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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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

II. The Anthroposophical Society as a Living Being

11 September 1915, Dornach

Yesterday, my dear friends, I explained the primary difference between a society like ours and other societies or associations. I said its statutes and the points on its program do not exhaustively describe the character of our Society—if we add or delete points and statutes, nothing significant will be added to or subtracted from what our Society is essentially meant to be. I also pointed out the most obvious way in which our Society differs from the usual kind of program-based society or association. That kind of association can be dissolved at any moment. But if it became necessary to dissolve our Society and we actually disbanded, that would in no way change the real state of affairs since our Society, unlike others, is based not on illusory human inventions such as programs and statutes, but on realities. We touched on one of these realities, namely that the lecture cycles are in the hands of all our members, a fact that would not change in the slightest if the Society were dissolved. And the same applies to many other realities on which our Society is based.

Consequently, we really must get to know the conditions necessary for the survival of our Society and not delude ourselves about them. I gave a rather superficial explanation of these conditions yesterday, and would like to go into them more deeply today.

You all know that in many materialistic discussions on the nature of life itself, we can find many definitions or explanations of what constitutes a living being. You have probably learned enough on that subject from spiritual science to realize that all these explanations and definitions are of necessity one-sided and incomplete. The greatest mistake or illusion of materialistically minded people is to think they can encompass the essence of a thing in a single definition or explanation. To illustrate how grotesque this idea is, I once told you the story of how a Greek school of philosophy was searching for a definition of the human being. What they finally came up with was that a human being was a living being with two legs and no feathers.1NoteText Well, this is undoubtedly correct; it is an absolutely correct definition. But the next day, someone who had understood this definition brought in a plucked chicken and said, “Here is a living thing that has two legs and no feathers, so it must be a human being!”

The usual attempts at defining life are no better than that. That's just the way it is with definitions, and we have to be aware of that fact. There is also a comparable materialistic definition of life given by a famous zoologist, a definition that is quite correct and useful within the limits of its applicability:2NoteText “A living thing is something that can leave a corpse behind under certain circumstances; what it leaves behind when it is destroyed is thus not a living thing.” Clearly, this definition applies only to the outer limits of the physical plane, where a living being does in fact leave a corpse behind at its demise; thus, this definition is valid there. When a machine is destroyed, it does not leave a corpse behind; we would be speaking metaphorically if we talked about the corpse of a watch, for instance. However, if our Society were dissolved, it would actually leave behind a real corpse, in the truest sense of the word.

What is the nature of a corpse? Once a corpse has been abandoned by its soul, it no longer obeys the same laws as it did when it was united with that soul. Instead, it begins to obey the physical laws of the earthly elements. The same thing would be true of the corpse of our Society as soon as the Society was dissolved. In addition, the Society's vehicle, namely all the lecture cycles now in the members' possession, would also be part of this corpse.

We can be quite precise and scientific in taking this comparison further. If a corpse is not to have a detrimental effect on its surroundings, it must be cremated or buried. This would also apply to the corpse our Society would undoubtedly leave behind at its dissolution. As a consequence, once we know what our Society really is, we become aware of our responsibility toward what it is based on. A society or association based on statutes and programs is like a machine that leaves behind only pieces if you destroy it, but our Society would leave an actual corpse behind if it were dissolved. It would leave behind something that would have to be thought of as a corpse and treated accordingly.

My friends, we really must think about what our Society requires to survive. For the time being, let's turn away from the superficial fact that the lecture cycles exist and look at their content, which, as I mentioned yesterday, is now present in a certain number of heads. It exists not only in the heads of people who took it in properly and harmoniously, but perhaps also of those—present company excepted, of course, for politeness' sake—who took it up in a distorted form and go on distorting it as they talk about it. All of this is really there and is alive in the Society. And just think of the effect it would have as the Society's corpse if the Society were to disband. That is why we must take responsibility for guarding what our Society requires for survival, and why I appealed to you yesterday in various ways to safeguard those needs.

Now, I just said that if the Society were dissolved, it would leave behind a corpse. This characteristic tells us that in the truest sense of the word, the Society is a real living being. But the Society also possesses another characteristic of living things, namely the fact that it can get sick. I told you that an association founded on the basis of a program and statutes is like a machine or a mechanism, and when members do something that does not fit in with the machine, they are expelled. Expelling members from an association founded on statutes is always just a matter of “lovingly” applying a rule.

However, in the case of a society like ours, which is a living organism rather than a mechanism, taking the action of expelling a member will very seldom have any significant effect on the actual problem. In our circumstances, expelling a member who has done something wrong is simply taking the easy way out. That is not to say that we cannot do it, but we do have to realize that it is much more important to keep the organism of our Society so healthy that it acts as a healer in its totality when confronted with individual unhealthy growths. In most cases, healing a sick organism is nothing more than calling up the healing forces of the entire organism when an individual member or organ is ill. It is important that we understand the process of potential illness within our Society and become aware of the need to call up the healing forces of its entire organism.

Now, I already explained yesterday that one important force for healing consists in getting used to being absolutely exact with regard to phenomena on the physical plane—truth in exactitude, and exactitude in truthfulness. In outer exoteric life, if some bit of information is altered through gossip or lack of precision in being passed on from one person to the next, that doesn't matter nearly as much as it would matter if we were to let this become habitual within our Society. One of the most urgent needs, then, is for us to take exactitude as our guiding principle in everything we say and do.

It is only natural for people to ask what they must do in order to help strengthen the Society. The answer is that the single most important thing is for each individual to really feel like a member of the Society in the right way. Members must experience the Society as an organism and themselves as its organs. That requires, however, that we all make the affairs of the Society our own and that we are able to follow the Society's train of thought. Knowing about the concerns of the Society and wanting to know about them is of fundamental, crucial importance. Of course, this presupposes a certain interest in the Society as such, and to develop this interest, we have to know that the Society is an organism and take this fact seriously. It is much more than just a metaphor.

For example, we need to understand the following. We have three points listed in our statutes.3NoteText It follows from what I said before that statutes are only of secondary importance for us. Nonetheless, they are there. In fact, they have to be there. And if we consider these three statutory points, we can describe them best by saying that they represent our work, the work of our Society. But if you think about how it is with human beings and their relationship to their work, you will find that people's work is what makes them tired and wears them out. Describing a person's work, however, by no means definitively characterizes that person, and it makes just as little sense to say that the work within the confines of these three points on our program encompasses the whole nature and essence of our Society.

However, performing this work does wear the Society down. This means that our Society, just like a human being, needs to be taken care of. Just like a human organism, the organism of the Society also needs care. And it's not enough to think that being a member of the Society means nothing more than using the Society as a place for fostering what is expressed in these three points in our statutes. It also means taking an interest in the guidance and management of the Society as such. When someone lacks this interest, that really means that person is opposed to the Society's ongoing existence. Being interested only in the work the Society does is not the same thing as being interested in the Society as such. But in order for our Society to exist as a basis for this work, a certain interest in the Society as such, in the Society as an organism, must also be present. That is, a certain principle of togetherness, of living and working together, has to be cultivated within our Society.

I said yesterday that in certain cases it is necessary to become quite drastic in calling a spade a spade, and also that it belongs to the very nature of our Society to be able to count on not having these things spread abroad immediately. The grotesque example I used yesterday, the example of the man in the barbershop whose habits were at odds with those of his surroundings, was meant to show that the motive behind this kind of clash is often quite different from what people claim. As I showed, the man in question was motivated by hysterical vanity.

Karma has led us to set up our headquarters here in this area, and so we find ourselves living under conditions that are not exactly ideal in all respects, if I may put it like that. That was what I meant when I said that even if each of us behaved in an absolutely exemplary manner, we might be attacked with still more slander and so on, even if all our members were absolutely exemplary in how they behaved within the general population. So you see, I am not saying that we must take all possible prejudices into account, but only that we need to look at the living conditions our Society needs.

In terms of our own human nature, our own physical body, we know that we have to be physically adapted to the external conditions of life around us, on which we depend, and that our physical organism is in constant interaction with the outside world. The same thing applies to the outer organism of our Society. It has to develop within the social framework in which our karma has placed us, and this makes it imperative that our members respect our Society's needs with regard to living conditions. I have explained what these conditions are time and time again.

An important point I once expressly stated in a rebuttal4NoteText of a local pastor's article attacking our Society5NoteText was that our Society as such does not have anything directly to do with religion. After all, what matters is not only to always say the right thing, but also to say what needs to be said in each particular instance. That is what is important. And one of the things most crucially needed for our whole movement to flourish is for the outer world to finally realize something I've tried to explain again and again. I have said repeatedly that our movement has no more to do with religion than the Copernican view of the solar system at its inception had to do with any particular religious confession. That the religious denominations were opposed to the Copernican system was their problem, and no reflection on the Copernican view itself. And now we must stand firm on one point, namely, that we have no intention of founding a sect or a religious movement. At one point, I had to get downright unpleasant, because, with the best will in the world, people were writing articles about our building and calling it a “temple,” which was very detrimental to us. It made it seem, quite unnecessarily, as if we were competing with the religious denominations. That is why I always remind our members to try to popularize the term “School for Spiritual Science.”

It is really important for people to hear again and again that we have nothing to do with a religious sect or with founding a new religion or anything like that. Our members commit untold sins against the Society when they fail to point out, when providing information, that our Society has nothing to do with founding a religion. Not only that, but by omission they actually do a lot to make it seem as if we were trying to found a religion. It is important to take this into account even in trivial instances and to take every opportunity to beat it into people's hard heads that this is not a temple and not a church, but something that is dedicated to scientific purposes.

Sometimes, my friends, what is said is less important than how it is said. We have to realize that we will always give outsiders the impression that we are a sect or some kind of new religion if we invariably put on a long face in talking about anything happening in our movement—“so long a face that your chin hits your stomach,” as someone once put it to me.6NoteText I know this is not a nice way of putting it, but it is certainly to the point. Of course, this is because many people imagine that this kind of exaggerated seriousness is the only way to talk about feelings related to religious life. But we must make every effort to free our movement from the preconceived idea that we are trying to found a church, a religion, or a sect, and to popularize the idea that this is a spiritual scientific movement taking its place in the world just as the Copernican system did, so that everyone can see that we are the ones being wronged. The Church made a mistake in opposing the teachings of Copernicus; it had to accept them eventually anyway.7NoteText The same thing will happen with our movement as well—the Church will have to accept it.

This is an example of how we have to learn to speak very exactly, and precise speaking must be considered the lifeblood of our Society in its relations with the outside world. It is one way of doing something really constructive on behalf of the Society. People who are only interested in reading lecture cycles—which has its uses, of course, and we couldn't do without it—and take no interest in the governance of the Society, especially here, where you are all in such close contact—well, people who do not want to develop that interest are actually not in support of the Society as such, as I said before. You must develop an interest in the Society! The point is not simply to be there for the sake of participating somehow in the work the Society has to do, but to develop an interest in the Society as such. This means, however, that the affairs of the Society as a living entity have to enter our individual awareness. And the less we need statutes in order to do that, the better.

You see how necessary it is for us to become more and more able to stand firm when someone from the outside says something negative about our Society, and to be able to say that we can vouch for the fact that something like that could not possibly happen in our Society. We must be able to count on the fact that the kind of slander that gets circulated is false in almost all instances—although exceptions are always possible, of course. This, however, requires a really vital interest in the affairs of the Society.

Let's assume that some kind of indiscretion occurs. For example, let's take the hypothetical case of a man and a woman who, one fine afternoon in May, are so indiscreet as to do something they shouldn't do, outside and in full view of the people in the neighborhood. Let's assume that this kind of indiscretion takes place. What ought to happen as a matter of course if our Society were constituted as it should be? The natural thing would be for the people in question to realize in the course of the next few days that they ought to find an older member in whom they could confide, and ask what can be done about it. That would mean that they are making their own private matters the concern of the Society.

Please note the kind of example I have chosen. It is not simply the kind of thing we should regard as a strictly private matter that is none of our business. Rather, it is something that could be extremely damaging to the Society. We cannot function on the principle of the knee that says, “That's my private business”; the knee has to feel like a part of the whole organism. Of course, such things must also be received with real interest. They have to be seen as a concern of the Society; there must always be someone there who is aware of not only what is of immediate interest to him or her, but who also knows a lot about the Society and can contribute to the Society's ongoing well-being.

In other words, this means that we have to get beyond saying, “I have my own circle of friends, and it's to my credit that I brought them into the Society; this circle of friends is what interests me.” I certainly do not mean to criticize people for developing friendships and personal connections—that is none of the Society's business. However, it does have an immediate effect on the Society if people are only interested in the Society because of their own membership in it. We have to make the concerns of the Society our own. We must preclude the possibility of first hearing about some offensive incident from someone outside the Society rather than from within our own membership, and we will automatically take a step toward preventing this when the right kind of interest in our internal social relationships is present.

For instance, at present you can ask four or five people whether a particular person has been attending our lectures in the past few weeks, and discover that none of them knows. That can easily happen among us. Of course, it is understandable if one or the other person doesn't know anything about it, but if you cannot find out anything at all, even by asking around among people who can be presumed to be in the know, that demonstrates a lack of interest and shows that our Society is a mechanism, not an organism. It shows that people are not taking an interest in its life and vitality. That is what I want to emphasize again and again—the need for an interest in our Society's life and vitality.

You see, my friends, we are sometimes surprised by events in our Society that would not surprise us if the members were sensitive to their obligations—and I use that word deliberately—and were participating in the thinking, feeling, and doing of the Society as if they were part of a living organism. But two things are necessary for that to happen. First, each one of us must be willing not to deal with incidents touching on the Society's needs as if they were his or her strictly private concerns. And second, anyone willing to do that must seek out another member with a sympathetic ear.

In this present crisis involving the part of the Society around the building in Dornach, regardless of how many formal resolutions and new paragraphs you formulate, you will still not be able to cope with what is going on in the Society. In spite of all that, we will still not be able to prevent ending up with the above-mentioned corpse on our hands. You can only prevent it by beginning to take an active interest in the affairs of the Society. This means more than the one-time application of intelligence and good sense to formulating new paragraphs and setting up tribunals to deal with “transgressions”; it means making the Society an ongoing object of interest in a living context. But above all, it means we must not be afraid to think, regardless of how unsettling that may be.

I have already mentioned that we are now living in a highly abnormal phase of European history, which we hope will soon come to an end. In times like this, we have to realize that we should not feel free to send anything and everything we happen to think of over international borders, even if it is nothing incorrect or offensive. I am not talking about private matters, I'm talking about things that concern the Society. In fact, however, a large number of our members do not want to think at all about what might or might not be appropriate to the times. Of course, nothing wrong has been done and I do not mean to reprimand anyone, but only to encourage you all to give it some thought and consideration before you act.

We all know that applications for membership or notices of acceptance are totally innocuous documents that cannot possibly cause political repercussions. However, that is not how nations at war look at things. So why do our members insist on sending membership cards out of the country? Perhaps out of thoughtlessness, perhaps out of stubbornness, because they have a point to prove. But if such things continue to happen on a large scale, people will mistakenly read all kinds of things into them, and it will become impossible for the Society to continue to exist. Our members, of all people, ought to be distinguished by their ability to think! But we have to pay attention to these things, or we will not see the Society continue for very much longer.

Once in a while I need to refer back to things in the past. For example, our criterion for admitting members to the Society has never been that only exceptional human beings who were head and shoulders above the rest of humanity would be considered. That is what many people think, but it's not true, and there are others who think that people who are admitted to the Society are in no way exceptional. In fact, we also made a point of admitting people to help them become healthy. And then what happened? Other members began to regard one of these people, someone who was to be helped by being admitted, as a kind of apostle, as someone who was there to heal the Society.

Why is it possible, my friends, for something like that to happen? It is because we are not adequately aware of the ways and means we have at our disposal to prevent it. Just think back to some of the things that have happened—and think we must, if we are to sustain an esoteric movement! If you think back, you will find that whenever something like that happened, whatever you needed in order to be able to assess the situation was usually made available in a lecture; it was spoken out. You only had to be alert to it whenever some danger was present. This means, however, that you really have to consider in detail the lectures given during the time in question. There is no need for us to make the mistake of getting overly personal in our efforts to do the right thing; we can stick to objective facts. But we have to understand what is objectively true on a case-by-case basis.

At this point, there can be no doubt that something radical and fundamental has to happen, especially for that part of our Society gathered around this building. But it is high time to make sure that we do not look for this fundamental and radical action in the wrong direction, that we do not believe it can be accomplished through a few simple things, a few principles and resolutions. That will not bring about any fundamental change or any fundamental healing.

My friends, I must confess that it is not at all easy for me to discuss these things as I have been doing yesterday and today, simply because I would prefer to be talking about other things, of course, and because I also know that many of you have no desire to hear such things, since, after all, your reason for being here is to hear various esoteric truths. However, my friends, if the Society continues to be of as little use as the recent actions of some individuals suggest, we may have to concede that it is no longer possible to use it as a vehicle for introducing spiritual science into the world. Just think of the discrepancy between what I have just said and something else I have had to say here many times in the last few weeks, namely, that spiritual science as we know it must be the greatest influence of our times in counteracting the presumptuous, superficial, and deceptive knowledge existing in the name of science and research. Indeed, spiritual science must make itself felt as a fundamentally progressive element within humankind. And yet we still have to talk about things that should really be self-explanatory, and all this at the risk of being constantly misunderstood. We all tend to see the sins of the other and not make the effort to see our Society as a real living organism, that is, to experience ourselves as organs within this organism.

Of course, members who have joined us only recently can easily make mistakes, but I wonder what some of the long-term members are doing here if they are not doing anything to prevent the mistakes of the newcomers. It should be a principle of ours that longtime members pay attention to the new members as individuals and offer help, in word and deed, to protect them against mistaking foolishness for cosmic wisdom.

It is inherent in the very nature of an esoteric society, however, that foolishness occurs every now and then. Thus, there have to be as many members as possible who can see through the foolishness and prevent it from being implemented. That includes what is in Mr. Goesch's letter.8NoteText He claims that promises have been made and not kept, and has tried to confirm this through a member who he believes or assumes has been promised something. When this member told him that this was not the case, Mr. Goesch, instead of admitting he was wrong, said that this was one more proof that magic is at work—when I shake hands with somebody on something, the handshake wipes out the promise in that person's memory. This is one of the main accusations in Goesch's letter.

It is obvious, my friends, that Mr. Goesch has not only written about these things, but has talked to a number of individuals about them. A vital interest in the affairs of the Society would really have required these people to go in all due haste to a more experienced member and make him or her aware of this situation. It is absolutely incomprehensible how anyone can allow Goesch to say something as impossible as, “When people tell me no promise has been made to them, the conclusion I come to is not that they really were not promised anything, but that their memory of the promise has been wiped out by the power of suggestion,” and let it stand uncontested. When things like this are allowed to happen unhindered, then clearly the Society is not viable and cannot be used as a vehicle for esoteric truths.

There are two things, my friends, that are very much on my mind. One is the fact that everything I know compels me to consider bringing spiritual science to human beings as both necessary and urgent. But I am equally aware of another fact, namely, that the instrument established for this purpose is in the midst of a crisis. That is why I cannot help “tormenting” you with what I had to say yesterday and today. After all, meetings to take remedial action have been announced. But if these meetings run their course the way they did in earlier, similar cases, we will get nowhere.

Please be aware that the simple measure of expelling some one will never accomplish anything. Expulsion cannot resolve any concern of the Society. As you recall, we expelled Dr. Hugo Vollrath many years ago, and he managed to do everything he did later on in spite of having been expelled.9NoteText The same thing will happen in similar cases. It is possible to expel a member, but that is not enough; we cannot rest content with that.

If you will get out Theosophy, which is the first book I wrote in the theosophical movement on the subject of theosophy, and read the chapter entitled “The Path of Knowledge,” you will find certain things that, if you think them through, will make it easy for you to come up on your own with what I said yesterday and today.10NoteText It is all there in that chapter. However, I must assume that not even this very first book of mine has been understood, for if it had been, many recent events could not have taken place.

When the special members' meeting takes place tomorrow, we must be sure that we are looking at these things with all due seriousness and dignity.11NoteText We need to ask ourselves whether we really want to let things get to the point where we have to admit that spiritual science cannot be disseminated by means of a society like this one. If that is the case, if it becomes impossible to do this through the Society, then we will need to find other ways of dealing with what is left behind as its corpse, and that will be much more difficult.12NoteText

I am not responsible for making the agenda for tomorrow, but how that agenda is dealt with will play a part in deciding whether the Anthroposophical Society will continue to exist in the future. Therefore, I will content myself with making an urgent appeal to you to deal with this situation with the greatest possible responsibility and to not gloss over things that are of the utmost significance for human civilization as a whole.

Tomorrow there will be a eurythmy performance at half past ten, followed by a lecture.