The Origin of Suffering – Steiner – 1906 Part Three


Berlin, 8th November, 1906

When we have grasped this connection then we need only look at the phenomena with open eyes and pain will appear comprehensible. All that gives rise to consciousness is originally pain. When life manifests externally, when life, air, warmth, cold encounter a living being then these outer elements work upon it. But as long as they only work upon it, as long as they are taken up by the living being, as they are taken up by the plant as bearer of internal life-processes, so long does no consciousness arise. Consciousness first arises when these outer elements come into opposition with the inner life and a destruction takes place. Consciousness must result from destruction of life. Without partial death a ray of light is not able to penetrate a living being, the process can never be stimulated in the living being from with consciousness arises. But when light penetrates into the surface of life, produces a partial destruction, breaks down the inner substances and forces, then that mysterious process arises which takes place everywhere in the external world in a quite definite way. Picture to yourselves that the intelligent forces of the world had ascended up to a height where outer light and outer air were foreign to them. They remained in harmony with them only for a time, then they came to completion and an opposition arose. If you could follow this process with the eye of the spirit, then you could see how when a ray of light penetrates a simple being, the skin becomes somewhat transformed and a tiny eye appears. What is it therefore that first glimmers there in the substance? In what does this fine destruction (for it is destruction) manifest? In pain, which is nothing else than an expression for the destruction. Whenever life comes up against external nature destruction takes place, and when it becomes greater even produces death. Out of pain consciousness is born. The very process which has created your eye would have been a destructive process if it had gained the upper hand over the nature that had developed up to the human being. But it has seized upon only a small part with which out of the destruction and partial death it could create that mirroring of the external world which we call consciousness. Consciousness within matter is thus born out of suffering, out of pain.

When we realise this connection of suffering and pain with the conscious spirit that surrounds us, we shall well understand the words of a Christian initiate who knew such things fundamentally and intuitively, and saw pain at the basis of all conscious life. They are the words: In all Nature sighs every creature in pain, full of earnest expectation to attain the state of the child of God. — You find that in the eighth chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans as a wonderful expression of this foundation of consciousness in pain. Thus one can also understand how thoughtful men have ascribed to pain such an all-important role. I should like to quote just one example. A great German philosopher says that when one looks at all Nature around one, then pain and suffering seem to be expressed everywhere on her countenance. Yes, when one observes the higher animals they show to those who look more deeply an expression full of suffering. And who would not admit that many an animal physiognomy looks like the manifestation of a deeply hidden pain?

If we look at the matter as we have just described it then we see the origin of consciousness out of pain, so that a being who builds consciousness out of destruction causes a higher element to arise from the decay of life, creates itself continuously out of death. If the living could not suffer, never could consciousness arise. If there were no death in the world never in the visible world could Spirit exist. That is the strength of the Spirit — that it remoulds destruction into something still higher than life, and so in the midst of life forms a higher state, consciousness. Ever further and further we see the various experiences of pain develop to the organs of consciousness. One sees it in the animals which for an external defence have only a reflex consciousness, just as man shuts the eye as protection against a danger to it. When the reflex movement is no longer enough to protect the inner life, when the stimulus becomes too strong, then the inner force of resistance rises up and gives birth to the senses, sensation, eye and ear. You know perhaps from many a disagreeable experience, or perhaps even instinctively, that this is so. You know indeed out of a higher state of your consciousness that what has been said is a truth. An example will make it still clearer. When do you feel certain interior organs of your organism? You go through life and do not feel your stomach or liver or lungs. You feel none of your organs as long as they are sound. You feel them only when they give you pain, and you really know that you have this or that organ only when it hurts you, when you feel that something is out of order there and that a destruction-process is beginning.

If we take this example and explanation then we see that conscious life is continually born from pain. If pain arises in life it gives birth to sensation and consciousness. This giving birth, this bringing forth of a higher element, is reflected again in consciousness as pleasure, and there would never be a pleasure unless there had been a previous pain. In the life below which just raises itself from physical material, there is as yet no pleasure. But when pain has produced consciousness and works further creatively as consciousness, then this creating is on a higher level and is expressed in the feeling of pleasure. Creation is based on desire and pleasure. Pleasure can only appear where inner or outer creation is possible. In some way creation lies at the base of every happiness, as every unhappiness is based on the necessity of creation.

Take something that expresses suffering on a lower level, the feeling of hunger, for instance, which can destroy life. You meet this with nourishment, and the food taken in becomes enjoyment because it is the means of enhancing, producing life. So you see that higher creation, pleasure, arises on the basis of pain. Thus before the pleasure there is suffering. The philosophy of Schopenhauer and Eduard von Hartmann can therefore say with justification that suffering is a common feeling of life. However, they do not go back far enough, to the origin of suffering, do not come to the point where suffering is to evolve to something higher. The origin of suffering is found where consciousness arises out of life, where spirit is born out of life.

And therefore we can also understand what dawns in man’s soul of the connection of suffering and pain with knowledge and consciousness, and we could still show how a nobler, more perfect state is born out of pain.

Those who have heard my lectures fairly often will remember the allusion to the existence of a sort of initiation, whereby a higher consciousness enters and man raises himself from a mere sense-perception to the observation of a spiritual world. It was said that forces and faculties slumber in the human soul which can be drawn out of it, just as the power of sight can be produced through operation in someone born blind, so that a new man arises to whom the whole world seems transformed to a higher stage. As in the case of one born blind, so do things appear in a new light to the spiritually born. Yet this can come about only if the process which has just been described is recapitulated on a higher level, when what is united in the average man becomes separate and a kind of destruction-process enters the lower human nature. Then the higher consciousness, the beholding of the spiritual world, can enter.

There are three forces in human nature: thinking, feeling and willing. These three depend on the physical organisation of man. Certain acts of will appear after certain thought and feeling processes have taken place. The human organism must function in the right way if these three forces are to harmonise. If certain transmissions are interrupted, certain parts diseased, then no proper harmony exists between thinking, feeling and willing. If the organs of will are crippled a man is unable to transform his thoughts into will-impulses. He is weak as a man of action; he can doubtless think, but cannot resolve to put thoughts into reality. Another case is when a person is not in a position to let his feelings be guided rightly through thoughts, to bring his feelings into harmony with the thoughts behind them. Insanity is fundamentally nothing else than this.

A harmony between thinking, feeling and willing is to be found in the normally-constituted man of today as against a sufferer. This is right for certain stages of evolution, but it must be noted that this harmony exists in present-day man unconsciously. If he is to be initiated, however, if he is to see into the higher . worlds, then these three members, thinking, feeling, willing, must be separated from one another. The organs of will and feeling must suffer a division, and therefore the physical organism of an initiate is different from that of a non-initiate. Anatomy could not prove that, but the contact between thinking, feeling and willing is interrupted. The initiate would be able to see someone suffering deeply without being stirred by any feeling, he could remain quite calm and merely look on. Why is that so? In an initiate nothing must be inter-linked unconsciously; he is a compassionate man out of freedom and not because something external compels him to be. That is the difference between an initiate and a non-initiate. Such a higher consciousness creates, as it were, a higher substance and the human being falls apart into a feeling-man, a will-man and a thought-man. Ruling over these three there appears for the first time the higher, new-born man, and from the level of a higher consciousness the three are brought into accord. Here again must death, destruction, also intervene. Should this destruction arise without at the same time a new consciousness springing up, then insanity would appear. Insanity would therefore be nothing else than the condition in which the human entity was shattered without the creation of the higher, conscious authority.

So here too there is a double element: a kind of destroying process of the lower by the side of a creating process of the higher. As poison is created in the blood in the veins, and as in the normal man consciousness is created between the red and the blue blood, so in the initiated man the higher consciousness is created inwardly in the co-operation of life and death. And the state of bliss arises from a higher pleasure, creation, that proceeds from death.

This is what man instinctively feels when he senses the mysterious connection between pain and suffering and the highest that man can attain. Hence the tragic poet, as his hero succumbs to suffering, lets this suffering give rise to the feeling of the victory of life, the consciousness of the victory of the eternal over the temporal. And so in the destruction of the earthly nature of Christ Jesus in pain and suffering, in anguish and misery, Christianity rightly sees the victory of eternal life over the temporal and transitory. So too our life becomes richer, more full of content, when we let it extend over what lies outside our own self, when we can enter into the life that is not our own.

Just as we create a higher consciousness out of the pain stimulated through an external ray of light and overcome by us as living being, so a creation in compassion is born when we transform the sufferings of others in our own greater consciousness-world. And so finally out of suffering arises love. For what else is love than spreading one’s consciousness over other beings? When we deprive ourselves, give away, make ourselves poorer to the extent that we give to the other being, when we are able, just as the skin receives the ray of light and is able out of the pain to form a higher being, an eye; when we are able through the expansion of our life over other lives to absorb a higher life, then love, compassion with all creatures, is born in us out of that which we have given away to the other.

This also underlies the expression of the Greek poet: Out of life grew learning; out of learning, knowledge. Here again, as already mentioned in the previous lecture, a knowledge based on the most recent research of natural science touches the results of old spiritual investigation. The older spiritual research has always said that the highest knowledge can proceed solely from suffering. When we have a sick limb and it has given us pain, then we know this limb best of all. In the same way we know best of all what we have deposited in our own soul. Knowledge flows from our suffering as its fruit.

The same too underlies the Crucifixion of Christ Jesus which was soon followed, as Christianity teaches, by the outpouring into the world of the Holy Spirit. We now understand the coming forth of the Holy Spirit from the Crucifixion of Christ Jesus as a process indicated in the parable of the grain of corn. The new fruit must arise from destruction, and so too the Holy Spirit, which poured itself out over the Apostles at the Feast of Pentecost, is born from the destruction, the pain endured on the Cross. That is clearly expressed in St. John’s Gospel (7.39) where it is said that the Spirit was not yet there, for the Christ was not yet glorified. One who reads this Gospel more deeply will see for himself that significant things emerge from it.

One can hear many people say that they would have not missed pain, for it had brought them knowledge. Everyone who has died could teach you that what I have now said is true. Would people fight against the destruction going on in them up to actual death if pain had not stood continually beside them like a guardian of life? Pain makes us aware that we have to take precautions against the destruction of life. Out of pain we create new life. In the notes of a modern natural scientist on the expression of the thinker, we read that on the countenance of the thinker something lies like a repressed pain.

When there is the enhancement which flows from knowledge attained through pain, when it is therefore true that from suffering we learn, then it is not without justification — as we shall see in the next lecture — that the Biblical story of Creation brings the knowledge of good and evil into connection with pain and suffering. And so it has always been rightly emphasised by one who looks deeper how the origin of purification, the lifting up of human nature, lies in pain. When the spiritual-scientific world-conception with its great law of destiny, karma, points from a man’s present suffering to what he did wrongly in earlier lives, then we understand such a connection only out of man’s deeper nature. What we brought about in the external world in an earlier life is transformed from base forces into lofty ones. Sin is like a poison which becomes remedy when it is changed into substance of life. And so sin can contribute to the strengthening and raising of man; in the story of Job pain and suffering are shown to us as an enhancement of knowledge and of the Spirit.

This is meant to be only a sketch which is to point to the connection between earthly existence and pain and suffering. It is to show how we can realise the meaning of suffering and pain when we see how they harden, crystallize in physical things and organisms up to man, and how through a dissolution of what has hardened, the Spirit can be born in us again, when we see that the origin of suffering and pain is in the Spirit. The Spirit gives us beauty, strength, wisdom, the transformed picture of the original abode of pain. A brilliant man, Fabre d’Olivet, made a right comparison when he wished to show how the highest, noblest, purest in human nature arises out of pain. He said that the arising of wisdom and beauty out of suffering is comparable to a process in nature, to the birth of the valuable and beautiful pearl. For the pearl is born from the sickness of the oyster, from the destruction inside the pearl-oyster. As the beauty of the pearl is born out of disease and suffering, so are knowledge, noble human nature and purified human feeling born out of suffering and pain.

So we may well say with the old Greek poet, Aeschylos: Out of suffering arises learning; out of learning, knowledge. And just as in respect of much else, we may say of pain that we have grasped it I only when we know it not only in itself but in what proceeds from it. As so many other things, pain too is known only by its fruits.

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