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The Significance of Spiritual Research For Moral Action

A Lecture By
Rudolf Steiner
Bielefeld, March 6, 1911
GA 127

The lecture presented here was given in Bielefeld, March 6, 1911, with the title Die Mission der neuen Geistesoffenbarung für das sittliche Handeln. It is included in Die Mission der neuen Geistesoffenbarung (#127 in the Bibliographic Survey, 1961). The translation was made from the original German by Alan P. Cottrell, Ph.D.

Copyright © 1981
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The objection is frequently made that theosophy does not really work its way into the realm of morality. In fact it is said that through certain of its teachings it in some respects not only does not counter egotism but furthers it. Those who are of this opinion share the following thoughts. They say that theosophy demonstrates how the human being develops his existence from life to life and that the main point is that even if he suffers defeats he has the possibility of striving ever higher, employing in a subsequent life the results of what he has learned in a given life as in a kind of “school.” He who immerses himself completely in this belief in human perfectibility will strive to render his “I” ever more pure, to make it as rich as possible, so that he may ascend ever higher and higher. This, so these people say, is after all really an egotistic striving. For we theosophists, they say, seek to attract teachings and forces from the spiritual world in order to elevate our “I” to ever greater heights. This is therefore an egotistic basis for human action. These people maintain further that we theosophists are convinced that we prepare a bad karma for ourselves through imperfect actions. Thus in order not to do so the theosophist will avoid doing this or that which he would otherwise have done. He therefore refrains from the action for fear of karma. For the same reason he would probably also do this or that which he otherwise would not have done, and this too would be but one more quite egotistic motivation for an action. There are a number of people who say that the teachings of karma and reincarnation as well as the rest of the striving for perfection which originates in theosophy leads people to work spiritually for a refined form of higher egotism. It would actually be a severe reproach if one were able to maintain that theosophy prompts people to develop moral action not out of sympathy and compassion but out of fear of punishment. Let us now ask ourselves whether such a reproach is really justified. We must reach very deeply into occult research if we wish to refute such a reproach to theosophy in a really fundamental way.

Let us assume that someone were to say that if a person does not already possess this striving for perfection, theosophy will certainly never prompt him to moral actions. A deeper understanding of what theosophy has to say can teach us that the individual is related to the whole of humanity in such a way that by acting immorally he not only does something that may earn him a punishment. It is rather the case that through an immoral thought, an immoral action or attitude he brings about something really absurd, something that cannot be reconciled with truly healthy thinking.

The statement has many implications. An immoral action not only implies a subsequent karmic punishment; it is rather in the most fundamental respect an action that one definitely ought not to do. Let us assume that a person commits a theft. In so doing the person incurs a karmic punishment. If one wishes to avoid this punishment one simply does not steal. But the matter is still more complicated. Let us ask ourselves what really motivates the person who lies or steals. The liar or thief seeks personal advantage — the liar perhaps wishing to wiggle out of an unpleasant situation. Such an action is only meaningful if one actually does gain an advantage through lying or stealing. If the person were now to realize that he simply cannot have that advantage, that he is wrong, that on the contrary he will bring about a disadvantage, he would then say to himself that it is nonsense even to think about such an action. As theosophy penetrates ever deeper into human civilization, people will know that it is absurd, indeed that it is ridiculous, to believe that through lying or stealing one can acquire what one seeks to acquire. For one thing will become increasingly clear for all people as theosophy enters their consciousness: that in the sense of higher causes we have to do not at all with totally separate human individualities, but that along with the separate individualities the whole of humanity forms a unity. One will realize more and more that in the sense of a true view of the world the finger is more intelligent than the whole man, for it does not presume to be something on its own, independent of the entire human organism to which it belongs. In its dull consciousness it knows that it cannot exist without the whole organism.

But people continually embrace illusions. They fancy themselves separate by virtue of what is enclosed within their skins. This they are, however, just as little as is the finger without the whole organism. The source of the illusion is the fact that the human being can wander about and the finger cannot. We are in the same situation on earth as is the finger on our organism. The science that believes our earth is a glowing hot, fluid sphere surrounded by a hard shell upon which we humans walk about, and that this explains the earth, stands at the same level as a science that would believe that in all essential respects the human being consists of nothing more, nothing else than his skeleton, for what one perceives of the earth is the same as the skeleton in man. The rest of what belongs to the earth is of a super-sensible nature. The earth is a real organism, a real living being. When one pictures to oneself the human being as a living creature, one can think of his blood with its red and white corpuscles. These can only develop in the entire human organism and thereby be what they are. What these red and white blood corpuscles are for the human being we human beings are for the organism of the earth. We definitely belong to this earth organism. We form a part of the whole living being that is the earth, and only then do we view ourselves correctly when we say, “As single individuals we are nothing. We are only complete when we think our way into the ‘body’ of the earth, the body of which we perceive only the skeleton, the mineral shell, as long as we do not acknowledge the spiritual members of this earth organism.”

When a process of infection arises in the human organism, the entire organism is seized by fever, by illness. If we translate this into terms applicable to the earth organism we can say that what occultism maintains is true: When something immoral is done anywhere on earth it amounts to the same thing for the whole earth organism as a little festering boil on the human body, which makes the whole organism sick. So that if a theft is committed on the earth the result is that the entire earth develops a kind of fever. This is not meant merely in a metaphorical sense. It is well-founded. The whole organism of the earth suffers from everything immoral and as individuals we can do nothing immoral without affecting the whole earth.

It is really a simple thought, yet people have a difficult time grasping it. But let those people who do not want to believe it just wait. Let one try to impress such thoughts upon our culture; let one try with these thoughts to appeal to the human heart, the human conscience. Whenever people anywhere act immorally their actions are a kind of infected boil for the whole earth and make the earth organism ill, and experience would show that tremendous moral impulses inhere in such knowledge.

One can preach morality as much as one likes; it will not help people one bit. But knowledge such as we have developed here would not seize hold of people merely as knowledge. If it found its way into the developing culture, if it streamed into the soul already in childhood, it would provide a tremendous moral impulse, for in the end no moral preachments have any real power to overwhelm, to convince the human soul. Schopenhauer is quite right when he says that to preach morality is easy but to establish it is difficult. People have a certain antipathy toward moral preachments. They say, “What is being preached to me is the will of someone else and I am supposed simply to acquiesce to it.” This belief will become more and more dominant to the degree that materialistic consciousness becomes dominant.

One says today that there is a morality of class, of social standing, and what such a class morality considers to be right is then applied to the other class. Such an attitude has found its way into human souls and in the future it will become worse and worse. People will come increasingly to feel that they themselves want to find everything that is to be acknowledged as correct in this sphere. They will feel that it should originate in their own inclination toward objective knowledge. The human individuality wants to be taken ever more seriously. But at the moment in which the heart, for instance, were to realize that it too would be sick if the whole organism became sick, man would do what is necessary in order not to fall ill. At the moment in which man realizes that he is embedded within the total organism of the earth and has no business being a festering boil on the earth's body — at that moment there exists an objective basis for morality. And man will say, “If I steal I am seeking my own personal advantage. I refrain from stealing because if I do steal I shall make sick the entire organism without which I cannot live. I do the opposite and thereby bring about something advantageous not only for the organism but also for myself.”

In the future the moral awareness of human beings will form itself in this general way. He who, through theosophy, finds an impetus to moral action will say to himself that it is an illusion to seek personal advantage through an immoral action. If you do that, you are like an octopus that ejects a dark fluid: you eject a dark aura of immoral impulses. Lying and stealing are the seeds of an aura into which you place yourself and through which you make the whole world unhappy.

People say, “All that surrounds us is maya.” But such truths must become truths for life itself. Let us suppose that one can demonstrate that through theosophy humanity's moral development in the future will enable man to see how he wraps himself in an aura of illusions when he seeks his own advantage. If one can demonstrate this, it will become a practical truth to say that the world is a maya or illusion. The finger believes this in its dull, half sleeping, half dreaming consciousness. It is bright enough to know that without the hand and the rest of the body it is no longer a finger. The human being today is not yet bright enough to know that without the body of the earth he is actually nothing. But he must become bright enough to know this. The finger therefore enjoys a certain advantage over man. It does not cut itself off. It does not say, “I want to keep my blood for myself or cut off a portion of myself.” It is in harmony with the whole organism. Man must, to be sure, develop a higher consciousness in order to come into harmony with the whole organism of the earth. In his present moral consciousness man does not yet know this. He could say to himself, “I inhale the air. It was just outside, and now it is inside the human body. Something external becomes something internal. And when I exhale, something internal again becomes something external. And so it is with the whole man.” The human being is not even aware of the simple fact that separated from the surrounding air he is nothing. He must undertake to develop an awareness of how he is locked into the entire organism of the earth.

How can the human being know: “You are a member of the whole organism of the earth?” Theosophy enables him to know this. It shows man that first there existed a Saturn condition, then a Sun condition, then a Moon condition. Man was present through all these conditions, although in a quite different way from today. Then the earth proceeded from the old Moon condition. Gradually the human being arose as earthly man. He has a long development behind him and in the future he is to advance to other stages of development. Man in his present form has arisen with the earth in its present form. When through the study of theosophy one traces how man and the earth have arisen it becomes clear in what way man is a part of the whole organism of the earth. Then it becomes clear how earth and man gradually have emerged from a spiritual life, how the beings of the hierarchies have fashioned earth and man, how man belongs to the hierarchies, even though he stands at the lowest stage. Then theosophy points to the central Being of the entire earthly evolution, to the Christ as the great archetype of the human being. And from all these teachings of theosophy the awareness shall spring forth for man, “Thus ought you to act.”

The science of the spirit shows us how we can feel ourselves to be a part of the whole life of the earth. The science of the spirit shows us that Christ is the Spirit of the earth. Our fingers, our toes, our nose, all our members dream that the heart provides them with blood. They dream that without a central organ they would be nothing, for without a heart they are not possible. Theosophy shows man that in the future of earthly evolution it would be folly not to take up the idea of Christ, for what the heart is for the organism Christ is for the body of the earth. Just as through the heart the blood provides the whole organism with life and strength, so must the Being of Christ have moved through all single souls on earth, and the words of St. Paul must become truth for them: “Not I, but the Christ in me.” The Christ must have flowed into all human hearts. Whoever wanted to say, “One can continue to exist without Christ,” would be as foolish as eyes and ears if they wanted to say that they could continue to exist without the heart. In the case of the single human body the heart must of course be present from the beginning, whereas the heart entered the organism of the earth only with the Christ. For the following ages, however, this heart's blood of Christ must have entered all human hearts. He who does not unite himself with it in his soul, will wither away. The earth will not wait with its development; it will come to the point to which it must come. Human beings alone can remain behind, that is, they would balk at receiving Christ in their souls. A number of human beings would stand there in their last incarnation on earth and not have reached the goal: they have not recognized Christ, have not received Christ-feeling, Christ-knowing into their souls. They are not mature. They do not take their places in the development to higher stages. They separate themselves off.

Such people do not immediately have the opportunity to collapse completely as would the nose and ears if they detached themselves from the whole human organism. But occult research shows that the following would happen to those who do not want to permeate themselves with the Christ element, the life of Christ, as this can be attained only through theosophy. Instead of living on upwards with the earth to new levels of existence they would have assimilated substances of decay, of disintegration, and would first have to enter upon other paths. If in the sequence of incarnations human souls take up the Christ into their knowledge, their feelings, their whole soul, the earth will fall away from these human souls just as a corpse falls away at a person's death. The corpse of the earth will fall away and that which, permeated with Christ, is present in a state of spirit and soul will proceed to form itself into new existence and will reincarnate itself on Jupiter.

What will happen now with those people who have not taken the Christ into themselves? Through theosophy they will have abundant opportunities to be able to recognize the Christ, to be able to take the Christ into themselves. Today people still resist doing so. They will resist less and less. But let us assume that at the end of the development there were those who even then continued to resist. There would then exist a number of people who could not join the rest in advancing to the next planet. They would not have reached the actual goal of the earth. These people would constitute a veritable cross on that planet upon which human beings will then develop further. For while this group will be incapable of sharing in the experience of the actual and proper Jupiter condition and what develops there, they will nevertheless be present on Jupiter. Everything that is subsequently material is first present in a spiritual state. Thus everything that people now, during the period of the earth develop spiritually in the way of immorality, of a refusal to take the Christ into themselves, is first present in a soul-spiritual state. But this will become material. It will surround and penetrate Jupiter as a neighboring element. This will be made up of the successors of those persons who did not take the Christ into themselves during the earth condition. What the soul develops in the nature of immorality, of resistance to the Christ will then be present materially, in an actually physical state. While the physical part of those people who have taken the Christ into themselves will exist in a finer form on Jupiter, the physical part of these other people will be fundamentally coarser. Occult research paints before the eye of the soul an image of what will be the future of the people who will not have reached earthly maturity.

We now breathe air. On Jupiter there will in essence be no air. Instead, Jupiter will be surrounded by a substance that, in comparison to our air, will be something refined, something etheric. In this substance those human beings will live who have reached the goal of the earth. Those others who have remained behind, however, will have to breathe something like a repulsively warm, boiling, fiery air infused with a dank stuffiness full of fetid odors. Thus the people who did not attain the maturity appropriate to the earth will be a cross for the other Jupiter people, for they will have a pestilent effect in the environment, in the swamps and other land masses of Jupiter. The fluid-physical components of the bodies of these people will be comparable to a liquid which constantly seeks to solidify, freezes up, coagulates. Consequently these beings will not only have this horrendous air to breathe but also a bodily state in which the blood would seem continually to congeal, to cease to remain fluid. The actual physical body of these beings will consist of a kind of slimy substance more revolting than the bodily substance of our present snails and fully equipped to secrete something like a kind of crust surrounding them. This crust will be softer than the skin of our present snakes, like a kind of soft scaly armor. Thus will these beings live in a rather less than appealing manner in the elements of Jupiter.

Such a picture as that contemplated in advance by the occult researcher is ghastly to behold. But woe to those who, like the ostrich, do not want to look at the danger and wish to shut their eyes before the truth. For it is just this that lulls us into error and illusion, while a bold look at the truth imparts the greatest moral impulses. If human beings listen to what truth says to them they will feel, “You are lying.” Then there will arise in them an image of the effect of this lie upon human nature in the Jupiter condition, the image that shows that the lie creates a slimy, pestilent breath for the future. This image, arising again and again, will be a reason to direct the impulses of the soul to what is healthy, for no one who really knows the consequences of immorality can in truth be immoral, for one is called upon to teach the true consequences that result from the causes. One should in fact direct people's attention to them while they are still children. Immorality exists only because people have no knowledge. Only the darkness of untruth makes immoral actions possible.

To be sure, what can thus be said concerning the connection between immorality and ignorance should not be intellectual knowledge but wisdom. Knowledge by itself participates in immorality and if it turns into sophisticated cleverness it can even be roguery, while wisdom will affect the human soul in such a way that the soul rays forth truth, innermost morality.

My dear friends, it is true that to establish morality is difficult; to preach morality is easy. To establish morality means to establish it out of wisdom, and one must first have this wisdom. Here we see that it was after all a rather intelligent utterance on the part of Schopenhauer when he said that to establish morality is difficult.

Thus we see how unfounded it is when people who do not really know theosophy come and say that it contains no moral incentives. Theosophy shows us what we accomplish in the world when we do not act morally. It provides wisdom, and from this very wisdom morality streams forth. There is no greater arrogance than to say that one need only be a good person and all will be in order. The trouble is that one must first know how one goes about really being a good person. Our contemporary consciousness is very arrogant when it wishes to reject all wisdom. True knowledge of the good requires that we penetrate deeply into the mysteries of wisdom, and this is inconvenient, for it requires that we learn a great deal.

So when people come and tell us that reincarnation and karma lay the foundation for an egotistical morality we can thus reply, “No! True theosophy shows man that when he does something immoral it is roughly the same as if he were to say, ‘I'm taking a sheet of paper to write a letter,’ and then takes a match and sets fire to the sheet of paper. That would be grotesque nonsense. A person finds himself in the same situation with respect to a wrong action or an immoral attitude.”

To steal means the same thing for the real, deeper human essence as when one lies. If one steals, one plants into the essential human being the seed that will cause one to develop a slimy, repulsive substance and to surround oneself with pestilent odors in the future. Only if one lives in the illusion that the truth is in the present moment can one do such a deed. In stealing, man places into himself something that amounts to the same thing as a flaying of the human being. If man knows this he will no longer be able to do an immoral deed; he will not be able to steal. Just as the plant seed sends forth blossoms in the future so too will theosophy, if it is planted in the human soul, send forth human blossoms, human morality. Theosophy is the seed, the soul is the nourishing ground and morality is the blossom and fruit on the plant of the developing human being.




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