Concerning the Nature of Pain, Suffering,
Joy, and Bliss
October 27, 1908
Let us proceed to-day from simple forms of pain, from
its elementary forms. When we cut our finger and feel pain, or when
we bruise it, or cut it off completely and feel pain, this is the simplest,
most primitive form of pain. Let us begin by considering this.
When we ask psychologists who
are experienced in matters connected with the human soul, what explanation
they have for the simplest form of pain, we find, particularly in the
present time, that these psychologists say rather queer things. They made
a strange discovery, for they found out that the only way of explaining
pain is to add to the different senses, to the sense of smell, of sight, of
hearing, a new sense the sense of pain, so that the human being perceives
pain through this sense in the same way in which he perceives the light
through his eyes and sounds through his ears. They say that man feels
pain because he has a sense of pain. External experience does not give us
any foundation in support of the existence of a sense of pain; nevertheless
science, setting out from pure observation, is not in any way averse
to accepting it, in fact, it invents a sense of pain.
But let us take no further
notice of this and ask ourselves instead: How does such a simple, primitive
feeling of pain really arise? In what manner does the experience of
pain arise, when we cut our finger?
The finger is a part of
our physical body. The physical body contains the substances of the
external physical world The finger is permeated with the etheric and
astral parts of the body belonging to the finger. What are the tasks
of these higher parts, of the etheric and astral parts? The physical
structure of the finger, consisting of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen,
etc, these cells arranged within it could not be as they are, if the
active element, the forming, constructive element — i.e. the etheric
body — were not behind them. The etheric body is not only at the
foundation of the finger's growth, arranging the cells so that they
form the finger, gut it also maintains these cells in their structure,
thus preventing the finger's decay. The etheric body permeates the whole
finger and fills it with the etheric forces; it is contained in the
same space filled out be the physical finger. But the astral finger
is also there. When we have a sensation in our finger, when we feel
a pressure of anything else,, this is of course transmitted by the finger's
astral body, for sensation, feelings, live in the astral body.
The connection between the
physical, etheric and astral finger is, however, not only a mechanical
connection, but an incessantly living one. The etheric finger always
fills the physical finger glowing strength, it constantly works at the
formation of its inner parts. In what way is the etheric finger really
interested in the physical finger?
Its chief concern is to bring
all the parts with which it is connected, even the minutest particles,
in their right place, in a right connection everywhere.
Let us now imagine that
there is a little cut on our skin, a small injury. This prevents the
etheric finger in its task of arranging the different parts in the right
way. The etheric body lives in the finger and should keep its parts
together. But the cut, this mechanical incision, keeps them apart, so
that the etheric finger can no longer fulfil its task. It is in the
same situation in which we should be, if we had constructed an appliance
to be used for working in the garden and someone had destroyed it; in
that case we could not do the work in the way in which we intended to
do it. We must give up doing what we wished to do. This inability to
do something, as resignation. This impossibility (on the part of the
etheric body) to set in with its activity is felt by the astral part
of the finger as pain.
When a hand is amputated,
only the physical hand can be amputated, not the etheric hand, and the
etheric hand is then unable to work; the astral body feels this tremendous
renunciation in the form of pain.
The cooperation between
the etheric and astral thus produces the most primitive, elementary
form of pain. This is how pain arises, and it lasts as long as the astral
body in a particular part of the body has grown accustomed to the fact
that the corresponding etheric activity can no longer be carried out.
Let us compare this with
the pain which we experience in Kamaloka! There, the whole body is suddenly
torn away from man, it does not exist any more and the etheric, forces can
no longer be active in it. The astral, body feels that the whole can no
longer be organised — it longs for the activity which can only be
carried out within the physical body, — and this want is felt as
pain. Every pain is a suppressed activity. In the cosmos every suppressed
activity gives rise to pain, and because activity must frequently be
suppressed in the cosmos, pain is necessary in the cosmos.
But something else may arise.
Up to a certain degree, the hand may be prevented in its particularly
living activity by processes of renunciation, or similar things. This
is, for example, the case when a person begins to mortify his flesh.
Organs of the body which were formerly active and living are, in a certain
way, brought to a standstill. Then the astral part of the hand, for
example, withdraws from the etheric hand; it will have a surplus of
forces, it will have lost some of its tasks, although it might have
continued to fulfil them just as actively.
If a person treats his body
in such a way that he begins to feel these surplus forces in his astral
body and is able to say to himself: I dispose of surplus forces; formerly,
I used up all these forces in order to regulate the physical body; now I
have tamed the physical body, it no longer requires all these forces
— if this is the case, the astral body endowed with these surplus
forces will feel this as blissfulness. For even as suppressed activity
produces pain, so accumulated activity produces a feeling of bliss. It is
blissfulness for the astral body to do more than it was meant to do from
the outset. This consciousness of an overflowing strength which could be
used productively, which may be guided from within, since the external
body no longer claims it for itself, this implies blissfulness.
What meaning underlies the
fact that some religious communities do certain things in order to mortify
the flesh, the physical body? What does this imply?
This means that the functions
of the physical body are not used so much, they are thus calmed, so
that a certain amount of forces is kept back in the etheric body.
Let us imagine a man who
lived a life full of privations, who gradually succeeded in calming
down the metabolic processes of his physical body, without making many
demands on the etheric body, and then another man who likes to eat as
much as possible, whose physical processes are in a state of turmoil
and who has a lot to digest In the case of the former, where everything
takes such a calm course, whose physical functions even show a certain
sluggishness and do not consume the etheric forces so much, there will
be superfluous forces in his etheric body; in the case of the latter,
all the forces of his etheric body must be consumed in order to maintain
the functions of the physical body. Consequently, the man whose body
has learned to be calm and unpretentious will have superfluous forces
in his etheric body, and his astral body will mirror them as forces
of knowledge, not only, as blissfulness, and the imaginative pictures
of the astral world will rise up before such a person. For example,
Savanarola had a weak constitution and was nearly always ill; he had
any forces in his etheric body which were not used for the physical body,
and he could employ these forces for his powerful thoughts and impulses,
he was able to hold those powerful speeches by which he enthralled
his audiences. His visions also enabled hem to set before his hearers,
in a powerful picture events which would take place in the future.
And now we ay transfer this
to the spiritual worlds. Even as suppressed activity means privation in
Kamaloca — and there is always privation in Kamaloka — every
suppressed activity falls away when the human being enters Devachan because
there nothing exists which is in any way connected with the physical and
which lustfully longs for the physical. In Devachan a spiritual
substantiality is given to man which little by little builds up the
form of his future incarnation. In Devachan there is purest, freest
activity, and man experiences this as purest bliss.
During his earthly life, we
continually learn through everything which surrounds us, but the different
bodies which we have , were built up in accordance with the forces of our
preceding incarnations, we built up these bodies through these forces. But
what we learn to know during our life is not yet contained
in our body. In the course of life we change; our feelings change, our
ideas grow, there is a great amount of suppressed activity in us. But
we cannot change our body, it must remain as it is, built up in accordance
with the experiences of preceding incarnations.
In Devachan the human being
has emancipated himself from these hindrances, and as a result, his
unchecked will to work takes on the form of bliss. There he forms his
astral body, his etheric body and his physical body for a new life. What
remains unused in life, is applied in Devachan. He takes up into Devachan
not only his present consciousness, but also what surpasses his
personality. This gives him a heightened state of existence in Devachan,
so that in addition to what he experiences here as his individuality,he
experiences in Devachan all that he has gained over and above his
individuality and could not yet bring to expression during his life:
We are thus able to understand
pain and privation by rising from the lowest stage up to that of
blissfulness. In one world we can always follow the traces of something
that passes through all the worlds.
To-day we are thus able
to appreciate more fully the ascetic methods of development. We may
say: Even as pain is connected with an external injury of the physical
body, so the feeling of bliss is connected with a diminution of the
external activity and consequently with an increase of the inner activity.
This is the sensible side of the asceticism of the past, and we are
able to understand why that which was to lead man up into the higher
worlds was sought through renunciation.
Consequently we must first
throw light upon the most primitive aspects of things in order to grasp,
as it were, how spiritual science explains to us by the simplest things,
such as hurting a finger, the path leading from renunciation and privation
to blissfulness, and also how the tearing of pain may become a kind
of path of knowledge. For everything is a parable, and by explaining
the smallest things which face us, in the way, in which spiritual science
explains it to us, we gradually rise to a spiritual height enabling
us to understand the highest things.
If we compare this with
what was explained yesterday, we shall be able to grasp that the bearing
of bodily pain may become a kind of training, a path of knowledge. Imagine
a person who never had a headache. He can say: I am not aware of the
fact that I have a brain, for I have never felt it. Let us now imagine
that such a headache is not produced by influences from outside, but
by a certain stage of Christian Initiation which is called “the
crown of thorns”. It is meant to give man the feeling: Through
pain and suffering and many hindrances approach me, seeking to undermine
what is most important to me, my mission — I will stand upright,
though I stand alone! If someone practises these feelings for months,
indeed for years, he will finally experience this feeling of headache,
as if sharp points or thorns were prickling his head.
This is a transition to the
recognition of those occult forces which formed the brain. When the
etheric forces of the brain do exactly what they to do, they do not find
anything which might bring these forces to the consciousness of man. But
when the physical brain is in a certain way injured under the influence of
these feelings, the etheric body must loosen itself from it; it must
withdraw from the brain, it is driven out of it, and knowledge is the
result of this emancipation of the etheric head. This passing feeling of
pain is only the transition to the stage in which the forces of knowledge
are gained, and this is nothing but an objectivation
of something which man did not know before. Before, he did not know
that he had a brain, now he learns to know the etheric forces and their
activity, the forces which built up his brain and maintain it.
Many other things might still
be said, When a physical organ is separated from its etheric part, so that
the etheric body is unable to work in it, we experience pain. But when
the astral body has grown accustomed to this, when the cicatrization
begins, implying an emancipation of the etheric body, when therefore
not all the forces of the etheric body are being used, then the opposite
arises: namely, a feeling of joy and bliss.