Requirements of Our Life Together
in the Anthroposophical Society
September 10, 1915
MY DEAR FRIENDS!
Movements such as our spiritual scientific movement have always been
fostered in such a way that something that was to be impressed upon
the spiritual culture of the times, or on culture in general, was first
cultivated on the level of some formal social organization or society.
And since the conditions of human interaction are the same today as
they have been throughout history, it is also necessary for us, to a
certain extent, to cultivate our spiritual scientific strivings within
the framework of a formal organization.
Now, it has been the experience
of almost all such organizations that it is difficult, at least in actual
practice, to understand the concept of the society needed to foster
a particular spiritual current like this. Time and again we're presented
with evidence that there are very many people who actually do not like
having to join a society. They admit that they feel uncomfortable about
joining such a society; they would prefer to absorb its spiritual wealth
through reading or listening to lectures not bound to any organized
society, or through still other means. Only this morning, for example,
I received a letter to that effect.
The kinds of reasons people
give for taking this position have to be taken seriously. But let me
emphasize again that a spiritual movement like this one is of necessity
very different in its impulses and its whole way of thinking, feeling,
and doing from the thinking, feeling, and doing of the other people
around it. Therefore, to introduce such a movement to humanity with
no help from a formal organization would be much more difficult than
to do this by means of a society whose members are preparing, through
their interactions and their ongoing absorption of spiritual scientific
thoughts and concepts, to be a kind of tool or instrument for disseminating
our spiritual science. As a consequence, however, the concept of a society
of this kind has to be taken extremely seriously, because in quite practical
terms this society has to become a vehicle for the spiritual current
You need only look at our
own Society as an example and examine how different it is from other
societies, associations, or organizations that people have called into
existence. This difference will be particularly noticeable if you keep
one thing in mind. Just suppose that recent events confronting us had
made us entertain the thought of disbanding the Anthroposophical Society
as such. Let's assume hypothetically that we wanted to dissolve the
Society because of problems within it. Now, if the Anthroposophical
Society were simply an organization like many others, of course it would
be possible to simply dissolve it, set something else up in its place,
and eliminate the disgraceful circumstances in the process.
However, our Anthroposophical
Society is different in a very significant respect from other organizations
or societies founded on the basis of some program with a certain number
of points and statutes. That kind of society can be dissolved at any
moment. If we were to dissolve the Anthroposophical Society, however,
it would not be dissolved in actual fact. As the Anthroposophical Society,
as a society existing on behalf of a spiritual scientific movement,
we are different from other societies in that our Society is founded,
not on a program of abstract and therefore unreal points, but on something
very real. Our basis is a real one.
Just look at the fact that
each member of the Anthroposophical Society is entitled to have access
to our lecture cycles, while other people are not.
[ Note 1 ]
That's a very real basis, because dissolving the Anthroposophical
Society would do so in name only; it would not do away with the fact
that a certain number of people are in possession of these cycles. And
it is an equally real fact that a certain number of people are carrying
a specific wealth of wisdom in their heads. I cannot tell exactly how
great the percentage is of people who have the things we talk about
in their heads — in contrast to those who only have them in “visions”
— but that's not the important thing as far as the Society is
concerned. It remains a reality that a certain wealth of wisdom, a sum
total of things that really exist, are present in the hearts and minds
of people who have belonged to the Anthroposophical Society until now.
That cannot be taken away from them even by dissolving the Society.
So the Anthroposophical
Society is different from other societies in that it will not tolerate
any figments of the imagination in its organization, but is constructed
on the basis of reality. Thus, dissolving it would have absolutely no
immediate effect on its continued existence as far as reality is concerned.
Our Society compares to other societies and organizations as something
real compares to things that are merely thought out. We must keep this
weighty difference in mind in order to understand the concept of our
Society in the right way. And it is only because a large number of members
have counted, more or less consciously, on our Society's solid grounding
in reality, on its basis in something more than programmatic points,
that we see an institute of higher learning for spiritual science being
built on this hill, a building that will further enhance our connection
to something real.
It would be possible for
some group of dreamers to get together and decide not to wear collars
and ties, to wear only sandals on their feet, and perhaps to simplify
life in other ways by disregarding certain other social conventions
or “prejudices,” as they might call them. (I have chosen
a hypothetical example so that no one present needs to feel put on the
spot.) Disbanding a group like that would not change anything significant.
But we are not simply a group of dreamers; we are different in that
we are fully aware of the weight and importance of our grounding in
Without getting into splitting
hairs, we also need to distinguish between the concept of a society
such as the one in which we develop a specific spiritual teaching, and
that of a club or similar organization. We have to admit that the appropriate
concept of a such a society eludes many of us when we think about the
conditions of our life in this Society, and we are left contemplating
the concept of a club or similar organization. In that kind of organization,
statutes and conditions are set up that have to be met. In a Society
like ours, however, that is not enough. It is different from a club
in much more than name only.
In our Society, the important
thing, as I have explained several times in the last few weeks, is that
the concept of the society really be taken seriously.
[ Note 2 ]
This means that all members must be aware that belonging to
the Society involves more than simply receiving membership cards and
being entitled to call themselves members of the Society. In fact, they
are all organs of the Society. Because of that, something subtle and
yet very specific has to live among the members, something for which
each member should feel a certain responsibility. As individuals, they
must be aware of both the obvious and subtler needs and well-being of
other members of the Society, and experienced members must be ready
and willing to use their experience in supporting those who have joined
more recently. These more experienced members do not necessarily have
to reveal their experience; after all, what matters is how they apply
their experience in daily life.
The word “trust”
often comes up in this connection. In the course of a lecture I gave
a few weeks ago, I explained that we do not need to have trust in our
teachings, because these teachings will try to justify our confidence
in them through every single practical measure they give rise to.
[ Note 3 ]
However, we do need to try to
have trust in each other and to make sure that trust is justified. We
must try to bring about real connections between members. It goes a
long way toward developing the kind of “ideal aura” necessary
in a Society such as ours if each experienced member, without snooping
around like a spy or a detective — that is, without violating
anyone's privacy—can really keep an eye on the ups and downs of
only ten other members, and do it without having to tell them they are
considered less experienced. Of course, it's impossible to legislate
trust; it has to be earned. Our more experienced members need to make
a concerted effort to win the trust of those who have been in the Society
for only a short time.
Such things have been mentioned
often in the course of our Society's years of activity, but it has never
been as necessary to speak about them as it is here and now. When members
of the Anthroposophical Society were scattered among the rest of the
population in various cities, that was a very different state of affairs
from so many of us living here on top of each other, on display for
everyone else, so to speak. This situation makes it imperative that
we take a long and serious look at the basic premises of how we live
together in the Society.
Of course, a society such
as ours will never be able to please all the people living outside it.
It will never be able to prevent some of these people from indulging
in all kinds of slander, ridicule, unjustified attacks, and so on. But
that's not the point; what I am going to say now is independent of all
that. The important thing is that the members of the Society really
do everything possible in each single instance to show up the attacks
as unjustified and lacking any basis in fact. To do this, we have to
look at details, my friends. It's not enough to just pay attention to
the major issues in our outer life. We have to be equally aware of the
For instance, if some of
our members are sitting among other people on the trolley on the way
back to Basel at night, and they talk loudly about every little twinge
in their ether body, that is not exactly a crime. If someone criticizes
them for it, we might well reply, “So what? Is it all that important?”
In fact, however, it is really very important because it puts the dignity
and seriousness of our movement in question. Thus, even though such
incidents are only trifling matters, they ought to be avoided. We ought
to start reforming ourselves wherever that change can have a real effect.
Above all, we have to realize that when we talk in front of other people
about things only we can understand, those people will not be able to
avoid getting wrong impressions.
We can assume that we know
what we are talking about when we speak about the ether body, but the
people who may be listening do not. They may be in the same situation
as a maid whom some of my closer acquaintances know well. This woman
worked for anthroposophists, and because she was interested in finding
out what anthroposophy was all about, she attended an introductory course
given by one of our members, and came home saying, “Well, I learned
that I have four bodies, not just one. But I have this tiny little room
and a very narrow bed, and now I don't know how all those bodies are
going to fit in!” This is a true story. It took place in the house
of people I know quite well. So you see, people who hear you talking
about all the little twinges of your ether body will naturally think
that you're talking about the ether body as if it were a physical body;
thus, you are actually leading them astray and keeping them from developing
any closer connection to our movement.
That's why it is important
for us to learn to take the things we talk about seriously and precisely.
Even if they are only minor matters in themselves, they can raise a
virtual wall of prejudices around us, and that can and should be avoided.
In a society like this, it is important for us to learn to speak really
precisely, or else it may gradually become impossible to foster what
should be fostered within this Society.
Today I feel compelled to
mention a number of things that will probably seem totally superfluous
to most of you, simply because the natural response is, “Well,
what is that supposed to mean — we need to be precise in our way
of speaking? Of course we do.” But just keep your eyes and ears
open next time something happens somewhere or other, when something
has been said and one person passes it on to the next. If you really
pay close attention to whether or not things are being presented accurately,
in many instances you will easily notice the deviation from what is
strictly accurate. When something someone has heard or seen gets passed
on to the next person and then to the next, and so on, what comes out
can be a monstrous caricature of what actually happened or was actually
said. This experience is all too common in our Society.
We have to take into account
that, in a spiritual scientific movement, we can work constructively
only if we get used to being exact, to really understanding things precisely.
Spiritual science forces us to focus spiritually on things that have
nothing to do with the outer physical world, and in order to develop
the right relationship to them, we need a counterbalance of some kind.
The only suitable counterbalance is to approach things on the physical
plane as realistically as possible. After all, accuracy belongs to reality.
Some time ago I gave a public
lecture in Munich that really startled a number of people.
[ Note 4 ]
Its subject was the nature of evil. In that lecture, I explained
that the forces at work in evil on the physical plane are in a sense
nothing else but forces that have been transferred from higher planes
of existence to the physical plane. Certain forces that can lead us
to recognize and master the spiritual if applied up there in the spiritual
world can turn to evil down here in the physical world.
The force that enables us
to understand the spiritual world belongs only in the spiritual world;
this same force causes all kinds of harm if it is directly and thoughtlessly
transferred to the physical plane. For what is the nature of this force?
It consists in making one's thinking independent of the physical plane.
When this capacity is applied to the physical plane itself, it turns
into deceit and dishonesty. Thus, people who were called upon to disseminate
spiritual science have always seen great danger in doing so, because
what is needed for understanding higher planes of existence is harmful
when applied directly to the physical world.
That is why a counterbalance
is needed: in order to keep our ability to understand the spiritual
world suitably pure and beautiful, we must develop our feeling for truth
and exactitude in the physical world as thoroughly as possible. If we
do not count on exactitude on the physical plane, then in a so-called
occult society certain tendencies developed through spiritual scientific
practices immediately mingle inappropriately with the very lowest aspects
of the physical plane.
Let's look at ordinary materialistic
society in a broader sense of the word. As you know — or you may
have heard about it even if you have no firsthand knowledge of it —
there are certain social circles where gossip prevails. At least from
hearsay, you will be aware that this gossip or tittle-tattle is going
on, that it prevails in ordinary materialistic bourgeois society. The
quality of this gossip is usually not very high and much can be said
against it, but at least for the most part no esoteric contents get
mixed up with it. But when gossip is the general rule in an occult society,
esoteric ideas are the first to get drawn into it.
I hope it is possible to
really talk about things like this in our circle, because it should
be possible to say something within our Society without having it immediately
spread abroad in places where it is then misunderstood. Our experiences
in this regard, however, are also not the best, and if they continue,
we will indeed have to organize our Society differently. Things that
are said within the Society have to remain in the Society in the strictest
sense of the word, because it really must be possible from time to time
to say things that could not simply be said casually outside our Society.
Of course, in our Society
we often have to talk about the karmic relationships between people.
It may well be that such relationships exist—in fact, of course
they exist—but if we continually get our views on karma mixed
up with our ordinary everyday relationships, we are not taking the concept
of truthfulness literally enough, and the result is not only nonsensical
but also harmful. Truthfulness is a concept that has to be applied extremely
I can think of any number
of cases in esoteric circles, both inside and outside our Society, where
subjective matters that take place as a matter of course on the physical
plane have been studded and embellished with esoteric truths. Let me
mention one extreme example that may not happen very frequently in our
Society, but it is one of the things that can be experienced. Indeed,
it has happened numerous times.
Many people have learned
about reincarnation, and they have also learned that Christ was alive
on Earth at a certain point in time. I have experienced more than once
that women who have become aware of these two spiritual facts —
reincarnation and Christ's incarnation — have in all seriousness
imagined that they have been chosen to give birth to the Christ and
have attempted to arrange their lives to make this possible. It is unpleasant
to have to mention these things and call a spade a spade, but we must
do it to protect the Society, which we can do only if we don't close
our eyes to the harm people can cause by applying occult truths on the
Granted, the case I just
mentioned is extreme, but it has happened not only once, but over and
over again. I have described it drastically because things like this
happen very frequently on a smaller scale, and it is important to notice
the minor instances as well as the more blatant ones. Of course, it
is a major issue if someone thinks she is going to give birth to the
Christ, because the consequences can be extremely unfortunate. On a
smaller scale, however, things like this are happening again and again.
Now, in ordinary bourgeois
life, it happens that people fall in love, that a man falls in love
with a woman. People simply call it “falling in love,” and
that's the plain and simple truth. In esoteric societies men and women
also fall in love; the possibility cannot be ruled out, as some of you
know from experience. But in that case, what you hear about it is not
as simple as, “X has fallen in love with Y.” Ordinary people
just say that they're going together, which is usually a very accurate
description as outward observation goes. But in esoteric societies,
what you hear about it often goes something like this: “Having
thoroughly examined my karma, I find that another personality has entered
it, and we have realized that karma has destined us to be with each
other and to intervene in the destiny of the world in a particular way.”
People fail to notice how
much deception has crept in between this assertion and the simple matter
of falling in love. This deception has developed in the following way:
In bourgeois materialistic society, it's considered quite normal for
two people to fall in love. But in an esoteric society, this is often
not considered normal; instead, it is something people feel slightly
ashamed of. But people do not like to feel ashamed. We don't need to
go into why that is the case; there can be any number of reasons. People
simply do not like to feel ashamed, so instead, they say that karma
has spoken and has to be obeyed. Of course they are not acting out of
pure selfishness or pure emotion — far from it; karma has to be
obeyed! But if they were truthful, they would just admit that they have
fallen in love, and having admitted it, they would find their way through
life much more readily than by getting the truth mixed up with all kinds
of karmic nonsense. The basic mischief of embellishing personal matters
with esoteric truths leads to ever greater harm because it makes people
lose their inner sense of limits, the limits we have to accept when
we adopt a spiritual scientific philosophy.
This is not to say that
we should introduce the worst principles of uncultured circles into
our Society. In certain social circles, it is said that being human
begins with being a baron. We must not establish our own version of
this by saying that being human begins with being either a spiritual
scientist or an anthroposophist — with being an “anthropop,”
as others are starting to call it. We must not do that. We have to admit
that even before we became spiritual scientists, we were people with
certain ways of looking at things, people who would have done certain
things and abstained from others.
In the very early days of
our movement, I pointed out how important it is that we do not use our
spiritual scientific views to sink down below our earlier level of moral
standards, but that we must rise above it in all respects. That is why
I said many years ago that when we entered the Society, each of us was
equipped with a certain stock of moral standards and habitual ways of
doing things, and that we should allow these habits to remain as they
are until some clear and incontrovertible inner necessity compels us
to change them. Generally, this happens only much later on. It can be
extremely detrimental if, after having learned a little bit from spiritual
science, we take what we have learned and use it to excuse or embellish
what we do in life. You have to be perfectly clear on one point, my
friends, namely that the outer circumstances of our life also come about
through karma of a certain kind. And how people out in the world think
and act is also a matter of karma.
Now, as you know, I prefer
to talk about concrete cases because they are the most telling. For
example, the following once happened to me: Not long ago, I was sitting
in a barber shop — excuse me for talking about things like this,
but what I'm going to tell you is not all that indiscreet or intimate.
I was sitting in front of the mirror, so I could see the people as they
came and went. The door opened, and in came a man who had on some kind
of shoes that were nothing more than pieces of soft leather tied together;
above that, he was wearing leggings and some kind of cape-like garment
draped at a coquettish angle. In addition, his hair was swept back with
some kind of a headband. Coincidentally, as it were, I knew the man
[ Note 5 ]
The barber let go of the
razor he had just started to apply to my face and bought something from
the man for five pennies. He showed it to me once the man had gone out
— it was a poem he had composed himself. It was a simply terrible
poem, but that man was going around the streets and stores in that get-up,
selling the thing and imagining himself to be infinitely superior to
all the people around him. He thought he was following some great ideal,
but in reality he was only following an exaggerated and hysterical form
of vanity. The basic impulse behind his conduct, his whole way of being,
was nothing more than a gross exaggeration of the principle at work
among the vainest and most superficial ladies.
But just consider how many
among us might once have been tempted — for courtesy's sake, I
will not suggest that they might still be tempted today — to say
that in his own way, that man was only trying to do the right thing.
True enough, but it was still absolute and total nonsense, and bound
to make a mess of a person's life if he made it the principle of a lifetime.
We have to realize to what extent vanity can be a motivating factor
in what people do, and how difficult it is to notice it. If we take
seriously what we can gain from spiritual science and accept it with
respect, we have to admit that vanity is a very strong force in that
man. If we do something or other out of vanity, not to mention other
drives and impulses, other people are offended, though not necessarily
for the reasons we might suspect. Nonetheless, there is a connection
between ourselves and what other people say about us, a connection that
is very easy to find if we look carefully. And we can only get beyond
things like that if we develop a strict sense of exactitude as a counterbalance,
an attitude we also need for understanding esoteric truths.
Although it's only a detail
and no major issue, in esotericism it is extremely important to know
and to observe, when people are recounting things, whether they are
recounting their own observatiOns and thus have a right to be talking
about them as facts, or whether they are passing on things they heard
from someone else. We must be able to tell the difference. But in hundreds
of cases, people say things to others who in turn tell someone else,
but in such a way that the person third in line gets the impression
that they are not simply passing on something they've heard, but are
talking about their own direct experience and have a right to be talking
about it as if it were actual fact. This lack of precision is less important
in ordinary materialistic society than it is among us. In materialistic
circles, it may be pedantic to be so precise in how one speaks, but
in our Society, more so than anywhere else, we need to observe such
things strictly and exactly. And above all, we need to make a practice
of being precise about ourselves.
If any of you need to be
convinced of the implications of what I am saying, you are welcome to
make the following experiment: Choose some topic — vegetarianism,
for example — and observe how certain adherents of spiritual science
talk about this topic in the outside world. Make a chart, and each time
you hear spiritual scientists telling other people that they are vegetarians,
jot down the reasons they give. It will soon become clear that on the
subject of vegetarianism, adherents of spiritual science often say absolutely
scandalous things to people in the outside world. When the outside world
then comes to the conclusion that we are a society of fools, it should
come as no great surprise.
In anthroposophical circles,
I have frequently mentioned a very simple way of responding to the question
of why you are a vegetarian without antagonizing people around you.
If someone asks why you are a vegetarian, and you know that person would
never eat horsemeat, you simply respond with the question, “Well,
why don't you eat horsemeat?” Now the two of you are on the same
footing, and the person who has to give a reason for not eating horsemeat
will probably not come up with any highly theoretical reasons, but will
say something like “The thought of it makes me sick.” Then
you can say, “That's just how any meat makes me feel.” And
as long as you say this in an appropriately conciliatory way, people
will understand your point of view. The main thing is not to let the
other person get the impression that you feel superior because of not
eating meat. You might still want to add, although only if you can honestly
admit it to yourself, that you are too weak to eat meat; you're handicapped
when it comes to eating meat. When this question has come up, I myself
have often said that a lot of things are simply easier to get through
if you don't eat meat. Meat weighs people down, and if you need to use
your brain in a precise way, it is simply easier to do if you don't
eat meat. In the end, it all comes down to the question of what is easier
and more convenient.
I have often emphasized
that it is impossible to eat your way into the higher worlds, either
through what you eat or through what you abstain from eating. Achieving
access to spiritual worlds is a spiritual matter, and both eating and
abstaining from food are physical matters. If this were not the case,
people might get grotesque ideas about what would happen if they did
or did not eat certain foods. It might occur to them to eat salt one
week and no salt at all the next week in order to descend to the depths
of the elemental world during the week when they were eating salt and
come back up again in the course of the week when they were doing without.
It's quite possible for people to get stupid ideas like that. In our
Society, of course, people will not get ideas that are as stupid as
that, but similar things might still occur to them.
But to get back to the subject
of vegetarianism, if we are as modest as possible in how we discuss
it in the presence of outsiders, we will find that eventually no one
will hold the fact that we are vegetarians against us. On the other
hand, if we consider vegetarianism to be something to our credit, the
outside world will never forgive us for it. And in fact, being vegetarian
is not a credit to anyone; it is simply an easy way out.
There are many other similar
examples, and we really have to talk about things like this, not to
preach morality, but to establish certain basic principles for our life
in an esoteric society vis-à-vis the outside world. What it all
comes down to is that we need to seriously consider how we relate to
the outside world, and the result of our deliberations must be both
a bridge and a protective wall between us and the outside, especially
in the case of a society like ours. It happens again and again, for
instance, that members say to people on the outside, “Dr. Steiner
said this and such.” Just put yourself in the place of the person
you're talking to, and imagine what it feels like!
For example, if someone
says that Dr. Steiner is taking so-and-so's spiritual development in
hand, how are outsiders supposed to understand that? What can they possibly
imagine except a society of fools who all subordinate themselves to
a single individual? That kind of thing really does happen. I cannot
even pretend that it does not occur. And just imagine what it means
to the outside world. We really must talk about these things from the
point of view of how a society should be set up if a spiritual scientific
movement like ours is to inhabit it. First and foremost, we must take
this spiritual scientific movement seriously, and we must not do anything
that could be detrimental to it in the eyes of the outside world.
I will go into this subject
more deeply tomorrow, and you will see how intimately this all relates
to certain specific impulses of spiritual science. I do not want to
simply lecture you sternly; I want to explain how these things relate
to the central impulses of spiritual science.