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Whoever thou mayest be, beloved stranger, whom I meet here for the first time, avail thyself of this happy hour and of the stillness around us, and above us, and let me tell thee something of the thought which has suddenly risen before me like a star which would fain shed down its rays upon thee and every one, as befits the nature of light—
The world of energy suffers no diminution: otherwise with eternal time it would have grown weak and finally have perished altogether. The world of energy suffers no stationary state, otherwise this would already have been reached, and the clock of the universe would be at a standstill. The world of energy does not therefore reach a state of equilibrium; for no instant in its career has it had rest; its energy and its movement have been the same for all time. Whatever state this world could have reached must ere now have been attained, and not only once but an incalculable number of times. This applies to this very moment It has already been here once before, and several times, and will recur[Pg 250] in the same way, with all forces distributed as they are to-day: and the same holds good of the moment of time which bore the present and of that which shall be the child of the present. Fellow-man! Your whole life, like a sandglass, will always be reversed and will ever run out again,—a long minute of time will elapse until all those conditions out of which you were evolved return in the wheel of the cosmic process. And then you will find every pain and every pleasure, every friend and every enemy, every hope and every error, every blade of grass and every ray of sunshine once more, and the whole fabric of things that makes up your life. This ring in which you are but a grain will glitter afresh for ever. And in every one of these cycles of human life there will be one hour where for the first time one man, and then many, will perceive the mighty thought of the eternal recurrence of all things:—and for mankind this is always the hour of Noon.
How can we give weight to our inner life without making it evil and fanatical towards people who think otherwise. Religious belief is declining and man is beginning to regard himself as ephemeral and unessential, a point of view which is making him weak; he does not exercise so much effort in striving or enduring. What he wants is momentary enjoyment He would make things light for himself,—and a good deal of his spirit gets squandered in this endeavour.
The political mania at which I smile just as merrily as my contemporaries smile at the religious mania of former times is above all Materialism, a belief in the world, and in the repudiation of a "Beyond," of a "back-world." The object of those who believe in the latter is the well-being of the ephemeral individual: that is why Socialism is its fruit; for with Socialism ephemeral individuals wish to secure their happiness by means of socialisation. They have no reason to wait, as those men had who believed in eternal souls, in eternal development and eternal amelioration. My doctrine is: Live so that thou mayest desire to live again,—that is thy duty,—for in any case thou wilt live again He unto whom striving is the greatest happiness, let him strive; he unto whom peace is the greatest happiness, let him rest; he unto whom subordination, following, obedience, is the greatest happiness, let him obey. All that is necessary is that he should know what it is that gives him the highest happiness, and to fight shy of no means! Eternity is at stake!
"But if everything is necessary, what control have I over my actions?" Thought and faith are a form of ballast which burden thee in addition to other burdens thou mayest have, and which are even more weighty than the latter. Sayest thou that nutrition, the land of thy birth, air, and society change thee and determine thee? Well, thy opinions do this to a much greater degree, for they even prescribe[Pg 252] thy nourishment, thy land of adoption, thy atmosphere, and thy society for thee.—If thou ever assimilatest the thought of thoughts it will also alter thee. The question which thou wilt have to answer before every deed that thou doest: "is this such a deed as I am prepared to perform an incalculable number of times?" is the best ballast.
The mightiest of all thoughts absorbs a good deal of energy which formerly stood at the disposal of other aspirations, and in this way it exercises a modifying influence; it creates new laws of motion in energy, though no new energy. But it is precisely in this respect that there lies some possibility of determining new emotions and new desires in men.
Let us try and discover how the thought that something gets repeated has affected mankind hitherto (the year, for instance, or periodical illnesses, waking and sleeping, &). Even supposing the recurrence of the cycle is only a probability or a possibility, even a thought, even a possibility, can shatter us and transform us. It is not only feelings and definite expectations that do this! See what effect the thought of eternal damnation has had!
From the moment when this thought begins to prevail all colours will change their hue and a new history will begin.
The history of the future: this thought will tend to triumph ever more and more, and those who disbelieve in it will be forced, according to their nature, ultimately to die out.
He, alone, who will regard his existence as capable of eternal recurrence will remain over: but among such as these a state will be possible of which the imagination of no utopist has ever dreamt!
Ye fancy that ye will have a long rest ere your second birth takes place,—but do not deceive yourselves! 'Twixt your last moment of consciousness and the first ray of the dawn of your new life no time will elapse,—as a flash of lightning will the space go by, even though living creatures think it is billions of years, and are not even able to reckon it. Timelessness and immediate re-birth are compatible, once intellect is eliminated!
Thou feelest that thou must soon take thy leave perhaps—and the sunset glow of this feeling pierces through thy happiness. Give heed to this sign: it means that thou lovest life and thyself, and life as it has hitherto affected thee and moulded thee,—and that thou cravest for its eternity—Non alia sed hac vita sempiterna!
Know also, that transiency singeth its short song for ever afresh and that at the sound of the first verse thou wilt almost die of longing when thou thinkest that it might be for the last time.
Let us stamp the impress of eternity upon our lives! This thought contains more than all the religions which taught us to contemn this life as a thing ephemeral, which bade us squint upwards to another and indefinite existence.—
We must not strive after distant and unknown states of bliss and blessings and acts of grace, but we must live so that we would fain live again and live for ever so, to all eternity!—Our duty is present with us every instant.
The leading tendencies: (1) We must implant the love of life, the love of every man's own life in every conceivable way! However each individual may understand this love of self his neighbour will acquiesce, and will have to learn great tolerance towards it: however much it may often run counter to his taste,—provided the individual in question really helps to increase his joy in his own life!