Q00.009 - the idea of no self, or blotting out one's self

From Anthroposophy

Question [1]

I've been researching the idea of 'No-Self' for some years

  • One of the great puzzler's of Rudolf Steiner is the 'Knowledge of the higher worlds' (KHW) chapter on the splitting of the personality. This is a real mystery that points to this loss of Self .. or should I say "self" with a lower case?
  • I've also been studying Meister Ekhart and he is also like reading a Riddle of Consciousness.
  • Then there is a series of books I've been studying over the years by Bernadette Roberts. Her books describe these trials and emerging states of consciousness with a delicate exactness.

'The Experience of the No Self a contemplative journey' seems to describe exactly with fine points this mysterious splitting of the personality or could it be called a "loss of self"?

In chapter 4 she gives a hair raising description of a new emergence of consciousness and describes a New Way of Seeing "?" as she looks at Nature, which sounds like an amplification of the KHW.

Background info - notes added

  • Website about Bernadette Roberts and her books:
    • The Experience of No-Self: A Contemplative Journey (1982) - An autobiographical description of a two year period in her late 30s during which she lost all sense of self.
    • The Path to No-Self: Life at the Center (1985) - The second part of Roberts’s autobiography, starting at age 17 and covering a period of twenty years, beginning with the Dark Night of the Spirit (falling away of the ego-center) and describing the unitive state.
  • Extract:

    Within the traditional framework, the Christian notion of loss-of-self is generally regarded as the transformation or loss of the ego (lower self) as it attains to the higher or true self in its union with God. Thus, because self at its deepest center is a run-on with the divine, I had never found any true self apart from God, for to find the One is to find the other.Because this was the limit of my expectations, I was all the more surprised and bewildered when many years later I came upon a permanent state in which there was no self, no higher self, true self, or anything that could be called a self. Clearly, I had fallen outside my own, as well as the traditional frame of reference, when I came upon a path that seemed to begin where the writers on the contemplative life had left off. But with the clear certitude of the self's disappearance, there automatically arose the question of what had fallen away--what was the self? What, exactly, had it been? Then too, there was the all-important question: what remained in its absence? This journey was the gradual revelation of the answers to these questions, answers that had to be derived solely from personal experience since no outside explanation was forthcoming

Answer [1]

The way I read the topic brought forward here, this has to do with the various things for which we use the term 'I'. Terminology-wise, I would suggest the distinction between a) 'the reflection' as in our self image that we call our I in daily life, then b) the threefold soul (or lower I), and c) our true 'I' which is a spiritual entity (also called the higher I).

I have made an overview page with some references to Steiner lectures in Schema FMC00.289 on Human 'I'.

But on the original post, see eg also: 1913-08-30-GA 147

In Scene Three of The Souls' Awakening where Strader stands at the abyss of his existence, there is a foreshadowing of this experience that one has in spiritual realms. But one stands in the fullest sense of the word at the abyss of existence when one makes the decision in true freedom and energy of will, to blot out and forget oneself.

All these things are completely true of all human beings; nevertheless people are unaware of them. Every night we are required to blot ourselves out, without being conscious of it. But it is an entirely different matter fully consciously to give over to destruction and to forget one's remembering I — to stand in the spiritual world as a nothing on the edge of the abyss of nothingness. This is the most shattering experience one can have; one must approach it with great confidence that the true I will he brought to us out of the cosmos. And this is indeed the case.

We know, after we have achieved forgetfulness on the edge of the abyss, that everything we have ever experienced is blotted out, and this we did ourselves. But out of an as yet unknown world — a world I might call super-spiritual — our real I whose only remaining concealment has been the other self, comes toward us. Only now do we meet our true I, whose shadow or maya as it exists in the physical world is the lower I. For man's true I belongs to the super-spiritual world. All this is inner experience: the ascent to the super-spiritual realm, the perceiving of a completely new world at the edge of the abyss, the receiving of the true I from this world.

PS: you will also find interesting references to 'living without an I' in a.o. Carlos Castaneda and his stories of Don Juan. I recall descriptions of how Don Juan was living in such a way as trying to not leave a trace of his I or 'maya identity' in the outer world.

Follow up [2]

Yes in this blotting out of oneself we voluntarily "die" to ourselves, and we wait to "see" if the Christ wakes up in us giving us our higher "I"

I think this is in threshold to the spiritual world lectures.

Reply [2]

Indeed "crossing the abyss", as Steiner mentions in the GA147 reference above, is to be taken literally and what corresponds, in initiatory practice, to leaving the formed spirit world beyond the Saturn sphere into the unformed spirit world. Here's just one example, for perspective:


Just read the GA147 quote again and contemplate: one can imagine that what happens between death and a new birth, or consciously in initiation or magic, can also be a mystical experience or even a subconscious inkling in one's soul. See also 'The dark night of the soul' for yet another mystic, Saint John of the Cross (1542-1591).

This is also what Schema FMC00.289 referenced above tries to depict: at some point we stand before this 'leaving our soul experiences behind'.

Steiner did explain the differences many times, pointing at the need to go for a conscious path based on free will and the fact the approach of mysticism (or the christian mystical path of initiation, for that matter) did not really suffice or was not ideally suited for the current times. But that does not mean that there are not people who have those experiences, or use these paths successfully. For example I know someone who has followed the christian path of initiation (re eg 1907-06-27-GA100, or GA097) and gospel of John with success to reach initiation, but just as B. Roberts (or Adrienne Von Speyr) I believe these are exceptions and that path may not be the most suited for people in the western world that have a consciousness soul. See eg Bardon's Initiation into Hermetics, Daskalos' Esoteric Practice, or others as follow up reading to Steiner's Knowledge of the Higher Worlds (KHW). The very first exercices in initiation can, in this context, be seen as stilling the soul's experiences, as in: no materialistic thoughts, desires, ..

See also 1908-06-15-GA266/1 on the difference between the illusion of the personal 'I' and the true spiritual 'I', see Human 'I'.

Furthermore, see also 1904-06-01-GA265 about rising above one's 'I' with renunciation or 'sacrifice of the intellect.