The Origin of Suffering – Steiner – 1906 Part Two


Berlin, 8th November, 1906

The spiritual science which we represent here takes its starting point from the fact that all existence has its origin in the Spirit. A more materialistic view sees Spirit only as a crowning of perceptible creation, above all as a fruit of physical nature from which it proceeds.

In the last two lectures (11 and 25th October 1906. The former is not translated. The latter is “The Occult Significance of Blood”.) it was shown how in the light of spiritual research we have to picture the whole man — the physical or bodily, the man of soul and the spiritual man. What we can see with our eyes, perceive externally through the senses, what materialism considers the sole being of nature, is to spiritual research nothing but the first member of the human being — the physical body. We know that in respect of its substances and laws this is common to man with all the rest of the lifeless world. But we know too that this physical body is called to life through what we call the etheric or life-body. We know this because for spiritual research the life-body is not a speculation but a reality which can be seen when the higher senses slumbering in man have become open. We look upon the second part of the human being, the etheric body, as something which man has in common with the rest of the plant world. We regard the astral body as the third member of man’s being; it is the bearer of sympathy and antipathy, of desire and passion which man has in common with the animal. And then we see that man’s self-consciousness, the possibility of saying “I” to oneself, is the crown of human nature, which man has in common with no other being. We see that the “I” arises as the blossoming of the three bodies, physical, etheric and astral. So we see a connection of these four bodies to which spiritual research has always pointed. The Pythagorean “quadrature” is nothing else than the four-foldness, physical body, etheric body, astral body and I or ego. Those who have occupied themselves more deeply with spiritual science know that the I works out from itself what we call Spirit-Self or Manas, Life-Spirit or Budhi, and the actual Spirit-Man or Atma.

That is once more put before you so that we may orientate ourselves in the right way. Man therefore appears to the spiritual investigator as a four-membered being. Now comes the point where genuine spiritual research, which sees behind the beings with the eyes of the spirit and penetrates to the deeper laws of existence, differs profoundly from a purely external way of observing. It is true that as man stands before us we say too that chemical and physical laws must be the foundation of the body, of life, the foundation of sensation, consciousness, self-consciousness. But when we penetrate existence with spiritual science we see that things are just the reverse. Consciousness, which arises out of the physical body, which in the sense of phenomenon appears to be the last, is to us the original creative element. At the base of all things we perceive the conscious Spirit and therefore the spiritual researcher sees how senseless is the question: Where does the Spirit come from? — That can never be the question. It is only possible to ask: Where does matter come from? For spiritual research matter has sprung from Spirit, is nothing but densified Spirit.

As a comparison, picture a vessel with water in it. Think of one part of the water being cooled down until it turns to ice. Now what is the ice? It is water, water in another form, in a solid condition. This is the way that spiritual research looks at matter. As water is related to ice so is Spirit to matter. As ice is no more than a result of water, so is matter nothing else than a result of Spirit, and as ice can become water again, so can Spirit originate again out of matter, can proceed from matter, or, reversed, matter can again dissolve into Spirit.

Thus we see Spirit in an eternal circulation. We see the Spirit which flows through the whole universe, we see material beings arise out of it, densifying, and we see again on the other hand beings which cause the solid to evaporate again. In all that surrounds us today as matter is something into which Spirit has flowed and become rigid. In every material being we see rigidified Spirit. As we need only bring the necessary heat to the ice to turn it into water again, so we need only bring the necessary Spirit to the beings around us to renew the Spirit in them. We speak of a rebirth of the Spirit which has flowed into matter and is hardened there. Thus does the astral body — the bearer of likes and dislikes, of desires and passions — appear to us not as something which could originate from physical existence, but as the same element as lives in us as conscious Spirit, as what appears to us as the element flowing through the whole world and being dissolved again out of matter, through a process of human life. What appears as last is at the same time the first. It has produced the physical body and likewise the etheric body, and when both have reached a certain degree of development appears to be born out of them anew.

This is how spiritual research looks at things. Now these three members — we only use words for clarifying — appear to us under three distinct names. We perceive matter in a certain form, appearing to us in the outer world in a certain way. We speak of the Form, of the shape of matter and of the Life which appears in the Form and lastly of Consciousness which appears within the Life. So we speak as of three stages: physical body, etheric body, astral body, and also of three stages: Form, Life, Consciousness. Only from Consciousness does Self-consciousness arise. We shall not occupy ourselves with that today but only in our next lecture.

People at all times and particularly in our own day have pondered much over the actual meaning of life and its origin. Modern natural science has been able to give few clues to the meaning and nature of life. One thing, however, the more recent natural science has accepted for some time, something which has been expounded again and again as a fact by spiritual science also. This is namely: Life within the physical world is fundamentally distinguished as to substance from the so-called lifeless only through the manifoldness and complexity of its formation. Life can be present only where a much more complicated structure is found than exists in the realm of the lifeless. You know, perhaps, that the basic substance of life is a kind of albuminous substance for which the expression “living albumen” would not be out of place. This living albumen differs essentially from dead lifeless albumen through one characteristic. Living albumen disintegrates directly it is forsaken by life. Dead albumen, that for instance of a dead hen’s-egg, cannot be kept for any length of time in the same condition. It is the essential character of living substance that the moment when life has left it, it can no longer hold its parts together. Although we cannot go further into the nature of life today, yet one phenomenon can point to something that is deeply connected with life and characterises it. And what is this characteristic? It is just this peculiarity of living substance that it disintegrates when life has gone out of it. Think of a substance denuded of life — it decays, it has the peculiarity of dispersing. What then does life do? It sets itself again and again against disintegration; thus life preserves. That is the youth-giving element of life: it ever resists what would take place in its substance. Life in substance means: resistance to decay. Compare with life the external process of death and it will be clear that life does not show what characterises the process of death — the disintegration in itself. Far more does it ever and again rescue substance from decay, sets itself against decay. Thus, inasmuch as life ever renews the substance which is falling to pieces in itself, it is the foundation of physical existence and of consciousness.

This has not merely been a verbal explanation; it would have been one if what it signifies were not continuously carried on. You need, however, only observe a living substance and you will find that it continually takes up matter from outside, incorporates it into itself, inasmuch as portions of itself become destroyed: a process through which life perpetually works against destruction. We have, in fact, to do with a reality.

To throw off old material and form new again — that is life. But life is not yet sensation, not yet consciousness. It is a childish kind of imagination that makes many scientists have such a false idea of sensation. To the plants to which we must ascribe life, they also attribute sensation. If one says that because many plants close their leaves and flowers on an external stimulation, as if they felt it, then one could also say that blue litmus paper, which goes red through outer stimulus, has sensation. We could also ascribe sensation to chemical substances because they react to certain influences. But that is not enough. To have sensation the stimulus must be reflected inwardly. Only then can we speak of the first element of consciousness, of sensation and feeling. And what is this first element of consciousness? When in further investigation of the world we raise ourselves to the next higher stage and try to comprehend the nature of consciousness, we shall not do so immediately, but shall nevertheless feel it dawn a little into the soul, just as we could explain a little the nature of life. Consciousness can arise only where there is life, can spring only from life. If life arises out of apparently lifeless matter, since the combination of the material is so complicated that it cannot preserve itself and must be seized upon by life in order to prevent continual decay, then consciousness appears to us within life as something higher. Whenever life is continually destroyed as life, where a being stands close to the threshold between life and death, where life threatens all the time to vanish again from the living substance, then consciousness arises. And as in the first place substance would have disintegrated if life did not permeate it, so now life seems to us to be dissipated if a new principle, consciousness, is not added to it. We can grasp consciousness only by saying: Just as life is there in order to renew certain processes, for lack of which matter would decay, so is consciousness there to renew again and again the life that would otherwise die.

Not every life can always renew itself inwardly in this way. It must have reached a higher stage, if it is to renew itself from itself. Only a life that is so strong in itself that it perpetually bears death within can awaken to consciousness. Or does no life exist which in every moment has death in itself? You need only look at the life of man and remember what was said in the last lecture: “Blood is a very special fluid”. Human life renews itself continually out of the blood, and a clever German psychologist has said that man has a double (Doppelgänger) from whom he continually draws strength. But the blood, has another power as well: it continually creates death. When the blood has deposited the life-awakening substances on the bodily organs, then it carries the life-destroying forces up again to the heart and lungs. What flows back into the lungs is poisonous to life and makes life continually perish.

When a being works against disintegration and decay then it is a living being. If it is able to let death arise within it and to transform this death continually into life, then consciousness arises. Consciousness is the strongest of all forces that we encounter. Consciousness, or conscious spirit, is that force which out of death, which must be created in the midst of life, eternally makes life arise again. Life is a process which is concerned with an outer world and an inner world. Consciousness, however, is a process which has to do only with an inner world. A substance which can die externally cannot become conscious. A substance can only become conscious that creates death in its own centre and overcomes it. Thus death — as a gifted German theosophist has said — is not only the root of life but also the root of consciousness.

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