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Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts

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

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Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts

Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts

On-line since: 30th July, 2002


In future there will be found in these columns something in the nature of anthroposophical ‘Leading Thoughts’ or principles. These may be taken to contain advice on the direction which members can give to the lectures and discussions in the several Groups. It is but a stimulus and suggestion which the Goetheanum would like to give to the whole Society. The independence of individual leading members in their work is in no way to be interfered with. We shall develop healthily if the Society gives free play to what leading members have to offer in all the different Groups. This will enrich and make manifold the life of the Society.

But it should also be possible for a unity of consciousness to arise in the whole Society — which will happen if the initiative and ideas that emerge at different places become known everywhere. Thus in these columns we shall sum up in short paragraphs the descriptions and lines of thought given by me in my lectures to the Society at the Goetheanum. I imagine that those who lecture or conduct the discussions in the Groups will be able to take what is here given as guiding lines, with which they may freely connect what they have to say. This will contribute to the unity and organic wholeness of the work of the Society without there being any question of constraint.

The plan will become fruitful for the whole Society if it meets with a true response — if the leading members will inform the Executive at the Goetheanum too of the content and nature of their own lectures and suggestions. Then only shall we grow, from a chaos of separate Groups, into a Society with a real spiritual content.

The Leading Thoughts here given are meant to open up subjects for study and discussion. Points of contact with them will be found in countless places in the anthroposophical books and lecture-courses, so that the subjects thus opened up can be enlarged upon and the discussions in the Groups centred around them.

When new ideas emerge among leading members in the several Groups, these too can be brought into connection with the suggestions we shall send out from the Goetheanum. We would thus provide an open framework for all the spiritual activity in the Society.

Spiritual activity can of course only thrive by free unfoldment on the part of the active individuals — and we must never sin against this truth. But there is no need to do so when one group or member within the Society acts in proper harmony with the other. If such co-operation were impossible, the attachment of individuals or groups to the Society would always remain a purely external thing — where it should in fact be felt as an inner reality.

It cannot be allowed that the existence of the Anthroposophical Society is merely made use of by this or that individual as an opportunity to say what he personally wishes to say with this or that intention. The Society must rather be the place where true Anthroposophy is cultivated. Anything that is not Anthroposophy can, after all, be pursued outside it. The Society is not there for extraneous objects.

It has not helped us that in the last few years individual members have brought into the Society their own personal wishes simply because they thought that as it increased it would become a suitable sphere of action for them. It may be said, Why was this not met and counteracted with the proper firmness? If that had been done, we should now be hearing it said on all sides, ‘Oh, if only the initiative that arose in this or that quarter had been followed up at the time, how much farther we should be today!’ Well, many things were followed up, which ended in sad disaster and only resulted in throwing us back.

But now it is enough. The demonstrations which individual experimenters in the Society wished to provide are done with. Such things need not be repeated endlessly. In the Executive at the Goetheanum we have a body which intends to cultivate Anthroposophy itself; and the Society should be an association of human beings who have the same object and are ready to enter into a living understanding with the Executive in the pursuit of it.

We must not think that our ideal in the Society can be attained from one day to the next. Time will be needed, and patience too. If we imagined that what lay in the intentions of the Christmas meeting could be brought into existence in a few weeks' time, this again would be harmful.

Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts given out as suggestions from the Goetheanum

1. Anthroposophy is a path of knowledge, to guide the Spiritual in the human being to the Spiritual in the universe. It arises in man as a need of the heart, of the life of feeling; and it can be justified only inasmuch as it can satisfy this inner need. He alone can acknowledge Anthroposophy, who finds in it what he himself in his own inner life feels impelled to seek. Hence only they can be anthroposophists who feel certain questions on the nature of man and the universe as an elemental need of life, just as one feels hunger and thirst.

2. Anthroposophy communicates knowledge that is gained in a spiritual way. Yet it only does so because everyday life, and the science founded on sense-perception and intellectual activity, lead to a barrier along life's way — a limit where the life of the soul in man would die if it could go no farther. Everyday life and science do not lead to this limit in such a way as to compel man to stop short at it. For at the very frontier where the knowledge derived from sense perception ceases, there is opened through the human soul itself the further outlook into the spiritual world.

3. There are those who believe that with the limits of knowledge derived from sense perception the limits of all insight are given. Yet if they would carefully observe how they become conscious of these limits, they would find in the very consciousness of the limits the faculties to transcend them. The fish swims up to the limits of the water; it must return because it lacks the physical organs to live outside this element. Man reaches the limits of knowledge attainable by sense perception; but he can recognise that on the way to this point powers of soul have arisen in him — powers whereby the soul can live in an element that goes beyond the horizon of the senses.

Further Leading Thoughts issued from the Goetheanum for the Anthroposophical Society

4. For certainty of feeling and for a strong unfolding of his will, man needs a knowledge of the spiritual world. However widely he may feel the greatness, beauty and wisdom of the natural world, this world gives him no answer to the question of his own being. His own being holds together the materials and forces of the natural world in the living and sensitive form of man until the moment when he passes through the gate of death. Then Nature receives this human form, and Nature cannot hold it together; she can but dissolve and disperse it. Great, beautiful, wisdom-filled Nature does indeed answer the question, How is the human form dissolved and destroyed? but not the other question, How is it maintained and held together? No theoretical objection can dispel this question from the feeling soul of man, unless indeed he prefers to lull himself to sleep. The presence of this question must incessantly maintain alive, in every human soul that is really awake, the longing for spiritual paths of World-knowledge.

5. For peace in his inner life, man needs Self-knowledge in the Spirit. He finds himself in his Thinking, Feeling and Willing. He sees how Thinking, Feeling and Willing are dependent on the natural man. In all their developments, they must follow the health and sickness, the strengthening and weakening of the body. Every sleep blots them out. Thus the experience of everyday life shows the spiritual consciousness of man in the greatest imaginable dependence on his bodily existence. Man suddenly becomes aware that in this realm of ordinary experience Self-knowledge may be utterly lost — the search for it a vain quest. Then first the anxious question arises: Can there be a Self-knowledge transcending the ordinary experiences of life? Can we have any certainty at all, as to a true Self of man? Anthroposophy would fain answer this question on a firm basis of spiritual experience. In so doing it takes its stand, not on any opinion or belief, but on a conscious experience in the Spirit — an experience in its own nature no less certain than the conscious experience in the body.

Further Leading Thoughts issued from the Goetheanum for the Anthroposophical Society

6. When we look out on lifeless Nature, we find a world full of inner relationships of law and order. We seek for these relationships and find in them the content of the ‘Laws of Nature.’ We find, moreover, that by virtue of these Laws lifeless Nature forms a connected whole with the entire Earth. We may now pass from this earthly connection which rules in all lifeless things, to contemplate the living world of plants. We see how the Universe beyond the Earth sends in from distances of space the forces which draw the Living forth out of the womb of the Lifeless. In all living things we are made aware of an element of being, which, freeing itself from the mere earthly connection, makes manifest the forces that work down on to the Earth from realms of cosmic space. As in the eye we become aware of the luminous object which confronts it, so in the tiniest plant we are made aware of the nature of the Light from beyond the Earth. Through this ascent in contemplation, we can perceive the difference of the earthly and physical which holds sway in the lifeless world, from the extra-earthly and ethereal which abounds in all living things.

7. We find man with his transcendent being of soul and spirit placed into this world of the earthly and the extra earthly. Inasmuch as he is placed into the earthly connection which contains all lifeless things, he bears with him his physical body. Inasmuch as he unfolds within him the forces which the living world draws into this earthly sphere from cosmic space, he has an etheric or life-body. The trend of science in modern times has taken no account of this essential contrast of the earthly and the ethereal. For this very reason, science has given birth to the most impossible conceptions of the ether. For fear of losing their way in fanciful and nebulous ideas, scientists have refrained from dwelling on the real contrast. But unless we do so, we can attain no true insight into the Universe and Man.

Further Leading Thoughts issued from the Goetheanum for the Anthroposophical Society

8. We may consider the nature of man in so far as it results from his physical and his etheric body. We shall find that all the phenomena of man's life which proceed from this side of his nature remain in the unconscious, nor do they ever lead to consciousness. Consciousness is not lighted up but darkened when the activity of the physical and the etheric body is enhanced. Conditions of faintness and the like can be recognised as the result of such enhancement. Following up this line of thought, we recognise that something is at work in man — and in the animal — which is not of the same nature as the physical and the etheric. It takes effect, not when the forces of the physical and the etheric are active in their own way, but when they cease to be thus active. In this way we arrive at the conception of the astral body.

9. The reality of this astral body is discovered when we rise in meditation from the Thinking that is stimulated by the outer senses to an inner act of Vision. To this end, the Thinking that is stimulated from without must be taken hold of inwardly, and experienced as such, intensely in the soul, apart from its relation to the outer world. Through the strength of soul thus engendered, we become aware that there are inner organs of perception, which see a spiritual reality working in the animal and man at the very point where the physical and the etheric body are held in check in order that consciousness may arise.

10. Consciousness, therefore, does not arise by a further enhancement of activities which proceed from the physical and etheric bodies. On the contrary, these two bodies, with their activities, must be reduced to zero — nay even below zero — to ‘make room’ for the working of consciousness. They do not generate consciousness, they only furnish the ground on which the Spirit must stand in order to bring forth consciousness within the earthly life. As man on Earth needs the ground on which to stand, so does the Spiritual, within the earthly realm, need a material foundation on which it may unfold itself. And as a planet in the cosmic spaces does not require any ground beneath it in order to assert its place, so too the Spirit, when it looks — not through the senses into material — but through its own power into spiritual things, needs no material foundation to call its conscious activity to life.

Further Leading Thoughts issued from the Goetheanum for the Anthroposophical Society

11. The Self-consciousness which is summed up in the ‘ I ’ or ‘Ego’ emerges out of the sea of consciousness. Consciousness arises when the forces of the physical and etheric bodies disintegrate these bodies, and thus make way for the Spiritual to enter into man. For through this disintegration is provided the ground on which the life of consciousness can develop. If, however, the organism is not to be destroyed, the disintegration must be followed by a reconstruction. Thus, when for an experience in consciousness a process of disintegration has taken place, that which has been demolished will be built up again exactly. The experience of Self-consciousness lies in the perception of this upbuilding process. The same process can be observed with inner vision. We then feel how the Conscious is led over into the Self-conscious by man's creating out of himself an after-image of the merely Conscious. The latter has its image in the emptiness, as it were, produced within the organism by the disintegration. It has passed into Self-consciousness when the emptiness has been filled up again from within. The Being, capable of this ‘fulfilment,’ is experienced as ‘ I .’

12. The reality of the ‘ I ’ is found when the inner vision whereby the astral body is known and taken hold of, is carried a stage further. The Thinking which has become alive in meditation must now be permeated by the Will. To begin with we simply gave ourselves up to this new Thinking, without active Will. We thereby enabled spiritual realities to enter into this thinking life, even as in outer sense perception colour enters the eye or sound the ear. What we have thus called to life in our consciousness by a more passive devotion, must now be reproduced by ourselves, by an act of Will. When we do so, there enters into this act of Will the perception of our own ‘ I ’ or Ego.

13. On the path of meditation we discover, beside the form in which the ‘ I ’ occurs in ordinary consciousness, three further forms: (1) In the consciousness which takes hold of the etheric body, the ‘ I ’ appears in picture-form; yet the picture is at the same time active Being, and as such it gives man form and figure, growth, and the plastic forces that create his body. (2) In the consciousness which takes hold of the astral body, the ‘ I ’ is manifested as a member of a spiritual world whence it receives its forces. (3) In the consciousness just indicated, as the last to be achieved, the ‘ I ’ reveals itself as a self-contained spiritual Being — relatively independent of the surrounding spiritual world.

Further Leading Thoughts issued from the Goetheanum for the Anthroposophical Society

14. The second form of the ‘ I ’ — first of the three forms that were indicated in the last section — appears as a ‘picture’ of the I. When we become aware of this picture-character, a light is also thrown on the quality of thought in which the ‘ I ’ appears before the ordinary consciousness. With all manner of reflections, men have sought within this consciousness for the ‘true I.’ Yet an earnest insight into the experiences of the ordinary consciousness will suffice to show that the ‘true I’ cannot be found therein. Only a shadow-in-thought is able to appear there — a shadowy reflection, even less than a picture. The truth of this seizes us all the more when we progress to the ‘ I ’ as a picture, which lives in the etheric body. Only now are we rightly kindled to search for the ‘ I ’, for the true being of man.

15. Insight into the form in which the ‘ I ’ lives in the astral body leads to a right feeling of the relation of man to the spiritual world. For ordinary consciousness this form of the ‘ I ’ is buried in the dark depths of the unconscious, where man enters into connection with the spiritual being of the Universe through Inspiration. Ordinary consciousness experiences only a faint echo-in-feeling of this Inspiration from the wide expanse of the spiritual world, which holds sway in depths of the soul.

16. It is the third form of the ‘ I ’ which gives us insight into the independent Being of man within a spiritual world. It makes us feel how, with his earthly-sensible nature, man stands before himself as a mere manifestation of what he really is. Here lies the starting-point of true Self-knowledge. For the Self which fashions man in his true nature is revealed to him in Knowledge only when he progresses from the thought of the ‘ I ’ to its picture, from the picture to the creative forces of the picture, and from the creative forces to the spiritual Beings who sustain them.

Further Leading Thoughts issued from the Goetheanum for the Anthroposophical Society

17. Man is a being who unfolds his life in the midst, between two regions of the world. With his bodily development he is a member of a ‘lower world’; with his soul-nature he himself constitutes a ‘middle world’; and with his faculties of Spirit he is ever striving towards an ‘upper world.’ He owes his bodily development to all that Nature has given him; he bears the being of his soul within him as his own portion; and he discovers in himself the forces of the Spirit, as the gifts that lead him out beyond himself to participate in a Divine World.

18. The Spirit is creative in these three regions of the World. Nature is not void of Spirit. We lose even Nature from our knowledge if we do not become aware of the Spirit within her. Nevertheless, in Nature's existence we find the Spirit as it were asleep. Yet just as sleep has its task in human life — as the ‘ I ’ must be asleep at one time in order to be the more awake at another — so must the World-Spirit be asleep where Nature is, in order to be the more awake elsewhere.

19. In relation to the World, the soul of man is like a dreamer if it does not pay heed to the Spirit at work within it. The Spirit awakens the dreams of the soul from their ceaseless weaving in the inner life, to active participation in the World where man's true Being has its origin. As the dreamer shuts himself off from the surrounding physical world and entwines himself into himself, so would the soul lose connection with the Spirit of the World in whom it has its source, if it turned a deaf ear to the awakening calls of the Spirit within it.

Further Leading Thoughts issued from the Goetheanum for the Anthroposophical Society

20. For a right development of the life of the human soul, it is essential for man to become fully conscious of working actively from out of spiritual sources in his being. Many adherents of the modern scientific world-conception are victims of a strong prejudice in this respect. They say that a universal causality is dominant in all phenomena of the world; and that if man believes that he himself, out of his own resources, can be the cause of anything, it is a mere illusion on his part. Modern Natural Science wishes to follow observation and experience faithfully in all things, but in its prejudice about the hidden causality of man's inner sources of action it sins against its own principle. For the free and active working, straight from the inner resources of the human being, is a perfectly elementary experience of self-observation. It cannot be argued away; rather must we harmonise it with our insight into the universal causation of things within the order of Nature.

21. Non-recognition of this impulse out of the Spirit working in the inner life of man, is the greatest hindrance to the attainment of an insight into the spiritual world. For to consider our own being as a mere part of the order of Nature is in reality to divert the soul's attention from our own being. Nor can we penetrate into the spiritual world unless we first take hold of the Spirit where it is immediately given to us, namely in clear and open-minded self-observation.

22. Self-observation is the first beginning in the observation of the Spirit. It can indeed be the right beginning, for if it is true, man cannot possibly stop short at it, but is bound to progress to the further spiritual content of the World. As the human body pines away when bereft of physical nourishment, so will the man who rightly observes himself feel that his Self is becoming stunted if he does not see working into it the forces from a creative spiritual World outside him.

Further Leading Thoughts issued from the Goetheanum for the Anthroposophical Society

23. Passing through the gate of death, man goes out into the spiritual world, in that he feels falling away from him all the impressions and contents of soul which he received during earthly life through the bodily senses and the brain. His consciousness then has before it in an all-embracing picture-tableau the whole content of life which, during his earthly wanderings, entered as pictureless thoughts into his memory, or which — remaining unnoticed by the earthly consciousness — nevertheless made a subconscious impression on his soul. After a very few days these pictures grow faint and fade away. When they have altogether vanished, he knows that he has laid aside his etheric body too; for in the etheric body he can recognise the bearer of these pictures.

24. Having laid aside the etheric body, man has the astral body and the Ego as the members of his being still remaining to him. The astral body, so long as it is with him, brings to his consciousness all that during earthly life was the unconscious content of the soul when at rest in sleep. This content includes the judgements instilled into the astral body by Spirit-beings of a higher World during the periods of sleep — judgements which remain concealed from earthly consciousness. Man now lives through his earthly life a second time, yet so, that the content of his soul is now the judgement of his thought and action from the standpoint of the Spirit-world. He lives it through in backward order: first the last night, then the last but one, and so on.

25. This judgement of his life, which man experiences in the astral body after passing through the gate of death, lasts as long as the sum-total of the times he spent during his earthly life in sleep.

Further Leading Thoughts issued from the Goetheanum for the Anthroposophical Society

26. Only when the astral body has been laid aside — when the judgement of his life is over — man enters the spiritual world. There he stands in like relation to Beings of purely spiritual character as on Earth to the beings and processes of the Nature-kingdoms. In spiritual experience, everything that was his outer world on Earth now becomes his inner world. He no longer merely perceives it, but experiences it in its spiritual being which was hid from him on Earth, as his own world.

27. In the Spirit-realm, man as he is on Earth becomes an outer world. We gaze upon him, even as on Earth we gaze upon the stars and clouds, the mountains and rivers. Nor is this ‘outer world’ any less rich in content than the glory of the Cosmos as it appears to us in earthly life.

28. The forces begotten by the human Spirit in the Spirit-realm work on in the fashioning of earthly Man, even as the deeds we accomplish in the Physical work on as a content of the soul in the life after death.

Further Leading Thoughts issued from the Goetheanum for the Anthroposophical Society

29. In the evolved Imaginative Knowledge there works what lives as soul and spirit in the inner life of man, fashioning the physical body in its life, and unfolding man's existence in the physical world on this bodily foundation. Over against the physical body, whose substances are renewed again and again in the process of metabolism, we here come to the inner nature of man, unfolding itself continuously from birth (or conception) until death. Over against the physical Space-body, we come to a Time-body.

30. In the Inspired Knowledge there lives, in picture-form, what man experiences in a spiritual environment in the time between death and a new birth. What Man is in his own Being and in relation to cosmic worlds — without the physical and etheric bodies by means of which he undergoes his earthly life — is here made visible.

31. In the Intuitive Knowledge there comes to consciousness the working-over of former earthly lives into the present. In the further course of evolution these former lives have been divested of their erstwhile connections with the physical world. They have become the purely spiritual kernel of man's being, and, as such, are working in his present life. In this way, they too are an object of Knowledge — of that Knowledge which results with the further unfolding of the Imaginative and Inspired.

Further Leading Thoughts issued from the Goetheanum for the Anthroposophical Society

32. In the head of man, the physical Organisation is a copy, an impress of the spiritual individuality. The physical and the etheric part of the head stand out as complete and self-contained pictures of the Spiritual; beside them, in independent soul-spiritual existence, there stand the astral and the Ego-part. Thus in the head of man we have to do with a development, side by side, of the physical and etheric, relatively independent on the one hand, and of the astral and Ego-organisation on the other.

33. In the limbs and metabolic part of man the four members of the human being are intimately bound up with one another. The Ego-organisation and astral body are not there beside the physical and etheric part. They are within them, vitalising them, working in their growth, their faculty of movement and so forth. Through this very fact, the limbs and metabolic part of man is like a germinating seed, striving for ever to unfold; striving continually to become a ‘head,’ and — during the earthly life of man — no less continually prevented.

34. The rhythmic Organisation stands in the midst. Here the Ego-organisation and astral body alternately unite with the physical and etheric part, and loose themselves again. The breathing and the circulation of the blood are the physical impress of this alternate union and loosening. The inbreathing process portrays the union; the outbreathing the loosening. The processes in the arterial blood represent the union; those in the venous blood the loosening.

Further Leading Thoughts issued from the Goetheanum for the Anthroposophical Society

35. We understand the physical nature of man only if we regard it as a picture of the soul and spirit. Taken by itself, the physical corporality of man is unintelligible. But it is a picture of the soul and spirit in different ways in its several members. The head is the most perfect and complete symbolic picture of the soul and spirit. All that pertains to the system of the metabolism and the limbs is like a picture that has not yet assumed its finished forms, but is still being worked upon. Lastly, in all that belongs to the rhythmic Organisation of man, the relation of the soul and spirit to the body is intermediate between these opposites.

36. If we contemplate the human head from this spiritual point of view, we shall find in it a help to the understanding of spiritual Imaginations. For in the forms of the head, Imaginative forms are as it were coagulated to the point of physical density.

37. Similarly, if we contemplate the rhythmic part of man's Organisation it will help us to understand Inspirations. The physical appearance of the rhythms of life bears even in the sense-perceptible picture the character of Inspiration. Lastly, in the system of the metabolism and the limbs — if we observe it in full action, in the exercise of its necessary or possible functions — we have a picture, supersensible yet sensible, of pure supersensible Intuitions.

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