Introductory Comments to the Lecture Cycle The Spiritual Guidance of the Individual and Humanity Copenhagen, June 5, 1911
In the next few days I will have the opportunity to speak here about a theosophical subject that is important to me, namely, the spiritual guidance of the individual and humanity. Since our friends here have asked me to, I will preface my lecture series today with a few comments that may serve as a kind of introduction to the subject.
Theosophists must have as a characteristic what we may call an inherent yearning for self-knowledge in the broadest sense. Even people only slightly familiar with theosophy can sense that such self-knowledge will give birth to a a comprehensive appreciation for all human feeling and thinking as well as for all other beings. This appreciation must be an indispensable part of our whole theosophical movement. S1For the sake of historical accuracy and to indicate the tone of the original, we have not substituted or added “anthroposophy” where Steiner speaks of “Theosophy” or “anthroposophical movement” where he speaks of “Theosophical movement.” Nevertheless, the continuity between Rudolf Steiner's theosophy and anthroposophy should always be kept in mind. (See note 1)
Often people do not understand clearly that in our German theosophical movement what lights up our way is the sign you know as the mark of the Cross with Roses. It is easy to harbor misunderstandings about our spiritual, theosophical movement that seeks to live into the spiritual life of today — that is, into our hearts and their feelings, our will and its deeds — under the sign of the Rose Cross. People easily misunderstand our movement. Many people, even those with good intentions, have difficulty realizing that our spiritual movement, working under the sign of the Rose Cross, is inspired in all its principles — in its whole feeling and sensitivity — to be understanding and tolerant of every human striving and every aspiration. Though this tolerance is an inherent characteristic of the Rosicrucian movement, it may not be obvious at first glance, because it lies in its depths. You will find, therefore, that people who confuse tolerance with the one-sided acceptance of their own opinions, principles, and methods are particularly likely to misunderstand our movement.
It is very easy to imagine this tolerance; yet to attain it is extremely difficult. After all, we find it easy to believe that people who disagree with us are our opponents or enemies. Similarly, we can easily mistake our own opinion for a generally accepted truth. For theosophy to flourish and be fruitful for the spiritual life of the future, however, we have to meet each other on an all-inclusive basis. Our souls must be filled with profound understanding not only for those who share our beliefs but also for those who, compelled by the circumstances of their own experience, their own path through life, may perhaps advocate the opposite of what we do. The old morality, now on the wane, taught us to love and to be tolerant of those who share our thoughts and feelings. However, with its truth, theosophy will more and more radiate a much more far-reaching tolerance into people's hearts. This more profound tolerance will enable us to meet others with understanding and encouragement and to live in harmony with them, even when their thoughts and feelings differ completely from our own.
This touches upon an important issue. What do people come upon first when they turn to the theosophical movement? What are they compelled to acknowledge first? Normally, the general insight people encounter first when they approach theosophy is the idea of reincarnation and karma — the idea of the continued working of causes from one life into the next. Of course, this is not a dogma for us. Indeed, we may have different opinions about this basic insight. Still, the conviction of reincarnation and karma forces itself upon us right from the start of our acquaintance with theosophy. However, it is a long way from the day we first become convinced of these truths to the moment when we can begin, in some way, to see our whole life in the light of these truths. It takes a long time for the conviction to become fully alive in our soul.
For example, we may meet a person who mocks or even insults us. If we have immersed ourselves in the teaching of reincarnation and karma for a long time, we will wonder who has spoken the hurtful, insulting words our ears have heard. Who has heaped mockery upon us — or even who has raised the hand to hit us? We will then realize that we ourselves did this. The hand raised for the blow only appears to belong to the other person. Ultimately, we cause the other to raise his or her hand against us through our own past karma.
This merely hints at the long path from the abstract, theoretical conviction of karma to the point where we can see our whole life in the light of this idea. Only then do we really feel God within us and no longer experience him only as our own higher self, which teaches us that a tiny spark within us shares in God's divinity. Instead, we learn to be aware of this higher self in such a way that a feeling of unlimited responsibility fills us. We feel responsible not only for our actions, but also for what we suffer, because what we suffer now is after all only the necessary result of what we did in the far-distant past.
Let us experience this feeling pouring into our souls as the warm, spiritual life blood of a new culture. Let us feel how new concepts of responsibility and of love arise and take hold of our souls through theosophy. Let us recognize that is no empty phrase to claim that the theosophical movement arose in our time because human beings need new moral, intellectual, and spiritual impulses. And let us be aware that a new spiritual revelation is about to pour itself forth into our hearts and our convictions through theosophy, not arbitrarily, but because the new moral impulses and the new concepts of responsibility — and, indeed, the destiny of humanity — require such a new spiritual revelation. Then we can know in an immediate, living way that it has a coherent meaning for the world that the same souls present here now repeatedly lived on earth in the past. We have to ask what this meaning is — why are we incarnated again and again?
We find this meaning when we learn through theosophy that every time we see all the wonders of this world with new eyes in a new body, we get a glimpse of the divine revelations veiled by the sensory world. Or, with our newly formed ears, we can listen to the divine revelation in the world of sound. Thus, we learn that in every new incarnation we can and should experience something new on earth. We understand that some people are destined by karma to announce prophetically what all of humanity will gradually, bit by bit, accept as the meaning of an epoch.
What people in the Theosophical Society — and in the theosophical movement in general — know because of these revelations from the spiritual world has to flow into all aspects of human culture. The souls living in this world now in their physical bodies feel drawn to theosophy because they know that this new element must be added to what human beings have already gained for themselves from the spiritual world in the past. We must keep in mind, however, that in every epoch the whole meaning of the mystery of the universe must be understood anew. Thus, in every epoch we have to meet anew what is revealed to us out of the spiritual worlds.
Our epoch is unique; though people often carelessly characterize every age as one of transition, this term — which is often just an empty phrase — applies in its truest sense to our time. Indeed, an epoch is dawning when we will have to witness many new developments in the evolution of the earth. We will have to think in a new way about many things. In fact, many people still conceive many new things in the old style and the old sense, finding it impossible to grasp the new in a new way. Our old concepts often lag far behind the new revelations.
Let me point out only one example of this. It is often emphasized — and rightly so — that human thinking has made tremendous progress in the last four centuries because it has been able to fathom the physical structure of the universe. Of course, it is only proper to highlight the great achievements of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Bruno, and others. Nevertheless, this has led to an argument that sounds rather clever and goes roughly as follows. Copernicus's ideas have led us beyond the earth into space. In the process, what Giordano Bruno suspected has turned out to be true: our earth is only a small celestial body among countless others. And in spite of this, so the argument goes, we are supposed to believe that the greatest drama ever, the central event of evolution, took place on this earth and that the life of Christ Jesus is at the center of evolution. Why would an event of such great importance for the whole universe have been played out here on this small planet earth, which — as we have learned — is only one tiny planet among countless others?
This argument seems plausible — so much so that to our intellect it looks clever and intelligent. However, this argument does not consider the depth of spiritual perception revealed in the simple fact that the starting point of Christianity, the beginning of the greatest event on earth, is set neither in a royal palace nor any other glamorous place, but in a manger with poor shepherds. Clearly, spiritual perception did not content itself with locating this great event on our earth, but also moved it to a remote corner of the earth. It is small wonder, then, that this perception strikes us as odd and peculiar next to the claim that we cannot possibly continue to “have the greatest drama of world evolution take place in a provincial theater.” (These words have indeed been used.) However, it is in the nature of Christianity to have the greatest drama of the universe take place in a provincial theater as well as elsewhere.
We can see from all this how difficult it is for us to respond to events with the proper, true perception. We have to learn a lot before we will understand what the right thoughts and feelings about human evolution are. Turbulent times are ahead of us — both for the present and for the near future. Much of the old is used up and worn out, and the new is being poured into humanity from the spiritual world. People familiar with human evolution predict — not because they want to but because history compells them — that our whole soul life will change during the coming centuries and that this change will have to begin with a theosophical movement that has a correct understanding of itself. But the theosophical movement must fill its role in this change with humility and with a true understanding of what has to happen for humanity in the coming centuries.
Only gradually and over time did people learn to study the structure of the universe with their intellect as Copernicus, Giordano Bruno, Kepler, and Galileo did. It was only in recent centuries that people learned to interpret the world intellectually — in earlier times, they attained knowledge in a very different way. In the same way, new spiritual insights are to supersede intellectual knowledge today. Even now, human souls in their bodies are already yearning to look at the world not just intellectually. If materialism had not done so much to suppress these spiritual impulses, such souls, in whom we can virtually sense the passionate yearning for spiritual contents, could appear even more. These spiritual impulses could then make themselves felt more strongly in people who are only waiting for an opportunity to look at the universe and existence in a different way than they did up to now.
Privileged people, endowed with what we usually call “grace,” can often see in their minds' eyes what becomes the general vision of all humanity centuries later. As I have pointed out frequently, the experience of the impulse of the Christ event that Paul, an individual filled with grace, had on the road to Damascus will eventually become the common property of all human beings. As Paul knew through a spiritual revelation who Christ was and what he had done, so all people will eventually receive this knowledge, this vision. We are at the threshold of the age when many people will experience a renewal of the Christ event of St. Paul. It is an intrinsic part of the evolution of our earth that many people will experience for themselves the spiritual vision, the spiritual eye, that opened up for Paul on the road to Damascus. This spiritual eye looks into the spiritual world, bringing us the truth about Christ, which Paul had not believed when he had heard it in Jerusalem. The occurrence of this event is a historical necessity. This is what has been called the second advent of Christ in the twentieth century. Christ will be recognized as an individuality. People will realize that Christ has continually revealed himself by coming ever closer to the physical plane — from the moment when he appeared to Moses, as though in a reflection, in the burning bush to the time when he lived for three years in a human body. Seeing this, people will understand that Christ is at the center of earthly evolution.
A body has only one center of gravity; a scale has only one suspension point.If you support the scale beam in more than one place, you interfere with the effects of the law of gravity. A body needs only one center of gravity. That is why, concerning the central or pivotal point of evolution, occultists from antiquity to the present have acknowledged that evolution was headed toward one point, namely, the Mystery of Golgotha, and that human evolution began its ascent at this point. Still, it is very difficult to understand what the Christ event, the Mystery of Golgotha, really means for the spiritual guidance of humanity. To understand this rightly, we have to silence all the feelings and opinions from this or that denomination within us. We have to be as impartial and objective in regard to the Christian methods of education, which have prevailed for many centuries in the west, as we are regarding other religious methods of education. Only then can we really come to know the spiritual center of the earth's evolution. Nevertheless, in the coming centuries those who proclaim the spiritual central point of human evolution most fervently will be seen as “bad Christians” — or even as unworthy of being called Christian at all.
Many people find even the idea that Christ could incarnate in a human body only once, and only temporarily — for three years — difficult to understand. People who have familiarized themselves in more detail with what Rosicrucian theosophy has to say about this know that the physical body of Jesus of Nazareth had to be very complicated to accommodate the powerful individuality of Christ. As we know, one human being would not have been sufficient for this, and therefore two persons had to be born. The Gospel of St. Matthew tells the story of one of them, the Gospel of St. Luke follows the life of the other. We know, too, that the individuality who incarnated into the Jesus child we meet in the Gospel of St. Matthew had completed tremendous achievements in its development in earlier earth lives. At the age of twelve, in order to develop further capacities, this “Matthew-Jesus” individuality left its body to dwell in another earthly body — that of the “Luke-Jesus” — until its thirtieth year. Thus, everything humanity had ever experienced that was noble and great, as well as everything that was humble, worked together on the personality of Jesus of Nazareth so as to enable his body to take in the being we call Christ. We will have to develop a profound understanding to grasp what occultists mean when they say that there can be only one event on Golgotha — as in mechanics a body has only one center of gravity.
An epoch that faces great soul events, such as the ones we have briefly outlined here, is particularly suited to lead us to search our souls. Indeed, searching our own souls and hearts is now one of the many tasks of all true theosophists in the theosophical movement. We need to search our own hearts and souls — return within ourselves — to help us realize that it requires sacrifice to follow the path to the understanding of that singular truth of which the occultism of all times has unambiguously spoken.
Such times in which the shining lights of truth and the warm gifts of love are to be poured out over humanity also bring events confirming the truth of the proverb that “strong lights cast deep shadows.” The deep, black shadows that enter together with the gifts we have just spoken of consist of the potential for error. The human heart's susceptibility to error is inseparably bound up with the great gifts of wisdom that are to flow into human evolution. Let us not delude ourselves, therefore, into believing that the erring human soul will be less fallible in times to come than it has been in the past. On the contrary, our souls will be even more susceptible to errors in the future than ever before. Occultists have prophesied this since the dawn of time. In the coming times of enlightenment, to which I could only allude here, the slightest potential for error as well as the greatest aberrations can gain ground. Therefore, it is all the more necessary that we squarely face this potential for error and realize that because we are to expect great things, error can all the more easily creep into our weak human hearts.
Regarding the spiritual guidance of humanity, we have to draw the following lesson from this potential for error and from the age-old warnings of occultists: We must exercise the great tolerance we spoke of in the beginning, and we must give up our habit of blindly believing in authority. Such a blind belief in authority can be a powerful temptation and can lead to error. Instead, we must keep our hearts open and receptive to everything that wants to flow out of the spiritual worlds into humanity in a new way. Accordingly, to be good theosophists, we must realize that if we wish to cultivate and foster in our movement the light that is to stream into human evolution, we must guard against all the errors that can creep in with the light.
Let us feel the full extent of this responsibility and open our hearts wide to see that there has never been a movement on this planet earth that fostered such open, loving hearts. Let us realize that it is better to be opposed by those who believe their opinion is the only true one, than to fight them. It is a long way from one of these extremes to the other. Nevertheless, those who take up the theosophical movement spiritually will be able to live with something that has run through all history as a seed sentence, a motto for all spirituality — and rightly so.
Upon realizing that though there is much light, the potential for error is great, you may have doubts and wonder how we weak human beings can find our way in this confusion. How are we to distinguish between truth and error? When such thoughts arise within you, you will find comfort and strength in the motto: The truth is what leads to the highest and noblest impulses for human evolution, the truth should be dearer to us than we are to ourselves. If our relationship to truth is guided by these words and we still make a mistake in this life, the truth will be strong enough to draw us to itself in the next incarnation. Honest mistakes we make in this incarnation will be compensated and redeemed in the next. It is better to make an honest mistake than to adhere to dogmas dishonestly. After all, our path will be lit by the promise that truth will ultimately prevail, not by our will, but by its own inherent divine power.
However, if our circumstances in this incarnation propel us into error instead of into truth, and if we are too weak to obey when truth pulls us toward itself, then it will be good if what we believe in disappears. For then it does not, and should not, have the strength to live. If we are honestly striving for truth, truth will be the victorious impulse in the world. And if what we have now is a part of the truth, it will be victorious, not because of what we can do for it, but because of the power inherent in it. If what we have is error, however, then let us be strong enough to say that this error should perish.
If we take this as our guiding motto, we will find the standpoint that enables us to realize that, under any circumstances, we can find what we need, namely, confidence. If this confidence imbues us with truth, then the truth will prevail, regardless of how much its opponents fight it. This feeling can live in the soul of every theosophist. And if we are to impart to others what flows down to us from the spiritual world, evoking feelings in human hearts that give us certainty and strength for life, then the mission of the new spiritual revelation will be fulfilled — the revelation that has come to humanity through what we call theosophy to lead human souls gradually into a more spiritual future.