Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, August 20, 1920:
Once again I would like to sum up some of what has been presented here recently. We spoke about the external sense world in its relation to the inner world of the human being and I pointed out two things in particular. I stressed that the external sense world certainly must be understood as a world of phenomena and that it is a sign of the prejudices of our age not to interpret correctly this view of the world of phenomena. Certainly, here and there, a certain perception surfaces concerning the fact that the outer sense world is a world of phenomena, of appearances, not one even of merely material realities. Then, however, behind this world of external phenomena, one seeks for material realities, for example, for atoms and molecules, and the like. This search for atoms and molecules, in short, for any world of physical reality standing behind the world of phenomena, is just as if one were to seek for some kind of molecular materiality behind the rainbow that is obviously only an appearance, a phenomenon. This search for material reality in regard to the external world is something quite unfounded, as spiritual science points out from the most diverse directions. We have to understand clearly that surrounding us in what we perceive as the sense world is a world of phenomena, and we may not interpret the sense of touch differently from the other senses in regard to the sense world. Just as we see the rainbow with our eyes without searching for a material reality behind it, accepting it as appearance, so we must accept the entire external world as it is, namely, in the sense I depicted it decades ago in my introduction to the volume on color theory [ Note 42 ] in Goethe's natural scientific writings. The question then is posed to us: What is it that really stands behind this world of phenomena? The material atoms are not behind it; there are spiritual beings behind it — there is spirituality. This recognition signifies a lot, for it means that we admit that we do not live in a material world but in one of spiritual realities.
When we as human beings turn to the external world — this drawing representing, as it were, the boundary of our body — we have here the sense world and behind it the world of spiritual realities, spiritual beings [right side].
Now, when we turn to the human interior, when we move from our senses inward, we have first of all the content of our world of conceptions, our soul world. If we call the sense world the world of sense phenomena, of sensory appearances, we have the world of spiritual phenomena when we turn from our senses inward [left]. Naturally, in the manner in which they are present within us, our thoughts, our conceptions, are not realities, they are spiritual phenomena. Now, if we descend from this soul world still deeper into our inner being, it is all-important for us not to believe that we thereby arrive at a special, higher world, something that mystic dreamers presuppose. There, we actually come into the world of our organism, the world of material realities.
This is why it is important not to assume that by inward brooding one could discover something spiritual; there, we should seek for the constitution of the material human organism. One should not seek for all manner of mystical realities within oneself, as I have pointed out from a number of viewpoints. Instead, behind what pushes up into the soul and thus turns into a spiritual phenomenon, especially when one penetrates more and more deeply into oneself, we should seek the interaction of liver, heart, lungs, and other organs that mystics in particular do not like to hear mentioned. There we become acquainted with the essentially material element of our earthly existence. As I have often emphasized, many a person who believes he has encountered mystical realities by descending deeply into his inner being only finds what is given off by his liver, gall bladder, and other related organs. Just as tallow turns into flame, so everything that liver, lungs, heart, and stomach give off turns into mystical phenomena when it lights up into consciousness.
The important point is that true spiritual science guides the human being beyond any sort of illusion. Materialists cling to the illusion that they can find physical, material realities, not spiritual realities, behind the sense world. It is the illusion of mystics that when they descend into their own being they can find not the world of the material organization, but different kinds of special divine sparks, and such like.
In genuine spiritual science it is important that we do not search for material substance in the outer world and do not seek the spirit in the inner world, which initially appears as such through inward brooding.
What I have now said is of significant consequence for our entire worldview. Bear in mind that from the time man falls asleep until he wakes up he is outside his physical and etheric bodies with his astral body and I. Where is he then? This is the question we must ask ourselves. If we assume that out there is the world described by the physicists, it makes no sense whatever to speak about an existence of the astral body or the ego outside the physical body. If we know, however, that beyond the sense world lies the world of spiritual realities, out of which the sense world blossoms forth, then we are able to imagine that the astral body and ego move into the spiritual world which lies behind the sense world. Indeed, astral body and ego find themselves in that part of the spiritual world that underlies the sense world. Thus, we can say that in sleep man penetrates into the spiritual world which is the basis of the physical world. Of course, upon awakening, his ego and astral body first penetrate his etheric being and then what constitutes the realm of the material organization.
Clear concepts of an anthroposophical worldview can only be attained if one is able to form intelligible ideas concerning such matters. For, above all, one will not succumb to the illusion of seeking the divine, or the spiritual underlying our human condition, behind the sensory surroundings. There, only that spiritual element is found which, out of itself, brings forth the sense world. As human beings we have our roots in the spiritual world, but in which spiritual world? We have our roots in the very spiritual world that we leave when incarnating into our physical body. We come from the spiritual world that we live in between death and a new birth; through birth or conception we enter this physical existence. The world we inhabit between death and a new birth, which we then leave, is a different spiritual world than this one [behind the sense world], although, because it is a spiritual world, it is related to the latter from which springs forth our sense world. We will not grasp the spiritual world of which we are speaking — I have described it in the lecture cycle Inner Nature of Man and the Life Between Death and a New Birth, [ Note 43 ] namely, the spiritual world we experience between death and rebirth which creates and brings us forth — if we seek it behind the sense world. We will not take hold of it if we seek it within ourselves. There, we only discover the material element of our own organization. We can only grasp it when we leave space altogether. This spiritual world is not within space. As I have often emphasized, we can only speak about it when we base it solely on time, thinking of it as a world of time.
Consequently, it goes without saying that all the descriptions we have about this world between death and rebirth can only be images, merely pictures. We must not confuse these pictures, in which we must of necessity express ourselves, with the realities in which we dwell between death and a new birth. It is vital that on the basis of the anthroposophical worldview we do not merely talk about all manner of fantastic things, depicting them in the ancient terminology which actually does not designate anything new. What matters is that we enrich our world of concepts and ideas when we try to send our thoughts into the world in which we live between death and rebirth.
Thus we can acquire a most important concept that can also give rise to profound, albeit uncomfortable, reflection. It is this: When we have absolved the life between death and birth, we incarnate here in space. We penetrate into space out of a condition that is not spatial. Space has significance only for our experiences between birth and death. Again, it is important to know that when we pass through the portal of death, not only do we leave the body with our soul, we also leave space behind.
This concept was quite familiar to people until the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries A.D. Even a person like Scotus Erigena, [ Note 44 ] who lived in the ninth century, was fully conversant with it. Yet the modern age has completely lost the concept of the spirituality underlying human existence, within which the human being lives after death — as was thought then, only after death; today we must say: between death and rebirth we are outside space. The modern age is proud and arrogant regarding its thinking, yet it can actually think only of what is spatial, holding any and every thought in a spatial context. In order to conceive of spiritual matters, on the one hand, we must make the effort to overcome space within our thinking. Otherwise we will never reach the truly spiritual; above all, we will never attain to an even approximately correct natural science, much less a spiritual science.
Particularly in our time it is infinitely important to become acquainted with these finer distinctions of spiritual-scientific knowledge. For what we acquire through such concepts is not just any kind of world concept, any sort of thought content. The acquisition of a thought content is, after all, the very least we can achieve through anthroposophically oriented spiritual science. For it is one and the same whether someone believes the world consists of molecules and atoms, or if he believes man consists of a physical body, a somewhat less dense etheric body, then something more nebulous and tenuous, the astral body, followed by whatever is next, say, a still finer mental body, or something even more and more rarefied; for one doesn't come anywhere near the etheric body by just thinking of something more rarefied. It is really the same thing whether one is a materialist picturing the world as atoms, or whether one harbors this coarsely materialistic conception that is the common factor of the so-called theosophical society teachings, or whatever they are called now.
Something quite different is what really matters, namely, that we become capable of changing our entire soul constitution. We have to make every effort to think about the spiritual in a manner different from the one in which we are accustomed to think about the external sense world. We do not comprehend spiritual science if we conceive of something other than the sense world as being spiritual; we enter into spiritual science if we think about the spiritual in a different way than we think about the sense realm. We think of the latter in terms of space. We can think about the spiritual world in terms of time within certain limits, because we have to think of ourselves within this spiritual world. And we are in a certain sense spiritually conditioned by time, in that at a certain moment in time we are transposed from the life between death and rebirth into the life between birth and death.
As I have often indicated, it is this transformation of the state of mind that is so absolutely essential for mankind today. For how did we become caught up in the calamities of the present? It is because, along with so-called modern progress, humanity has altogether forgotten to admit the spiritual into its conceptions. The theosophical teachings of the so-called Theosophical Society are actually the attempt to characterize spiritual facts in materialistic forms of thought, hence, to drive materialism all the way into the spirit. We do not attain to a spiritual concept merely by calling something spiritual, but only by transforming our thinking from what is suited to the sensory realm.
Human beings do not live with each other only in purely spatial relationships that can be constructed by means of what has become the general thinking of natural science. We can no longer develop social concepts based on the present-day worldview. The kind of thinking that humanity has become accustomed to, owing to natural science, cannot lead to a characterization of social life. In this way arise the aberrations we experience today as a variety of social ideologies that only come about because it is impossible to think realistically about the social problems based on the conceptions from which we proceed to regard something as right or wrong. Not until people are willing to penetrate spiritual science will it become possible again to think of the social life in the manner it has to be conceived if further decline is to be halted and, instead, progress is to ensue. The discipline brought about in us by spiritual science is more important than its content. Otherwise we shall finally reach the stage of demanding that spiritual matters be popularized, that is to say, that they be presented in coarsely sensory, realistic terms. Things that must be expressed in a certain manner if one doesn't want to fantasize but to speak of realities, as I have done in our anthroposophical presentations as well as in my book Towards Social Renewal, [ Note 45 ] are found to be not graphic enough. Well, “graphic” is a word that has a peculiar connotation for people today. There are people today who have much to say about this longing of mankind to have everything presented in a crudely sense-perceptible manner. This is true all over the world, not just in certain countries.
I found an interesting passage, for example, in a recently published book, Les forces morales aux Etats-Unis, [ Note 46 ]written by a French lady. It has the following subdivisions: l'eglise, l'ecole, la femme. The book contains an interesting little episode which demonstrates how, in certain quarters, one tries “graphically” to describe matters pertaining to man's relationship with the spiritual world. The author relates:
One evening a friend and I strolled down Broadway. I came to a church. A quick glance showed us the place was filled with men only. Offended by seeing this, we avoided moving further inside. A priest clad in a soutane saw us, approached and invited us to come in. Since we hesitated, he asked about our confession. “We are not Catholics,” I said. He urged us to enter the church and, index finger pointing upward, he said with conviction “Come here and listen to me. If, for instance, you wish to travel to Chicago, how would you go about it? You might go on foot, take a car, a boat, or travel by train. It stands to reason that you would choose the fastest and most comfortable means. In this case that's the train. Obviously, if you wish to get to the Garden of God you will choose the religion that will get you there in the fastest and safest way. That's the Catholic religion, which is the express train to Paradise.”
The lady telling the story only concluded that she was so perplexed she did not think of telling him that he had forgotten the airplane in his graphic comparison, which he could have mentioned as a still quicker means of getting to Paradise.
You see, here was someone eager to counter people's prejudices, and he chose graphic conceptions. The description of the Catholic Church as the “express train to heaven” is a graphic image. It is indeed the tendency of our time to search for graphic images, meaning concepts that do not make any demands on people's thinking. It is precisely here that we must already discern the gravity of modern life, which demands that we do away with such graphicness which turns into banality and triviality, thus pulling man down into materialism in regard to those matters that must be comprehended spiritually. Even in symptoms such as these we have to search for what is needed most in our age. It must be said again and again: Such symptoms cannot be ignored; we cannot afford to go blindfolded through the world, which is an organism asking to be understood by means of its symptoms. For these symptoms contain what we must comprehend if we wish to arrive at an ascent again from our general decline.
At this point, however, it is necessary to see a number of things in the right light. What has actually been produced from spiritual-scientific foundations in Towards Social Renewal truly has not been created out of some theory but out of the whole breadth of life, with the difference that this life is viewed spiritually. Mankind today cannot progress if people do not adjust to such a view of life.
I would like to put in here two points taken from life that once again showed me recently how necessary it is to lead humanity today to a life-filled comprehension of reality, but at the same time a spiritual comprehension of reality. Yesterday I read an article by a journalist whose name, so I am told, is Rene Marchand, [ Note 47 ] who, for a long time, was a correspondent for Figaro, Petit Parisien, and so on. He participated in the war on the Russian front, being a radical opponent of the Bolsheviks. He then had dealings with the general of the counter-revolution, becoming a follower of it. Overnight, he became converted to the idea of workers' councils, to Bolshevism. From an opponent of Bolshevism, so it says here, he turned into a protagonist, an unreserved supporter of the leadership and the ideology of workers' councils. Here is a man who belongs to the intellectual class, for he is a journalist, who, after all, lives with a deeper understanding of life, a deeper sensitivity for life, who dwells in the old traditions as do most of today's sleeping souls. It is interesting how such a person suddenly realizes: All this will assuredly lead to destruction! — and now the only goal worth aiming at for him appears to be Bolshevism! In other words, the man now perceives that everything that is not Bolshevism leads to ruin. I explained to you how Spengler described this. [ Note 48 ] Marchand sees only Bolshevism; initially, he believes that Bolshevism is merely a Russian affair. Then he discovers something quite different. He feels that Bolshevism is an international matter that must spread over the whole world. He says:
It now became clear to me that peace can only be restored when the people in all the countries freely take their destiny into their own hands. The principles hitherto proclaimed by the bourgeois governments merely to deceive the masses can only become reality when this new imperialism (that of the Entente powers) has in turn broken down.
He then relates how he has now arrived at the conviction that justice, unity, peace, and law will only rule when the world has become bolshevistic through and through; not till then will reconstruction be possible. This man now sees that all else leads to destruction. And basically he is quite correct in pointing out: If anything outside Bolshevism is to be cultivated further, it must turn into the dictatorship of the old capitalism, the bourgeoisie and its trappings. It must become the dictatorship of people like Lloyd George, [ Note 49 ] Clemenceau, [ Note 50 ] Scheidemann, [ Note 51 ] and so on. If one does not wish for this, if one does not want ruin, there is no other choice but the dictatorship of Bolshevism. He sees the only salvation in the latter.
In a certain sense this man is honest, more honest than all the others who see the approach of Bolshevism and believe they can oppose it with the old regime. At least Marchand sees that all the old ideas are ready to perish. A question arises, however, especially if one stands on spiritual-scientific ground and experiences this; for a man like Rene Marchand is an exception. The question forces itself upon one's mind: Where has the man gained knowledge of all this? He has acquired such knowledge where most of our contemporaries have gathered it, namely, from newspapers and books. He does not know life. To a large extent, people living today know life only from newspapers and books. Particularly the people in leading circles know life just from newspapers. Think of all that we have experienced in this regard through newspapers, by means of books! We have witnessed that a few decades ago people still formed their world conceptions by reading French comedies, that they knew the events occurring in a comedy better than what takes place in life. They ignored the realities of life and informed themselves by what they had seen on the stage. Later, we saw that people formed their view of life based on Ibsen, Dostoevsky, or Tolstoy. They did not know life; neither could they judge the books on the basis of life. Actually, people only assimilated the secondhand life printed on paper. From that they developed their slogans, they founded societies for all manner of reforms without any real knowledge of life. It was a life which they knew only from Ibsen or Dostoevsky, or a life they knew in a manner that frequently could not help becoming quite obnoxious to a person when, in all the big cities of Europe, Hauptmann's “Weber” (weavers), [ Note 52 ] for example, was being performed. The lifestyle of weavers appeared on stage. People with no idea of what transpires in life, having seen only its caricature on the stage, observing the misery of weavers on stage, and because it was a time of social involvement — began talking about all sorts of social questions, having become acquainted with these matters only in this way. Basically, they are all people who do not know life except vicariously from newspapers or books such as exist today. I have nothing against the books; one must be familiar with them, but one must read them in such a manner that through them one is able to perceive life. The problem is that we live in an age of abstraction today, abstract demands by political parties, societies, and so on.
This is why it is interesting for me to encounter, on one side, such a realistic man as Rene Marchand who, being a journalist, is simultaneously an oracle for many people. It does not even occur to him to ask if this Bolshevism really leads to a viable lifestyle. For he really does not know life; he only exchanges what he has become acquainted with, and finds headed for destruction, with a new abstract formula, with new theories. On the other side, I must now compare a letter I received this morning with these utterances of an intellectual. Somebody who is fully grounded in life, who has experienced precisely what can be experienced today in order to form an opinion of the social condition, wrote to me. He wrote that my book Towards Social Renewal [ Note 13 ] had become a sort of salvation for him. This man, who has worked in a weaving mill, was thoroughly familiar with the practical aspects. One will only grasp what is meant with the book Towards Social Renewal when one judges it from the standpoint of practical life. It is a book depicting reality, but derived completely from the spiritual world, as must be the case with anything that is to serve life today. One will only know what is meant if one understands that every line, every word, of this book is in no way theoretical, but taken straight from practical life; when one realizes that it is a book for those who wish to intervene actively in life, not for those who want to engage in socialistic chatter and babble about life.
It is this that causes one such pain, namely, that a book steeped in reality is called utopian by those who have no idea of reality. Those who have no inkling of the reality of life, being themselves addicted to literature, view even such a book that is truly taken from life as a piece of literature. Today, the “how” matters more than the “what.” Everything depends an our acquiring thought forms that are suitable tools for the comprehension of the spiritual life, for in reality spiritual life is everywhere. We have spiritual realities here in our surroundings as well as from beyond the sense world. It is out of these spiritual realities that social reconstruction must come about, not out of the empty talk appearing in Leninism and Trotskyism, which is nothing but the squeezed-out lemon of old commonplace Western views that have no power to produce any viable kind of social idea. One may well ask: Where are the human beings today who are prepared to comprehend life with the necessary intensity? We will never penetrate life if we are unwilling to view it from the spiritual standpoint. The life between birth and death will not be understood as long as one is not willing to comprehend the life between death and rebirth. If people are unwilling to resort to the spiritual life, they will either become complete materialists or intellectuals living in theories that only enable them to comprehend life after having had it dramatically presented by an Ibsen, a Dostoevsky, or another writer. What matters is that we interpret library presentations as a kind of window through which we look out upon life. This will be possible for us only if we perceive the spiritual world, the world of spiritual entities, behind the sense world; if we finally dismiss all the fantasies concerning atoms and molecules from which present-day physics wishes to construct a world for us. It would follow from these fantasies that the whole present world in fact really consists basically only of atoms and molecules, effectively eliminating all spiritual, and with it, moral and religious ideas. I will say more about this tomorrow.
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