Waldorf Education and Anthroposophy I
I. Anthroposophical Spiritual Science and the Great Questions of our Present Civilization
23 February 1921, The Hague
Anyone who chooses to address the themes that I shall address tonight and again on the 27th knows that many people today long for a new element in contemporary spiritual life, an impulse that could revitalize and transform important aspects of our present civilization. Such longings live especially in those who try to look deeply into their own inner being, stirred by the various signs in contemporary society indicating that, unless present trends change, our civilization is heading for a general collapse. These signs themselves, of course, are a result of many characteristic features of the cultural stream of Western Europe over the last few centuries.
What may be said about the supersensible worlds today may therefore be said to every human soul. It may be said even to a hermit, a recluse, who has withdrawn from the world. Above all, however, it may be said to those who stand fully and firmly in life: for what we are talking about is every human being’s concern.
But this is not the only point of view from which I wish to speak today and again on the 27th. I want to talk about how, if we let them work upon our souls, the fundamental issues facing our civilization affect our attitudes. Those who feel called upon to lead their fellow human beings will find much that is inwardly disturbing here and much that makes them yearn for a renewal of certain aspects of spiritual and cultural life.
If we consider humanity’s present cultural, spiritual situation, we may trace it back to two fundamental issues. One shines out in contemporary science and in the way in which scientific life has developed during the last three or four hundred years. The other shines out from the practical sphere of life, which, naturally, has been largely influenced by modern science.
To begin with, let us look at what science has brought in its wake more recently. At this point, to avoid any misunderstanding, let me state clearly that anthroposophical spiritual science — as I shall represent it here — must in no way be thought of as opposing the spirit of modern science, whose triumphant and important successes the exponents of spiritual science fully recognize. Precisely because it wishes to enter without prejudice into the spirit of natural science, anthroposophical spiritual science must go beyond its confines and objectives. Natural science, with its scrupulous, specialized disciplines, provides exact, reliable information about much in our human environment. But, when a human soul asks about its deepest, eternal being, it receives no answer from natural science, least of all when science searches in all honesty and without prejudice. This is why we find many people today who out of an inner religious need — in some cases more, in others less — long for a renewal of the old ways of looking at the world.
The outer sciences, and anthropology in particular, already draw our attention to the fact that our forebears, centuries ago, knew nothing of what splits and fragments many souls today; namely, the disharmony between scientific knowledge on one hand and religious experience on the other. If we compare our situation today with what prevailed in ancient times, we find that the leaders of humanity who cultivated science then — however childlike their science might appear to us now — also kindled the religious spirit of their people. There was certainly no split between these two spiritual streams.
Today, many souls long for the return of something similar. Yet one cannot say that a renewal of ancient forms of wisdom — whether Chaldean, Egyptian, Indian, or any other — would benefit our present society. Those who advocate such a return can hardly be said to understand the significance of human evolution, for they overlook its real mission. They do not recognize that it is impossible today to tread the same spiritual paths that were trodden thousands of years ago. It is an intrinsic feature of human evolution that every age should have its own particular character. In every age, people must seek inner fulfillment or satisfaction in appropriate though distinctly different ways. Because we live and are educated in the twentieth century, our soul life today needs something different from what people living in distant antiquity once needed for their souls. A renewal of ancient attitudes toward the world would hardly benefit our present time, although knowledge of them could certainly help in finding our bearings. Familiarizing ourselves with such attitudes could also help us recognize the source of inner satisfaction in ancient times. Now, this inner satisfaction or fulfillment was, in fact, the result of a relationship to scientific knowledge fundamentally different from what we experience today.
There is a certain phenomenon to which I would like to draw your attention. To do so is to open myself to the accusation of being either paradoxical or downright fantastical. However, one can say many things today that, even a few years ago, would have been highly dangerous to mention because of the situation that prevailed then. The last few catastrophic years [1914–1918] have brought about a change in people’s thinking and feeling about such things. Compared with the habits of thought and feeling of the previous decade, people today are readier to accept the idea that the deepest truths might at first strike one as being paradoxical or even fantastical.
In the past, people spoke of something that today — especially in view of our scientific knowledge — would hardly be acceptable. This is something that will be discussed again in a relatively short time, probably even in educated, cultured circles. I refer to the Guardian of the Threshold. This guardian stands between the ordinary world of the senses, which forms the firm ground of orthodox science and is where we lead our daily lives, and those higher worlds in which the supersensible part of the human being is integrated into the spiritual world. Between the sensory world — whose phenomena we can observe and in which we can recognize the working of natural laws with our intellect — and that other world to which we belong with our inner being, between these two worlds, the ancients recognized an abyss. To attain true knowledge, they felt, that abyss had first to be crossed. But only those were allowed to do so who had undergone intensive preparation under the guidance of the leaders of the mystery centers. Today, we have a rather different view of what constitutes adequate preparation for a scientific training and for living in a scientific environment. In ancient times, however, it was firmly believed that an unprepared candidate could not possibly be allowed to receive higher knowledge of the human being. But why should this have been the case?
An answer to that question can be found only if insight is gained into the development of the human soul during the course of evolution. Such insight goes beyond the limits of ordinary historical research. Basically, present historical knowledge draws only on external sources and disregards the more subtle changes that the human psyche undergoes.
For instance, we do not usually take into account the particular condition of soul of those ancient peoples who were rooted in the primeval oriental wisdom of their times, decadent forms of which only survive in the East today. Fundamentally speaking, we do not realize how differently such souls were attuned to the world. In those days, people already perceived external nature through their senses as we do today. To a certain extent, they also combined all of the various sense impressions with their intellect. But, in doing so, they did not feel themselves separated from their natural surroundings. They still perceived an element of soul and spirit within themselves. They felt their physical organization permeated by soul and spirit. At the same time, they also experienced soul and spirit in lightning and in thunder, in drifting clouds, in stones, plants, and beasts. What they could divine within themselves, they could also feel out in nature and in the entire universe. To these human beings of the past, the whole universe was imbued with soul and spirit.
On the other hand, they lacked something that we, today, possess to a marked degree, that is, they did not have as pronounced and intensive a self-consciousness as we do. Their self-awareness was dimmer and dreamier than ours today. That was still the case even in ancient Greece. Whoever imagines that the condition of soul — the psychic organization — of the ancient Greeks was more or less the same as our own can understand only the later stages of Greek culture. During its earlier phases, the state of the human soul was not the same as it is today, for in those days there still existed a dim awareness of humanity’s kinship with nature. Just as a finger, if endowed with some form of self awareness, would feel itself to be a part of the whole human organism and could not imagine itself leading a separate existence — for then it would simply wither away — so the human being of those early times felt closely united with nature and certainly not separate from it.
The wise leaders of the ancient mystery schools believed that this awareness of humanity’s connection with nature represented the moral element in human self-consciousness, which must never be allowed to conceive of the world as being devoid of soul and spirit. They felt that if the world were to be conceived of as being without soul and spirit — as has now happened in scientific circles and in our daily lives — human souls would be seized by a kind of faintness. The teachers of ancient wisdom foresaw that faintness or swooning of the soul would occur if people adopted the kind of world-view we have today.
You might well wonder what the justification for saying such things is. To illustrate that there is a justification, I would like to take an example from history — just one out of many others that could have been chosen.
Today, we feel rightfully satisfied with the generally accepted system of the universe that no longer reflects what the eye can observe outwardly in the heavens, as it still did in the Middle Ages. We have adopted the Copernican view of the universe, which is a heliocentric one. During the Middle Ages, however, people believed that the earth rested in the center of the planetary system — in fact, in the center of the entire starry world — and that the sun, together with the other stars, revolved around the earth. The heliocentric system of the universe meant an almost complete reversal of previously held views. Today, we adhere to the heliocentric view as something already learned and believed during early school days. It is something that has become part of general knowledge and is simply taken for granted.
And yet, although we think that people in the Middle Ages and in more ancient times believed uniquely in the geocentric view as represented by Ptolemy, this was by no means always the case. We only need to read, for instance, what Plutarch wrote about the system of Aristarchus of Samos, who lived in ancient Greece in the pre-christian era. Outer historical accounts mention Aristarchus’ heliocentric view. Spiritual science makes the situation clear.
Aristarchus put the sun in the center of our planetary system, and let the earth circle around it. Indeed, if we take Aristarchus’ heliocentric system in its main outlines — leaving aside further details supplied by more recent scientific research — we find it in full agreement with our present picture of the universe. What does this mean? Nothing more than that Aristarchus of Samos merely betrayed what was taught in the old mystery centers. Outside these schools, people were left to believe in what they could see with their own eyes. And why should this have been so? Why were ordinary people left with the picture of the universe as it appears to the eyes? Because the leaders of those schools believed that before anyone could be introduced to the heliocentric system, they had to cross an inner threshold into another world — a world entirely different from the one in which people ordinarily live. People were protected from that other world in their daily lives by the invisible Guardian of the Threshold, who was a very real, if supersensible, being to the ancient teachers. According to their view, human beings were to be protected from having their eyes suddenly opened to see a world that might appear bereft of soul and spirit.
But that is how we see the world today! We observe it and create our picture of the realms of nature — the mineral, plant, and animal kingdoms — only to find this picture soulless and spiritless. When we form a picture of the orbits and the movements of the heavenly bodies with the aid of calculations based on telescopic observations, we see a world empty of soul and spirit. The wise teachers of the mystery centers knew very well that it was possible to see the world in that way. But they transmitted such knowledge to their pupils only after the pupils had undergone the necessary preparations, after they had undergone a severe training of their will life. Then, they guided their pupils past the Guardian of the Threshold — but not until they were prepared. How was this preparation accomplished? Pupils had not only to endure great deprivations, but for many years they were also taught by their teachers to follow a moral path in strict obedience. At the same time, their will life was severely disciplined to strengthen their self-consciousness. And only after they had thus progressed from a dim self-consciousness to a more conscious one were they shown what lay ahead of them on the other side of the threshold: namely, the world as it appears to us in outer space according to the heliocentric system of the universe. At the same time, of course, they were also taught many other things that, to us, have merely become part of our general knowledge of the world.
Pupils in ancient times were thus carefully prepared before they were given the kind of knowledge that today is almost commonplace for every schoolboy and schoolgirl. This shows how times and whole civilizations have changed. Because external history knows nothing of the history of the development of the human soul, we tend to be under a misapprehension if we go only by what we read in history books.
What was it then, that pupils of the ancient mystery centers brought with them before crossing the threshold to the supersensible world? It was knowledge of the world that, to a certain extent, had arisen from their instinctual life, from the drives of their physical bodies. By means of those drives or instincts, they saw the external world ensouled and filled with spirit. That is now known as animism. They could feel how closely a human being was related to the outer world. They felt that their own spirit was embedded in the world spirit. At the same time, in order to look on the world as we learn to do already during our early school days, those ancient people had to undergo special preparations.
Nowadays, one can read all kinds of things about the Guardian of the Threshold — and the threshold to the spiritual world — in books whose authors take it upon themselves to deal with the subject of mysticism, often in dilettantish ways, even if their publications have an air of learnedness about them. Indeed, one often finds that, the more nebulous the mysticism, the greater attraction it seems to exert on certain sections of the public. But what I am talking about here, what is revealed to the unbiased spiritual investigator concerning what the ancients called the threshold to the spiritual world, is not the kind of nebulous mysticism that many sects and orders expound today and many people seek on the other side of the threshold. Rather, it is the kind of knowledge which has become a matter of general education today.
At the same time, we can see how we look at the world today with a very different self-consciousness than people did in more ancient times. The teachers of ancient wisdom were afraid that, unless their pupils’ self-consciousness had been strengthened by a severe training of the will, they would suffer from overwhelming faintness of soul when they were told, for example, that the earth was not stationary but revolved around the sun with great speed, and that they too were circling around the sun. This feeling of losing firm ground from under their feet was something that the ancients would not have been able to bear. It would have reduced their self-consciousness to the level of a swoon. We, on the other hand, learn to stand up to it already in childhood.
We almost take for granted now the kind of world-view into which the people of ancient times were able to penetrate only after careful preparation. Yet we must not allow ourselves to have nostalgic feelings for ancient ways of living, which can no longer fulfill the present needs of the soul. Anthroposophical science of the spirit, of which I am speaking, is a renewal neither of ancient Eastern wisdom nor of old Gnostic teachings, for if such teachings were to be given today, they would have only a decadent effect. Spiritual science, on the other hand, is something to be found by an elementary creative power that lives in every human soul when certain paths that I will describe presently are followed. First, however, I want to draw attention to the fact that ordinary life, and science in general, already represents a kind of threshold to the supersensible world or, at any rate, to another world.
People living in ancient times had a quite different picture of life on the other side of the threshold. But what do we hear, especially from our most conscientious natural scientists, who feel thoroughly convinced of the rightness of their methods? We are told that natural science has reached the ultimate limits of knowledge. We hear such expressions as “ignorabimus,” “we shall never know,” which — I hasten to add — is perfectly justified as long as we remain within the bounds of natural science. Ancient peoples might have lacked our intense self-consciousness, but we are lacking in other ways.
To what do we owe our intense self-consciousness? We received it through the ways of thinking and looking at the world that entered our civilization with people like Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Bruno, and others. The works of such thinkers not only provided us with a certain amount of knowledge but, through them, modern humanity underwent a distinct training of soul life. Everything that the mode of thinking developed by these personalities has achieved in more recent times tends to cultivate the powers of intellect. There is also a strong emphasis on scientific experimentation and on accurate, conscientious observation. With instruments such as the telescope, the microscope, X-rays, and the spectroscope, we examine the phenomena around us and we use our intellect mainly in order to extract from those phenomena their fundamental and inherent natural laws. But what are we actually doing when we are engaged in observing and experimenting? Our methods of working allow only the powers of reasoning and intellect to speak.
It is simply a fact that, during the last centuries, it has been primarily the intellect that has been tapped to promote human development. And a characteristic feature of the intellect is that it strengthens human self-consciousness, hardening it and making it more intense. Due to this hardening, we are able to bear what an ancient Greek could not have born; namely, the consciousness of being moved around the sun on an earth that has no firm ground to uphold it. At the same time, because of this strengthened self-consciousness that has led to the picture of a world devoid of soul and spirit, we are deprived of the kind of knowledge for which our souls nevertheless yearn. We can see the world with its material phenomena — its material facts — as the ancients could never have seen it without appropriate preparation in the mystery centers, but we can no longer perceive a spiritual world surrounding us. This is why conscientious scientists confess “ignorabimus” and speak of limits to what we can know.
As human beings, we stand in the world. And, if we reflect on ourselves, we must inevitably realize that, whenever we ponder various things or draw conclusions based on experiment and observation, something spiritual is acting in us. And we must ask ourselves, “Is that spirit likely to live in isolation from the world of material phenomena like some kind of hermit? Does that spirit exist only in our physical bodies? Can it really be that the world is empty of soul and spirit, as the findings of the physical and biological sciences would have us believe and, from their point of view, quite rightly so?”
This is the situation in which we find ourselves at the present time. We are facing a new threshold. Although that circumstance has not yet penetrated the consciousness of humanity as a whole, awareness of it in human souls is not completely absent either. People might not be thinking about it but, in the depths of their souls, it lives nevertheless as a kind of presentiment. What goes on in the realm of the soul remains mostly unconscious. But out of that unconsciousness arises a longing to cross the threshold again, to add knowledge of the spiritual world to present self-consciousness.
No matter what name we might wish to give these things — that in most cases are felt only dimly — they nevertheless belong to the deepest riddles of our civilization. There is a sense that a spiritual world surrounding all human beings must be found again and that the soulless, spiritless world of which natural science speaks cannot be the one with which the human soul can feel inwardly united.
How can we rediscover the kind of knowledge that also generates a religious mood in us? That is the great question of our present time. How can we find a way of knowing that also, at the same time, fulfills our deepest need for an awareness of the eternal in the human soul? Modern science has achieved great and mighty things. Nevertheless, any unprejudiced person must acknowledge that it has not really produced solutions, but rather — one would almost have to say — the very opposite. Yet we should accept even this both willingly and gladly.
What can we do with the help of modern science? Does it help us to solve the riddles of the human soul? Hardly, but at least it prompts us to ask our questions at a deeper level. Contemporary science has put before us the material facts in all purity; that is, free from what a personal or subjective element might introduce in the form of soul and spirit. But, just because of this, we are made all the more intensely aware of the deep questions living in our souls. It is a significant achievement of contemporary science to have confronted us with new, ever deepening riddles. The great question of our time is therefore: what is our attitude toward these deepened riddles? What we can learn from the spirit of a Haeckel, Huxley, or Spencer does not make it possible to solve these riddles; it does, however, enable us to experience the great questions facing contemporary humanity more intensely than ever before.
This is where spiritual science — the science of the spirit — comes into its own, for its aim is to lead humanity, in a way that corresponds to its contemporary character, over the new threshold into a spiritual world. How this is possible for a modern person — as distinct from the man or woman of old — I should now like to indicate, if only in brief outline. You can find more detailed descriptions in my books How to Know Higher Worlds and Occult Science, and in other publications of mine.
First, I would like to draw attention to the point of departure for anyone who wishes to engage in spiritual research or become a spiritual researcher. It is an inner attitude with which, due to present circumstances, a modern person is not likely to be in sympathy at all. It is an attitude of soul that I would like to call intellectual modesty or humility. Despite the fact that the intellect has developed to a degree unprecedented in human evolution during the past three or four hundred years, a wouldbe spiritual researcher must nevertheless achieve intellectual humility or modesty. Let me clarify what I mean by using a comparison. Imagine that you put a volume of Shakespeare’s plays into the hands of a five-year-old. What would the child do? The child would play with the book, turn its pages, perhaps tear them. He or she would not use the book as it was meant to be used. But, ten-to-fifteen years later, that young person would have a totally different relationship to the same volume. He or she would treat the book according to its intended purpose. What has happened? Faculties that were dormant in the child have meanwhile developed through natural growth, upbringing, and education. During those ten to fifteen years, the child has become an altogether different soul being.
Now, an adult who has achieved intellectual humility, despite having absorbed the scientific climate of the environment by means of the intellect, might say: my relationship to the sense world may be compared with the relationship of a five-year-old child to a volume of Shakespeare’s plays. Faculties that are capable of further development might lie dormant within me. I too could grow into an altogether different being as far as my soul and spirit are concerned and understand the sense world more deeply.
Nowadays, however, people do not like to adopt an attitude of such intellectual modesty. Habits of thought and the psychological response to life as it is steer us in a different direction. Those who have gone through the usual channels of education might enter higher education, where it is no longer a question of deepening inner knowledge and of developing faculties of will and soul. For, during a scientific training of that kind, a person remains essentially at the level of his or her inherited capacities and what ordinary education can provide. Certainly, science has expanded tremendously by means of experimentation and observation, but that expansion has only been achieved by means of those intellectual powers that already exist in what is usually called modern culture. In furthering knowledge, the aim of science has not been to cultivate new faculties in the human being. The thought would never have occurred that anyone already in possession of our present means of knowledge, as given both by ordinary life and by science, might actually be confronting the world of nature in a way similar to how a five-year old responds to a volume of Shakespeare. Allowance has not been made for the possibility that new faculties of cognition could develop that would substantially alter our attitude toward the external world. That such new faculties are possible, however, is precisely the attitude required of anyone who wishes to investigate the spiritual world of which anthroposophy, the science of the spirit, speaks. Here, the aim is to develop human faculties inherent in each person. However, in order to bring these potentials to a certain stage of development, a great deal must be experienced first.
I am not talking about taking extraordinary or even superstitious measures for the sake of this soul development. Rather, I am talking about the enhancement of quite ordinary, well known faculties that play important roles both in daily life and in the established sciences. However, although those faculties are being applied all the time, they are not developed to their full extent during the life between birth and death. There are many such faculties, but I would like to characterize today the further development of only two of them. More detailed information can be found in the books mentioned previously.
First of all, there is the faculty of remembering or memory, which is an absolute necessity in life. It is generally realized — as anyone with a particular interest in these matters will know from books on psychology and pathology — how important it is for a healthy soul life that a person’s memory should be unimpaired and that our memory should allow us to look back over our past life right down to early childhood. There must not exist periods in our past from which memory pictures cannot rise to bring events back again. If someone’s memory were to be completely erased, the ego or I of such a person would be virtually destroyed. Severe soul sickness would befall such an individual. Memory gives us the possibility for past experiences to resurface, whether in pale or in vivid pictures. It is this faculty, this force, that can be strengthened and developed further. What is its characteristic quality? Without it, experiences flit by without leaving any lasting trace. Also, without memory, the concepts formed through such experiences would be only fleeting ones. Our memory stores up such experiences for us (here, I can give only sketchy indications; in my writings and published lectures you will find a scientifically built-up treatment of memory).
Memory gives duration to otherwise fleeting impressions. This quality of memory is grasped as a first step in applying spiritual-scientific methods. It is then intensified and developed further through what I have called meditation and concentration in the books that I have mentioned. To practice these two activities, a student, having sought advice from someone experienced in these matters or having gained the necessary information from appropriate literature, will focus consciousness on certain interrelated mental images that are clearly defined and easy to survey. They could be geometrical or mathematical patterns that one can clearly view and that one is certain are not reminiscences from life, emerging from one’s subconscious.
Whatever is held in consciousness in this way must result from a person’s free volition. One must in no way allow oneself to become subject to auto suggestion or dreaming. One contemplates what one has chosen to place in the center of one’s consciousness and holds it for a longer period of time in complete inner tranquility. Just as muscles develop when engaged in a particular type of work, so certain soul forces unfold when the soul is engaged in the uncustomary activity of arresting and holding definite mental images. It sounds simple enough. But, in fact, not only are there people who believe that, when speaking about these things, a scientist of the spirit is drawing on obscure influences, but there are others who believe it simple to achieve the methods that I am describing here, methods that are applied in intimate regions of one’s soul life.
Far from it! These things take a long time to accomplish. Of course, some find it easier to practice these exercises, but others have to struggle much harder. Naturally, the depth of such meditation is far more important than the length of time spent over it. Whatever the case might be, however, one must persevere in one’s efforts for years. What one practices in one’s soul in this way is truly no easier than what one does in a laboratory, in a lecture hall for physics, or an astronomical observatory. It is in no way more difficult to fulfill the demands imposed by external forms of research than it is to practice faithfully, carefully, and conscientiously what spiritual research requires to be cultivated in the human soul over a period of many years.
Nevertheless, as a consequence of such practice, certain inner soul forces, previously known to us only as forces of memory, eventually gain in strength and new soul powers come into existence. Such inner development enables one to recognize clearly what the materialistic interpretation is saying about the power of memory when it maintains that the human faculty of remembering is bound to the physical body and that, if there is something wrong with the constitution of the nervous system, memory is weakened, as it is likewise in old age. Altogether, spiritual faculties are seen to depend on physical conditions. As far as life between birth and death is concerned, this is not denied by spiritual science. For whoever develops the power of memory as I have described knows through direct insight how ordinary memory, which conjures up pictures of past experiences before the soul, does indeed depend on the human physical body. On the other hand, the new soul forces now being developed become entirely free and independent of the physical body. The student thereby experiences how it becomes possible to live in a region of the soul in such a way that one can have supersensible experiences, just as one has sense-perceptible experiences in the physical body.
I would now like to give you an explanation of the nature of these supersensible experiences.
Human life undergoes rhythmical changes between waking and sleeping. The moments of falling asleep and awakening, and the time spent in sleep, are interspersed with waking life. What happens in this process? When we fall asleep, our consciousness is dimmed down, in most cases to a zero point. Dreams sometimes “bubble up” from half-conscious depths. Obviously, we are alive during this condition for, otherwise, as sleepers, we would have to pass away every night and come to life again every morning. The human soul and spirit are alive but, during sleep, our consciousness is diminished. This diminution of consciousness has to do with our inability to employ our senses between when we fall asleep and when we wake up, and also with our lack of access to impulses that derive from our physical organs of will.
This dimming down of consciousness can be overcome by those who have developed the new higher faculty of which I have spoken of their given faculty of memory. Such people reach a condition, as they do in sleep, in which they no longer need eyes in order to see, nor ears in order to hear. They no longer need to feel the physical warmth of their environment, nor to use will impulses that under ordinary conditions work through the muscles and through the human physical organization generally. They are able to switch off everything connected with the physical body. And yet their consciousness does not diminish as is usually the case in sleep. On the contrary, they are able to surrender themselves in full consciousness to conditions normally pertaining only to the sleeping state. A spiritual researcher remains completely conscious. Just as a sleeping person is surrounded by a dark world of nothingness, so a spiritual researcher is surrounded by a world that has nothing to do with the sense world but is nevertheless as full and intense as the sense world. In the waking state, we confront the sense world with our senses. But when they are able to free themselves from the physical body in full consciousness — that is, when they can enter, fully consciously, the state normally gone through between falling asleep and waking up — spiritual researchers confront a supersensible world.
They thus learn to recognize that a supersensible world always surrounds us, just as the sense world surrounds us in ordinary life. Yet there is a significant difference. In the sense world, we perceive outer facts through our senses and, through those facts, we also become aware of the existence of other beings. Outer facts predominate while beings or existences make their presence felt within the context of these outer facts. But, when the supersensible world is opened to us, we first encounter beings. As soon as our eyes are opened to behold the supersensible world, real beings surround us. To begin with, we cannot call this world of concrete and real supersensible beings in which we now find ourselves a world of facts. We must gain such facts for ourselves by means of yet something else.It is an achievement of the modern anthroposophical science of the spirit that it enables human beings to cross a threshold once more and enter a world different from what usually surrounds us.
After one has learned to experience the state of independence from the physical body, one finally comes to realize not only that the soul during sleep lifts itself out of the body only to return to it upon awakening, but also that this return is caused by the soul’s intense desire for the physical body. Supersensible cognition enables us to recognize the true nature of the soul, whose re-entry into the physical body upon awakening is due to a craving for the body as it lies asleep. Furthermore, if one can make this true conception of falling asleep and awakening one’s own, one’s understanding expands to such an extent that one eventually learns to know the soul before it descends — through conception and birth — from the spiritual world into the physical body offered by heredity.
Once one has grasped the nature of the human soul, and has learned to follow it outside the body between falling asleep and waking up — at the same time recognizing the less powerful forces pulling it back into the body lying in the bed — then one also begins to know what happens to the soul when it is freed from the body and passes through the portal of death. One learns to understand that the reason why the human soul has only a dim consciousness during sleep is because it has a strong desire to return to the body. It is this craving for the body that can dull human consciousness into a state of total impotence during the time between falling asleep and awakening. On the other hand, once the soul has passed through death, this desire for the physical body is no longer there.
And once, through the newly developed faculty of enhanced memory, we have learned to know the human soul, we can follow its further progress beyond the portal of death. One then learns to recognize that, since it is no longer bound to a physical body and is therefore freed from the desire to return to it, the soul is now in a position to retain a consciousness of its own while in the spiritual world, a consciousness that differs from what is given through the instrument of the physical body. One comes to recognize that there were forces in the soul before birth that drew it toward a physical body while it was still in the spiritual world. That physical body, however, was as yet quite indeterminate; it cast a certain light toward the descending soul. Then one begins to see how the soul develops a strong desire to re-enter physical, earthly life. One learns to know — but in a different language — the eternal being of the human soul. This being becomes clear and, through it, one learns to understand something else as well.
One learns to cognize in pictures the soul’s eternal being as it goes through births and deaths. I have called those pictures imaginations. And one comes to recognize that, just as the body belongs to the sensory world, so too does the soul belong to a supersensible world; and that, just as one can describe the sense world with the help of the physical body, so can one likewise describe the supersensible world with its spirituality. One comes to know the supersensible world in addition to the sensory world. But, in order to attain this faculty, it is necessary to cultivate another soul quality, the mere mention of which — as a way of gaining higher knowledge — is enough to make a modern scientist wince. Certainly, one can fully respect the reasons for this, but what I have to tell you about the enhancement of this second soul faculty is nevertheless true.
As I said, the first power to be developed is the faculty of memory, which then becomes an independent force. The second power to be developed is the power of love. In ordinary life, between birth and death, love works through the physical organism. It is intimately connected with the instincts and drives of human nature and only in sublime moments does something of this love free itself from human corporeality. In those moments, we experience being freed from our narrow selves. Such love is a state of true freedom, in which one does not surrender to inborn instincts, but rather forgets the ordinary self and orients one’s actions and deeds toward outer needs and facts. It was because of this intimate connection between love and freedom that I dared to state publicly in my book, Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path (first published in 1892 and in which I tried to found a new sociology in philosophical terms), that, far from making people blind, love makes them see; that is, free. Love leads us beyond what otherwise blinds us by making us dependent on personal needs. Love allows us to surrender to the outer world. It removes whatever would hinder our acting in full freedom. The modern spiritual investigator must therefore develop such love — love that shines actively into ordinary life in truly free deeds. Gradually, love must be spiritualized, in the same way as the faculty of remembering had to be spiritualized. Love must become purely a power of the soul. It must make the human individual as a soul being entirely independent of the body, so that he or she can love free from blood ties and from the physical organization as a whole. Love of this kind brings about a fusion of the self with the external world, with one’s fellow human beings. Through love, one becomes one with the world.
This newly developed power of love has another consequence. It makes us “co-workers” in the spiritual world that we have been able to enter through the newly developed faculty of memory. At this point, we learn to know real beings as spiritual facts. When describing the external world, we now no longer speak of our present planetary system as having originated from some primeval cosmic nebula and of its falling into dust again — or into the sun again — in some remote future. We do not contemplate nature as being thus alienated from the world of spirit. And, if people today are honest, they cannot help becoming aware of the dichotomy between what is most precious in them on one hand, and the interpretation of the world given by natural science on the other. How often has one come across oppressed souls saying, “Natural science speaks of a world of pure necessity. It tells us that the world originated from a primeval mist. This condensed into the natural kingdoms — the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms and, finally, also the human kingdom. And yet, deep inside us, something rises that surely is of fundamental importance and value, namely, our moral and religious world. This stands before our souls as the one thing that makes us truly human. But an honest interpretation of the world of natural science tells us that this earth, on which we stand with our moral ideas like hermits in the universe, will disintegrate, will fall back again into the sun, it will end up as one vast cinder. A large cemetery is all that will be left and all of our ideals will be buried there.”
This is the point at which spiritual science enters, not just to grant new hope and belief, but resting entirely on its own sure knowledge, developed as I have already described. It states that the natural-scientific theory of the world offers only an abstract point of view. In reality, the world is imbued with spirit, and permeated by supersensible beings. If we look back into primeval times, we find that the material substances of the earth originated in the spiritual world, and also that the present material nature of the earth will become spirit again in future times. Just as, at death, the human being lays aside the physical body to enter, consciously, a spiritual world, so will the material part of the earth fall away like a corpse and what then is soul and spirit on earth and in human beings will arise again in future times, even though the earth will have perished. Christ’s words — taken as a variation of this same theme — ring true: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” Human beings thus can say, “Everything that our eyes can see will perish, just as the body, the transient part of the human individuality, does. But there will rise again from this dying away what lived on earth as morality. Human beings will perceive a spiritual world around them; they will live themselves into a spiritual world.”
In this way, deepening knowledge with spirit, anthroposophical spiritual science meets the needs of our present civilization differently from external science. It deepens knowledge and cognition to the level of deeply felt piety, of religious consciousness, giving human beings spiritual self-awareness.
Fundamentally speaking, this is the great question faced by contemporary civilization. But, as long as human beings lack the proper inner stability, as long as they feel themselves to be material entities floating about in some vacuum, they cannot develop a strong inner being, nor play a vigorous part in social life. Outer planning and organization, directly affecting social conditions, must be created by people themselves. Such outer social conditions are of great significance to the questions of present and future civilization — questions that lead us to search for true consciousness of our humanity. But only those with inner stability, which has been granted them through being anchored in the spirit, will be able to take their proper place in social life.
Thus, a first question is, how can people place themselves into present social conditions with inner firmness and certainty regarding matters of daily life? A second question concerns human relationships or what we could call our attitude toward our fellow human beings: the way in which each person meets his or her fellow human being. Here we enter a realm where, no less than in the realm of knowledge, modern civilization has brought us new riddles rather than new solutions. Only think of how the achievements of modern natural science have expanded the scope of technology! The technology, commerce, and transportation that surround us every hour of the day are all offspring of this new, grandiose way of looking at the sense-perceptible world. And yet we have not been able to find an answer in this age of technology to what has become a new, vital question; namely, how are we, as human beings, to live in this complex technical, commercial and traffic-ridden world? This question has become a by-product of modern civilization itself. The fact that it has not yet been resolved can be seen in the devastating political movements, the destructiveness of which increases the farther east we go, even right into Asia. Due to a working out of human instincts, nothing noble or elevating is being put into the world there. Rather, because the burning questions of our day have not been solved, havoc and destruction rule the day. There is no doubt that modern civilization would perish if what is emerging in the East were to spread worldwide. What is lurking there, intent on bringing about the downfall of modern civilization, is far more horrific than people living in the West can imagine. But it also testifies to the fact that something else is needed for the solution of the problem of contemporary civilization.
It is not enough for us to work within the bounds of modern technology, which is a child of the modern world outlook. We must also work toward attainment of another possibility. Human beings have become estranged from their old kinship to nature. In their practical activities and in their professional lives, they have been placed into a soulless, spiritually empty, mechanistic world. From cooperating with nature, they have been led to operating machines and to dealing with spiritless and mechanical means of transportation. We must find the way again to give them something to take the place of the old kinship to nature. And this can only be a world-view that speaks to our souls with a powerful voice, making us realize that there is more to human life than what can be experienced outwardly. Human beings must become inwardly certain that they belong to a supersensible world, to a world of soul and spirit, that always surrounds them. They must see that it is possible to investigate that world with the same scientific accuracy as the physical world, which is being studied and explored by outer science and which has led to this technological age. Only such a new science of the supersensible can become the foundation for a new, right relationship between people. Such a science not only will allow them to see in their fellow human beings what appears during the life between birth and death, but will make them recognize and respect what is immortal and eternal in human beings through their humanity’s close links with a spiritual world. Such a deepened knowledge will surely bring about a change for the better in how one individual perceives another.
Here is yet a third point of importance. It is the recognition that human life is not fully exhausted within the boundaries of birth and death, as the “ideology of the proletariat” would have us believe. Rather, what we are doing every moment here on earth is of significance not only for the earth, but for the whole of the universe. When the earth will have passed away, what we have carried into our daily tasks out of moral, soul-and-spiritual depths will arise to live in another world. Transformed, it will become part of a general spiritualization. Thus anthroposophical spiritual science approaches the problems of our time in a threefold way. It enables us to become aware of our spirituality. It helps us see in our fellows other beings of soul and spirit. And it helps us recognize that our earthly deeds, however humble and practical, have a cosmic and universal spiritual meaning.
In working towards these aims, spiritual science has been active not only in theory; it has also entered the sphere of practical life. In Stuttgart, there is the Waldorf school, which was founded by Emil Molt and which I was asked to direct. It is a school whose pedagogical principles and methods are based on insights gained through the science of the spirit I am speaking of here. Furthermore, in Dornach, near Basel, lies the Goetheanum, which houses our High School of Spiritual Science. This Goetheanum in Dornach is still incomplete, but we were already able to hold a large number of courses in the unfinished building during the autumn of last year.
Some time ago, on a previous occasion, I was also asked to speak about spiritual science here in Holland. At that time, I could say only that it existed as a new method of research and that it was something inherently alive in every human being. Since then, spiritual science has taken on a different form. It has begun to establish its own High School in Dornach. Last spring, I was able to show how what I could only sketch tonight as the beginning of spiritual-scientific research can be applied in all branches of science. On that occasion, I showed doctors and medical students how the results of spiritual science, gained by means of strict and exact methods, can be applied to therapeutics. Medical questions, which can often touch on other problems related to general human health, are questions that every conscientious doctor recognizes as belonging to the facts of our present civilization. They have become riddles because modern science will not rise from observing only what is sense perceptible and widen its investigations to include the supersensible, the spiritual world. During that autumn course, specialists drawn from many fields — including law, mathematics, history, sociology, biology, physics, chemistry, and pedagogy — tried to show how all branches of science can be fructified by anthroposophical spiritual science. Representatives of the arts were also present to demonstrate how spiritual science was inspiring them to discover new developments in their professions. Then there were others, too, drawn from such spheres of practical life as commerce and industry. These could show that spiritual science not only lifted them out of the old routines that led the world into the catastrophe of the last war, but also that it can help relate people to practical life in a higher sense. The courses were meant to show how spiritual science, far from fostering dilettantism or nebulous mysticism, is capable of entering and fructifying all of the sciences and that, in doing so, it is uplifting and linking each separate branch to become a part of a comprehensive spiritual-supersensible conception of the human being.
I shall have more to say next time about the practical applications of spiritual science, particularly with regard to education and the social question. Once I have done so, you will appreciate that anthroposophical spiritual science is not striving for some vague mysticism, removed from daily life, but wishes to grasp the spirit consciously. It wishes to do so for two main reasons — first, because it is essential for human beings to become aware of how they are related to their true spiritual origin and, second, because spiritual powers are intent on intervening in the practical and material affairs of daily life. Anyone, therefore, who tends to combine a life devoid of spirit with a truly practical life, or combine a spiritual attitude with isolation from daily life, has certainly not grasped the real nature of anthroposophical spiritual science, nor recognized the paramount needs of our present age.
We have found people who understand what the High School of Spiritual Science seeks to accomplish for the benefit of humanity along the lines already indicated. We have found people who appreciate the necessity of working in this way in view of the great problems facing our present civilization. Yet, due to difficult local circumstances, the completion of the Goetheanum has been greatly delayed. This building is still in an unfinished state and its completion will largely depend on continued help from friends who have the heart and the understanding to give their support for the sake of human evolution, so needed today. Nevertheless, despite these difficulties, more than a thousand people were assembled at the opening of our courses. Visitors can see in Dornach that spiritual science seeks to work out of the whole human being, that it does not wish to appeal only to the head. They can witness that it seeks to move ahead not only through what can be gained by experimentation and observation, but also by striving for truly artistic expression, free from empty symbolism or pedantic allegory. This is the reason why we could not possibly use just any arbitrary style for our building in Dornach. Its architecture, too, had to flow from the same sources from which spiritual science itself flows. Because it endeavors to draw on the whole human being, spiritual science is less one-sided than the other sciences, which work only on the basis of experimentation and observation. It is as exact as any other science could be and, in addition, wants to speak to the whole human being.
About the practical aspects, I shall have more to say next time. Today, I wanted to prepare the ground by showing how spiritual research leads us right into our present situation. When dealing with the practical side, I hope to show how our times are in need of what anthroposophical spiritual science has to offer. Such spiritual science seeks to complement the conscientious and methodical research into the world of matter, which it acknowledges more than any other spiritual movement. It is also capable of leading to a religious deepening and to artistic impulses, as did the old, instinctive science of the mystery centers, renewal of which, however, would no longer serve our present needs.
When dealing with the practical aspects, I shall have to show that spiritual science is in no way either antireligious or anti- Christian. Like all other true and religious aspirations toward an inner deepening, spiritual science strives toward the spirit.
This gives us the hope that those who still oppose spiritual science will eventually find their way into it because it strives toward something belonging to all people. It strives toward the spirit, and humanity needs the spirit.