The Meditating Farmer – Reading 2


“What does breathing signify in occult development? You can find the answer in the injunctions not to kill and not to injure any living creature. The occult teacher says: “By breathing you are slowly, continually, killing your surroundings.” What does this mean? We breathe the air in, use it to furnish our blood with oxygen and then breathe it out again. What does this involve? We inhale the air with its oxygen; we combine the oxygen with carbon and we exhale carbon dioxide, in which no man or animal can live. We breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide, which is a poison; and this means that with every breath we draw we are dealing death to other beings in our environment. Bit by bit we are killing our whole environment: we inhale the breath of life and exhale air which we can make no further use of. The occult teacher is concerned to alter this. If there were only men and animals in the world, all the oxygen would soon be used up and all living creatures would die. It is thanks to the plants that this does not happen, for in plants the breathing process is the reverse of ours. They assimilate carbon dioxide, separate the carbon from the oxygen, and use the carbon to build up their bodies. They liberate oxygen, and men and animals breathe it in again. So do the plants renew the life-giving air; otherwise all life would long ago have been destroyed. We owe our life to the plants, and in this way plants, animals and men are complementary.

But this process will change in the future, and since anyone who is undergoing occult training must begin to do what others will achieve at some time in the future, he must learn not to kill with his breath. That is Pranayama, the science of the breath. Our modern materialistic age places health under the sign of fresh air; but our modern way of achieving health through fresh air is one that terminates in death. A Yogi, on the other hand, will retire into a cave and as far as possible will breathe the air he has himself exhaled — unlike the European, who is always wanting to open windows. A Yogi has learnt the art of contaminating the air as little as possible because he has learnt how to use it up. How does he do it? The secret has always been known to the European occult schools, where it was called the finding of the Stone of the Wise, the Philosopher’s Stone.

At the turn of the eighteenth to the nineteenth century a good deal of information about occult development leaked out. The Stone of the Wise was often mentioned in published writings, but one can see that the author understood little of it, even though it all came from the right sources. In 1797 a local Thuringian newspaper printed an article about the Stone of the Wise which included, inter alia, the following: “The Stone of the Wise is something one has only to recognise, for every man has seen it. It is something which everyone holds in his hand for part of almost every day, but without knowing that it is the Philosopher’s Stone.” This is an enigmatic way of indicating that the Philosopher’s Stone can be found everywhere. Yet this strange expression is literally true.

This is how it comes about. The plant, as it builds up its body, takes in the carbon dioxide and retains the carbon for its body-building purposes. Men and animals eat the plants, take in the carbon, and give it up as carbon dioxide when they breathe out. So we have a carbon cycle. In the future there will be a great change. Man will learn to extend the range of his innate powers and will gradually come to do for himself what at present he leaves to the plant. Just as man passed through the plant and animal kingdoms in the course of his evolution, so will he in a certain sense retrace his steps. He will himself become plant; he will take up the plant-nature into himself and accomplish the whole plant-process within himself. He will retain the carbon dioxide and will consciously build up his body with it, as the plant now builds up its own body unconsciously. He will prepare the necessary oxygen in his own organs, unite it with carbon to form carbon dioxide, and then deposit the carbon again in himself. Thus he will be able to build up his bodily structure. Here is an idea which opens up a great perspective for the future; and when it comes about man will cease to be a killer with his breath.

Now we know that carbon and diamond are the same substance; diamond is more thoroughly crystallised and a more transparent form of carbon. Hence we need not think that in the future people will go about looking like negroes. Their bodies will consist of soft, transparent carbon. At that stage man will have found the Philosopher’s Stone and he will transform his own body into it.

Anyone undergoing occult development has to anticipate this process as far as possible He must deprive his breath of the capacity to kill, and must organise his breathing so that the air he exhales is usable and can be breathed again. How is this to be accomplished? You have to bring rhythm into your breathing. The teacher gives the necessary instructions. Breathing in, holding your breath and breathing out again — this must be done rhythmically, if only for a short period. With every rhythmical exhalation the air is improved, slowly but surely. Here the old saying applies drops of water wear away the stone. The chemists cannot yet confirm this: their instruments are too coarse to detect the finer substances, but the occultist knows that breath imbued with rhythm is life-promoting and contains more than the normal amount of oxygen. The breath can be purified also, and at the same time, by meditation. This, too, contributes, if only by a very little, towards bringing the plant-nature back into man, so that he may become a being who does not kill.”

R. Steiner, At the Gates of Spiritual Science, Lecture 13, 3 September 1906, CW95