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Reincarnation

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Sketch of Rudolf Steiner lecturing at the East-West Conference in Vienna.



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Reincarnation

Reincarnation: Reincarnation in the Light of Thought

REINCARNATION
IN THE LIGHT OF THOUGHT

 

THE idea of reincarnation proclaims itself in the spiritual world of the West more and more insistently. The theatre dallies with it. Poets dream of it. It peeps unexpectedly out of novels and intimate confessions. It is spread abroad among the middle and lower levels of the people in popular pamphlets.

Have we a new fashionable craze here? Does Europe, as she grows old seek to forget her need in the illusion of spiritual trifling? Have men, in their lust for sensation, fallen into the strange absurdities of Indian phantasies?

Spirits like Arthur Schopenhauer and Richard Wagner, drawn towards the riddles of the newly-discovered wonderland of India, perhaps — perhaps I — would not without India have become such resolved protagonists of the ideas of reincarnation. But also, they ought to stand too high in the eyes of Western men for one to be able easily to ignore the deepest view they took of life. In them the thought of reincarnation found a spiritual form of expression peculiar to themselves.

Yet it can be shown that, even before the discovery of India, the idea of reincarnation arose quite of itself in German spiritual life — and that at the very time when that spiritual life freed itself from its Roman wrappings. The arising of the thought of reincarnation in the great minds of Middle European culture is one of the most interesting revelations of those underground deeps of the soul to which little attention is paid. The number of examples given in Emil Bock's work on “The idea of reincarnation as it appears in the spiritual life of Germany” is surprising. The idea emerges now here, now there — but never finds it possible to incorporate itself among the prevalent ideas of the time. In reality the conception of body and soul was already seized upon by the spirit of modern materialism even where men were still marching towards it under the banner of idealism. There was no possibility of thinking that the life of the soul could wander through several lives. Its connection with the body came more and more strongly into the forefront. Men still felt so keenly the value of the soul, on the very heights of spiritual life, that they denied its transitoriness, that inwardly they held to and supported themselves by the thought of “immortality.” But under the attacks of the world of sense and its experiences, this inward feeling of value is becoming weaker and weaker, and the possibility of thinking of the continued existence of the soul within the “picture of the world drawn by science today” becomes smaller and smaller.

Thus, as we look at the whole life of the age, we find that the hope beyond the grave is lost in odd corners, and seeks to assert itself by ever more violent means. In the last resort there remains only the hope of some “continuity of action” in the earthly sphere — or some doubtful “And yet!” If this is true for every hope of immortality, it is still more true for such an especial idea as that of reincarnation. And therefore the idea of reincarnation, even when it stirs anew in the souls which are most alive, remains fanciful and dreamlike. At best, it breathes over life the breath of an especial mood.

Although we do not intend here to support our argument by history, yet a glance at the peculiar way in which the idea of reincarnation came to life in Lessing and in Goethe, is significant for the further development of our study.

Lessing is, as ever, especially instructive. It appears to him unreasonable that man should touch the earth at one single time only, and in limited circumstances, when the earth with her manifold civilisations has so much to offer him, and when his own human talents urge him to such a many-sided development. Such a thought would naturally have weight only if one is convinced that there is a reasonable mind behind the happenings of this world, and thinks that one can see clearly this mind's intention in the evolving of the individual man, and not only in the evolution of “civilisation.” Belief in a divine goodness which wills to lead men upwards, and to endow them with all its rich gifts, here peeps out of the background. Two things are clear. Firstly, this thought could he thought in this form, only in the realm of human development in western Christian Countries. And secondly, from the very first the thought of reincarnation takes on a new form in the Western Christian realm of the spirit. In India, no one thought of an “eternal reason” when they spoke of innumerable reincarnations. They saw themselves brought up against a stern natural destiny, in which, if a judgment had to be passed upon it, they perceived rather the eternal unreason of earthly existence. It was no favour of divine love, no felicity for man, that he was tossed from birth to birth, but a gloomy destiny from which man would fain release himself by summoning up all his powers, as he would release himself from the chains of a frightful dungeon. We recognise immediately in Lessing how the idea of reincarnation enters into the mood of the culture of that age which rejoiced in this world here, how the lights of the optimism and rationalism of that day played upon it. But still we have a remarkable indication of the will of the idea of reincarnation to be born again out of Christian convictions about life.

Goethe is quite different. Here we have not the thinking mind which reaches out beyond the one life, and is conscious that it thinks with an eternal reason. Here is the human personality, the human ego, which looks beyond the one bodily sheath in which it now finds itself. It has a strong presentiment that it is itself a super-personal ego, which strides forward through the ages. When Goethe looks hack at his meeting with Frau von Stein, when he perceives the love of Ancient Greece within his soul, then a hidden ego begins to stir and burst the bonds of the present. This process in the soul is also radically different from all that has to do with India. It is just this ego, passing on through the incarnations, which Buddha himself denies. It is a complex of causes, which passes over from one life into another, No one of us can now experience in its full strength how mightily and impersonally the man of India felt this human destiny. That which we see before us in Goethe is again a spiritual event in the history of Western Christianity, the independence and the significance of which has not yet been sufficiently observed. The human ego, not only in its value, not only in its strength, not only in its meaning, but simply in its being is felt quite differently from the way in which it is felt in India. And out of it arises the idea of reincarnation in a new form. But again this form of the experiencing of the ego has arisen upon Christian soil.

Thus we see two characteristic, and at the same time, characteristically different forms of spirit shaping themselves in Lessing and in Goethe, as, without any connection with India, an impulse arises from Western Christian circles of culture towards thoughts of reincarnation. Since here we find a groping for the idea of reincarnation, on the one hand out of objective thought about the world, and on the other out of a subjective ego-consciousness, we are given significant indications of the future course of Spiritual evolution.

Simply for the sake of the phenomenon, which is so interesting, let us here point to a third spirit among the German classical writers, to Herder. One may regard him as a cultivated thinker, who came forward with the strong weapons of the spirit to oppose the idea of reincarnation, when he began to trace its first approach in German spiritual life.

He has a caricature of it before him when he takes the field against the transmigration of souls in his “Conversations about Metempsychosis.” Yet as one traces the agitation of his spirit more deeply, one will discover that he speaks nowhere more vehemently than when he allows the idea of reincarnation to speak for itself. “Do you not know any great and unusual people who could not possibly have become what they are in one single human existence? Who must often have been here, so as to have attained to that purity of feeling, that instinctive passion for all that is true, good and beautiful, in short, to that eminence and natural lordship over all that is about them ...

“Did not these great people usually appear suddenly? Like a cloud of heavenly spirits they descended, as if resurrected and reborn, bringing again a new age, after a long night of sleep.” Here Herder reaches poetical heights. Something within him unites itself in sympathy with the opponent, whilst he fights against him. The impression made by such descriptions makes a stronger spiritual effect than the impression which is given by his intellectual proofs. Such phenomena claim attention.

And yet at first German spiritual life got no further than surmises and beginnings. Broad and mighty, the age of Natural Science arose and the minds of humanity pressed hopefully on into their investigations in the wide sphere offered for conquest. The chief interest, the chief powers of humanity belonged for decades to “Nature” and her undiscovered kingdoms. The great spiritual achievements which were accomplished there have earned their praise and do not require our acknowledgments.

But one occurrence was overlooked during this time — an occurrence which broke into the age of natural science and introduced a new age. That occurrence was Rudolf Steiner. His spiritual act was the raising of natural science to spiritual science — by which means it again became possible to form a connection with the great spiritual age of a century before.

It is necessary, to say this at the beginning, because in the personal, in the spiritual situation at this point in the world's history, is revealed the situation in which alone the idea of reincarnation can hope to make its way in the life of the spirit. The personality does not matter; it is the spiritual act which is important. No man has spoken more understandingly of natural science than did Rudolf Steiner. Its self-denying methods of investigation, its careful conscientiousness, its intellectual efficiency, its heroic severity, he held to be all-important conquests made by humanity which must under no circumstances he permitted to be lost when new ages arise. Clothed in this armour, which he himself knew so well how to wear in the sphere of natural science, he pressed on into the invisible spheres of the spirit. He was the first real investigator — not merely the surmiser, not merely the believer, not merely the spectator, not merely the thinker, but the first really great investigator in a kingdom which only now lies properly before us unviewed and undiscovered — the kingdom of the spiritual world. It is only because of his surpassing greatness that we have no measure for him ; we have not yet got him into true perspective.

Thus the significance of Rudolf Steiner is epoch-making in the history of the idea of reincarnation. Through him it has become possible for the first time to form such conceptions of the relation of body to soul, of life here to the life beyond, of death to life, that the thought of reincarnation has a secure position in men's thoughts. The thought of reincarnation is no longer a dream of the soul rising out of unfathomed depths; no longer an idea which was held by ancient humanity and brings a new life of illusion, perhaps only by means of sensation and suggestion; no longer an hypothesis, by means of which man ensures for himself his own high worth. The thought of reincarnation is rather a self-evident part of a complete view of the world formed by one who has learned to think more spiritually about everything in the world.

If we now dare to exhibit the idea of reincarnation in such a connection, that which follows may serve to prove whether we have a right to use such words.

* * *

First we will describe in this connection the processes in the soul which lead to reincarnation. And here we may well feel reminded of similar descriptions which one can find in vulgar occult writings, or in the annoucements of mediums, or in documents of the past. What is brought forward here is distinguished from them not so much by the individual results, as by the methods. Nothing is brought forward which has not been independently investigated in detail by Anthroposophical Spiritual Science, which means in the first place by Rudolf Steiner, and carefully tested. Anyone who wishes at the outset to bring all possible doubts into the field against this assertion, cannot be hindered from doing so. But he may be convinced if he goes into the whole presentation of the subject, firstly by the nature of the presentation, which is different from the usual accounts of occultism, also by the inward harmony of the whole conception in itself, and lastly by its new relationship to the investigations of natural science.

We begin with the moment of death. What happens then? In earlier ages it was said: — “the soul leaves the body.” All sorts of marvellous opinions, which are incomprehensible today were current — that the soul floated away like a bird, perhaps through the mouth, and so on. Science today can only say: “The heart and lungs stop. The life-functions cease to be performed. The body begins to decay.” Naturally there is no doubt of this. The only question is why this happens, and whether there is nothing further to be said. The actual facts do not prove that “life” ceases, but only, strictly taken, that a certain kind of life in the body ceases, that “life” leaves the body. What is this life? How could it leave the body? Whither must it go? A “science” which is really exact leaves open the possibility for such questions. It simply says something about the physical body. It takes only into consideration that which is visible to the physical eye. But the passing from life to death is entirely mysterious, and quite different from a machine's change from motion to standing still.

How can we get beyond this place at which we are left by the scientific investigation which is tied to observation by the senses, and can tell us no more. The answers offered to us by mediums in spiritualistic seances, we refuse. They may contain correct facts, especially when they agree and are given independently, uninfluenced by one another. But we have no means of testing them. We can best catch a glimpse of the unknown if we observe more closely the last moments of the dying.

Now, it is a known fact that in a moment of deadly peril, in falling from a height, or in drowning, many people see wonderful pictures of their past life arising before them. In different and yet in similar forms, I have heard in the course of my life about twenty people describe this experience, people who, for the most part, knew nothing about Anthroposophy. The past stood before them, either in single scenes, or in tableaux of a period, or in a panorama, more clearly, and especially more impressively and more vividly, than in the usual memory pictures. These people described especially the objectivity of the impressions, and their rapid passing away, in which all the usual means of measuring time were useless. I read of such an experience for the first time in a daily paper, about thirty years ago. A doctor described what took place within him from the moment when the bullet fired by an opponent in a duel hit him till the moment when he fell and lost consciousness. He himself, a materialistic man of science, declared that he could not imagine a life after death. But the experience was so overwhelming that he felt it a duty to describe it to his fellow-men. In a later case, a student who had been an airman in the war, told me that in a high fever he had seen pictures of how artillery fire directed by him, penetrated the enemy's trenches. He had before him not only what he himself had done, but also the consequences of it for others, against whom his acts were directed. His experience was so depressing, that he sought help. In a clarity which is scarcely known in ordinary daily life, with a swiftness which covers an age in a second, the past sped before him. What is this phenomenon?

The first answer which we receive is: “the subconscious mind.” That which has been laid up in store “below there,” can in moments of strong emotion rise up into the consciousness. This “subconscious mind” cannot be denied. It can only be denied that in talking about it we are saying anything essential, or solving, or even touching upon any problem whatsoever. “The subconscious” is merely a word. It is even merely a denial — a denial of consciousness. But it denies “subconsciously” much more than it ought to deny. According to that, at least one must also assume that this “subconscious mind” for example must also cease to exist when “the consciousness is extinguished” in death. But then one also assumes that this subconsciousness cannot also have its consciousness which for once pushes itself forward. And one also assumes that in general there is only one form of consciousness namely the form known until now — the day consciousness. For of a consciousness in the subconsciousness one seldom dares to speak. One finds groups of mistakes like these in great plenty in investigations carried on in the one-sided mood of materialism. How is this “subconscious mind” retained within man? Only by the structure of the body? Has it its own “principle of organisation” within the body, or near the body, or above the body? How is the whole texture, if one may use this term, interwoven? Are there upper layers? Under what conditions does it emerge “into the consciousness?” To say “excitement” is to say little. What independence can this “subconscious mind” acquire? What action, what continuance is possible for it after death? One is seldom aware that all these are still open questions; that one can conceal these open questions from oneself by words, which one has formed for oneself provisionally and perhaps too hastily. As touching the life of the soul, the method of investigation used by natural science today, resembles an angler who sits upon the sea-shore and waits for that which chance may bring him. In comparison with the man who goes for a walk, the angler has a longer rod and can reach further out. He has some thoughts which he has formed for himself as he sat and fished. But he has not even a boat with which to put out upon the sea, let alone a diving apparatus with which to see into the depths. And out there, wave ever following wave to break upon the shore — there is the sea!

The man who brings this into his “consciousness” would have sufficient reason to listen attentively to what is said about the sea out of other methods of investigation. He would then perhaps understand better what he himself catches with his hook.

That which permeates the body and gives it life, is, according to Anthroposophical investigation, not an abstract “force” which breaks in out of the void, when the physical “conditions” are fulfilled, but an organism of forces whose vehicle is a fine substance which can no longer be perceived with the earthly eyes. Natural science it is true, also finds itself compelled to assume the “ether” as such a vehicle for the action of forces. Only it is in danger — because it can approach the ether only tentatively from the side of observation by the senses — of forming its conceptions of the ether from the physical side and so, perhaps, of grasping only one side of the truth, and perhaps not even that correctly. No one has yet seen the ether of physics. The organ of perception for this “substance” is not the physical eye, but one of these higher faculties which are described in the book, “A Knowledge of the Higher World and its Attainment.” If one has gained definite impressions of these higher organs of perception at any point, one knows certainly that here great undiscovered wealth lies waiting for mankind.

Another possibility of perceiving the “etheric,” at least in oneself, is found by man in meditation, when the capacity to distinguish that which belongs to the soul, both from the physical and in itself, has reached a certain stage. For the investigator who will not or cannot go along this way, the “etheric” remains a hypothesis, a useful assumption, whether in the sense of natural science or in the sense of spiritual science, but still it can acquire from thinking a great probability. And the question arises by which of the two points of view are the external facts themselves more illuminatingly and comprehensively explained.

If we call the organisation of forces which permeates man and makes him alive during the period of his life, “the etheric body,” we must constantly bear in mind that we are using neither the word “ether” nor the word “body” in its usual sense. Such a body is not something visible in the physical sense, and such an “ether” is not anything physical in the hypothetical sense. If we cannot retain this in our mind and in our feelings as well, then everywhere misunderstandings will spring up. The fatality of the words which we must use for spheres of which the majority of people have as yet no experience, will continue with us. But how can we avoid this danger? One can only describe it to the reader as exactly as possible and suggest to him that he forms an idea of an aeroplane, when he has up till now seen only a motor-car.

Into this substance-borne organism of forces, into this “etheric” body all our experiences enter continually. Therefore those impressions also, upon which the rays of our consciousness have not fallen, may act in such a way as to vitalise or to destroy the organism. In this fine substance are retained not only the effects of our experiences upon our feelings, but also the pictures of these experiences themselves, as they have passed through our senses. Man has always with him all his experiences, and does not know it. That is why in old age pictures of one's youth arise, to which one has not had access for decades, which one had never suspected were still there. Therefore in the case of an exciting experience, such as an attack by storm-troops, experiences arise and surround men like pictures. The etheric body gently loosening its connection with the physical body, then betrays its secrets. And so man always carries an uncanny possession about with him. His box of memories may open at any moment. He himself is a great hoard of memories. He is more; he is above all that which collects and organises these memories. Viewed from above, if one looks away from his physical appearance, he is a wandering remembrance.

When the physical body can no longer be used, then death enters. That means the etheric body must let go the physical body, must, as it were, let it fall. It can no longer live and work there. Therefore it separates itself from it. But that does not mean that this organism of forces in which the memories have buried themselves had itself immediately disappeared out of the world. It has indeed the tendency to pass up into the common cosmic ether. But that lasts for days, as when a cloud-mass gradually becomes more uncertain in its outlines and dissolves into the surrounding atmosphere. The ordinary connection and cohesion requires about three days for its dissolution. And the three, or three-and-a-half days, of the mysteries are connected with this fact. In the case of the individual, the length of time is different according to the power the person had during his life of exerting himself to keep awake. This power of keeping awake also consists in the capacity of the higher human being to retain the life-forces, to press itself close to the life-forces, as it were.

During these three days, the etheric being in which the human being has lived pursues its natural tendency — and the tendency of such life-forces is always to reproduce themselves. During the physical life this tendency was restrained, as the tendency of a tree's life may be checked by a stone which it has to carry. The physical body, with its coarser experiences, with its strong needs, claimed these “life-forces” for the most part for itself. As if lamed, the impressions of the etheric body sank, at first, into the unconscious. But now their hour has come. That which earlier happened occasionally and partially — namely that the etheric pictures stirred within one — happens now all at once of necessity and in completeness. On all sides they flash forth. Spiritual flames flicker round the man. The whole past life rises up, the man himself being in the midst. He looks himself in the eye, as he comes out of his life to meet himself. The man judges himself. For this etheric being, which bears within it the pictures of the past life, reveals as it passes into the cosmic ether how the human life itself stands in the higher world.

If one wished, one could say that is the “technique” of the first judgment, through which man has to pass. But a word like “technique” would immediately lead one into error. Here we are dealing with a world order, supported by spirits which order it. And the feeling that such living powers are present creates the character and the seriousness of this looking back upon life. Finer senses awaken in man now when the world of sense sinks from him, and leaves him alone in a higher world. For no man “gives up the ghost,” not even the most thorough-going materialist. That which the most strongly sensual man gives up, must give up, is his body. And then spirit stands before spirit.

If one tests these ideas, and all that is said here-after, one will nowhere find a point at which the results of natural-scientific investigation are contradicted. Therefore, natural-scientific investigation would, on its side, have no grounds for contradiction. No-one denies the “excited nerves” of men in peril of death. It is only the web of life as revealed in the world of pictures which appears because of this danger, which we are studying and explaining. What is yet unknown is added to what is known. And it is not asserted that this which is added would be seen with the eye, caught hold of by instruments or discovered by the intellect. It is absolutely impossible for any one to have it demonstrated to him unless he is willing to adopt the new methods of investigation. If any one were to think he could contradict it by other means, he would he like the giant who wished to fight the god Thor upon earth, while that god can be defeated only in the air.

But the soul — so the spiritual investigator tells us — does not take its flight “into the cosmos” when its etheric dwelling has dissolved itself into the etheric as a whole. It is rather another connection into which it enters which appears clearly, and is “finer” and more spiritual. The “substance” which is now its vehicle — again using the word “substance” with reserve — is called the “astral body.” It is “such stuff as dreams are made of,” to use Shakespeare's words. It is connected with the most delicate currents of forces which come down from the stars.

That the life of our soul is influenced by the constellations no one can deny who has heard anything about sleep-walking. As compared with the coarser influence of the weather, such influences upon us are certainly of a more delicate kind. For the most part they remain “unconscious.” But since they are there, they also require a medium which flows throughout not only the cosmos, but man also, and this medium is called the “astral being.” When in connection with this we mention the investigations of Frau Lilly Kolisko into the “Action of the Stars in Earthly Matter,” in which the influence of the constellations upon metals is investigated, we are again faced with the tragic fact that an investigator must pursue his way for years alone, before even one can join him who can test his work and follow him.

Our soul life is related to the stars. Out of the starry spaces the “stuff” in which it weaves is woven. It does not pass away when the earthly wrapping is dissolved. Man actually raises himself to the stars. Only one must not form the idea that this happens in space. Just as thoughts which are thought in America, Germany and Russia, can flow together into a mighty spiritual movement, so that no railways which run between can restrain it, so the spirituality which is in man recognises the spiritual world to which it belongs, and unites, itself with it, and is not disturbed by the thousand things which happen in the physical world.

Man lives now in a much more delicate and more spiritual mode of being — his “astral being,” and within it that which has organised the astral being in this especial way — namely his ego. Only now, when we reach this ego and this higher spirituality, does it become impossible to speak of “matter.”

Man must become accustomed to this mode of being. He must awake to it. It is no less rich in experiences than the earthly sphere in which the spiritual has support in the earthly world, in the brain; it is even richer, but quite differently, much more “spiritual” and “delicate” — there are no other words for it. In such a world all spiritual relationships reveal themselves inescapably to the soul. From this fact flow all the pangs and all the joys of this mode of being. To take an example: if a man has been very susceptible on earth to the pleasures of the table when they were offered to him, but at the same time could forget all about food when enjoying music which is a spiritual pleasure — so that only gnawing hunger reminded him of his bodily existence, then such a person would easily grow accustomed to a world in which there were no more dinners. But a man whose chief joy in existence was to look forward to the next meal, who knew “nothing higher” than a roast; such a man would be destroyed when his soul, which had been intimately inter-woven with such joys, found itself in a world where there were no more menus.

Such an example shows to what a large extent the ideas of the life beyond, which were held in past ages, really mirror the truth. In Greece they spoke of Tantalus in Hades, who was for ever reaching after a fruit which just escaped his grasp. In India, they described in Kamaloka the Karmic results of earthly actions. In the Catholicism of the Middle Ages, we have the representation of the fires of Purgatory. Through a dreamy clairvoyance, not through wild fantasy nor capricious speculation nor through “speculation,” if one understands the word in the sense of “mirroring,” humanity received news of what passes after death. It was described in differing pictures, by peoples and civilisations. But one cannot fail to recognise the typical basic experience. In a spiritual manner, conformable to our way of thinking at the present day, spiritual investigation illuminates that which was still perceived by humanity in former ages of the world. The multitude of pictures, even if there is much in it that is confused and disordered, illustrates the restrained account of those matters, which we have given. And our thought-perception explains and clears the many-coloured pictures.

The ascent of man is accomplished thus: the lowest desires, which have taken up their abode in the starry being of the soul, must die through lack of satisfaction before the soul can have more peaceful joy in the higher impulses which also dwell in it. Unfulfilled desires burn, as thirst can burn. Through our dreams we know this spiritual burning which can so occupy the soul, that it cannot think of anything higher. This new world is serious enough for all those who have betrayed their souls to earthly pleasures. With their sensitive feelings they must now pay the ransom for this. But souls like Francis of Assisi, pass almost untouched through this new world, as they have passed unstained through their temptations upon earth. The fire of purgatory is a crude, but not incorrect, expression for this world, and only the later dogmatic definition “ignis corporalis et realis” (fire which is bodily and real) lies on the path of materialistic error.

In this time after death man wanders back through his past life. The spiritual experiences which have been stored up within him, are now examined by him, step by step, and are felt by him in the cosmic astral being, where they occupy the place that is fitting for them. Penelope unmakes her web again. Pictures always reveal such experiences most clearly, but they demand of the reader that he sees through these pictures with his understanding and not with his misunderstanding. As if with the many eyes of the cosmic powers, which now awaken within him, because like finds like, man looks into his life in every way. He “judges” himself, as he is judged by the higher cosmic powers which now, in eternal calm, as inviolable and incorruptible judges, view that which is brought before them. He is judged by them, whilst he is judged according to them. From thence the last judgment comes to him. We bear it always with us in our conscience. By the forces which draw our soul after them, will it be known where it belongs, whether to lower or to higher regions of the cosmos. No brief words of external judgment are spoken, but one relationship of our being after another comes before us, until the soul is “purified”; that means, till everything in it, which can no longer live in the higher air has died. So the soul is drawn higher and higher till it reaches the “heaven” to which it has destined itself in its earthly life. The fairy tale of Volkmann-Leander, in which every soul finds just that world it most deeply longed for on earth, is fulfilled, like many another legend of our childhood. Every soul bears irrevocably within it the spiritual forces which draw it upward, because, in its deepest nature, it is from above. But its past earthly life determines how high, how swiftly, how consciously it can enter the higher, the highest worlds, which all lie open for it. An earthly example may make this clearer. Let us assume that a great gathering of people are assembled in a hall where Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is being played. What will the effect be? Many “experience” nothing. The wearisome noise only awakens their impulse to get up and go; more and more insistently and painfully wishes and needs arise within them which Beethoven does not satisfy. Others hear with their ears the highest inspiration of a genius, look into the open heaven, and listen to choirs of angels. No outward sentence is needed to judge between them. The inward preparation each brings declares itself.

So man rises through innumerable experiences, till his last and highest, his last and highest is completely attained. He has found no Mohammedan materialistic Paradise, but his heaven — not the heaven of which he thought, but the heaven which thought in him. There his soul rests until all are made one.

“And we are supposed to have experienced this already. Many times? This is fantasy run wild! We find no trace of it in our remembrance! And if it is not in our remembrance, has it any significance for us? Do we wake up out of such a web of dreams which makes use only of our unconsciousness, and by our unconsciousness of it is again disproved?”

Now, first of all; anyone who thinks that that which he does not remember, cannot be within him, has a psychology which can be cured by the most superficial consideration. For that, no “epoch of psycho-analysis” is required. Even the sleep-walker has experiences to which he can find no key in the waking consciousness of day. But every dreamer encounters the same thing. We wake in the middle of the night. It gradually comes into our “consciousness” that we have been dreaming vividly. But the dream is present with us only as a strong feeling. We can get no access to it. Then after a time it “occurs” to us. And now, all at once, the dream-picture in all its details comes vividly before our soul. If we pay close attention, we can, in such a moment, study the difference between different “forms of consciousness.” But that does not yet interest us — not yet. And at night, if we suddenly wake up? Perhaps our dreams were less vivid; but were they not there? Often in the course of the day a dream complex arises instantaneously before us. Perhaps we even become conscious suddenly that we have often dreamt the same dream before, but if there had been no external cause, this dream-complex would not have come to light. It would have remained submerged, but not inactive. Sometimes we notice, when we observe ourselves, that in our decisions we find the mood of an oppressive dream playing a part — a dream whose details we cannot bring to mind. In every case when we act “out of experience” a cloud of experiences takes part in our decisions, though they have not passed through the light of our consciousness. Do we require further examples?

“But the difference is that at least occasionally we observe the after-effects of these ‘unconscious’ experiences in our earthly life, but of a ‘life’ in the ‘spiritual world’ we find not the slightest trace!”

That is just the question. Perhaps we are only lacking in observation. Do we not “instinctively” shrink back from some spheres of experience, from which others do not shrink? Are we not drawn to other spheres by an inexplicable attraction, as if we were “at home” there? Are not many things “natural” to us, which are certainly not “natural” to others? Are we not endowed with capacities upon which we can securely depend? Is it not true that in reference to this or that we need only refresh our memories, while others learn slowly in the sweat of their brows?

“Heredity!” says someone, using the catch-word of the moment. Certainly the facts of heredity speak loudly enough. We have no cause to gainsay them. But one question always remains unsolved. What is the organising principle which makes the choice out of the enormous mass of inherited capacities? Is it chance? We shall meet again this question of heredity at a decisive moment when we speak of the birth of man. Here let us say only that we do not deny any of the results of the science of heredity. But they explain only the substratum, not the subject. How the individual human talents and inclinations are put together — this question remains quite open. If one thinks that here one could only consider the blind play of natural forces, one is a materialistic dogmatiser. Chance, like God, is seen by nobody, At this point the science of heredity, after it has upheld all its well-won rights, can only hold its peace, and admit honestly that a question still remains. It can then turn away from all that cannot be proved by the senses, or it can listen to what another science has to say.

If only one could for once make clear to the clever intellectualist of today that the same proofs cannot be given for the invisible side of the case, as for the visible side. To demand them is just as unreasonable, just as foolish scientifically as to require photographs of the spiritual ideas of higher mathematics. One cannot even “prove America.” Even to the American who comes over here, I can prove, not indeed that there is no America, but that he has not proved and cannot prove America. If I bring only mistrust to the accounts of those who have been over there, no power in the world can convince me. I must myself travel thither. I may listen very circumspectly and with reserve, but it may be that the more I listen to those who tell of America, the more I come to have faith in them.

Yet we are not merely thrown back on faith. The more man learns to “meditate,” that means, the more man learns not only to think thoughts in, but to live in the spiritual realm; not only to have sudden ideas and to draw logical consequences, but to experience thoughts with all the force of reality, and let them live themselves out in him; to walk and also to stand still in a world of thought; to pass over into it and place as it were the whole weight of his existence in it — the more he learns in this way to have the whole impression of his soul-being before him at once (and this means to learn and to practice much) then he will see the more clearly what a many-sided, rich, characteristic structure he has before him. He will see more clearly the great weight of his inheritance and within it his ego, which works and organises it spiritually, and wills to rule over it. And it will be so much the less possible for him to regard this ego as the offspring of a union between chance and nought at all.

Therefore, how strong is our experience of man's ability to “look down” from the spirit upon the body is a question of self-training and of nothing else. One may use this expression because the spiritual in man causes itself to be perceived as a separate spiritual organisation with which the influences from the body interact, as it were. Man then knows: I live pure, here in the spirit. Then the body stirs with its laws and demands. Man sees himself as a human individual in a certain stage of his development, beneath him being that which he has attained, above him that which he has still to attain. He has a lively feeling that he has set out on a spiritual pilgrimage.

It will never be possible to make any man believe in such experiences if he has not at least some idea of them. Such methods as Ziehen uses in his “Principles of Psychology” are no longer applicable. He writes (p. 120): “All the assertions of the egotists” (who assume that there is an ego) “do not enable them to escape this fact, that there are people who declare definitely that they have never had the smallest experience of egotistic intuition.” The untenability of such proof comes sharply into view if one places this sentence beside his sentence: “All the assertions of the philosophers do not enable them to escape this fact that there are people who know nothing of pure thought.” Can one then controvert a fact by stating that there are people who have had no experience of it? Is the truth that alone which all men have experienced? One can see the state of mind out of which such a failure in thinking proceeds. The self-evident presupposition of the philosopher; though he does not prove it, nor does it even enter into his consciousness is this: there can be nothing in the soul of which a mind which lives upon the heights of philosophy has no personal experience. How much more circumspect and scientific is, for example, Kuelpe (Introduction to Philosophy, 5th Edition, p. 276). He finds that there is a “right to have a psychological metaphysic.” Whether it will have the character of a “theory of substantiality” is, of course, “in no way decided.” “Scientific psychology is not yet broad enough or ripe enough to enable one to make definite assumptions about the nature of of the soul” This is the scientific attitude, which it is possible to discuss. Really — however much such an assertion may be interpreted as arrogance — it is a concern only of human evolution that the spirit acquires independence of the body, even that the individual spirit acquires it. The turning away of humanity from this upward path, upon which in the “classical age” it had advanced far, has been caused by the one-sided development of the powers of understanding. This was required by the age of Natural Science. But today it becomes dangerous to the inward and upward evolution of mankind — yet it can also be made serviceable to it. A man has an idea of the real nobility of humanity only when he is able to live in the spirit, clearly, securely and consciously; when he feels that he is the ruler, or at least the superior of his bodily being. Then the tales of a coming life in the spirit grow more comprehensible and interesting. They come more and more into the illuminated spheres of probability.

Therefore we are not left to learn at death what comes after it. Physiologically we bear about within us the past ages of humanity. That we can also physiologically draw conclusions about the future of the human race from our own bodily circumstances is certain. It is necessary only to have sufficient clearness of spirit. And clairvoyance, in the healthy and correct sense, is nothing else but increasing clearness of spirit. So we must have our spiritual future after death already within us in embryo. It would not be our future if we could not already overhear its messages within us. For that we do not require spectacles, nor stethescope nor forceps, but the creating of a state of spirit which is for the most part like the condition which can exist only after death. One cannot establish a theoretical dogmatic proof of what ought to be possible, but can only examine, actively and practically, what is possible.

Let us mention one possible means by which man can come to have ideas of the experiences which he had before birth. Rudolf Steiner has often pointed out how a man can go back into his earliest youthful experiences. If he succeeds in bringing to life again within him all that he felt about life before he was conscious of himself, it will seem to him that he was then enfolded in glorious and golden blessedness. One need only observe those feelings of childhood, which one can still recall, with a little more exactitude and self-devotion — not merely enjoy the feeling of them, not simply sing them as a poet would, but observe them spiritually and objectively — and one will find that one feels as if one had then descended from heaven to earth. One has a feeling such as one might have on awakening out of deep sleep. It then seems to us as if we were bringing with us to earth delicate forces of joy. Our spirit does not yet penetrate more deeply. In awakening we have the same kind of experience only in a weakened form. It becomes increasingly difficult to find the explanation of this “youthful blessedness” simply in the dewy freshness of our physical sensations, or the unexhausted powers of hope in the soul, or in our inexperience carefully guarded at home. It is spiritual, sun-inspired joy which radiates through us, not freshness of body. In this spiritual joy those around us may bathe without our knowing it. Why, at first, does our memory not go further back? Can we marvel at that if we ourselves have such inexact memories when we go back to this time? What if we have forgotten this spiritual, sun-inspired joy in which we then lived, and which gave new life daily to all around us? It is still woven into our life. In old age, and in old age especially, one can often feel the continued working of this warm radiance of childhood.

Let us point out still one experience more. People of past ages have often had it, obviously more vividly than people today. Otherwise Plato could not have said with such enthusiasm that all the great flashes of illumination which came to him were memories! Even amongst us it happens that a person — an artist for example — goes about as if looking for something which he has lost. To the question how he got his music Anton Bruckner replied: “I have listened to the angels.” When we open ourselves to his inspired compositions, it seems to us as if he had been listening to a solemn religious service, of which the Catholic Mass itself, is only a copy. When we listen to Brahms we often feel as if he were seeking some melodic mode of being which shines upon him in brief flashes, but when it does shine, opens to him endless perspectives. When we hear Beethoven, it is as if we were present at a storming of heaven by Titans, and then, out of a heaven which has gently opened, the blessed gold of peace descends upon the stormers. Such impressions help us to understand the statements of spiritual investigators, that great artists, especially in music, labour to bring into this earthly world something of the harmonies of the spheres in which they lived before birth.

When the human soul has reached the highest spiritual heights which it can then reach, it becomes one with the world in which it now dwells. This has a two-fold significance. Its power to rise comes for the time to an end. One may, as a rough comparison, think of an airship whose content of gas cannot raise it higher in the surrounding atmosphere. Such pictures give only bare hints of what is spiritual. But this becoming one with the world is also a going to sleep. That from which we no longer distinguish ourselves comes no more definitely into one's consciousness. A blessed rest in becoming one with the divine world which now she reaches, is the highest experience to which the soul attains.

But then, in the individual core of the soul, the inclination to descend begins to prevail. Not by the “laws of nature” but by a spiritual attraction, this inclination draws it towards the place where it can work and learn, whence it can derive a new upward impulse, a new union with the spiritual world. As it now sinks slowly towards earth, as it were, then, in all the kingdoms through which it passes in its backward course, it incorporates into itself all that is suited to it. From all sides, there flows to it, there unites itself to it, that which belongs to its being. And so it draws near to physical existence. Now it has to find the body which can serve it. Out of the stream of inheritance an innumerable variety of embryonic bodies is offered to it. And yet, perhaps for decades, it finds no embryo in which it can live. For the embryo of the body also bears within it possibilities which must enter into harmony with the inclinations of the soul. So the soul must wait until somewhere upon the whole round earth it can find the embryo body which offers to it the possibilities which it requires. All this is accomplished one might say, according to natural laws, but then one must bring into a wider connection both these natural laws and spiritual ordinances, and must know that “laws” are never abstract and “in the air” as materialistic intellectualism is bound to think they are, but they are the modes of action of spiritual powers. When one understands that it may be the same thing to say “Souls are guided by natural laws,” as to say “Souls are led by angels,” then one approaches the truth of which we are thinking here.

Even when the soul has found a bodily embryo, that embryo is seldom as well-suited to it as it must wish it to be — especially seldom in our century. This growing body, in which the powers of inheritance act, often presents great hindrances to the soul. The embryo indeed, is capable of being moulded. The soul can, indeed, through years — beginning before birth, then in other ways after birth up till the third year, then in other ways throughout the whole life — work upon it in order to make it in an obedient instrument. But the forces of heredity are also at work upon the body, the common human forces, springing from the whole evolution of humanity, as well as the especial personal forces from the father and mother. And so even the embryo most akin to the soul, does not offer it some things which it requires, and also offers it some things which it does not require. Feelings of discomfort not seldom accompany the soul throughout life. It feels as if it could not bring to full expression that which it would fain express. But just because of the opposition, such a life may grow to so much the greater power for a life which is still far off.

What objections can investigators into heredity make to such a view? No man can say that the actual facts of the science of heredity are robbed of their value if one gives heed to the three results: (1) that under certain circumstances the soul does not for decades find that which corresponds to her need, although millions of possibilities of life are at her service, (2) also that no embryo fully corresponds to that which she requires, (3) that the soul can set strong forces to work in remodelling the growing body from its most tender beginnings. Many crises and illnesses, which cannot rightly be explained, are comprehensible if they arise from this struggle between soul and body. One must say not only that no investigation of heredity up till now has been able to discover any definite facts about the organising principle which leads to the coming into existence of any particular person, but also that it will never be able to work out anything about this with its present methods. At this point, the ultimate fact for it would be simply the mechanism of procreation, if one did not see that other methods, which lead to the investigation of that which is living, might be able to help. One can assert this thus definitely because in the most different spheres, science comes always up against the same questions, and can give no answer. What is it which organises? Through what does it work? How does it work? How does it live and die? Nowhere with the present methods of investigation is there even the faintest glimmering of real perception. One can say still more definitely than did those investigators of nature out of their insight “ignoramus — ignorabimus” (we do not know — we shall not know). And science has stood by this confession since Du Bois-Reymond made it in 1872. In this position, science is standing before two doors. She can knock at the door of free speculation or she can knock at the door of higher investigation, whose results she may at first assume hypothetically and hold them along with her own results.

A new light falls on other problems of biology also, besides the problem of the organising principle, through the idea of reincarnation. Let us mention only one. The question is often asked why certain lower races are doomed to extinction. Doctors and biologists have made their investigations. They have found nothing to explain why these races are dying out. The processes of life were in order. The bodily organisations of the men and women were healthy. Why is it? Here also the perceptions of spiritual science give an answer. There are always fewer and fewer souls which find the conditions necessary to their development in the bodies of these races. And therefore the life embryos are not used. Is this fancy? Only for one who absolutely refuses to follow new methods and test them, although the old methods obviously do not lead to the goal, obviously cannot lead to the goal. Is it not crasser fantasy always to imagine that by Physics and Chemistry in the modern sense, one can approach near to the problem of life?

* * *

In order to have a picture of how the human ego proceeds through the incarnations, we may quote here two of the many examples given by Rudolf Steiner, especially in the last period of his life. They are taken from public lectures of Dr. Steiner, or from lectures afterwards made public. We must again premise, that one would completely misunderstand such communications, if one thought that here conclusions were drawn, suppositions brought forward, or that we were being given the fancies of a medium. That which is here told claims to have been investigated by exact methods, modelled upon the methods of natural science, but modified to correspond with another sphere of investigation. One may test the exactitude of these methods; one may dispute the correctness of the results, or regard them provisionally as being undecided. But if one has not tested these methods and does not even know them, one cannot out of the blue assert that the results have been obtained by other methods than the investigator himself says they were. Such behaviour would be a scientific crime.

The first example deals with the connection between Raphael and Novalis. From this example one may see how that which is gained in one life, becomes active in a new life Everyone finds it surprising how deep an understanding is found in Novalis for the greatness of an ideal Catholicism, although he lived in another age amidst surroundings quite opposed to it. Especially remarkable are the lines, which however, were not quoted by Rudolf Steiner, and which must not be regarded as the basis of any conclusion

I see thee in a thousand forms,
O Mary, drawn with loving care,
And yet by none art thou revealed,
As in my soul I find thee there.

I only know that this world's clamour
Has since flowed by me like a dream,
And that a sweet and nameless heaven
Eternal in my mind has been.

That which Novalis brought with him was a knowledge of the intellectual depth of Christianity. That which he sought was nature, but nature into which he carried his deep consciousness of the spirituality of the world. If one is to show the right scientific spirit, one can only stand thoughtfully before such information given by the spiritual investigator. Behind our usual daily studies, unfathomed depths of life await us.

Measured by the space of time, after which reincarnation usually occurs, the transition from Raphael to Novalis is an unusually early reincarnation. These two personalities are as it were two revelations of the same being, but as it advances in evolving.

The other example leads us into quite a different relationship. Many people have already observed the connection of Francis of Assisi with Buddhism. The author of this book for example, once proposed to write a book about the union of Christianity and Buddhism in Saint Francis. That gentle love of animals, that love of his holy bride, Lady Poverty, that feeling of unity with all nature, that ready receptivity for all the impressions of life, and with all this, that heroism of ascetic self-denial, and the mood of that final doxology in praise of death the redeemer — how did such a character grow up so suddenly out of Italy of the Middle Ages? If one holds that reincarnation is possible, one will find food for thought in the statement of Rudolf Steiner that, in an earlier incarnation, Francis was a pupil in a school for initiates on the Black Sea, which was under the spiritual influence of Buddha.

The educated man of today is trained to perceive all kinds of feelings which appeal to the senses, but not to observe the more delicate divisions of his soul-life. He can perceive “complexes” when impressions creep into the “unconscious” soul-life and grow there like ulcers. But there is little sense awakened in him of how to observe, e.g., the way in which, out of man's enduring ego, a something pulses through the manifestations of his life — how this pulsing is now stronger, now weaker: how it is lessened by passing impressions and fancies; how it is almost extinguished by the more persistant habits of life, — of the way, in short, in which the ego lives, in its interplay with the astral and etheric life, which also belongs to it, and with which it is in contact. Only when one looks into man with more delicate observation does one clearly perceive the ego, which can be distinguished from its “sheaths,” and which yet impregnates them with its own nature, and passes through the ages independent, or, rather, ever becoming more independent.

Rudolf Steiner never spoke of his own incarnations. He completely overcame that temptation — one must add, if indeed for him it was a temptation. Of the ethical greatness of his life-work, mankind in general has not even a suspicion. Whatever was said or thought in the immediate circle around Rudolf Steiner concerning his earlier incarnations, rests upon surmises, which are based upon historical associations of facts. Such surmises may hit the mark, but also may often err. That these circles held Rudolf Steiner to be Christ reincarnated, or that he ever let himself appear in this light is one of the hundred slanders which tend to obscure his real character. Rudolf Steiner has always emphasised the uniqueness of the Christ as a phenomenon in history. The only statement I myself ever heard from him occurred in an intimate conversation. He said that sometimes from outside something correct might be said to a person concerning that person's past. He himself had been enlightened about his own earlier incarnation by a remark made after a lecture, which set him on the right track. Rudolf Steiner mentioned no name. Even apart from the restraint which is tactful in such conversations it would have been impossible to question him. He knew how to guide such conversations. I know of no one who would have dared to ask him. Everyone knew too well what he had to expect if he had asked. The single exception which Rudolf Steiner made in speaking of reincarnations is distinctive of his attitude. On their seventieth birthdays, he spoke to a very few of those nearest to him, about their earlier existence. Then no falsifying influence could be exercised upon their lives by such information. And also, in the few cases in which a more explicit word was spoken, it was done in so careful and gentle a way, and so humanly, that one could study in it the art of dealing with men. Such information was never particularly flattering.

This recital may seem to interrupt the course of thought in our study But through it one may come to feel in what kind of atmosphere Rudolf Steiner investigated and spoke—in what spiritual atmosphere the hope alone rests of reaching truth in this sphere.

Does one then have memories of a past life?

Many men at the present day assert that they have such memories. If one looks more closely, one finds that they are such impressions as, “I have been here before,” “I have been through this already,” “I have already met these people.”

One can only utter a solemn warning against judging the whole course of the world's events by such fleeting impressions. When one tries to base the idea of reincarnation upon fancies of this kind it merely acquires an evil reputation among all who would test it scientifically. For decades past attempts have been made in psychological literature to trace such passing impressions back to their origin. I myself once investigated such an impression. I had had an extraordinary vivid feeling, “I have already been in this place.” But I had certainly never been there during this present life. More exact investigation showed that at this place a smell was noticeable which had once been the accompaniment of an earlier vivid experience. The smell had brought with it a general feeling of remembrance, and there was nothing more. If psycho-analysis gave nothing else that was new, it at least called our attention to the vast unperceived realm from which waves are continually coming. Recently man has got more clearly upon the track of the racial characteristics which lie in his inherited qualities. If one examines the cases which are brought forward as examples of real remembrance, one finds oneself assailed by one doubt after another. In such cases people do not seem to know that the exact description of a place where one has never been, is not the slightest proof that one must know it from a previous incarnation. People do not even come to the nearly related idea of a “far sight.” They have no knowledge of a spiritual perception of people, things and places which they have not seen till then. If, then, one has learned from Anthroposophy that there is such a thing as “foresight,” foresight of important events, towards which we are approaching, yes, even a foresight of the whole coming life itself, then one has reason enough for turning away from proofs like these.

And one grows still more circumspect at the sight of the spiritual trifling to which one is readily tempted by the idea of reincarnation. Who may I have been? What fate may I have already shared with this person? The danger is great that a person may make his whole life so false by such a play of thought, that he can no longer act purely of himself. Then when spirits which are gifted as mediums join in the game and bring forward their fantastic imaginings about the connections between the different lives, we are not far from disaster. One may say candidly that if hostile powers wished to destroy men, they could lay hold of them at this point. So much vanity would come to meet them from the souls of men, so much lust for sensation, that the most evil distortions and corruptions would enter into the conduct of men's lives. When young people were trying to live in such imaginations, Rudolf Steiner sometimes said with emphasis: “That would be pestilence.”

The earnest supporter of the idea of reincarnation must know all this; and not only know but say it himself, and not let his opponents be the first to say it. Much honest opposition to the idea of reincarnation comes from a knowledge of dangers of this kind or even from experience of their evil effects.

But does this mischief prove that the idea of reincarnation is an error? Have not the powers of destruction always used a truth to destroy truth? A spark of perception falls upon humanity: it can become a light, a light to the world, if men will tend it, but the will-o'-the-wisps lay hold of it in order to tempt men to the abyss. That has always been the tragedy of light upon earth. From the most brilliant discoveries of chemistry came the gas war. But does Chemistry therefore lead men astray? Is it not the duty of humanity to wrest all truth from the powers of destruction?

And so we return to the question: are there such things as memories of a previous life? And it is certainly true that amid the many vague feelings, the many impure fancies, there are also quite other impressions, which must not be thrown overboard with them. For example, it occurs to a man, when he devotes himself to the study of history, and is not thinking about himself; “This period has been known to me from of old.” Perhaps there is nothing more than this; no personality with which he has been acquainted. One may allow this impression to rest. But at quite another place it occurs to one again. From the most different points of life one finds this period indicated. There are of course plenty of psychological explanations of this. And there is the very. newest phase of the psychology of heredity, with its investigations into memory. But the man gradually notices that the impression has arisen out of a sphere quite different from that of the life of the soul, whose nature he has learned to know, with all that is impulsive and dreamy in it. He notices also that the impression is clearer, more spiritual, more informative; and that it is surrounded with a cloud of feelings of remembrance, which do not spring from one's ordinary power of memory but rest somehow upon what is deeper in our personality. If a man experiences this, experiences it again and again; if he learns to distinguish its peculiar qualities from those of the impressions which come out of other spheres; if he learns to observe the peculiar attitude to the world and the peculiar character of personality with which such impressions may appear, and if he comes to experience them as breakings-through from another species of being, then he may ask himself if he is not really upon the track of a truth. In making these remarks we are not of course offering “proofs” to convince doubters, but are giving a hint of experiences which must then be tested.

There is an infallible touchstone for such impressions. If they have the slightest thing to do with our vanity, they are false. Real memories, as Rudolf Steiner has often said, are almost always connected with things of which we are ashamed. Man has an uncanny capacity for getting out of the way of such shame. Otherwise, perhaps, these impressions would come more often into our consciousness. When all vanity, even that which is most concealed, is so far overcome, or at least so well watched over, that it can cause no mist then, and only then, can real truth arise out of the depths. The spirits of the depths have succeeded in carrying through a rascally trick, if our vanity leads us to find ourselves reflected in the portrait of a famous man of the past. In the book, “Rudolf Steiner Enters My Life,” I have given the illuminating explanation which Rudolf Steiner gave of the fact that so many people lay claim to having been an important historical personage. As in this life one has a clearer picture of the people with whom one lives than one has of oneself, so it happens also, when one looks back into the past. When we feel ourselves to have been related to some great person in the past, it need not be a mistake on our part, it need not be an illusion caused by our self love, it is only that we were not that person ourselves, but perhaps one of those who revered him then.

The problem is this: — How can one get rid of all that which proceeds from our turbid soul-life, and see clearly into the face of the facts? And the turbidity is by no means all on the part of the brisk preachers of reincarnation. There is also a lack of clarity proceeding from the “subconsciousness” of their opponents. Many people admit freely that we have good reason to inquire thoroughly into our firmly settled habits of thinking, but they draw no logical conclusion from the admission. It is just in our unconscious thought about the relationship between body and soul, that we have got into a materialistic rut. We push the action of the body upon the soul into the forefront of our interests in an unseemly way, and in spite of psycho-analysis very little attention is paid to the action of the soul upon the body. At most, one looks most closely at the sick and abnormal action — and this is especially true in psycho-analysis. But suspicion is a beneficial method of investigation only when it is applied impartially to all sides of the question.

Another source of many illusions is the common respect for words which one thinks mean something, but which merely conceal the problem. The word “Suggestion,” for example if it is not used in the technical sense, often plays the part of a tricksy spirit in soothing a man with the notion that he is thinking something.

But the chief opponents of the thought of reincarnation live at a deeper level. There are those who, quite comprehensibly, dislike the idea of life after death, if life on earth is uncomfortable. There is the whole trend of the spirit of the age, which turns to what is earthly, and fears that its powers in this life may be weakened by thoughts of a life beyond. There is the effect made by pictures of the Christian heaven and hell (in which Lucifer's hand may be discerned), and of an easily-won blessedness which one would hesitate to forego. There is also the desire to be free of an existence of which one has “had enough,” if one judges all existence from the standpoint of materialism. These are some of the real opponents of the idea of reincarnation. And he who has once discovered them will look with just as much distrust upon that which is advanced against the idea of reincarnation, as upon that which is brought forward in its favour.

The true scientific attitude towards the doctrine of reincarnation is the following. Reincarnation can in no way be refuted by means of the scientific investigation of today. If anyone says or thinks the contrary, his contradiction cannot find ground of support, but is seated, if not in a resistance in his soul, then in habits of thought and feeling characteristic of this present age.

It is as clear as the sun that one cannot lay a truth like that of reincarnation upon the dissecting table; that neither the microscope nor the telescope can be so refined that it can bring reincarnation before human eyes. If one is to investigate its truth, methods of investigation must be found which can really reach this sphere. Anyone who asserts more than this, abandons the use of his reason and succumbs to prejudice; he becomes “unscientific.”

One may say, “The doctrine of reincarnation contains as presuppositions so many assertions about the relation of body to soul, of nature to spirit, of life to death, all of which I cannot test, that I cannot accept it.” Very well. But if instead of “which I cannot test” one begins to say unconsciously “which seem to me unproved,” one has set out upon the wrong path. Inadvertently one changes the true demand, that a truth must pass before the strict testing of the human mind, into the other demand, that a truth must be passed by the usual methods of investigation current today. One has every right to ask for a “view of the world” which denies none of the certain results of the painful, self-denying investigation of the last century. But the request for a “view of the world” which must grow out of the usual means of thinking and investigating of today, contains the presupposition that the experiences of the senses, and of intellectual thought, are the only means of perception which man has at his command. In this one is justified as far as the usual methods of proof used in abstract philosophical speculation, and in religious speculation also are concerned, but not as regards the methods of perception employed in anthroposophical spiritual investigation. If anyone thinks he can say more in opposition to Anthroposophy without studying its methods of investigation, he falls into serious scientific error.

But the important question is, how does one become convinced of reincarnation? Do not all Anthroposophists “believe” in reincarnation not upon the authority of the Bible, but only upon Rudolf Steiner's authority?

The first thing to be said is that the number of men who have had experiences of reincarnation is much larger than is commonly thought. Such experiences cannot be waved aside by the verdict of materialism, because they actually break into the world of materialism in which one has lived.

As a historical witness let us at least mention Buddha. No one who has seen the clear inexorableness of his view of the world can take him to be a man of phantasy. And yet Buddha could say: “In such a frame of mind, inward, purified, cleansed, virgin, cleared of dross, pliable, supple, steadfast, unscathable, I directed my mind to the perceptions in my memory of earlier forms of existence. I remembered many earlier forms of existence, as it were one life, then two lives, then a hundred thousand lives. Then (I remembered) the many times when a world came into being, then the many times when a world crumbled to decay .... I was there, I had such and such a name, belonged to that family, that was my calling, such good and ill have I experienced, the end of my life was such ... Having died there, I entered again into existence. Thus I recalled to mind many different forms of existence.”

One must have great courage in one's own convictions if one would simply sweep away all discussion of this confession of one of the very greatest of human spirits. Yet — it can be no proof for us. And therefore let us also forego other historical testimonies, which take many forms and are often uncertain. Among the philosophical opinions the saying of the great sceptic, David Hume, is especially interesting, that metempsychosis, the transmigration of souls, is “the only system of immortality to which philosophy can lend an ear.”

At the present day the number of people who tell us of impressions of reincarnation is increasing. Even if one takes only the twentieth part of these impressions seriously, there are still a sufficient number remaining to prevent our escaping from the subject, even with a large dose of scepticism; on the contrary, one acquires a scepticism about scepticism. One of the purest and most spiritual men whom I have known, told me that when he had bitter difficulties in his marriage, a picture arose in his soul, as he sought to find what was right, He saw a medi$aelig;val cloister, and in it a monk who was giving his abbot trouble by his refractoriness He felt an inward connection with this picture. And with shame, he knew that it was his destiny today to make up for what he had done then. From that day on, his fate became easier for him. We could tell of several similar accounts given by people who have had all the weight of present-day criticism directed at them, and whose experiences were anything but orgies of vanity. But, in order that we may avoid any appearance of wishing to use them to convince anyone, we shall not quote them. Let us say this only: — today there is simply coming more clearly into men's consciousness that, which during the last century and a half, kept darting in as suspicion. The confessions of Lessing, Goethe and others, are not the fossil remains of past epochs—which may often enough exist — but the forerunners of human experiences to come.

Yet let us take up the question: How can one come oneself to such experiences, or come near to them? And with this question let us repeat the other: How is it that Rudolf Steiner has such confidence placed in him?

In the sphere of spiritual science one is more fortunately placed than in the sphere of natural science. For the instrument of investigation is not an apparatus such as, perhaps, only an American university can afford, but the instrument of investigation is man himself. Even the man who never comes to having experiences of reincarnation of his own, can, by sound spiritual exercises, collect such experiences of the relation of body to soul, of nature to spirit, that he can form a judgment whether a materialistic or a spiritual conception is the right one. He will not be content with an “either” — “or.” The more a man learns to meditate, the more the spiritual life appears before him in its own peculiar nature, its own individual laws, its own especial life; the more does nature become a curtain illuminated by the continually increasing light upon the stage behind; the more does the idea of further development, and also the idea of reincarnation, come within the illuminated circle of probability. We meet Lessing and Goethe again, when the spirit develops itself so strongly “outwards” and the ego so strongly from “within” that out of them a certainty of reincarnation comes. These are the real paths of man's future development which their genius foresaw.

By spiritual training men's whole attitude of mind is changed, and directed towards the spirit. Obviously, humanity is advancing towards such a spiritual development. The proof of this is the instinctive impulse which makes men today seek Yoga-exercises, Catholic exercises, American methods of self-training. Mankind's best longings are directed towards the training and strengthening of the spirit, just because men feel that humanity, under the enormous pressure of outward life, will succumb to neurasthenia. At such moments it has always been the fate of man to have many quacks and few physicians. But because so many men found that Rudolf Steiner has given to their questions the answers they had otherwise sought in vain, and that he has illuminated their experiences by explanations, which had begun to stir within themselves in an elementary way, he has gathered round him such a circle of educated and gifted people as no other man of today has gathered. He has shown himself to be a great physician among many quacks. These people have not by a long way had all the experiences which Rudolf Steiner had, or tested all the results which Rudolf Steiner obtained. But, because man is himself the apparatus for spiritual science, there is the possibility of obtaining from the experiences of his own soul, however primitive they may be in the spiritual sphere, a means of measuring that which can be right and true in this sphere. He who has gathered a few experiences by means of his own body, will quickly be able to distinguish the physician from the quack. In this circle around Rudolf Steiner are many people who may perhaps seem to uphold dogmatically the doctrine of reincarnation, but who yet have a personal right to speak on this subject because they are corroborated by dim experiences in their own soul. In this circle and everywhere where one is undertaking self-training in earnest there is an increasing number of impressions which lead in the direction of the experiencing of reincarnation. And the certainty increases that the universal advance of humanity is also towards the spirit, and that for the whole of humanity itself these impressions of reincarnation are becoming more abundant.

Only, until the number of those who are striving in the spirit becomes greater, one will always feel a kind of helplessness when one meets people who, through their clinging to the past, refuse to follow these new ways. And yet the truest views of the future may lie upon paths upon which the ordinary point of view would set up the notice “No road this way.” In a picture we may show how certain one may feel about it. A convinced “land-rat” could never be brought to feel that which a person feels who can swim, and trusts himself to the water. The latter feels himself no less safe than the one who is on the land, even when in swimming he no longer feels “the ground” under his feet. He does not deny that the man upon the land must walk, and that the only movements which help that man forward are the movements made in walking. But he refuses to believe the dogmatist about walking, when he lectures him from the land and says that the only movements which help a man forward are walking-movements. The “firm ground under one's feet” is the world of the senses. The “walking-movements” are intellectual thought. “Water” is the spiritual, sphere. “Swimming” is the method suitable to the spiritual world. And let no one wriggle away from the argument by making a subtle joke about “swimming,” for that is the only means by which a man can save his life in the water.

And yet, spiritual training is not the only means which helps us forward. We must know little indeed of the way truth lives among mankind, if we do not admit that there is a primal sense of truth which, when supported by delicate impressions that scarcely enter into our consciousness, and which we can yet feel to be just, can lead to our taking up an attitude towards any particular view of the world. Problems are solved for us, which would otherwise have remained dark; explanations are brought to us which would otherwise have been denied to us; possibilities of life are opened to us which we can admit out of our deepest being and knowledge; powers are given to us for which we would otherwise have waited in vain, and yet it remains for us to make the ultimate verdict out of our inborn sense of truth. Without such certainties no man can live. Anyone who thinks that by this doors are opened to spiritual dilettantism and subjective caprice, should remember that all the endeavours of those most skilled in forming theories of perception, have found no other criterion of truth but “evidence.” And anyone who would assert that the variety of the religious views of the world is a danger signal against such belief in evidence through one's primal sense of truth, let him again be advised to study Anthroposophical spiritual science. It makes clear that no religion has ever been wrong, that only half-truths or truths suited to the age have been played off against one another in all conflicts of religion, that a comprehensive view of the whole field is possible, which will put every religion into its place in the history of the world and which lets us perceive, beyond the sphere of time, the concord of all religions, One will then recognise that this is no eclectic muddling together of the various colours in religious history, but that a higher perception has discovered the rainbow.

Rudolf Steiner often said that the ultimate truths require external support from “proofs,” just as little as the starry heaven requires a scaffolding to support it. Just as the several constellations in the firmament bear up and carry one another, so an ultimate view of the world may rest upon the mutual support of the highest truths. He who denies this, is really waiting for external proofs based upon facts perceptible to the senses, or upon logical proofs. But in so doing he has given up his neutrality, he has decided for one view of the world, namely, for one which is materialistic and intellectual. And even in that he relies more upon confidence than he realises, confidence in the general opinion, confidence in investigation, especially confidence that prejudgments have not entered into the representations and explanations of investigation, confidence in the academic authorities, and in much else.

In face of the uncertainty which has come upon humanity because it has given up its primal sense of the truth in favour of an infallible tribunal of investigators, we must declare, however strange it may still seem to most ears, that there is a real possibility of living in communion with an actual spiritual world, of moving freely and securely among higher realities, of feeling that one lives in the thought of divine wisdom in its essence.

Against the uncertainties which undoubtedly arise from this new point of view, we have only one means of defence, and no man can name another. It is a strict, unprejudiced spiritual attitude, which seeks more and more to free itself from all subjective disturbances of the soul, but also from all recognised authorities; which accepts nothing which is not proved, but also rejects nothing without testing it; which takes the liberty and the right to think for itself, and to bring to bear upon any assertion all its own sense of truth; which tests a truth by life, and life by a truth; which perceives in the attitude of resignation in the face of truth, only indolence, fear of life, and even spiritual peevishness; which has the courage to perceive even unaccustomed and awkward truths; which can remain long floating in suspense between “yes” and “no,” without becoming dizzy; which, in a word, neither denies, nor surrenders to any academy, man's sense of truth, his right to the truth, or his courage to face the truth.

The author of this book confesses his belief in reincarnation upon the following grounds: (1) Because, on the ground of his own impressions, carefully tested a hundred times, he thinks he knows something about a life before birth. (2) Because through year-long free and severe spiritual exercises he has reached a conception of the relationship of body to soul which is in accordance not only with further development in a “higher world,” but also solely in accordance with reincarnation. (3) Because reincarnation has brought the best satisfaction of his need of thought, and the most illuminating fulfilment of his endeavours to find a satisfying view of the world.

And so he is convinced that upon this three-fold way the advance of mankind must be made. The number of people will increase whose spiritual evolution and training will bring to them perceptions and experiences of the relation between body and soul, before which all materialism, conscious and unconscious, will break down, and will show the spirit acting upon bodies in such a way that the thought of reincarnation will approach nearer and nearer. The number of people will increase who will find in a view of the world which includes the thought of reincarnation, the best satisfaction of their need for thought, the best explanation of their own life, the best fulfilment of their endeavours to find a theory of the universe.

Even if such people stop short in this question at the stage of probability, yet when once a free spiritual attitude towards that which is new is reached, — a spiritual attitude which neither admits proofs where there are none, nor demands proof where there can be none, a spiritual attitude which does not allow itself to be in bondage to the past, but brings to the future all the openness of mind which it can demand from us; then let humanity's search for truths in common, prove whether we were right in upholding the thought of reincarnation at the present day, before Western man, with a full sense of its real importance and of its meaning for life.

At present it is enough if the thought of reincarnation appears before the majority of men in such a form that they cannot refuse to admit in it a certain reasonableness, that they must grant it has more or less probability. All else will be contributed by the evolving of mankind itself. We are approaching a change in the general point of view, a reversal of the whole spiritual attitude. And for this we can wait.




Last Modified: 17-Oct-2020
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