Tuesday, December 5, 2023

"Know Thyself!" The nature of egoism


Rudolf Steiner:

If now we take the great law that we have gained from studying egoism and apply it to the various faculties of the human soul, we can ask, for example: How does egoism affect the Consciousness Soul, through which man acquires knowledge of the world around him? In other words, when can a piece of knowledge prove fruitful? It will be truly fruitful only if it brings a man into harmony with the rest of the world. This means that the only concepts and ideas that can invigorate the human soul are those drawn from the life of the great outer world, and then only if we are in harmony with the outer world. That is why all ways of knowledge which seek, above all, to reach the great truths of existence, step by step, are so health-giving for the soul, and also, therefore, for the physical body. On the other hand, anything that leads us away from a living connection with the world, as solitary inward brooding does, or anything that brings us into discord with the world, will have a hardening effect.

Here is an appropriate occasion to refer once more to the widely misunderstood saying, “Know thyself!”, which has a meaning valid for all epochs. Only when a man realises that he belongs to the whole world, that his Self is not confined within his skin but is spread out over the whole world, over sun and stars, over all earthly creatures, and that this Self has only created an expression of itself within his skin — only if he recognises that he is interwoven with the entire world — only then can he make proper use of the saying, “Know thyself”. For self knowledge is then world-knowledge. A man who fails to realise this is like a finger which imagined it could achieve an individual existence apart from the rest of the organism. Cut it off, and in three weeks it will quite certainly no longer be a finger. The finger has no illusions about that; only man supposes that he could do without any connections with the world. World-knowledge is self-knowledge and self-knowledge is world-knowledge. Any sort of inward brooding is merely a sign that we cannot get away from ourselves. Very great harm is therefore done when in certain theosophical circles today it is said: A solution of the riddle of existence will not be found in the world outside, or in phenomena permeated by the spirit, but in your own self. “Look for God in your own breast” — that is the injunction often heard. “You need not exert yourself to seek for revelations of the cosmic Spirit out there in the universe. You have only to look within yourself; you will find it all there.” This kind of instruction does the student very bad service. It makes him proud and egoistic with regard to knowledge. The result is that certain theosophical directives, instead of training a person in selflessness, instead of freeing him from himself and bringing him into relation with the great riddles of existence, have a hardening effect on him. One can appeal to man's pride and vanity by telling him: “You need learn nothing from the world; you will find it all in yourself.” We appeal to truth when we show that to be in harmony with the great world can enable a man to become greater in himself and therefore greater in the world.

This applies also to human feeling and to the entire content of the Intellectual Soul, which gains in strength when a man knows how to achieve harmony between himself and the outer world. Strength and power are not acquired by sitting down and brooding all day long over such questions as — “What shall I think now? What shall I do? What's that pain I feel coming on again?” — but by opening the heart to everything great and beautiful in our surroundings, and by showing interest and understanding for everything that warms the hearts of others, as well as for their wants and privations. In this way we strengthen the life-forces in the realm of feeling within us; we overcome narrow minded egoism and we enhance and enrich our Ego by bringing the true form of egoism into harmony with our environment.

This comes out very clearly when we consider the human will and the Consciousness Soul itself. A man who exerts his will only for himself and his own advantage will always feel inwardly dissatisfied. Only when he can see his resolves reflected in the outer world and his will-impulses realised in action — only then can he say that he has brought his willing into harmony with outer events. And here we learn that our inner strength and power are not developed by anything we will for ourselves, but by whatever we will for the outer world and for other people. Our willing becomes reality and its reflection shines back to us. As our eyes are formed by light, so is our strength of soul developed by our actions and activities.

Thus we see how man, as a self-conscious being, is able through a right comprehension of his “I”, his Ego, to arrive at harmony between himself and the world around him, until he grows out of himself and accomplishes the birth of what we may call a higher man. In this way he brings forth something in himself, even as a plant on a lower level brings forth out of itself a new being at the moment when it is in danger of becoming hardened in its own existence. That is how we must understand egoism. The human Ego, having been fructified by the surrounding world, brings forth on the heights of existence a new Ego, and will then be ripe to flow out into actions which would otherwise give expression only to worthless demands and useless moral postulates. For only through world-knowledge can the will be fired to act on the world in return. Whatever points may be set out in the programmes of societies, however many societies may have “universal human love” at the head of their programmes, these moral injunctions will have no practical effect.

All the ordinary preaching of human love is as though a stove were standing in a cold room and someone says to it: “Dear stove, your moral duty as a stove is to warm the room”. You could go on like that for hours or days — the stove would not be moved to make the room warm. Similarly, men will not be moved by sermons to practise human love, even if you were to preach to them for centuries that men ought to love one another. But bring the human Ego into connection with the content of the whole world, let people participate in the radiance of flowers and in all the beauties of Nature, and you will soon see that this participation is a foundation for the higher participation that can arise between human being and human being.

By gaining knowledge of human beings and human nature, man learns to meet the faults and good qualities of others with understanding. Wisdom of this kind, derived from approaching the world with living insight, passes over into the blood, into action and will. And what we call human love is born from it. Just as babbling to the stove is useless, when what we need to do is simply to bring wood and start a fire, so should we bring to human beings the fuel that will kindle, warm and illuminate their souls; and the fuel required is knowledge of the world, so that understanding of human nature and harmonious consonance between the human Ego and the outer world are brought about. Then we shall in fact be kindling human love — a love that can flow from heart to heart and draw human beings together, teaching them that actions performed only for ourselves have a deadly, desolating effect upon us, while actions that have a helpful influence on the lives of others are reflected back to enhance our own strength. Through a right understanding of egoism, accordingly, our Ego is enriched and enabled to develop, if, as far as possible, we realise our own Self in the service of another, and strive to cultivate not only personal feeling, but fellow feeling, as far as we can. That is how the nature of Egoism is seen by Spiritual Science.

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