Saturday, February 11, 2012
The Anthroposophical Way: Knowledge in the Service of Christ
The Riddle of Humanity. Lecture 6 of 15.
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, August 7, 1916:
When one is speaking of the being of man and of mankind's relation to the cosmos, some of what has to be said may seem complicated. When it comes to the human being — you may well say — is there anything that is not included! We are confronted, however, with the fact that a human being is formed in an intricate way from the entire cosmos, and we have to come to terms with it. It is especially important that people of our time begin to come to terms with these things, as otherwise it will be too late. Today men are living in an incarnation in which it is just possible to get by without knowing much about the complicated nature of the human being; but the time is coming — a time when these souls will again incarnate — when this will not be possible. Then souls will finally have to begin to know how humanity is related to the cosmos. You could say that we are still just within a period when the responsibility for holding together the different members of which a human being is composed has not yet been turned over to mankind itself. We are still living in an epoch when these various members hold together without our having to do anything, when the easy-going fellow can come to us and say ‘Really! This so-called anthroposophical wisdom is so complicated! But truth is simple, and anything that is not simple cannot really be true!’ Today, this speech is frequently heard. Those who are misled by Lucifer into speaking in such a fashion do not have the faintest inkling of how they befog their heads with this talk about the so-called simplicity of truth. They are unaware of how they are deceiving themselves. For the time will come when people will experience how complicated they are, a time when people will require knowledge in order to hold themselves together. But everything in the future has to be prepared, and the stream that carries a spiritual-scientific worldview has the task of preparing the development of earthly culture for the age when a person will have to know how to hold together the various parts of his being.
Let us remind ourselves of the fundamental truths that have been described in some detail over these last few days — of man's essentially dual nature, and of how his external body already reveals this dual nature. The body divides into two parts, which are built according to quite different principles — the head and the rest of the body. If we examine a human head as it is today, what we have is essentially the result of what became of the body in the previous incarnation. And, after we have passed through the period between death and a new birth, our present body, except for the head, will become the head of the next incarnation. Thus, the passage of a person through successive incarnations could be drawn as follows: Man has his head, and he has the rest of his body. What is now his head is essentially lost. When he once more receives a body from the earth, what is now the rest of his body appears, transformed, as the head of that next incarnation. Then this body, in turn, becomes the head of the following incarnation and he receives another body from his forebears, from the earth. The head is always lost. Naturally, we are talking about forces. Of course, the material of the rest of the body is also lost. But this material is not the essential thing — in the truest sense of the word it is maya — all the forces that reside in the body, exclusive of the head, are the essential thing. These forces are transformed into the forces of the head during our passage through the period between death and a new birth. And the forces that were bound up in our bodies during our previous incarnation really are present now in our heads. That was the basic concept whose particular details we were elaborating.
Now, in order to understand these things better and better, we want to call on the help of some other ideas that we have acquired. To begin with, we will ask: How will our present body become the head of our next incarnation? How are the forces of our present body transformed so that they can become the head of the next incarnation?
The transformation of our body into a head is hard to imagine at first. We need to ask ourselves: How is this transformation possible?
In order to answer that question we must review in our souls the things we have been saying about the part of the human soul that is concerned with knowledge and concepts. This is the part that is dependent on the head, and is concerned with truth and wisdom. Today, people usually believe that the knowledge we acquire is only there to give us pictures of the external world and to enable us to learn something about the external world. There are philosophical epistemologists who theorize endlessly about the interconnections between concepts and ideas, and about the mysterious connection between the nature of a concept and the thing that the concept represents. All such theories are afflicted by a common error. Initially, I can only explain this error by speaking pictorially. Imagine there is a botanist, a gardener, who wants to investigate the nature of a grain of wheat. As he sets about it, he says: ‘I will investigate it chemically to see what substances it contains. I will see if its constituents include all the things man needs in his grain and flour, and such, for nourishment.’ And the botanist then proceeds to seek for the nature of the grain of wheat in its relationship to human nourishment in order to explain why the grain of wheat contains what it does. A man who believed that he was discovering something essential about the nature of a grain of wheat by investigating its suitability as human nourishment would be making a curious mistake. The grain of wheat occurs as a part of the whole wheat plant, as its fruit. A person who wants to discover why it corresponds to the nature of a grain of wheat to be as it is, must investigate the manner in which a new wheat plant can develop from it. Whether or not it contains substances for human nourishment is a secondary matter. It has nothing to do with the inner nature of a grain of wheat. A person who investigates the utility of everything and wants to turn utilitarian knowledge into true science would investigate the grain of wheat chemically. He would discover that here nature provides something good for human nourishment. But that has nothing to do with the inner nature of a grain of wheat, or with the fact that a new wheat plant can grow from it.
To someone who approaches matters with clear ideas and in the spirit of knowledge, the philosophers of knowledge, the epistemologists, often resemble people investigating a grain of wheat by considering its value as food for human beings. For if one were to question a grain of wheat as to its original task, it would not say that it is originally here for the nourishment of mankind; rather would it say that its original task is to allow a new wheat plant to develop. When someone with clear ideas and a feeling for knowledge considers the epistemologists, he is confronted by mistakes such as the one I have just described. For building up a picture of the things around us is not the original purpose of what we call knowledge — of what lives in us as ideas, truth, and wisdom. Building up a picture of the things outside us is just as inessential to knowledge as nourishing human beings is inessential to a grain of wheat. Knowledge does not exist for the purpose of making pictures of external things; it exists for another reason. Its purpose lies in the way it lives and works and weaves in man. As we pass through our existence between birth and death, we gradually accumulate wisdom. We employ it to form a picture of the external world, just as we use a grain of wheat as nourishment. But we withdraw all the wheat that we use in this way from its original purpose of establishing new plants. We similarly withdraw from its original purpose all the knowledge that we use for taking hold of the external world. That is not the original purpose of the realm of truth and ideas. Why, then, does the realm of truth exist — why, I mean, in the sense that the grain of wheat is here to bring about a new wheat plant? Our involvement with knowledge and our efforts to achieve truth exist so that we can develop certain powers. These powers we develop during the period between birth and death are the very powers that transform our organism after death. That is to say, they transform its forces into the forces of the head! This extraordinary connection is what one discovers when one looks at man's passage between birth and death on the one hand, and between death and a new birth on the other. The primary purpose of the knowledge a person acquires is the transformation of the organism, exclusive of the head, into the head of the next incarnation. But there are so many people who acquire no knowledge at all, you will say, and so remain frightfully ignorant; only a few become clever — one usually counts oneself among these latter! But there is more than a little justification for those who say — and many, quite independently of one another, have said this — that a human being acquires more wisdom in his first three or four years than ... well, at the very least, than in his three academic years. In our first three years we really do learn a great deal that can only be learned on earth with the use of our head. We acquire the knowledge necessary for speaking, for understanding what is said, and much, much more. We really do learn a great deal. And that is included in the wisdom we accumulate.
People are actually not so different as regards the wisdom they acquire. In it surge and weave the forces that will transform our organism into a head during the passage from death to a new birth. The picture that we take into ourselves through ideas and knowledge is by its nature quite a complicated one. And it is only in dreams such as those of the Polish poet I cited yesterday that people are given a glimpse of what surges and weaves in among our fully-conscious ideas. But it is there, surging and weaving in us, in order that it can be led over after death to become the power that actually transforms our organism. With the exception of what we use to take hold of the external world, all that we acquire through knowledge accumulates and becomes the power that will transform our organism. In a certain sense, what we use for normal understanding of the external world is lost to our development, it is withdrawn from our development. All the grains of wheat we use for nourishment are withdrawn from the plant's whole, ongoing process of development — and these are much more numerous than the grains that are strewn back over the earth. And this is how things are during our present phase of development. We connect ourselves with external things: we also withdraw very much more from the ongoing stream of human development than we retain. Think back to earlier times when human knowledge was obtained through atavistic clairvoyance. Men's attention was not so dissipated by the external world. The knowledge of such ancient peoples as the old Egyptians and Chaldeans was obtained through atavistic clairvoyance. It depended very little on external development. In this respect, our age is the opposite of that one. Today, much is taken in from what is outside, and, inwardly, very little is added to development. The Greek culture occupies a wonderful middle position, and this is not solely due to their special talents. These they certainly had, but with these alone nothing could have been accomplished. The relatively small patch of earth inhabited by the Greeks and their relatively slight knowledge of the rest of the world also contributed to the unity of their whole culture. They knew of little else beyond what lay in the direction of Asia Minor and Asia. They knew little about Africa, and nothing at all about America or most of Europe. The fact that Plato still possessed knowledge of morality, of sophrosyne and of dikaiosyne, is in many respects thanks to the fact that the external scope of Greek knowledge was so small. For that reason it was still possible to retain many of the spiritual forces of wisdom for developing the inner life. Nevertheless, the Greeks used less of these forces than the ancient Egyptians or Chaldeans had used, not to mention the ancient Persians and Indians. In our day, when the whole earth has gradually been explored and has become accessible, men seek to acquire as much external knowledge as they possibly can. How that has increased! If that were as intensive as it is extensive, then men would have infinitesimally little to take with them for the transformation of the physical body into the head of the next incarnation. They would have much, much less than a peasant has, particularly in the case of the most educated people. But, thanks be to God, most people have traveled without looking at very much. They have followed their Baedeker or other travel books closely. But, in spite of the great extent of their travels, they have not acquainted themselves with very much, so they have not withdrawn everything. Otherwise, those who rush about everywhere in search of sensations and who want everything they learn to come from outside themselves would be in danger. They would be in danger of arriving in the world in their next incarnation with a head formed from a body that had undergone very little transformation. It would have an animal-like appearance, for that would be the fate of someone who had not accumulated many formative forces.
Now, imaginative comparisons can be expanded. We have said that everything we use externally to develop knowledge and to learn about the external world is separated from its own true inner being — just as the grain of wheat that is used for food is separated from the inner nature of wheat. We can go on to ask: What are the further similarities between external knowledge, or what becomes outer knowledge, and the grain of wheat that is used as food? There are similarities, but they have to be elicited.
Let us once more consider the curious fact that a great number of grains of wheat are used as food for human beings instead of for the generation of new wheat plants. So we can say that the grains of wheat are removed from the direct line of their own ongoing development. Otherwise, a new wheat plant is generated from the grain, and this bears further grains of wheat, and so on. But countless grains are split away from this procession; they are transferred into an entirely different realm, that of human nourishment, and this has nothing to do with the ongoing stream.
Here nature gives you an opportunity to build a concept that must be carefully heeded if you want to achieve a realistic view of the world.
Our external science has gradually brought us to the terrible pass where everything has to be explained by cause and effect, so that a later event must always be explained as following from what came before. There is nothing more foolish than this undifferentiated picture of the world in which all effects can be traced back to a cause and every cause leads on to its effects. There are effects which have no causal connection to anything that preceded them. How could a grain of wheat contain the causes for its being used as human nourishment? Only in the context of a simple-minded teleology such as the one that was taken for granted in some quarters in the eighteenth century. According to this point of view, the presence of cork-like substances in nature was explained as the work of mysterious spirits who put them there so that they could be used to produce champagne corks! But on the contrary, the grains of wheat really do pass over into another sphere.
It is similar when we go about acquiring knowledge of external nature and of outer things. This transfers the things to another sphere. We human beings are able to extract a substantial portion of what is in us, in the form of matters concerned with truth, for the purpose of enabling the body of our present incarnation to be transformed into the head of the next incarnation. We can extract much for the sake of present knowledge, but we must take care that this knowledge is put to a different use. In a certain sense, the grains of wheat are ennobled by being used as human nourishment, so they receive a recompense for being separated from their own original nature. Something similar should come about in the case of external human knowledge, which is developed in a way that runs totally contrary to the nature of ideas and truth. In his heart, man should make a gift to the gods of all the truths acquired in the form of pictures of the external world. Man should always say to himself: When you obtain knowledge, you remove it from the progressive stream. Be clear that the acquisition of knowledge must be in the service of the gods. There is other knowledge, knowledge untouched by any awareness of the holy service that knowledge renders to developing humanity. Such knowledge is taken away from the external world, but it is not given to the gods, who would be nourished by what they thus would receive. The knowledge that is not gathered in this spirit, but is taken, instead, without thanks, is like grains of wheat that fall to earth and rot. In other words, it serves no goal at all — neither its own nor that of becoming nourishment for human beings.
Here we arrive at a point where you will feel how important it is that our spiritual-scientific efforts lead to some very definite practical results. For in our hearts we should cultivate a fundamental mood when we receive spiritual science. It must not become a thing we merely learn, or just a thing to be known. Therefore, we must unite knowing with the feeling that knowledge should be in the service of the gods, and that it is a fundamental sin against the divine meaning of evolution to profane knowledge by removing it from that for which the gods intended it.
I said that acquiring much external knowledge has only become possible in more recent times. For the ancient Egyptians, most knowing was an inward matter; external knowledge was comprised of only the most immediate things. During the Greco-Roman epoch it became possible for men to acquire more and more external knowledge. That is not very long ago. But at the same time there arose the possibility of discovering the path by which knowing becomes a holy service, for at this time the Christ brought his message to the Earth.
Here you have another relationship, which history makes clear to us. At the very moment in human development when knowing becomes predominantly a knowledge of the external world, the Christ appears from out of the spiritual world. And so does it becomes possible for a person who experiences the guidance of Christ to transform knowing into a holy service — by connecting it with the Christ. Today, mankind has not yet developed much feeling for knowledge as a divine service. But as mankind comes more and more to understand how Christ has brought the life of the gods into earthly life, it will also learn how to put knowledge at the service of the gods.
Thus we can live with everything of which our head is the outer sign. We can establish there a little plot that prepares for the transformation of our body into a head. As for the rest of knowledge, if we use it with the proper feeling, as I have just characterized it, the higher spiritual beings will receive nourishment from the concepts we use. In this way we strive for a knowing that serves the gods, in order that wheat may also be grown for the nourishment of mankind. This is already happening, but mankind still has to learn the measure of this mood. Through our feeling, knowledge will acquire the measure of the mood I have been describing. It is very, very important for the healthy development of humanity that such feelings be developed.
In the ancient Mysteries and Mystery schools it was simply taken for granted that those who acquired knowledge would treat it with holy regard. Indeed, that was one of the main reasons why not everyone was admitted to the Mysteries. Those who were admitted had to provide a guarantee that they would regard the knowledge as holy and would treat it as a service to the gods. The attitude was also engendered by atavistic feelings. Today, it is necessary for mankind to achieve this attitude once more. Humanity has passed through an age when it developed in accordance with materialism — and we know there are good reasons for this. Now, it needs to heal itself of materialism, and this will only happen when mankind is reunited with the feeling of holy service that was once a part of knowing. But in the future this will have to be brought about consciously. And that will only be possible if spiritual science spreads to more and more of humanity. Knowledge should not be like the seed that rots on the ground. Everything that is used for external convenience and arranging things mechanically is like the seed that rots. What is not placed in the service of the gods is lost. It is neither used to help us in our next incarnation, nor is it used to nourish the gods. Something really happens when the seed rots; this is a real process. When knowledge is wasted without being incorporated into the service of the gods and without becoming part of a divine process, a real process takes place. It would take us too far today if I were to speak about what the rotten grain of wheat signifies, but it is senseless for it to rot. Nothing can come of it — it simply dies. But Ahriman is able to do something with knowledge that is not acquired in the context of the service of the gods. This knowledge is taken over into the service of Ahriman and establishes his power. His servants introduce it into the world process and thereby create more obstacles for the world process than rightfully ought to be there or would otherwise have to be there. For, after all, Ahriman is the god of hindrance.
This will give you a glimpse of how far the significance of what lives in us in the form of ideas and truth extends. The next two lectures will be concerned with beauty and morality so that we can then bring all three things together. That will furnish us with another opportunity to deepen our understanding of the human being.