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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Community Life, Inner Development, Sexuality and the Spiritual Teacher
GA 253

I. Requirements of Our Life together in the Anthroposophical Society

10 September 1915, Dornach

MY DEAR FRIENDS! Movements such as our spiritual scientific movement have always been fostered in such a way that something that was to be impressed upon the spiritual culture of the times, or on culture in general, was first cultivated on the level of some formal social organization or society. And since the conditions of human interaction are the same today as they have been throughout history, it is also necessary for us, to a certain extent, to cultivate our spiritual scientific strivings within the framework of a formal organization.

Now, it has been the experience of almost all such organizations that it is difficult, at least in actual practice, to understand the concept of the society needed to foster a particular spiritual current like this. Time and again we're presented with evidence that there are very many people who actually do not like having to join a society. They admit that they feel uncomfortable about joining such a society; they would prefer to absorb its spiritual wealth through reading or listening to lectures not bound to any organized society, or through still other means. Only this morning, for example, I received a letter to that effect.

The kinds of reasons people give for taking this position have to be taken seriously. But let me emphasize again that a spiritual movement like this one is of necessity very different in its impulses and its whole way of thinking, feeling, and doing from the thinking, feeling, and doing of the other people around it. Therefore, to introduce such a movement to humanity with no help from a formal organization would be much more difficult than to do this by means of a society whose members are preparing, through their interactions and their ongoing absorption of spiritual scientific thoughts and concepts, to be a kind of tool or instrument for disseminating our spiritual science. As a consequence, however, the concept of a society of this kind has to be taken extremely seriously, because in quite practical terms this society has to become a vehicle for the spiritual current in question.

You need only look at our own Society as an example and examine how different it is from other societies, associations, or organizations that people have called into existence. This difference will be particularly noticeable if you keep one thing in mind. Just suppose that recent events confronting us had made us entertain the thought of disbanding the Anthroposophical Society as such. Let's assume hypothetically that we wanted to dissolve the Society because of problems within it. Now, if the Anthroposophical Society were simply an organization like many others, of course it would be possible to simply dissolve it, set something else up in its place, and eliminate the disgraceful circumstances in the process.

However, our Anthroposophical Society is different in a very significant respect from other organizations or societies founded on the basis of some program with a certain number of points and statutes. That kind of society can be dissolved at any moment. If we were to dissolve the Anthroposophical Society, however, it would not be dissolved in actual fact. As the Anthroposophical Society, as a society existing on behalf of a spiritual scientific movement, we are different from other societies in that our Society is founded, not on a program of abstract and therefore unreal points, but on something very real. Our basis is a real one.

Just look at the fact that each member of the Anthroposophical Society is entitled to have access to our lecture cycles, while other people are not.1In Stuttgart on September 4, 1921, at the first Members' Assembly after World War I, Rudolf Steiner addressed the question of the lecture cycles as follows: “Actually, every member has taken on the responsibility of seeing that the cycles stay within the Society. I am not so concerned about the cycles being read outside the Society; what matters to me is that these cycles in the form in which they were printed stay among people who understand the circumstances, because lack of time kept me from correcting the proofs.” (Mitteilungen des Zentralvorstandes der Anthroposophischen Gesellschaft, Stuttgart, November 1921, No. 1, p. 27). And in The Course of My Life, GA 28, (Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1986): “I would have preferred it if the spoken word could have been left in that form, the members wanted to have the lectures printed privately, and that is why the talks now exist in print. If I had had time to make corrections, there would have been no need for the 'for members only' restriction right from the beginning.” (Chapter XXXV, Anthroposophic Press, 1986).

However, since the members did not feel bound by this responsibility and Steiner's opponents in their writings often showed themselves to be better informed about the lecture cycles than the members themselves, Rudolf Steiner was obliged to lift all restrictions and declare the printed lecture cycles available to the general public at the Christmas Foundation Meeting of the Anthroposophical Society in 1923.
That's a very real basis, because dissolving the Anthroposophical Society would do so in name only; it would not do away with the fact that a certain number of people are in possession of these cycles. And it is an equally real fact that a certain number of people are carrying a specific wealth of wisdom in their heads. I cannot tell exactly how great the percentage is of people who have the things we talk about in their heads—in contrast to those who only have them in “visions”—but that's not the important thing as far as the Society is concerned. It remains a reality that a certain wealth of wisdom, a sum total of things that really exist, are present in the hearts and minds of people who have belonged to the Anthroposophical Society until now. That cannot be taken away from them even by dissolving the Society.

So the Anthroposophical Society is different from other societies in that it will not tolerate any figments of the imagination in its organization, but is constructed on the basis of reality. Thus, dissolving it would have absolutely no immediate effect on its continued existence as far as reality is concerned. Our Society compares to other societies and organizations as something real compares to things that are merely thought out. We must keep this weighty difference in mind in order to understand the concept of our Society in the right way. And it is only because a large number of members have counted, more or less consciously, on our Society's solid grounding in reality, on its basis in something more than programmatic points, that we see an institute of higher learning for spiritual science being built on this hill, a building that will further enhance our connection to something real.

It would be possible for some group of dreamers to get together and decide not to wear collars and ties, to wear only sandals on their feet, and perhaps to simplify life in other ways by disregarding certain other social conventions or “prejudices,” as they might call them. (I have chosen a hypothetical example so that no one present needs to feel put on the spot.) Disbanding a group like that would not change anything significant. But we are not simply a group of dreamers; we are different in that we are fully aware of the weight and importance of our grounding in reality.

Without getting into splitting hairs, we also need to distinguish between the concept of a society such as the one in which we develop a specific spiritual teaching, and that of a club or similar organization. We have to admit that the appropriate concept of a such a society eludes many of us when we think about the conditions of our life in this Society, and we are left contemplating the concept of a club or similar organization. In that kind of organization, statutes and conditions are set up that have to be met. In a Society like ours, however, that is not enough. It is different from a club in much more than name only.

In our Society, the important thing, as I have explained several times in the last few weeks, is that the concept of the society really be taken seriously.2See the explanations Steiner gave on August 21 and 22, 1915, printed in Part Two of this volume. This means that all members must be aware that belonging to the Society involves more than simply receiving membership cards and being entitled to call themselves members of the Society. In fact, they are all organs of the Society. Because of that, something subtle and yet very specific has to live among the members, something for which each member should feel a certain responsibility. As individuals, they must be aware of both the obvious and subtler needs and well-being of other members of the Society, and experienced members must be ready and willing to use their experience in supporting those who have joined more recently. These more experienced members do not necessarily have to reveal their experience; after all, what matters is how they apply their experience in daily life.

The word “trust” often comes up in this connection. In the course of a lecture I gave a few weeks ago, I explained that we do not need to have trust in our teachings, because these teachings will try to justify our confidence in them through every single practical measure they give rise to.3August 22, 1915, in Part Two of this volume, p. 144. However, we do need to try to have trust in each other and to make sure that trust is justified. We must try to bring about real connections between members. It goes a long way toward developing the kind of “ideal aura” necessary in a Society such as ours if each experienced member, without snooping around like a spy or a detective—that is, without violating anyone's privacy—can really keep an eye on the ups and downs of only ten other members, and do it without having to tell them they are considered less experienced. Of course, it's impossible to legislate trust; it has to be earned. Our more experienced members need to make a concerted effort to win the trust of those who have been in the Society for only a short time.

Such things have been mentioned often in the course of our Society's years of activity, but it has never been as necessary to speak about them as it is here and now. When members of the Anthroposophical Society were scattered among the rest of the population in various cities, that was a very different state of affairs from so many of us living here on top of each other, on display for everyone else, so to speak. This situation makes it imperative that we take a long and serious look at the basic premises of how we live together in the Society.

Of course, a society such as ours will never be able to please all the people living outside it. It will never be able to prevent some of these people from indulging in all kinds of slander, ridicule, unjustified attacks, and so on. But that's not the point; what I am going to say now is independent of all that. The important thing is that the members of the Society really do everything possible in each single instance to show up the attacks as unjustified and lacking any basis in fact. To do this, we have to look at details, my friends. It's not enough to just pay attention to the major issues in our outer life. We have to be equally aware of the little things.

For instance, if some of our members are sitting among other people on the trolley on the way back to Basel at night, and they talk loudly about every little twinge in their ether body, that is not exactly a crime. If someone criticizes them for it, we might well reply, “So what? Is it all that important?” In fact, however, it is really very important because it puts the dignity and seriousness of our movement in question. Thus, even though such incidents are only trifling matters, they ought to be avoided. We ought to start reforming ourselves wherever that change can have a real effect. Above all, we have to realize that when we talk in front of other people about things only we can understand, those people will not be able to avoid getting wrong impressions.

We can assume that we know what we are talking about when we speak about the ether body, but the people who may be listening do not. They may be in the same situation as a maid whom some of my closer acquaintances know well. This woman worked for anthroposophists, and because she was interested in finding out what anthroposophy was all about, she attended an introductory course given by one of our members, and came home saying, “Well, I learned that I have four bodies, not just one. But I have this tiny little room and a very narrow bed, and now I don't know how all those bodies are going to fit in!” This is a true story. It took place in the house of people I know quite well. So you see, people who hear you talking about all the little twinges of your ether body will naturally think that you're talking about the ether body as if it were a physical body; thus, you are actually leading them astray and keeping them from developing any closer connection to our movement.

That's why it is important for us to learn to take the things we talk about seriously and precisely. Even if they are only minor matters in themselves, they can raise a virtual wall of prejudices around us, and that can and should be avoided. In a society like this, it is important for us to learn to speak really precisely, or else it may gradually become impossible to foster what should be fostered within this Society.

Today I feel compelled to mention a number of things that will probably seem totally superfluous to most of you, simply because the natural response is, “Well, what is that supposed to mean—we need to be precise in our way of speaking? Of course we do.” But just keep your eyes and ears open next time something happens somewhere or other, when something has been said and one person passes it on to the next. If you really pay close attention to whether or not things are being presented accurately, in many instances you will easily notice the deviation from what is strictly accurate. When something someone has heard or seen gets passed on to the next person and then to the next, and so on, what comes out can be a monstrous caricature of what actually happened or was actually said. This experience is all too common in our Society.

We have to take into account that, in a spiritual scientific movement, we can work constructively only if we get used to being exact, to really understanding things precisely. Spiritual science forces us to focus spiritually on things that have nothing to do with the outer physical world, and in order to develop the right relationship to them, we need a counterbalance of some kind. The only suitable counterbalance is to approach things on the physical plane as realistically as possible. After all, accuracy belongs to reality.

Some time ago I gave a public lecture in Munich that really startled a number of people.4“The Origin of Evil in the Light of Spiritual Science,” Munich, March 29, 1914. Only incomplete notes of this lecture are extant. Its subject was the nature of evil. In that lecture, I explained that the forces at work in evil on the physical plane are in a sense nothing else but forces that have been transferred from higher planes of existence to the physical plane. Certain forces that can lead us to recognize and master the spiritual if applied up there in the spiritual world can turn to evil down here in the physical world.

The force that enables us to understand the spiritual world belongs only in the spiritual world; this same force causes all kinds of harm if it is directly and thoughtlessly transferred to the physical plane. For what is the nature of this force? It consists in making one's thinking independent of the physical plane. When this capacity is applied to the physical plane itself, it turns into deceit and dishonesty. Thus, people who were called upon to disseminate spiritual science have always seen great danger in doing so, because what is needed for understanding higher planes of existence is harmful when applied directly to the physical world.

That is why a counterbalance is needed: in order to keep our ability to understand the spiritual world suitably pure and beautiful, we must develop our feeling for truth and exactitude in the physical world as thoroughly as possible. If we do not count on exactitude on the physical plane, then in a so-called occult society certain tendencies developed through spiritual scientific practices immediately mingle inappropriately with the very lowest aspects of the physical plane.

Let's look at ordinary materialistic society in a broader sense of the word. As you know—or you may have heard about it even if you have no firsthand knowledge of it—there are certain social circles where gossip prevails. At least from hearsay, you will be aware that this gossip or tittle-tattle is going on, that it prevails in ordinary materialistic bourgeois society. The quality of this gossip is usually not very high and much can be said against it, but at least for the most part no esoteric contents get mixed up with it. But when gossip is the general rule in an occult society, esoteric ideas are the first to get drawn into it.

I hope it is possible to really talk about things like this in our circle, because it should be possible to say something within our Society without having it immediately spread abroad in places where it is then misunderstood. Our experiences in this regard, however, are also not the best, and if they continue, we will indeed have to organize our Society differently. Things that are said within the Society have to remain in the Society in the strictest sense of the word, because it really must be possible from time to time to say things that could not simply be said casually outside our Society.

Of course, in our Society we often have to talk about the karmic relationships between people. It may well be that such relationships exist—in fact, of course they exist—but if we continually get our views on karma mixed up with our ordinary everyday relationships, we are not taking the concept of truthfulness literally enough, and the result is not only nonsensical but also harmful. Truthfulness is a concept that has to be applied extremely strictly.

I can think of any number of cases in esoteric circles, both inside and outside our Society, where subjective matters that take place as a matter of course on the physical plane have been studded and embellished with esoteric truths. Let me mention one extreme example that may not happen very frequently in our Society, but it is one of the things that can be experienced. Indeed, it has happened numerous times.

Many people have learned about reincarnation, and they have also learned that Christ was alive on Earth at a certain point in time. I have experienced more than once that women who have become aware of these two spiritual facts—reincarnation and Christ's incarnation—have in all seriousness imagined that they have been chosen to give birth to the Christ and have attempted to arrange their lives to make this possible. It is unpleasant to have to mention these things and call a spade a spade, but we must do it to protect the Society, which we can do only if we don't close our eyes to the harm people can cause by applying occult truths on the physical plane.

Granted, the case I just mentioned is extreme, but it has happened not only once, but over and over again. I have described it drastically because things like this happen very frequently on a smaller scale, and it is important to notice the minor instances as well as the more blatant ones. Of course, it is a major issue if someone thinks she is going to give birth to the Christ, because the consequences can be extremely unfortunate. On a smaller scale, however, things like this are happening again and again.

Now, in ordinary bourgeois life, it happens that people fall in love, that a man falls in love with a woman. People simply call it “falling in love,” and that's the plain and simple truth. In esoteric societies men and women also fall in love; the possibility cannot be ruled out, as some of you know from experience. But in that case, what you hear about it is not as simple as, “X has fallen in love with Y.” Ordinary people just say that they're going together, which is usually a very accurate description as outward observation goes. But in esoteric societies, what you hear about it often goes something like this: “Having thoroughly examined my karma, I find that another personality has entered it, and we have realized that karma has destined us to be with each other and to intervene in the destiny of the world in a particular way.”

People fail to notice how much deception has crept in between this assertion and the simple matter of falling in love. This deception has developed in the following way: In bourgeois materialistic society, it's considered quite normal for two people to fall in love. But in an esoteric society, this is often not considered normal; instead, it is something people feel slightly ashamed of. But people do not like to feel ashamed. We don't need to go into why that is the case; there can be any number of reasons. People simply do not like to feel ashamed, so instead, they say that karma has spoken and has to be obeyed. Of course they are not acting out of pure selfishness or pure emotion—far from it; karma has to be obeyed! But if they were truthful, they would just admit that they have fallen in love, and having admitted it, they would find their way through life much more readily than by getting the truth mixed up with all kinds of karmic nonsense. The basic mischief of embellishing personal matters with esoteric truths leads to ever greater harm because it makes people lose their inner sense of limits, the limits we have to accept when we adopt a spiritual scientific philosophy.

This is not to say that we should introduce the worst principles of uncultured circles into our Society. In certain social circles, it is said that being human begins with being a baron. We must not establish our own version of this by saying that being human begins with being either a spiritual scientist or an anthroposophist—with being an “anthropop,” as others are starting to call it. We must not do that. We have to admit that even before we became spiritual scientists, we were people with certain ways of looking at things, people who would have done certain things and abstained from others.

In the very early days of our movement, I pointed out how important it is that we do not use our spiritual scientific views to sink down below our earlier level of moral standards, but that we must rise above it in all respects. That is why I said many years ago that when we entered the Society, each of us was equipped with a certain stock of moral standards and habitual ways of doing things, and that we should allow these habits to remain as they are until some clear and incontrovertible inner necessity compels us to change them. Generally, this happens only much later on. It can be extremely detrimental if, after having learned a little bit from spiritual science, we take what we have learned and use it to excuse or embellish what we do in life. You have to be perfectly clear on one point, my friends, namely that the outer circumstances of our life also come about through karma of a certain kind. And how people out in the world think and act is also a matter of karma.

Now, as you know, I prefer to talk about concrete cases because they are the most telling. For example, the following once happened to me: Not long ago, I was sitting in a barber shop—excuse me for talking about things like this, but what I'm going to tell you is not all that indiscreet or intimate. I was sitting in front of the mirror, so I could see the people as they came and went. The door opened, and in came a man who had on some kind of shoes that were nothing more than pieces of soft leather tied together; above that, he was wearing leggings and some kind of cape-like garment draped at a coquettish angle. In addition, his hair was swept back with some kind of a headband. Coincidentally, as it were, I knew the man very well.5Gustav Gräser, 1879–1958, who became well known as an apostle of nature in the 1920s. Cf. Ulrich Linse, Barfüssige Propheten. Erlöser der zwanziger Jahre, Berlin, 1983. (“Barefoot Prophets: Redeemers of the Twenties”) Rudolf Steiner mentioned Gräser in a letter to Marie von Sivers on January 6, 1906 (in Rudolf Steiner/Marie Steiner-von Sivers, Correspondence and Documents 1901–1925, GA 262, (London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1988), saying that Gräser had attended a lecture of Rudolf Steiner's and taken part in the discussion afterward.

The barber let go of the razor he had just started to apply to my face and bought something from the man for five pennies. He showed it to me once the man had gone out—it was a poem he had composed himself. It was a simply terrible poem, but that man was going around the streets and stores in that get-up, selling the thing and imagining himself to be infinitely superior to all the people around him. He thought he was following some great ideal, but in reality he was only following an exaggerated and hysterical form of vanity. The basic impulse behind his conduct, his whole way of being, was nothing more than a gross exaggeration of the principle at work among the vainest and most superficial ladies.

But just consider how many among us might once have been tempted—for courtesy's sake, I will not suggest that they might still be tempted today—to say that in his own way, that man was only trying to do the right thing. True enough, but it was still absolute and total nonsense, and bound to make a mess of a person's life if he made it the principle of a lifetime. We have to realize to what extent vanity can be a motivating factor in what people do, and how difficult it is to notice it. If we take seriously what we can gain from spiritual science and accept it with respect, we have to admit that vanity is a very strong force in that man. If we do something or other out of vanity, not to mention other drives and impulses, other people are offended, though not necessarily for the reasons we might suspect. Nonetheless, there is a connection between ourselves and what other people say about us, a connection that is very easy to find if we look carefully. And we can only get beyond things like that if we develop a strict sense of exactitude as a counterbalance, an attitude we also need for understanding esoteric truths.

Although it's only a detail and no major issue, in esotericism it is extremely important to know and to observe, when people are recounting things, whether they are recounting their own observatiOns and thus have a right to be talking about them as facts, or whether they are passing on things they heard from someone else. We must be able to tell the difference. But in hundreds of cases, people say things to others who in turn tell someone else, but in such a way that the person third in line gets the impression that they are not simply passing on something they've heard, but are talking about their own direct experience and have a right to be talking about it as if it were actual fact. This lack of precision is less important in ordinary materialistic society than it is among us. In materialistic circles, it may be pedantic to be so precise in how one speaks, but in our Society, more so than anywhere else, we need to observe such things strictly and exactly. And above all, we need to make a practice of being precise about ourselves.

If any of you need to be convinced of the implications of what I am saying, you are welcome to make the following experiment: Choose some topic—vegetarianism, for example—and observe how certain adherents of spiritual science talk about this topic in the outside world. Make a chart, and each time you hear spiritual scientists telling other people that they are vegetarians, jot down the reasons they give. It will soon become clear that on the subject of vegetarianism, adherents of spiritual science often say absolutely scandalous things to people in the outside world. When the outside world then comes to the conclusion that we are a society of fools, it should come as no great surprise.

In anthroposophical circles, I have frequently mentioned a very simple way of responding to the question of why you are a vegetarian without antagonizing people around you. If someone asks why you are a vegetarian, and you know that person would never eat horsemeat, you simply respond with the question, “Well, why don't you eat horsemeat?” Now the two of you are on the same footing, and the person who has to give a reason for not eating horsemeat will probably not come up with any highly theoretical reasons, but will say something like “The thought of it makes me sick.” Then you can say, “That's just how any meat makes me feel.” And as long as you say this in an appropriately conciliatory way, people will understand your point of view. The main thing is not to let the other person get the impression that you feel superior because of not eating meat. You might still want to add, although only if you can honestly admit it to yourself, that you are too weak to eat meat; you're handicapped when it comes to eating meat. When this question has come up, I myself have often said that a lot of things are simply easier to get through if you don't eat meat. Meat weighs people down, and if you need to use your brain in a precise way, it is simply easier to do if you don't eat meat. In the end, it all comes down to the question of what is easier and more convenient.

I have often emphasized that it is impossible to eat your way into the higher worlds, either through what you eat or through what you abstain from eating. Achieving access to spiritual worlds is a spiritual matter, and both eating and abstaining from food are physical matters. If this were not the case, people might get grotesque ideas about what would happen if they did or did not eat certain foods. It might occur to them to eat salt one week and no salt at all the next week in order to descend to the depths of the elemental world during the week when they were eating salt and come back up again in the course of the week when they were doing without. It's quite possible for people to get stupid ideas like that. In our Society, of course, people will not get ideas that are as stupid as that, but similar things might still occur to them.

But to get back to the subject of vegetarianism, if we are as modest as possible in how we discuss it in the presence of outsiders, we will find that eventually no one will hold the fact that we are vegetarians against us. On the other hand, if we consider vegetarianism to be something to our credit, the outside world will never forgive us for it. And in fact, being vegetarian is not a credit to anyone; it is simply an easy way out.

There are many other similar examples, and we really have to talk about things like this, not to preach morality, but to establish certain basic principles for our life in an esoteric society vis-à-vis the outside world. What it all comes down to is that we need to seriously consider how we relate to the outside world, and the result of our deliberations must be both a bridge and a protective wall between us and the outside, especially in the case of a society like ours. It happens again and again, for instance, that members say to people on the outside, “Dr. Steiner said this and such.” Just put yourself in the place of the person you're talking to, and imagine what it feels like!

For example, if someone says that Dr. Steiner is taking so-and-so's spiritual development in hand, how are outsiders supposed to understand that? What can they possibly imagine except a society of fools who all subordinate themselves to a single individual? That kind of thing really does happen. I cannot even pretend that it does not occur. And just imagine what it means to the outside world. We really must talk about these things from the point of view of how a society should be set up if a spiritual scientific movement like ours is to inhabit it. First and foremost, we must take this spiritual scientific movement seriously, and we must not do anything that could be detrimental to it in the eyes of the outside world.

I will go into this subject more deeply tomorrow, and you will see how intimately this all relates to certain specific impulses of spiritual science. I do not want to simply lecture you sternly; I want to explain how these things relate to the central impulses of spiritual science.