the spirit what it has received from the body. The spirit of man therefore carries each moment of its life a twofold possession within itself, firstly, the eternal laws of the good and the true; secondly, the remembrance of the experiences of the past. What he does, he accomplishes under the influence of these two factors. If we wish to understand a human spirit we must therefore know two different things about him, first, how much of the eternal has revealed itself to him; second, how much treasure from the past is stored up within him.
The treasure by no means remains in the spirit in an unchanged shape. The conceptions which man extracts from his experiences fade gradually from the memory. Not so, however, their fruits. One does not remember all the experiences one had during childhood when acquiring the arts of reading and writing. But one could not read or write if one had not had the experiences, and if their fruits had not been preserved in the form of abilities. And that is the transmutation which the spirit effects on the treasures of memory. It consigns the pictures of the separate experiences to their fate, and only extracts from them the force necessary for enhancing and increasing its abilities. Thus not one experience passes by unused; the soul preserves each one as memory, and from each the spirit draws forth all that can enrich its abilities and the whole content of its life. The human spirit grows through assimilated experiences. And, although one cannot find the past experiences in the spirit preserved as if in a storeroom, one nevertheless finds their effects in the abilities which the man has acquired.
Thus far spirit and soul have been considered only within the period lying between life and death. One cannot rest there. Anyone wishing to do that would be like the man who observes the human body also within the same limits only. Much can certainly be discovered within these limits. But the human form can never be explained by what lies between birth and death. It cannot build itself up unaided out of mere physical matter and forces. It takes rise in a form like its own, which has been passed on to it by propagation. Physical materials and forces build up the body during life; the forces of propagation enable another body, inheriting its form, to proceed from it; that is to say, one which is able to be the bearer of the same life-body. Each life-body is a repetition of its forefathers. Only because it is such does it appear, not in any chance form, but in that passed on to it. The forces which have given me human form lay in my forefathers. But the spirit also of a man appears in a definite form. And the forms of the spirit are the most varied imaginable in different persons. No two men have the same spiritual
form. One ought to make investigations in this region in just as quiet and matter-of-fact a manner as in the physical world. It cannot be said that the differences in human beings in spiritual respects arise only from the differences in their environment, their upbringing, etc. No, this is by no means the case, for two people under similar influences as regards environments, upbringing, etc., develop in quite different ways. One is therefore forced to admit that they have entered on their path of life with quite different predispositions. Here one is brought face to face with an important fact which, when its full bearing is recognized, sheds light on the nature of man.
Human beings differ from their animal fellow-creatures on the earth as regards their physical form. But among each other human beings are, within certain limits, the same in regard to their physical form. There is only one human species. However great may be the differences between races, peoples, tribes, and personalities as regards the physical body, the resemblance between man and man is greater than between man and any
brute species. All that expresses itself as human species passes on from forefather to descendants. And the human form is bound to this heredity. As the lion can inherit its physical form from lion forefathers only, so the human being inherits his physical body from human forefathers only.
Just as the physical similarity of men is quite evident to the eye, the difference of their spiritual forms reveals itself to the unprejudiced spiritual gaze. There is one very evident fact which shows this clearly. It consists in the existence of the biography of a human being. Were a human being merely a member of a species, no biography could exist. A lion, a dove, lay claim to interest in so far as they belong to the lion, the dove genus. One has understood the separate being in all its essentials when one has described the genus. It matters little whether one has to do with father, son, or grandson. What is of interest in them, father, son, and grandson have in common. But what a human being signifies begins, not where he is a mere member of a genus, but only where he is a separate being. I have not in the least understood the
nature of Mr. Smith of Crowcorner if I have described his son or his father. I must know his own biography. Anyone who reflects accurately on the essence of biography becomes aware that in regard to spiritual things each man is a species by himself.
Those people, to be sure, who regard a biography merely as a collection of external incidents in the life of a person, may claim that they can write the biography of a dog in the same way as that of a man. But anyone who depicts in a biography the real individuality of a man, grasps the fact that he has in the biography of one human being something that corresponds to the description of a whole genus in the animal kingdom.
Now if genus or species in the physical sense becomes intelligible only when one understands it as the result of heredity, the spiritual being can be intelligible only through a similar spiritual heredity. I have received my physical human form from my forefathers. Whence have I that which comes to expression in my biography? As physical man, I repeat the shape of my forefathers. What do I repeat as spiritual
man? Anyone claiming that what is comprised in my biography requires no further explanation has to be regarded as having no other course open to him than to claim equally that he has seen, somewhere, an earth mound on which the lumps of matter have aggregated quite by themselves into a living man.
As physical man I spring from other physical men, for I have the same shape as the whole human species. The qualities of the species, accordingly, could be bequeathed to me within the genus. As spiritual man I have my own shape as I have my own biography. I therefore can have obtained this shape from no one but myself. Since I entered the world not with undefined but with defined predispositions; and since the course of my life as it comes to expression in my biography is determined by these predispositions, my work on myself cannot have begun with my birth. I must, as spiritual man, have existed before my birth. In my forefathers I have certainly not been existent, for they as spiritual human beings are different from me. My biography is not explainable through
theirs. On the contrary, I must, as spiritual being, be the repetition of one through whose biography mine can be explained. The physical form which Schiller bore he inherited from his forefathers. But just as little as Schiller's physical form can have grown out of the earth, so little can his spiritual being have done so. It must be the repetition of another spiritual being through whose biography his will be explainable as his physical human form is explainable through human propagation. In the same way, therefore, that the physical human form is ever again and again a repetition, a reincarnation of the distinctively human species, the spiritual human being must be a reincarnation of the same spiritual human being. For as spiritual human being, each one is in fact his own species.
It might be said in objection to what has been stated here that it is pure spinning of thoughts, and such external proof might be demanded as one is accustomed to in ordinary natural science. The reply to this is that the reëmbodiment of the spiritual human being is, naturally, a process which does not belong to the region of external physical facts, but
is one that takes place entirely in the spiritual region. And to this region no other of our ordinary powers of intelligence has entrance, save that of thinking. He who is unwilling to trust to the power of thinking cannot, in fact, enlighten himself regarding higher spiritual facts. For him whose spiritual eye is opened the above train of thoughts acts with exactly the same force as does an event that takes place before his physical eyes. He who ascribes to a so-called "proof," constructed according to the methods of natural science, greater power to convince than the above observations concerning the significance of biography, may be in the ordinary sense of the word a great scientist, but from the paths of true spiritual investigation he is very far distant.
One of the gravest prejudices consists in trying to explain the spiritual qualities of a man by inheritance from father, mother, or other ancestors. He who contracts the prejudice, for example, that Goethe inherited what constitutes his essential being from father or mother will at first be hardly approachable with arguments, for there lies
within him a deep antipathy to unprejudiced observation. A materialistic spell prevents him from seeing the relations of phenomena in the true light.
In such observations as the preceding, the presuppositions are supplied for following the human being beyond birth and death. Within the boundaries formed by birth and death the human being belongs to the three worlds, of corporality, of soul, and of spirit. The soul forms the link between body and spirit because it penetrates the third member of the body, the soul-body, with a capacity for sensation, and because it permeates the first member of the spirit, the spirit-self, as consciousness-soul. In this way it takes part and lot during life with the body as well as with the spirit. This comes to expression in its whole existence. It will depend on the construction of the soul-body how the sentient-soul can unfold its capabilities. And, on the other hand, it will depend on the life of the consciousness-soul to what extent the spirit-self can develop itself in it. The more highly developed the soul-body is, the more complete is the intercourse which the sentient-
soul will be able to develop with the outer world. And the spirit-self will become so much the richer and more powerful, the more the consciousness-soul brings it nourishment. It has been shown that during life this nourishment is supplied to the spirit-self through assimilated experiences, and the fruits of these experiences. For the interaction of soul and spirit described above, can, of course, only take place where soul and spirit are within each other, penetrating each other, that is, within the union of "spirit-self" with "consciousness-soul."
Let us consider, first, the interaction of the soul-body and sentient-soul. The soul-body is, as has become evident, the most finely elaborated part of the corporality; but it, nevertheless, belongs to it and is dependent on it. Physical-body, ether-body, and soul-body compose, in a certain sense, one whole. Hence the soul-body is also drawn within the laws of physical heredity through which the body receives its shape. And since it is the most mobile and, so to speak, volatile form of corporality, it must also exhibit the most mobile, volatile manifestations of heredity. While,
therefore, the difference in the physical body is smallest, corresponding to races, peoples, and tribes; and while the ether-body presents, on the whole, a preponderating likeness although a greater divergence in single individuals, in the soul-body the difference is a very great one. In it is expressed what one already feels to be the external, personal, uniqueness of a man. It is therefore also the bearer of that part of this personal uniqueness which is passed on from parents, grand-parents, etc., to descendants. The soul as such leads, as has been explained, a completely self-contained life of its own; it shuts itself up with its inclinations and disinclinations, its feelings and passions; but, as a whole being, it is nevertheless active, and therefore this whole comes to expression also in the sentient-soul. And because the sentient-soul penetrates and, as it were, fills up the soul-body, the latter forms itself according to the nature of the soul and can in this way, as the bearer of heredity, pass on tendencies, passions, etc., from forefathers to children. On this fact rests what Goethe says: "From my father I have stature and the serious manner of life,
from the little mother the joyous disposition and the love of romance." Genius, of course, he did not receive from either. In this way we are shown what part of a man's soul qualities he hands over, as it were, to the line of physical heredity.
The matter and forces of the physical body are in the whole external physical nature around us. They are continually being taken from it and given back to it. In the space of a few years the matter which composes our physical body is entirely renewed. That this matter takes the form of the human body, and that it always renews itself again within this body, is due to the fact that it is held together by the ether-body. And the form of the latter is not determined by events between birthor conceptionand death alone, but is dependent on the laws of heredity which extend beyond birth and death. That soul qualities also can be transmitted by heredity, that is, that the process of physical heredity receives an infusion from the soul, is due to the fact that the soul-body can be influenced by the sentient-soul.
Now how does the interaction between body
and soul proceed? During life the spirit is bound up with the soul in the way shown above. The soul receives from it the power of living in the Good and the True, and of thereby bringing in its own life, in its tendencies, impulses, and passions, the spirit itself to expression. The spirit-self brings to the I, from the world of the spirit, the eternal laws of the True and the Good. These link themselves through the consciousness-soul with the experiences of the soul's own life. These experiences themselves pass away, but their fruits remain. The spirit-self receives an abiding impression by having been linked with them. When the human spirit approaches an experience similar to one with which it has already been linked, it sees in it something familiar, and is able to take up a different attitude toward it than if it were facing it for the first time. This is the basis of all learning. And the fruits of learning are acquired capacities. The fruits of the transitory life are in this way graven on the eternal spirit. And do we not see these fruits? Whence spring the innate predispositions and talents described above as characteristic of the
spiritual man? Surely only from capacities of one kind or another which the human being brings with him when he begins his earthly life. These capacities, in certain respects, resemble exactly those which we can also acquire for ourselves during life. Take the case of a genius. It is known that Mozart, when a boy, could write out from memory a long musical composition after hearing it only once. He was able to do this only because he could survey the whole at one glance. Within certain limits a man is also able during life to increase his capacity of rapid survey, of grasping combinations to such an extent that he then possesses new faculties. Lessing, indeed, has said of himself that by means of a talent for critical observation he had acquired for himself something that came near to being genius. One has either to regard such abilities founded on innate capacities with wonder as miracles, or one must consider them as fruits of experiences which the spirit-self has had through a soul. They have been graven on the spirit-self. And since they have not been implanted in this life, they have been in a former one. The human spirit is
its own species. And just as roan as a physical being belonging to a species bequeaths his qualities within the species, so does the spirit within its species, that is, within itself. In each life the human spirit appears as a repetition of itself with the fruits of its former experiences in previous lives. This life is consequently the repetition of another, and brings with it what the spirit-self has, by work, acquired for itself in the previous life. When the spirit-self absorbs something that can develop into fruit, it penetrates itself with the life-spirit. Just as the life-body reproduces the form, from genus to genus, so does the life-spirit reproduce the soul from personal existence to personal existence.
Thus the experiences of the soul become enduring not only within the boundaries of birth and death, but out beyond death. But the soul does not stamp its experiences only on the spirit which flashes up in it, it stamps them, as has been shown, on the outer world, also, through the deed. What a man did yesterday is to-day still present in its effects. A picture of the connection between cause and effect is given in the simile of sleep and death.
[paragraph continues] Sleep has often been called the younger brother of death. I get up in the morning. Night has interrupted my consecutive activity. Now, under ordinary circumstances, it is not possible for me to begin my activity again just as I like. I must connect it with my doings of yesterday if there is to be order and coherence in my life. My actions of yesterday are the conditions predetermining those I have to do to-day. I have created my fate of to-day by what I did yesterday. I have separated myself for a while from my activity; but this activity belongs to me and draws me again to itself after I have withdrawn myself from it for a while. My past remains bound up with me; it lives on in my present, and will follow me into my future. If the effects of my deeds of yesterday were not to be my fate to-day, I should have had, not to awake this morning, but to be newly created out of nothing. It would be absurd if under ordinary circumstances I were not to occupy a house that I have had built for me.
The human spirit is just as little newly created when it begins its earthly life as is a man newly created every morning. Let us try
to make clear to ourselves what happens when an entrance into this life takes place. A physical body, receiving its form through the laws of heredity, comes upon the scene. This body becomes the bearer of a spirit which repeats a previous life in a new form. Between the two stands the soul, which leads a self-contained life of its own. Its inclinations and disinclinations, its wishes and desires minister to it; it takes thought into its service. As sentient-soul it receives the impressions of the outer world and carries them to the spirit, in order that the spirit may extract from them the fruits that are for eternity. It plays, as it were, the part of intermediary; and its task is fully accomplished when it is able to do this. The body forms impressions for the sentient-soul which transforms them into sensations, retains them in the memory as conceptions, and hands them over to the spirit to hold throughout eternity. The soul is really that through which man belongs to his earthly life. Through his body he belongs to the physical human species. Through it he is a member of this species. With his spirit he lives in a higher world.
[paragraph continues] The soul binds the two worlds for a time together.
But the physical world on which the human spirit enters is no strange field of action to it. On it the traces of its actions are imprinted. Something in this field of action belongs to the spirit. It bears the impress of its being. It is related to it. As the soul formerly transmitted the impressions from the outer world to the spirit in order that they might become enduring in it, so now the soul, as the spirit's organ, converts the capacities bestowed by the spirit into deeds which are also enduring through their effects. Thus the soul has actually flowed into these actions. In the effects of his actions man's soul lives on in a second independent life. And it is inevitable that the human spirit should meet again the effect of these actions. For only the one part of my deed is in the outer world; the other is in myself. Let us make this clear by a simple example taken from natural science. Animals that once could see migrated to the caves of Kentucky, and have, through their life in them, lost their powers of sight. The existence in darkness has caused the eyes to
be inactive. Consequently the physical and chemical activity that is present when seeing takes place is no longer carried on in these eyes. The stream of nourishment which was formerly expended on this activity now flows to other organs. These animals can now live only in these caves. They have by their act, by the immigration, created the conditions of their later lives. The immigration has become a part of their fate. A being that once acted has united itself with the results of the action. It is so also with the human spirit. It is only by having been active that the soul could have transmitted certain capacities to it. And these capacities correspond to the actions.
By means of his actions, therefore, the human spirit has really carved his fate. In a new life he finds himself linked to what he did in a former one. One may ask, "How can that be, when the human spirit on reincarnating finds itself in an entirely different world from that which it left at some earlier time?" This question is based on a very superficial conception of the linkings of fate. If I change my scene of action from Europe to America I find myself in entirely new surroundings.
[paragraph continues] Nevertheless, my life in America depends entirely on my previous life in Europe. If I have been a mechanic in Europe, my life in America will shape itself quite differently from the way in which it would had I been a bank clerk. In the one case I should probably be surrounded in America by machinery, in the other by bank offices. In each case it is my previous life that decides my environment; it attracts to itself, as it were, out of the whole surrounding world, those things that are related to it. So it is with the spirit-self. It inevitably surrounds itself in a new life with that to which it is related from previous lives. And it is on this account that sleep is a good likeness for death. For the man during sleep is withdrawn from the field of action in which his fate waits for him. While one sleeps events in this field of action pursue their course. One has for a time no influence on this course of events. Nevertheless, our life on a new day depends on the effects of the deeds of the previous one. Our personality actually embodies or incarnates itself anew every morning in our world of action. What was separated from us at night is on the next
day, as it were, spread out around us. So it is with the actions of the former embodiments or incarnations of man. They are bound to him as his destiny, as the life in the dark caves remains bound up with the animals who, through migration into them, have lost their powers of sight. Just as these animals can only live in the surroundings in which they have placed themselves, so the human spirit can only live in the surroundings which by its acts it has created for itself. There can be no more appropriate comparison than that of sleep with death. That I find in the morning a state of affairs which I on the previous day created, is brought about by the immediate progress of the events themselves. That I, when I reincarnate myself, find surroundings which correspond with the results of my deeds in a previous life, is brought about by the relationship of my reincarnated spirit with the things in the world around. From this it stands out clearly how the soul forms a member of the constitution of man. The physical body is subject to the laws of heredity. The human spirit, on the contrary, has to incarnate over and over again, and its law consists in its
bringing over the fruits of the former lives into the following ones. The soul lives in the present. But this life in the present is not independent of the previous lives. For the incarnating spirit brings its destiny with it from its previous incarnations, and this destiny decides the kind of life. Whatever impressions the soul will be able to have, with what wishes it will be able to be gratified, what sorrows and joys spring forth for it, depend on the nature of the actions in the past incarnations of the spirit. The life of the soul is therefore the result of the self-created destiny of the human spirit. The course of man's life between birth and death is therefore determined in a threefold way. And he is by these means dependent in a threefold way on factors which lie on the other side of birth and death. The body is subject to the laws of heredity; the soul is subject to the self-created fate. One calls this fate created by the man himself his karma. The spirit is under the law of reëmbodiment or reincarnation. One can accordingly express the relationship between spirit, soul, and body in the following way as well. The spirit is eternal; birth and death have dominion
over the corporality according to the laws of the physical world; the soul-life, which is subject to destiny, links them together during an earthly life.
All further knowledge of the being of man has to be preceded by acquaintance with the "three worlds" to which he belongs. They are dealt with in the following chapters.
Thinking which takes up an unprejudiced attitude toward the phenomena of life, not afraid to follow the thoughts resulting to their final consequences, can, by pure logic, arrive at the conviction of the law of karma and reincarnation. Just as it is true that for the seer with the opened "spiritual eye," past lives, like an opened book, face him as experience, so is it true that the truth of it all becomes obvious to the unprejudiced reason.