The Life, Nature, and Cultivation of Anthroposophy

Rudolf Steiner Archive & e.Lib Document

Sketch of Rudolf Steiner lecturing at the East-West Conference in Vienna.

30 March 1924

On the Teaching of Anthroposophy

In most cases the stimulus to take up Anthroposophy will come from this: the looking out into the world external to man becomes a source of dissatisfaction, and the human being is thus impelled to turn his thoughts to his own human nature. He has a dim feeling that the riddles which life sets him cannot be illumined by looking out upon the restless working of the world, but rather by gazing into the inner life of man. Thus the striving for world-knowledge is changed into the striving for self-knowledge.

The members who wish to be active in the Anthroposophical Society will have to bear this in mind. Then, on the one hand, they will learn to have the right feeling for their task, while on the other hand they will recognise the dangers it involves.

Only too often the striving for self-knowledge, if wrongly led, grows into a special form of selfishness. Man may take himself too seriously and thereby lose interest in all that goes on outside him. In fact, every right striving can lead astray if it becomes one-sided.

One can reach no real conception of the world if one does not seek it by a perception of Man. For the most ancient truth that Man is a microcosm ― a true world in miniature ― will again and again be the most newly discovered. Man has all the secrets and the riddles of the great world, the macrocosm, concealed in his own nature.

If we take this in the right sense, then every time we look into our inner human being, our attention will be directed to the world outside us. Self-knowledge will become the door to world-knowledge. But if we take it in the wrong sense, our study of ourselves will become an imprisonment, and we shall lose our feeling for the world.

This must never happen in Anthroposophy. Otherwise the complaint, ‘How selfish, after all, are the thoughts of anthroposophists!’ which we hear from so many who newly enter the Society, will not be silenced.

If a man strives to know himself, what he gains in self-knowledge should first quicken his vision to perceive how all that is there in himself meets him too in his fellow-men. We can feel what another man is undergoing if we have experienced the like in ourselves. So long as our own experience is lacking, we pass over the experience of another without really seeing it. Yet on the other hand our feeling may become so fettered by our own experience that we have none left for our fellow-men.

If they will pay heed to these dangers, members who are active in the Society will make their activity in this direction right and helpful. They will prevent self-knowledge from degenerating into self-love. Rather will they come to work in that spirit which leads self-knowledge over into human love and sympathy. And once a man has an interest in his fellow-men, he will certainly not lack an interest in the world in general.

When friends have asked me for an autograph I have often given them the following:

If thou wouldst know thine own being,
Look round thee on all sides in the world;
If thou wouldst truly see and understand the world
Gaze into the depths of thine own soul.

The teaching of anthroposophical knowledge must always be in the spirit of this saying. Then we shall avoid the danger above-mentioned, and our discussion of the inner being of man will not give rise to self-absorption.

It certainly has a repellent effect on the newcomer if the first thing that strikes him in anthroposophists is that they always want to be concerned with themselves. One will sometimes find people who have been members of the Anthroposophical Society for a certain time, perpetually complaining that their life gives them no time or opportunity really to go into Anthroposophy. We have found this most often among those who have made the Anthroposophical Movement itself their life-work. They feel themselves over-burdened with the external work, imagining that this prevents them from meditation, from the reading of anthroposophical literature and so on. But the love of anthroposophical knowledge must not prevent our glad devotion to the needs of life. If it does so, our work in Anthroposophy will never have the true warmth it needs, but will degenerate into cold selfishness.

It will be necessary for those members who wish to be active in the Society to permeate themselves most fully with this insight. Then they will be able to strike that note in their work which will conquer dangers that can so easily arise.

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