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Background to the Gospel of St. Mark
GA 124

I. On the Investigation and Communication of Spiritual Truths

17 October 1910, Berlin

Now that we are resuming activities in the Berlin Group it is well to think for a short time of the studies in which we have been engaged since last year.

You will remember that about a year ago, in connection with the General Meeting of the German Section, I gave a lecture to the Berlin Group with the title: The Sphere of the Bodhisattvas1When the present lecture-course was given, Rudolf Steiner was the General Secretary of the German Section of the Theosophical Society. His association with that Society was terminated in 1912 by its President, Mrs. Annie Besant, largely on account of the difference in his teaching on Christianity and the nature of the Second Coming, and the official founding of the Anthroposophical Society took place in Berlin, in 1913. The lecture on the Bodhisattvas is printed as the first in the Course entitled: The Christ Impulse and the Development of the Ego-Consciousness. In that lecture on the mission of the Bodhisattvas in the world my purpose was to introduce the subject to which our main attention was to be directed in the Group meetings last winter. Our study was concerned with the Christ-problem, particularly in relation to the Gospel of St. Matthew and also in relation to the Gospels of St. John and St. Luke. And I indicated that at some later date we should be preparing for a still deeper study of the Christ-problem in connection with the Gospel of St. Mark.

In these studies we were not attempting a mere exposition of the Gospels. I have often spoken of this in perhaps rather extreme terms, and made it clear that Spiritual Science would still have been able to describe the events in Palestine even if there had been no historical records of them. The real authority for what we have to say about the Christ Event is not to be found in any written document but in the eternal, spiritual record known as the Akasha Chronicle, decipherable only by clairvoyant consciousness. I have often explained what this really means. We compare what has first been learned from spiritual investigations with what is recorded in the Gospels or in other New Testament sources about the events in Palestine. And in the end we recognise that in order to read the Gospel records as they should be read, we must first—without reference to them—have investigated the mysteries connected with the happenings in Palestine, and that precisely because of this independent approach the value we attach to the Gospels and the reverence we feel for them, greatly increase.

But if we take into account not only the immediate interests of our present gathering but also the fact that contemporary culture needs a new understanding of the recorded sources of Christianity, we shall expect Spiritual Science not merely to satisfy our own intellectual difficulties about the events in Palestine but also to translate into the language of present-day culture what it says about the significance of the Christ Event for the whole evolution of humanity. It would not do to limit ourselves to the contributions made in previous centuries towards an understanding of the problem and the figure of Christ. If that were sufficient for the cultural needs of the modern age we should not find so many people unable to reconcile their sense of truth with accepted Christian tradition and who in one way or another actually repudiate the accounts of the events in Palestine as they have been handed down and believed in for centuries. All this makes it clear that modern culture needs a new understanding, a new enunciation, of the truths of Christianity.

Among many other aids to the investigation of Christian truths one is particularly effective. It consists in extending our vision and our feeling and perception beyond the horizons within which, in recent centuries, man has had to seek an understanding of the spiritual world. Here is a simple indication of how these horizons can be widened.

Goethe—to take as an example this master-spirit of recent European culture—was, as we all know, a man of titanic genius. Many studies have helped us to understand what depths of spiritual insight lay in Goethe's personality and to see that we ourselves can attain a high level of spiritual understanding through contemplating the texture of his soul. But however good our knowledge of Goethe may be, however deeply we steep ourselves in what he has to offer, there is something we shall not find in him, although it is essential if our vision is to be broadened in the right way and our horizon widened for our most urgent spiritual needs. There is no indication that Goethe had any inkling of certain things we can learn about and benefit from to-day—I mean, the concepts of the spiritual evolution of humanity which first became accessible to us in the nineteenth century through interpretations of documentary records of the spiritual achievements of the East. We there find many concepts which, far from making an understanding of the Christ-problem more difficult, if rightly applied help us to realise the nature of Christ Jesus. I therefore believe that there could be no better introduction to the study of the Christ-problem than an exposition of the mission of the Bodhisattvas—as they are named in Oriental philosophy. They are the great spiritual Individualities whose task it is from time to time to influence evolution. In Western culture there had for centuries been no knowledge of concepts such as that of the Bodhisattvas: yet only by mastering such concepts can we acquire some measure of knowledge of what Christ has been for mankind, what He can be and will continue to be.

So we find that study of an extensive phase of the spiritual development of mankind can be fruitful for the civilisation and culture of our own time. From another point of view as well it is important, when reviewing past centuries, to emphasise clearly the difference between men living at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and men living in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, as well as the fact that until about a century ago very little was known in Europe about Buddha and Buddhism. Finally, we must remember that the impulse leading to the goal of our endeavours is the feeling we have when we confront great spiritual truths. For what really matters is not so much the knowledge that someone may wish to acquire, but rather the warmth of feeling, the power of perception, the nobility of will, with which his soul confronts the great truths of humanity. In our Groups the prevailing tone and atmosphere are more important than the actual words spoken. These feelings and perceptions vary greatly but the most important of all is reverence for the great truths and the feeling that we can approach them only with awe and veneration; we must realise that we cannot hope to grasp a great reality through a few concepts and ideas casually acquired and co-ordinated.

I have often said that we cannot accurately visualise a tree that is not actually in front of us if we have drawn a sketch of it from one side only, but that we must go round it and sketch it from many different sides. Only by assembling these different pictures can we obtain a complete impression of the tree. This analogy should make clear to us what our attitude should be to the great spiritual truths. We can make no progress at all in any real (or apparent) knowledge of higher things by approaching them from one side only. Whether or not there is truth in the particular view we may hold, we should always be humble enough to recognise that all our ideas are, and cannot help being, one-sided. If we intensify such a feeling of humility we shall welcome all ideas which throw light on any possible aspect of the great facts of existence. The age in which we are living makes this necessary, and the necessity will be increasingly borne in upon us. Consequently we no longer shut ourselves off from other views or from paths to the supreme truths which may differ from our own or from that of contemporary thought. During the course of the last few years, in considering the fruits of Western culture, we have tried always to maintain the principle of true humility in knowledge. I have never had the audacity to attempt to give one single survey of the events which comprise what we call the Christ-problem. On the contrary, I have always said that we were approaching the problem now from one point of view, now from another. And I have always emphasised that not even then has the problem been exhausted but that much further patient work is necessary.

The reason for studying the four Gospels separately is that we can then approach the Christ-problem from four different standpoints. We find that the four Gospels do, in fact, present four different aspects, and we are reminded that this stupendous problem must not be approached from one side only but at least from the four directions of the spiritual heavens indicated by the names of the four Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. If this is done we shall come increasingly to understand the problems and the great truths which are needed for the life of the human soul; and on the other hand, we shall never say that the one form of truth we may have grasped is the whole truth.

All our studies this last winter have been directed towards evoking a mood of humility in knowledge. Indeed without such humility no progress in the spiritual life is possible. Again and again I have laid stress upon the basic qualities essential for any progress in spiritual knowledge, and anyone who has followed the lectures given here week by week will confirm this.

Progress in spiritual knowledge—this is of course one of the basic impulses of our Movement. What does it mean to the soul? It fulfils the soul's worthiest needs and longings and provides the support which everyone conscious of his true humanity requires. Moreover this support is completely in line with the intellectual needs of the present day.

The progress in knowledge made possible by Spiritual Science should throw light on things which cannot be investigated by our ordinary senses but only by the faculties which belong to man as a spiritual being. The great questions about man's place in the physical world and what lies beyond the manifestations of the senses in this world, the truths concerning what lies beyond life and death—these questions meet a profound need, indeed the most human of all needs, of man's soul. Even if for various reasons we hold aloof from these questions and succeed for a time in deceiving ourselves by maintaining that science cannot investigate them, that the necessary faculties do not exist, nevertheless in the end the need and longing to find answers to them never disappear. The origin of what we see developing in the course of childhood and youth, the destination of what lies harboured in our soul as our bodily constitution begins to wilt and wither, in short, how man is connected with a spiritual world—these questions arise from a deep human need and man can dispense with the answers to them only when he deceives himself about his true nature.

But because these questions spring from so deep a need, because the soul cannot live in peace and contentment if it does not find the answers, it is only natural that people should look for an easy, comfortable way of finding them. Although many people would like to deny it, these questions have become particularly urgent in every domain of life, and what a variety of paths to the answers are offered to us! It can be said without exaggeration that the path of Spiritual Science is the hardest of them all. Many of you will admit that some of the sciences to-day are very difficult, and you will hesitate to tackle them because you are frightened by what you will have to master if you are really to understand them. The path of Spiritual Science may appear to be easier than, let us say, that of mathematics or botany or some other branch of natural science. Yet in the strictest sense the path of Spiritual Science is more difficult than that of any other science. This can be said without exaggeration. Why, then, does it seem easier to you? Only because it stirs the interests of the soul so forcefully and makes so compelling an appeal. It may be the most difficult of all the paths along which man is led into the spiritual world to-day, but we should not forget that it will lead to the highest within us. Is it not natural that the path to the highest should also be the hardest? Hence we should never be frightened by or blind to the inevitable difficulties of the path of Spiritual Science.

Among many features of this path, one has repeatedly been mentioned here. A person wishing to follow it must, to begin with, seriously imbibe what spiritual investigation has already been able to present about the mysteries and realities of the spiritual world. Here we touch upon a very important chapter of progress in Spiritual Science. People speak glibly about a spiritual science that cannot be corroborated, about spiritual facts alleged to have been witnessed and investigated by some initiate or seer, and they ask: Would it not be better simply to show us how we can quickly make our own way upwards into regions from which to glimpse the spiritual world? Why are we constantly told: This is what it looks like, this is how it appears to such and such a seer? Why are we not shown how to make the ascent quickly ourselves?

There are good reasons why facts which have been investigated about the spiritual world are communicated in general terms before details are given of the methods of training whereby the soul itself can be led into those higher spheres. We gain something very definite if we apply ourselves reverently to the study of what spiritual investigations have revealed from the spiritual world. I have often said that the facts of the spiritual world must be investigated and can be discovered only by clairvoyant consciousness; but I have as often said that once someone possessed of clairvoyant consciousness has observed these facts in the spiritual world and then communicates them, they must be communicated in such a way that even without clairvoyance, everyone will be able to test them by reference to the normal feeling for truth present in every soul, and by applying to them his own unprejudiced reasoning faculties. Anyone endowed with genuine clairvoyant consciousness will always communicate the facts about the spiritual world in such a way that everyone who wishes to test what he says will be able to do so without clairvoyance. But at the same time he will communicate them in a form whereby their true value and significance can be conveyed to a human soul.

What, then, does this communication and presentation of spiritual facts mean to the soul? It means that anyone who has some idea of conditions in the spiritual world can direct and order his life, his thoughts, his feelings and his perceptions in accordance with his relationship to the spiritual world. In this sense every communication of spiritual facts is important, even if the recipient cannot himself investigate those facts with clairvoyant consciousness. Indeed for the investigator himself these facts acquire a human value only when he has clothed them in a form in which they can be accessible to everyone. However much a clairvoyant may be able to see and investigate in the spiritual world, it remains valueless both to himself and to others until he can bring the fruits of his vision into the range of ordinary cognition and express them in ideas and concepts which can be grasped by a natural sense of truth and by sound reasoning. In fact, if his findings are to be of any value to himself he must first have understood them fundamentally; their value begins only at the point where the possibility of reasoned proof begins.

There is a radical test which can be applied to what I have just said. Among many other valuable spiritual truths and communications you will certainly attach very great importance to those concerning what a man can take with him through the gate of death of the spiritual truths he has assimilated on the physical plane between birth and death. Or, to put it differently: How much remains to a man who, by cultivating the spiritual life, has mastered the substance of communications relating to the spiritual world? The answer is: Exactly as much remains to him as he has fundamentally grasped and understood and has been able to translate into the language of ordinary human consciousness.

Picture to yourselves a man who may have made quite exceptional discoveries in the spiritual world through clairvoyant observation but has never clothed them in the language of ordinary life. What happens to such a man? All his discoveries are extinguished after death; only so much remains of value and significance as has been translated into language which, in any given period, is the language of a healthy sense of truth.

It is naturally of the greatest importance that clairvoyants should be able to bring tidings from the spiritual world and make them fruitful for their fellow-men. Our age needs such wisdom and cannot make progress without it. It is essential that such communications should be made available to contemporary culture. Even if this is not recognised to-day, in fifty or a hundred years it will be universally acknowledged that civilisation and culture can make no progress unless men become convinced of the existence of spiritual wisdom and realise that humanity must die unless spiritual wisdom is assimilated. And even if all space were conquered for the purposes of intercommunication, mankind would still have to face the prospect of the death of culture if spiritual wisdom were rejected. This is true beyond all shadow of doubt. Insight into the spiritual world is absolutely essential.

In addition to the value of spiritual wisdom for single individuals after death there is its value for the progress of humanity on the Earth. To have the right idea here, distinction must be made between the clairvoyant who has been able to investigate the spiritual world and express his findings in terms of healthy human reason, and a man whose karma while he was incarnated made it impossible for him to see into the spiritual world, and who had consequently to rely upon hearing from others about the findings of spiritual research. What is the difference between the fruits enjoyed after death by two such individuals? How do the effects of spiritual truths differ in an Initiate and in one who knows them only by hearsay and cannot himself see into the spiritual world? Is the Initiate better off than a man who could only hear these truths from someone else?

For humanity in general, vision of spiritual worlds is, of course, worth more than absence of vision. A seer is in touch with those worlds and can teach and help forward the development not only of men but of spiritual beings as well. Clairvoyant consciousness, then, is of special value. For the individual, however, knowledge alone has value and in this respect the most gifted clairvoyant is not to be distinguished from one who has merely heard the communications without being able in the present incarnation to look into the spiritual world himself. Whatever spiritual wisdom we have assimilated will be fruitful after death, no matter whether or not we ourselves are seers.

One of the great moral laws of the spiritual world is here presented to us. Admittedly, our modern conception of morality may not be subtle enough to understand its implications fully. No advantage is gained by individuals—except perhaps a merely selfish gratification—because their karma has made it possible for them to see into the spiritual world. Everything we acquire for our individual life must be acquired on the physical plane and must be moulded into forms appropriate to that plane. If a Buddha or a Bodhisattva stands at a higher level than other human individualities among the hierarchies of the spiritual world, it is because he has acquired these higher qualities through a number of incarnations on the physical plane.

Here is an indication of what I mean by the higher morality, the higher ethics, resulting from the spiritual life. Let nobody imagine that he gains any advantage over his fellow-men through developing clairvoyance, for that is simply not so. He makes no progress which can be justified on any ground of self-interest. He achieves progress only in so far as he can be more useful to others. The immorality of egoism can find no place in the spiritual world. A man can gain nothing for himself by spiritual illumination. What he does gain he can gain only as a servant of the world in general, and he gains it for himself only by gaining it for others.

This, then, is the position of the spiritual investigator among his fellow-men. If they are willing to listen to him and assimilate his findings, they make the same progress as he does. This means that spiritual achievement must be employed only to further the general well-being of man, and not for any selfish purposes. There are circumstances when a man is moral not merely of his own volition but because immorality or egoism would be of no advantage. It is also easy to realise that there are dangers in penetrating into the spiritual world without proper preparation. By leading a spiritual life we do not achieve anything which will fulfil a selfish purpose after death. On the other hand, a man may wish to gratify an egotistic purpose in his life on Earth through spiritual development. Even if nothing egotistic can benefit existence in the spiritual world, there may be a wish to fulfil some egotistical purpose on the Earth.

Most people who follow the path leading to higher development are likely to say that they will obviously strive to discard egoism before trying to enter the spiritual world. But believe me, there is no province of life where deception is likely to be as great as it is among those who claim that their endeavours are free from egotistic interests. It is easy enough to say this, but whether it can be a fact is quite another matter. It is a different matter because when a man begins to practise exercises which can lead him into the spiritual world, he then, for the first time, confronts himself as he truly is. In ordinary life very few things are experienced in their true form. A man lives in a web of ideas, of impulses of will, of moral perceptions and conventional actions, all of which originate in his environment, and he seldom stops to ask himself how he should act or think in a given case if his upbringing had not been what it was. If he were to answer this question honestly, he would realise that his shortcomings are very much greater than he has assumed them to be.

The result of practising exercises through which a man learns how to rise into the spiritual world is that he grows beyond the web woven around him through custom, education, environment. He quickly grows beyond all this. In soul and spirit he is stripped naked. The veils with which he has clothed himself and to which he clings in his ordinary feelings and actions, fall away. This accounts for a quite common phenomenon of which I have often spoken.—Before beginning to work at his spiritual development a man may have been a reasonable, possibly also a very intelligent and at the same time, humble person who went through life without committing any particular stupidities. Then, after beginning this development, he may become arrogant and do all sorts of senseless things. He seems to have lost his bearings in life. To those familiar with the spiritual world the reason for this is clear. If we are to maintain balance and a sense of direction in face of what comes to the soul from the spiritual world, two things are necessary. It must not make us giddy or light-headed. In physical life our own organism protects us through what we call in anthroposophical lectures, the 'sense of balance or equilibrium'. Just as in a man's physical body there is something which enables him to keep himself upright—for if the organism is not functioning properly he will get giddy and may fall down—so in the spiritual life there is something which helps him to orientate himself in his relation to the world, and this he must be able to do. Spiritual unsteadiness comes about because what used to support him, namely the external world and his own sense-perceptions, fall away and he has then to rely upon himself alone. The supports have gone and there is a danger of giddiness. When the supports fall away we may easily become arrogant, for arrogance is always latent in us although it may not previously have disclosed itself.

How, then, can we attain the necessary spiritual balance or equilibrium? We must assimilate with diligence, perseverance and dedication the findings of spiritual research which have been expressed in terms harmonising with our normal sense of truth and sound reasoning. It is not out of caprice that I emphasise so repeatedly how necessary it is to study what we call Spiritual Science. I emphasise it not in order that I may have opportunity to speak here often but it is the only thing which can give the firm support we need for spiritual development. Earnest, diligent assimilation of the results of Spiritual Science is the antidote for spiritual `giddiness' and insecurity. And anyone who has experienced this insecurity through having followed a wrong path of spiritual development—although he may think he has been very diligent—should recognise that he has failed to take in what can flow from Spiritual Science. The study of spiritual-scientific facts from every possible aspect—that is what is necessary for us. And that was why, last winter—though our ultimate purpose was to bring home the significance of the Christ Event for humanity—emphasis was laid over and over again upon the fundamental conditions for spiritual progress.

If a man is to make such progress there must be purpose and direction in his life of soul; but he needs something else as well. The soul can indeed acquire assurance through the study of Spiritual Science but it also needs a certain spiritual strength and courage. Courage of the kind necessary for spiritual progress is not essential in ordinary life because from the time of waking to that of going to sleep, our inmost being of soul-and-spirit is embedded in our physical and etheric bodies; and during the night we are inactive and can do no harm. If a man spiritually undeveloped were capable of acting during sleep as well as during waking life, he could do a great deal of harm. But in our physical and etheric bodies there are not only the forces which are active in us as conscious beings, or as thinking and feeling beings, but also those forces at which divine-spiritual Beings have worked through the evolutionary periods of Old Saturn, Old Sun, Old Moon and the Earth itself. Forces from higher spheres are continually active in us and support us. On waking from sleep we give ourselves up to the divine-spiritual Powers which, for our Well-being and blessing, are present in our physical and etheric bodies and lead us through life from morning till evening. Thus the whole spiritual world is active within us; we can do harm to it in many respects but very little to make amends for the damage we have done.

All spiritual development depends upon our inner being, that is to say, our astral body and Ego, becoming free; we have to learn to become clairvoyant in the part of ourselves that is unconscious during sleep, and because it is unconscious can do no harm. What is unconscious in the members of our constitution in which divine-spiritual forces are active, must become conscious. All the strength we have because on waking we are taken in hand by spiritual powers anchored in our physical and etheric bodies, falls away when we become independent of those bodies and clairvoyant perception begins. We withdraw from the forces which have been a buttress for us against the influences working from the external world; but that world remains as it was and we still confront the whole power of its impact. If we are to resist this impact we must develop in our Ego and astral body all the power we otherwise draw from the physical and etheric bodies. This can be achieved if we follow the indications given in my book, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and its Attainment. The aim of all these indications is to impart to our inmost self the strength previously bestowed by higher Beings, the strength which falls away when we lose the external supports provided by our physical and etheric bodies.

Individuals who have not made themselves inwardly strong enough to replace the powers they have discarded when they become independent of the physical and etheric bodies through serious training of the soul—above all through purifying the quality designated as immorality in the external world—these individuals may still be able to acquire faculties enabling them to see into the spiritual world. But what happens then? They become over-sensitive, hypersensitive. They feel as if from every side they are being spiritually buffeted and cannot stand up against the blows rained on them from all sides. One of the important facts to be realised by anyone who aspires to make progress in spiritual knowledge is that inner strength must be developed through the cultivation of the noblest and finest qualities of the soul.

What are these qualities? Egoism will not help us in the spiritual world and indeed makes it impossible to exist there. Naturally, then, the best preparation for the spiritual life is to banish egoism and everything which stimulates selfish prospects of spiritual progress. The more earnestly we adopt this principle the better are our prospects for spiritual progress. Anyone who has to do with these things will often hear a man say that his action was not prompted by egoism. But when such a man is on the point of letting words like this pass his lips, he should check them and admit to himself that he is not really able to insist that there is no trace of egoism in his action. To admit it is much more intelligent, simply because it is more truthful. And it is truth that matters whenever self-knowledge is concerned. In no realm does untruthfulness bring such severe retribution as in the realm of spiritual life. A man should demand truth of himself instead of claiming to be without egoism. At least if we acknowledge our egoism we have a chance to get rid of it!

In regard to the concept of spiritual truth, let me say this. There are people who claim to have seen and experienced all kinds of things in the higher worlds—things which are then made public. If we know that these things are not true, should we not use every possible means to oppose them? Certainly, there may be points of view according to which such opposition is necessary. But those whose main concern is truth have a different thought, namely that only what is true can flourish and bear fruit in the world and what is untrue will quite certainly be unfruitful. Put more simply, this means that however much people may lie about spiritual matters, what they say will not get very far, and they should recognise that nothing fruitful can be achieved by lies. In the spiritual world, truth alone will bear fruit; and this holds good from the very beginning of our own spiritual development, when we must admit to ourselves what we really are. The conviction that truth alone can be fruitful and effective must be an impulse in all occult movements. Truth justifies itself by its fruitfulness and by the blessings it brings to mankind. Untruths and lies are always barren. They have only one result which I cannot go into in any further detail now; I can only say that they react most violently against those who actually spread them abroad. We shall consider on some other occasion what this significant statement implies.

I have tried to-day to give a kind of review of the activities in our Groups during the past year and to recapture the mood and tone which permeated our souls.

In speaking of the work carried on outside the Groups during the past year, I may perhaps mention my own participation which culminated in the production in Munich of the Rosicrucian Mystery Play, The Portal of Initiation. Later Group meetings will give us an opportunity of explaining what was then attempted. For the present I will merely say that in the Play it was possible to give a more artistic and individual form to what could otherwise be expressed in a more general way. When we speak here or anywhere else of the conditions of the spiritual life, we speak of them as they concern every soul. But it must always be borne in mind that each man is an individual whose soul must be studied individually. Consequently it was essential that one particular soul should be depicted at the threshold of Initiation. The Rosicrucian Mystery Play is accordingly to be regarded not as a manual of instruction but as an artistic representation of the preparation for Initiation of a particular individual, Johannes Thomasius.

In our approach to truth we have thus reached two important standpoints. We have presented the general line of progress and have also penetrated to the heart of an individual soul. We are always conscious of the fact that truth must be approached from many sides and that we must wait patiently until its different aspects merge into a single picture. We shall adhere faithfully to this attitude of humility in knowledge. Let us not say that man can never experience truth. He assuredly can! But he cannot know the whole truth at once; he can know only one side. This makes for humility in knowledge and true humility is a feeling that must be cultivated in our Groups and carried into the general culture of the day, for the whole character of our age needs such an attitude.

In this spirit we shall continue our task of presenting the Christ-problem, in order to learn from it how to achieve real humility in knowledge and thereby make further and further progress in the experience of truth.