Category Archives: Anthroposophy

Anthroposophy and social justice

My eye is caught by an interview in The Guardian with Fran Russell, the recently-appointed executive director of the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship. My daughter also spotted the article and sent me the link, with the comment: “To my casual eye, she sounds like the sort of pragmatic, worldly advocate we need!”

That is exactly right – I have known Fran from when she was the administrator at the Greenwich Steiner School and have a high regard for her, both as a human being and as the right person at the right time for a very difficult job; Steiner schools in England, as anyone who is a regular reader of this blog will know, have been going through hard times in recent years, a period in which they have been under intense scrutiny from Ofsted.

What I noticed about Fran’s interview, though, is that she does not appear to have used the word “anthroposophy” once. One clue as to why this may be so can be found in the comments from readers appearing under the interview, in which quite a few people disparage both Steiner and anthroposophy.

I decided to take a look at the website of the Bristol Steiner School, whose head teacher, Ruth Glover, is mentioned in the interview. The school has clearly learnt its Ofsted lessons well and is now rated as ‘Good’. What is also notable is that there does not appear to be a single mention of Rudolf Steiner or anthroposophy anywhere in the website.

Presumably the reason for this absence is that a hard-headed and pragmatic conclusion has been reached that Rudolf Steiner and anthroposophy detract from the message that the school wishes to convey about the benefits of its educational methods. This is a great triumph for Ofsted and the Waldorf critics, who have thus succeeded in separating Steiner from Steiner schools.

Perhaps such an outcome was inevitable, now that Steiner schools have been in existence for around one hundred years, during which time they and the wider anthroposophical movement have accumulated a quantity of historical baggage that has been unhelpful in today’s circumstances. I find it very sad, however, and worry that a Steiner school which cannot bring itself to mention Rudolf Steiner will eventually lose its way, as those running the school will find it politic to bend this way and that in order either to meet the latest Ofsted demands, or avoid the attention of internet critics.

I thought of these pragmatists and trimmers while reading a book called The Living Rudolf Steiner – Apologia by a Dutch medical doctor called Mieke Mossmuller. Here is a passage that drew my attention:

“One does not have to take blindly what he says and writes, one can simply leave it to Rudolf Steiner’s responsibility. Only dogmatists have to answer for their dogmas. A free man does not have to apologise for the statements of another free man. He knows that the free man reflects more deeply on his statements than the unfree man and thus knows that these free statements of free people are perfectly understandable. However, one must not surrender to the lack of freedom of public opinion. Judgements are widely prevalent there which are not intelligent and spiritual enough to bring about free statements or appreciate these statements. Thus, when a contemporary Anthroposophical Society wants to apologise for statements that Rudolf Steiner has made, it shows itself to be a dogmatic sectarian association in doing so. Or else it has striven itself finally to free itself from this Master of the Occident by pulling this master down to its own spiritless level”

This is perhaps a rather harsh and unforgiving verdict on people who are doubtless trying to defend and preserve aspects of anthroposophy within the hostile climate engendered by “the lack of freedom of public opinion”.  Such a pragmatic tendency is probably an inevitable necessity during the present phase of Steiner schools in England and their intense encounter with Ofsted. It is nevertheless one of two distorting tendencies for anthroposophy which have been identified in a perceptive essay by Robert Karp, a former director of the Biodynamic Association in the USA.

Talking about biodynamics but in remarks which are equally applicable to other anthroposophical endeavours, Karp says:

“We do not understand biodynamic agriculture, as well as Waldorf education, anthroposophical medicine and all the other diverse offshoots of anthroposophy, correctly if we think of them simply as “applications” of spiritual science to different vocations. This is an abstraction. In reality, these movements are the result of powerful forces of social conscience living in different individuals and groups of people in the early 20th century, which then received from Rudolf Steiner and spiritual science a certain direction, a certain form through which their social impulses were channelled and further cultivated”

(…) In his lectures published under the title Awakening to Community, (Steiner) describes ‘three acts in the soul drama’ of an anthroposophist, i.e. of a modern human being striving to work in the world out of the impulses of spiritual science.

The first act of this drama Rudolf Steiner describes as the emergence in our biography of a kind of inner refusal to participate in the destructiveness and superficiality of modern civilisation. He calls this a withdrawal or turning inward of the will away from conventionality—conventional thought forms, social forms, and ways of being—in search of something deeper. 

This turning inward of the will is the very ground of the social conscience, wherever it emerges. The tragic conditions of the modern world touch us in some way: through war, poverty, ecological destruction, racial discrimination, childhood abuse, illness, and so on. Whatever these events or trends are, and however they have impacted us, we can find ourselves disgusted, wounded, angered, depressed, sick, offended. Our will is hindered in its natural outward embrace of the world and we go inward in search for something new and different—we are thrust onto a quest for meaning and healing, both personal and collective. For millions of people in our time, this is the beginning of their hero’s journey of liberation from the oppression, violence, and emptiness of modern life.

(…) Biodynamics is not an agricultural impulse derived from the teachings of spiritual science; it is rather, a powerful social impulse working in the domain of agriculture that has united itself with the spiritual substance of anthroposophy. Biodynamics is thus not something that needs to be wedded to, or have grafted onto it, any type of social impulse, movement, or worldview from outside—it is a social impulse in and of itself— with an inexhaustible wellspring of inspiration for social deeds. The same can be said of all the different so-called “daughter movements” of anthroposophy. This uniting of our social impulses with the insights of spiritual science is what Rudolf Steiner refers to as the second act in the soul drama of an anthroposophist”.

Karp then goes on to observe that the social impulses that fuel movements at their founding are not identical to the social impulses that continue to fuel them over time; and therefore it is necessary for two different things to take place:

“First, that it is refreshed, again and again, by new people flowing into it with their unique social impulses and perspectives; and second, that these social impulses are continually wedded to and illuminated by the social and spiritual substance of anthroposophy; just as took place for the founders of the movement.”

If neither of these things happen, Karp suggests that an anthroposophical movement can be distorted in two different ways:

“a. It can close itself off to the fresh social impulses of succeeding generations or from people in very different regions and cultures, and thereby become less and less relevant to the present time, enclosing itself, as it were, in a kind of sectarian skin formed by devotion to the experiences of the founders and to an ever smaller circle of people in the present. We could call this the sectarian tendency. Or:

 

b. It can welcome new people and fresh social impulses but neglect the process of uniting these social impulses with, and illuminating them through, the substance of anthroposophy; instead adopting and grafting onto itself all kinds of perspectives, narratives, and agenda from movements outside itself. We could call this the grafting tendency.

I find this to be a very acute observation. It is clear that Steiner schools in England, because of the need to accommodate themselves to Ofsted’s requirements, are currently in the grip of (b), what Karp calls the grafting tendency.

One might also say that many Steiner schools find themselves in this position partly because of having been for far too long caught up in (a) the sectarian tendency.

This brings us on to what Steiner called Act III of the soul drama of the anthroposophist: 

“Essentially, he suggests we reach a crisis point in our biography as we seek to embody the universal impulses of anthroposophy within the unique circumstances of our destiny—a process that requires us to confront, ever more deeply, the limitations, wounds and weaknesses of our personality, which includes, of course, the limitations of our familial and cultural heritage. This is a drama marked by great inner struggle with our lower selves: our illusions, our biases, our fears. Yet through this process of self-confrontation and self-emptying, new capacities arise, new-born powers of soul that ultimately can allow us to unite our personal destiny with the destiny of the time and place in which we live. (…) We are reborn, you could say, as world citizens from the confines of our intimate anthroposophical and biodynamic communities. Rudolf Steiner calls this the awakening of a Sophia power in our souls, thus connecting this initiation, in a certain way, with the mysteries of the divine feminine in our time.”

In Karp’s view, the tragedy of the sectarian tendency is that certain existential questions of the time simply don’t get asked or answered, or the people who could ask and answer these questions are not invited to the table. The tragedy of the grafting tendency is that the right questions are asked, but they are not brought into relationship with the being of anthroposophy for illumination and guidance. 

What is the solution to these dilemmas? Significantly, at a time when the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis has brought the spotlight as never before on racism and inequality, Karp suggests that what has been missing in our movement is an individualised approach or response to the questions of social justice drawn from the profound social and spiritual heart of anthroposophy.

Rudolf Steiner addressed with urgency the social justice issues of his time, including education; and together with the businessman Emil Molt, he founded the first Steiner school in Stuttgart in 1919 on the basis that it had to be accessible to both boys and girls from all walks of life, fees must not be charged, and the teachers needed to have complete autonomy to teach as they saw fit. Being free from most standards imposed by the state was seen as a way to teach to the child’s needs, rather than to fit that child into a social order.

This social mission is still felt in many places and Steiner schools around the world. In the US and the UK, however, Steiner schools began as private, fee-paying schools which by definition exclude many children who would benefit from such an education. The roots of anthroposophy are in social justice so it is sobering to reflect that today, one hundred years after that first school opened in Stuttgart, we are no nearer to achieving an educational system that is both free to all and free from state interference.

15 Comments

Filed under Anthroposophy, Biodynamics, Social justice

“Do you believe in an afterlife?”

On most Saturdays, if I’m not too busy with other things, I go to a shop in our village and buy a copy of the Financial Times Weekend. I do this, not because I have any interest in the financial markets but because at the weekend the Financial Times transforms itself into the best UK newspaper in terms of its coverage of things that do interest me – politics, world affairs, the arts, book reviews, gardening etc.

One of the features I always look at is the ‘Inventory” column in the FT Weekend magazine, in which they interview a well-known person and ask them a standard set of 18 questions, eg: What was your childhood or earliest ambition? Private school or state school? Who was or still is your mentor? How physically fit are you? Ambition or talent: which matters more to success? etc. The question I always find myself turning to first of all is: “Do you believe in an afterlife?”

This week the subject was Bobby Gillespie, a musician who co-founded the band Primal Scream in 1982. His answer to the question was: “I don’t. I do believe in a universal energy – we’re all part of each other. We’re just the human race”.

The previous week the interviewee was Kate Clanchy, who is a teacher, writer and poet who was appointed MBE for services to literature in 2018. Her response to the question was: “No. Maybe only a literary afterlife – I think that’s one of the reasons to write. Your words can live on. I believe in the human capacity to remember each other and love each other”.

These two responses are fairly typical of answers to this question. I haven’t kept a tally but my guess is that around 8 out of 10 interviewees say that they have no belief in an afterlife.  I find myself vaguely disturbed by these results. Why is it that so many people who are prominent in public and cultural life seem to know so little about the reality of what it is to be a human being?

A slightly different question was asked of the great psychiatrist Carl Jung in a TV programme called “Face to Face” in October 1959 when he was interviewed by John Freeman. Jung, who was 84 at the time and was still active in his field, spoke to Freeman about education, religions, consciousness, human nature and his relationship to Freud. When Freeman asked Jung whether he believed in God, Jung’s reply was: “I don’t need to believe, I know”.

carl-jung-9359134-1-402

Carl Jung

This reply has caused something of an outcry, both at the time and in the years since; in 2006 the biologist and convinced atheist Richard Dawkins accused Jung of “blind faith”. I don’t think this is a fair accusation. Jung had worked hard on himself all his life and had worked extensively with a wide range of patients so could speak with the authority of a lifetime of inner exploration. Four years earlier, in another interview, Jung had expanded a little on this theme: “All that I have learned has led me step by step to an unshakeable conviction of the existence of God. I only believe in what I know. And that eliminates believing. Therefore I do not take his existence on belief – I know that he exists”.

Jung’s view, given in letters after these interviews, is that there is something very real and mysterious, which we all call God, but the images of God we all hold are different and inadequate. He seems to have been suggesting that we should recognise that any and all images of God are always different from the actual nature of God.

In that same interview with John Freeman, Jung said this: “We need more understanding of human nature, because the only danger that exists is man himself — he is the great danger, and we are pitifully unaware of it. We know nothing of man — far too little.” Anthroposophists of course would tend to agree with Jung; but we would also go beyond Jung in our view that we already know quite a lot about what it means to be a human being, not only during our physical incarnations but also in our soul and spiritual natures.

I sometimes wonder what I might reply in the highly unlikely event that I was interviewed and asked whether I believed in an afterlife. I should probably say: “Yes I do, and also in many ‘before’ lives as well as afterlives to come”. But this sort of conviction seems to be uncommon today, when a kind of solipsistic cynicism about anything other than the material is more usual.  A quotation from the late, great comic, Peter Cook, sums up this attitude for me: “As I looked out into the night sky, across all those infinite stars, it made me realise how insignificant they are”.

But what would Carl Jung have said if he had been asked about the possibility of an afterlife? Writing in 1934, he commented:

“Critical rationalism has apparently eliminated, along with so many other mythic conceptions, the idea of life after death. This could only have happened because nowadays most people identify themselves almost exclusively with their consciousness, and imagine that they are only what they know about themselves. Yet anyone with even a smattering of psychology can see how limited this knowledge is. Rationalism and doctrinarism are the disease of our time; they pretend to have all the answers. But a great deal will yet be discovered which our present limited view would have ruled out as impossible”.

To my mind, Jung is quite infuriating on this topic – evasive, long-winded and seemingly unwilling to state publicly his private convictions. Jung obviously decided to remain completely empirical in his public observations, confining his work to inner soul images. Jung also speaks of psychoanalysis as the only initiatory path available in the modern Western world.

This is not so, of course, and this is just one reason why for me Steiner is of much more interest than Jung: it is because Steiner has an absolutely clear understanding and knowledge of the transcendent and is able to observe the invisible spiritual realms and report what he has seen. Whereas Jung kept his work firmly in the region of the soul, Steiner was able to develop his capacities of consciousness so as to reveal the nature of the spirit – and to teach how other people can develop these capacities as well.

RudolfSteiner1911

Rudolf Steiner in 1911.

There is a danger here and that is that Steiner’s teachings, taken on their own, and without any conscious connection to one’s own soul life and inner experience, can lead one to fall into anthroposophy as though it were a religion – which it emphatically is not.  Anthroposophy, in fact, is a path of research and hard meditative work leading to various outcomes in consciousness, thinking, feeling and willing. This is quite a tall order for people living in a culture in which materialistic individualism reigns and there is no connection to the collective forces of the soul – but it is a necessary path to take if one wishes to understand the physical-soul-spiritual wholeness of the human being.

46 Comments

Filed under Anthroposophy, Carl Jung, Rudolf Steiner

Guest Post: The Bodhisattva Question, part 2 – some conclusions and further thoughts

 

by Hans van Willenswaard

Before I had to travel, here in South East Asia, I thought the exchanges on the Bodhisattva Question had come to an end and I intended to contribute a concluding post. On my return I found a new wave of contributions and it is not easy to catch up.

We are dealing with evaluations of the past; what the mission of the Bodhisattva of the 20thcentury might mean today in terms of evolution of humanity and our active role in it; how personal experience plays its part; how we make judgments on the viability of our own and others’ statements; and lately what our dynamic position is in the concrete socio-political constellation of today. I’ll try to react to these issues in this concluding post and then look forwards to a new Anthropopper thread to be opened by Jeremy.

One of the questions – triggered by our exchanges – that started haunting me is: Based on which experience did Rudolf Steiner initiate this vision that the Christ would re-appear in the etheric realm? How and from where did this insight arise? I found this quote:

What Paul experienced (near Damascus) as the presence of Christ in the atmosphere of the earth is what modern man may train himself to experience clairvoyantly through an esoteric schooling; this is also what single persons here and there will be able to experience through a natural clairvoyance, as I have already characterized it, beginning with the years 1930 to 1940. Then it will continue through long periods of time as something that has become entirely natural to humanity.

The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric; Lecture I – The Event of Appearance of Christ in the Etheric World, 25 January 1910, Karlsruhe (GA 118 ).

However, is this 1910 reference to the “Damascus experience” the whole story? I started searching and found new information about the past. Recent revelations by Richard Cloud in consultation with the last remaining so called Pansophists – and confirmed by Claude Philalethes in French language – point at the possibility that Steiner learned seeing the vision of the reappearance of the Christ in the 20th century from his esoteric teacher “Master M”. Steiner identified “M” in his famous Barr Document but never revealed his identity, probably as he was bound to secrecy. Is this a secret Ottmar was curious about? The intriguing Barr document written by Steiner played a role in an earlier Anthropopper post where Jeremy Smith recalled his life-changing meeting with Sir George Trevelyan at Findhorn.

In addition to professor Karl Julius Schroer, brought to our attention by Steve Hale, and the herbalist Felix Kogutzki, who, in my understanding, guided Steiner respectively to Goethe and to the perception of life forces in Nature, it may have been, according to the, for me, unknown Richard Cloud, “Master M” who guided Steiner to the phenomenon of the reappearance of the Christ, not in a physical body but in the etheric world. Who was “Master M”?

Remarkably, first Cloud – with consent conveyed to him because 100 years have passed and thus the secret can safely be revealed – identifies “Master M” as an occult teacher with the name Alois Mailander (1844 – 1905). Mailander, according to the research of Cloud, was known in esoteric circles as “M” or brother Johannes/John. He was an illiterate mystic who lived in southern Germany and had gathered around him students. Rudolf Steiner may have been one of these students.

Later Richard Cloud even postulates, to my astonishment – in an article 24 August 2018 – that Alois Mailander may have been the incarnated Christian Rosenkreutz …

http://pansophers.com/dem-m-revealed/

http://pansophers.com/alois-mailander/

Leaving this revelation without passing on a judgment for the time being (maybe Jeremy can open a post on this) the question still arises what is “Pansophy”? Where does it originate from?

Here is what Rudolf Steiner says:

Very few people today know that Amos Comenius was the actual founder of the modern pedagogy (…). A book by Friedrich Eckstein entitled Comenius and the Bohemian Brothers was recently published. Friedrich Eckstein is one of those people who was united with me in a small theosophical group in Vienna at the end of the 1880’s. [Eckstein was a known student of Mailander – addition Hans]. Then he went his own way and I had not heard of him until this book about Amos Comenius appeared. These 150 wood cuts from the original edition are given with German and Latin texts. Here you have wood cuts beginning with God, the world, heaven, the elementals, the elements, plants, fruits, animals, the human body and its members, etc., all of which was put in such a way as to appeal to the heart. This sort of presentation still appeals very much to people. Herder and Goethe loved all this in their childhood. The whole way of writing children’s books rests upon Amos Comenius. He was connected with many secret brotherhoods all over Europe and he wanted to establish what he called his “Pan Sophia”. In the beginning of our period, in the 16th, 17th century, we have in Amos Comenius a human being who knew that now is the time for a sudden change, that one must transmute all the knowledge from earlier times into the form of external intellect. You do not simply continue it in the form of the ancient tradition. This tradition rests upon that which was the Temple architecture. Amos Comenius had as his task translating (this) in his “Pan Sophia” (…). (…). And so we want to establish a school of wisdom, a universal wisdom, a “Pan Sophia” wisdom so that one can say that that which is in Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister, which was represented in the Wander Years, is a continuation of what Amos Comenius wanted.

Things in Past and Present in the Spirit of Man, Lecture V: Comenius and the Temple of PanSofia, Dornach, 11 April 1916, GA 167

This quote not only is most intriguing in terms of giving possible credibility to the above mentioned revelations – to be checked – from the source of the remaining Pansophists; the reference to Comenius provides, in my opinion, a welcome opportunity for positioning the Waldorf school impulse of Rudolf Steiner in both an inspiring historic as well as a universalist (albeit within the Christian tradition) perspective, beyond the often repeated framework of “German idealism”.

It’s also remarkable that Comenius (1592 – 1670), a wandering Czech free-thinker and bishop of the Bohemian brotherhood, lived for many years in the Amsterdam canal house, Keizersgracht, where more recently one of the probably most important libraries of Rosicrucian and other esoteric literature is based, the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica,now under the name of “Embassy of the Free Mind”. This library was built up piece by piece by businessman Joost Ritman and his family. One of the sons is chairman of the umbrella organization of Dutch Buddhist organisations, and active in the European Buddhist Union (EBU).

Also interesting from my personal perspective is that, as a coordinator I worked at the youth centre cum jazz club in the 70s exactly opposite, across the canal from the present building. In that time the library was not yet accessible by the public but I had been told about it by my meditation teacher and in a dream visited the attics of the library when it was still based at a much smaller house nearby.

Recently I bought in Amsterdam a copy of the Dutch translation of Via Lucis, the way of the Light, which Comenius wrote in London.

More information about Johann Amos Comenius and his “College of Light” can be found in an article of Rachel Ritman through this link:

https://www.ritmanlibrary.com/the-ritman-library-team/the-college-of-light/

From this point about resonances with the past, I would like to come back to Gauren’s very helpful critical observation, where I made the realization of the reappearance of the Christ in the etheric world conditional to humanity’s awareness of it. Here are some interesting quotes from Steiner to clarify the issue:

Christ will exist in the earthly sphere as an etheric being. It depends upon the human being how he establishes a relationship to Him. On the appearance of Christ Himself, therefore, no one, no initiate however mighty, has any influence. It will come. I beg that you hold firmly to this. Arrangements can be made, however, for receiving this Christ event in this way or that, for making it effective.

When we speak in this way, we feel what anthroposophy should and can mean to us, how it should prepare us to fulfill our task by seeing to it that a sublime event such as this not pass humanity by, leaving no trace behind. If it were to pass without leaving a trace, humanity would forfeit its most important possibility for evolution and would sink into darkness and gradual death. This event can bring light to human beings only if they awaken to this new perception and thereby open themselves also to the new Christ event.

Humanity will be granted a period of about 2,500 years in which to develop these faculties; 2,500 years will be at his disposal to attain etheric vision as a natural, universal human faculty, until human beings advance again to another faculty in another time of transition. During these 2,500 years, more and more human souls will be able to develop these faculties in themselves. (At other instances he speaks about 3000 years counted from 600 before Christ).

Humanity is called upon to develop ever-higher faculties, however, so that the course of evolution may be able, again and again, to make new leaps.

Christ will be there in order that He can be experienced also on these higher stages of knowledge. Christianity is in this connection not at the end but at the beginning of its influence. Humanity will continue to advance from stage to stage, and Christianity will also be there at every stage in order that it may satisfy the deepest requirements of the human soul throughout all future ages of the earth.

These and later quotes, if not mentioned otherwise, are from the first three lectures of GA 118: The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric

Lecture I – The Event of Appearance of Christ in the Etheric World, 25 January 1910, Karlsruhe

Lecture II – Spiritual Science as Preparation for a New Etheric Vision, 27 January 1910, Karlsruhe

Lecture III – Buddhism and Pauline Christianity, 27 February, Cologne

Whereas Steiner himself taught about it for less than two decades, he said this vision would be further announced later in the 20thcentury. Now, how culturally specific is the prediction that the Maitreya Buddha would incarnate as a ‘Bodhisattva of the 20thcentury’ announcing ‘the re-appearance of the Christ in the etheric’?

This question may lead us to exploring the possibility of an evolution in the understanding of what bodhisattvas are, in particular how the bodhisattva principle increasingly is being socialized. Can we speak of a nucleus of bodhisattvas and can it include every ones’ efforts, small and big. It would release us from the obsession to find THE Bodhisattva, without becoming uncritical. What unites us is more important than what divides us. We may, in the search to find an answer, also explore acceptance of pluriformity in our assumptions of how reincarnation actually works. Does it happen with intervals of 300 years? In a 100 years rhythm – does each century has its Maitreya Bodhisattva – ? Or can re-birth be realized a few years after death, as is the case with Tibetan lamas?

For reflections on these issues it may be helpful to identify some milestones in human evolution in the 20thcentury and relevant for our dialogue.

Ultimately we will have to settle a meaningful consensus on how to share the universality of the Christ impulse – and impulses coming from other spiritual manifestations like the Buddha – in the context of a global multi-cultural, inter-religious civil society, based on free inquiry. Is the striving for “sustainability” our common goal?

Rudolf Steiner speaks of an initial consciousness leap to take place around 1930 – 1940 with a period of 2500 years to bring it to fruition. Steiner mentioned these years were not to be taken exactly. He may not have foreseen the enormous disaster of World War II which delayed the course of events. While searching for anchor points in time I come to a possible timeframe for further research. Of course the evolution of consciousness plays out at various fronts. One of the possible areas for finding such demarcation points, in a threefold worldview (which I will address later in this concluding post), is that of governance and law.

From this governance perspective, a milestone in the evolution of humanity’s consciousness certainly is the post-War formulation and adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in the year 1948. And one can say that this human achievement to end and prevent disaster was preceded half a century earlier by the First Hague Peace conference of 1899 (the approximate year that, according to Steiner, the ‘Dark Age’ of Kali Yuga ended): a first step towards building global governance and law materialized in the construction of the Peace Palace.

A decade after 1948 – in 1957 – another milestone occurred. The Buddhist world celebrated the “2500 commemoration of the Enlightenment of the Buddha”. It was not only the year that my wife was born in Thailand (where we live now in the year 2561), it was the first time that the Dalai Lama travelled to India to join, as a 22 year old lama, the festive commemorations in New Delhi. Two years later he had to take refuge in India. Tibet had been occupied and the revolt against China failed. The Dalai Lama remained in exile in India for the rest of his life. The year 1957 marked the unique turning point from the influence of the Gautema Buddha to that of the Maitreya Buddha to be incarnated 2500 years later. The realization of (genuine) sustainability – the reappearance of the Christ in the etheric world – may need this 2500 years’ time span to come to full fruition, if I understand Steiner well.

From the 1957 celebrations in the huge Buddha Jayanti Park that was especially laid out in New Delhi for this occasion and where the still largely unknown Dalai Lama met, as a refugee, with the enormous diversity of Buddhist dignitaries he may have silently started preparing for a role as spiritual world leader. Only in 1967, at the age of 32 years, he began travelling all over the world to spread the message of Universal Responsibility – including responsibility for Nature – complementing the freshly adopted Universal Declaration of Human Rights in two ways: emphasizing responsibilities over rights and transcending anthropocentrism.

[In October 1993 the Dalai Lama inaugurated a huge Buddha statue in the park, where I was present.]

The search for universal values inevitably evokes a sharp paradox: the realisation of universality, unity, requires free, independent, individuals. Universalization does not mean (forced) surrender to one central truth. Dynamic agreement-building based on diversity and free personal consciousness goes hand in hand with simultaneous appreciation of the (spiritual) fact of absolute inter-dependence.

Can Christ be appreciated as one (for those closely connected to him: central) spiritual entity among a diversity of entities with a common mission to constitute universal responsibility? It may require collective effort of individual human beings who cultivate freedom, in order to co-create a responsible political order and a community-driven economy.  The evolution of humanity towards due care for the Earth – the foundation for the community of life – is “a sacred trust”. That is how it is stipulated in the Earth Charter launched in The Hague – another milestone – 100 years after the First Hague Peace conference, and 50 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

http://earthcharter.org/discover/the-earth-charter/

The period of these 2500 years in the evolution of consciousness starts from the initial experiencing of “the etheric”:

A conception will arise that will see the earth not in terms of purely mineral forces but in terms of plant, or what could be called etheric, forces. The plant directs its root toward the earth’s center, and its upper part stands in relation to the sun. These are the forces that make the earth what it is; gravity is only secondary. The plants preceded minerals just as coal was once plant life; this will soon be discovered. Plants give the planet its form, and they then give off the substance from which its mineral foundation originates. The beginnings of this idea were given through Goethe in his plant morphology, but he was not understood. One will gradually begin to see the etheric, because it is that which is characteristic of the plant realm.

They will behold the etheric earth from which the plant world springs up. (…). He who possesses this science in the highest degree is the Maitreya Buddha, who will come in approximately 3,000 years (if counted from what is now identified as the beginning of the anthropocene; addition Hans). (…) This will all lead human beings to know in which direction they must go. You must undertake to transform abstract ideas into concrete ideals in order to contribute to an evolution that moves forward.

Lecture III – Buddhism and Pauline Christianity, 27 February, Cologne

Experience is essential for this conception. I am grateful to Steve and Kathy that they hinted at personal accounts of how in their life they experienced the highest etheric presence, a “bodhisattva momentum” or a Damascus event. These experiences, by the way, could be less rare than we may think. Sir Alister Hardy (1896 – 1985) made a public appeal to volunteer participation in research on spontaneous “religious” experiences and was overwhelmed by the response.

So, I owe Steve and Kathy that I try to tell something of my own experiences. I have two experiences I can try to share and they come together in what I try to advocate: “engaged Buddhism”; and “engaged spirituality” where anthroposophy leads the way. One experience is about meditation. I admitted earlier to Tom Hart Shea that I am not comfortable with the First Class mantrams or other anthroposophical exercises. They are so “Rudolf Steiner”. I love the uniqueness and personality of Steiner and feel deeply inspired to act upon the second part of The philosophy of freedom. But although I find confirmation of meditative insight in the first part of the book, for the actual meditation I resort to the more “de-personalized” approach of Vipassana Bhavana.

Around my 33rd year I did my first ten-days Vipassana retreat at a small attic of what later would become the Thai temple in a bigger building. It is hard to communicate the core meditative experiences that resulted, and it is also recommended not to do so. But I found a beautiful reference in a, to my eyes, very important article to which Steve Hale linked us in his post, 22 June 2018, for which I am very grateful. I reproduce the reference here with the comment that my insights in no way did match this level of sophistication.

In “The scientific credibility of anthroposophy” Jost Schieren summarizes parts of the work of Herbert Witzenmann (1905 – 1988), an early (often criticized) leader of the Social Sciences Section.

(…) the ontological sphere of the world has to nullify itself in the human organisation. Witzenmann describes the human neuro-sensory system as an organ for the nullification of the spirit brought about by ontological evolution. It places the human being before the nothingness of sensory perception, so that in the free act of knowing he can undertake a re-constitution of reality. It is a kind of null-pointand as such a point from which human cognition can proceed unconditionally. There are – as Rudolf Steiner points out in The philosophy of freedom – two different ways of doing this: on the one hand, through the perceptsdelivered by the sensory organization; and on the other, through autonomously generated thinking. By using meditation to practice inner observation and thus developing his ability to work with these two poles of human cognition – perceptionand thinking– the human being takes hold of a new freedom-based mode of constituting both self and world.

The scientific credibility of anthroposophy, Jost Schieren, RoSE – Research on Steiner Education, Vol. 2, 2011.

Inner observation as described here, is a required exercise to lay the foundation for scientific research that in the same time can do justice to anthroposophy as well as satisfy mainstream science, according to Schieren. Sunyata, nothingness,is also a concrete, intimate – and at my age then, life defining – meditation experience in a person’s biography.

I feel that it is scientific rigour, maybe derived from the point Witzenmann describes, which distinguishes the mathematician Elisabeth Vreede from Adolf Arenson, a merchant and composer, and makes them arrive at different conclusions on the possible shared identity of the earmarked Bodhisattva and Rudolf Steiner. Later Sergei Prokofieff fortifies Arenson’s vision in a context of modern conservative anthroposophy.

My second personal experience related to the subject came at the age of 39. Location: CREAR at Rio Limpio, Dominican Republic where I did my Emerson College rural development internship. I learned more than ever in my life in that period. I did not have a good relationship with founder and leader of CREAR Mark Feedman and working in the garden (with passionate “double digging”) in the tropical climate was hardship. One day I observed from a distance how Mark, he liked to do things on his own, sprayed the land by hand with the 503 cow manure preparation. Suddenly a strong golden glance arose from the soil and I “heard”: “this is my body” … I experienced something happening which earlier had fascinated me and had explored as transubstantiation

Given the reference Rudolf Steiner makes to the etheric, revealing itself in the “Damascus experience” of Paul in the first quote of this contribution, it is interesting to learn that modern researchers question whether the Last Supper ritual was initiated as such by Christ or later inserted by Paul.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origin_of_the_Eucharist

Christianity evokes the narrative of God the Father becoming a human being, his Son the Christ. While in our era the Christ is reappearing as body of the Earth. This is an evolutionary need to counter extreme materialism, industrialization/digitalisation and commercialisation. In its realization the transformation loses earlier gender implications, unifies with the nearly forgotten but especially in Latin American very strong “buen vivir” movement around the vivid reality of Mother Earth. Evolving into what the Earth Charter determines as “community of life” and how it can be co-created.

Rudolf Steiner gave a series of 10 lectures, March 1913, in The Hague. Later in the same year the Peace Palace would be opened. Steiner must have walked around the nearly finished building. In May he traveled to Dornach and suddenly decided to start the construction of the First Goetheanum.

In conclusion some comments on Buddhism and Anthroposophy.

A study group was initiated on this theme by Dharmacharya (authorized teacher in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh) Ha Vinh Tho who studied eurythmy in Dornach for many years. The first meeting was attended by 11 persons, among whom my wife Wallapa and I, in the old emperor’s city of Hué, Vietnam, March 2001. Later we introduced Tho to our friends in Bhutan where he became a well-known teacher and programme director of the Gross National Happiness center.

The Bodhisattva is a Being who passes through all civilisations, who can manifest Himself to mankind in various ways. Such is the Spirit of the Bodhisattvas.

Now the mysteries always make appropriate preparation for the corresponding duty of mankind. Every age has its special task; and every age has to receive the truth in the particular form needed by that epoch.

The East in the Light of the West, 31st August 1909, Munich

Anthroposophy derived, with its assimilations, the concepts of Karma and Reincarnation from Buddhism. Contemporary understandings of Karma and Reincarnation guide “engaged Buddhism” in similar ways as in anthroposophy.

A man who has assimilated these ideas knows: According to what I was in life, I shall have an effect upon everything that takes place in the future, upon the whole civilisation of the future! Something that up to now has been present in a limited degree only — the feeling of responsibility — is extended beyond the bounds of birth and death by knowledge of reincarnation and karma. The feeling of responsibility is intensified, imbued with the deep moral consequences of these ideas.

Reincarnation and Karma, GA135, 5thMarch 1912, Berlin

In addition to Karma and Reincarnation, anthroposophists, like the former chair of the Anthroposophical Society in the Netherlands, Joop van Dam, have studied, practiced and published on the Eightfold Path. What has been less researched is the perceived resonance between the Tri Ratna or Three Jewels in Buddhism and the principle of threefolding as developed by Rudolf Steiner. (See my book The Wellbeing Society. A Radical Middle Path to Global Transformation.) The Tri Ratna is the most central, essential, spiritual entity in all streams of Buddhism. Buddhists take (everyday) refuge to the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha.

Since my first visit to the Goetheanum in 1976 I have been intrigued by possible similarities between threefolding and the Buddhist Tri Ratna. Only by exchanges in the context of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) with leaders of the Ambedkar movement in India, I got some external confirmation of possible resonance. Who was Dr. B. R. Ambedkar (1891 – 1956)? Born a dalit, an untouchable, low-cast, in a family with 14 children, he was given opportunities to study in India and abroad, and became a prominent law expert and political rival of M. K. Gandhi.

Ambedkar was of the opinion that Gandhi did not go far enough in the emancipation of the untouchables. After independence Ambedkar was given the task to draft the constitution of democratic India. Ultimately he found that becoming a Buddhist was the only way to positively liberate himself from the caste system. In 1956, just before he died, he took refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha and triggered a mass conversion movement among untouchables.

Upon the question how it could be that in his draft for the preamble of the constitution the three values of the French Revolution were so clearly recognizable, he replied that these were not the values of the French Revolution but it was purely Buddhism that had guided him.

I think here is a key to fresh collaboration between Anthroposophy and Buddhism. The Buddha symbolizes personal liberation and responsible freedom; the Dhamma stands for the laws of Nature and Karma to whom we all are equal; and the Sangha, in its narrow sense, the monastic order of monks and nuns, harbours in a broader sense the value of true brother- and sisterhood, the spirit of community.

A concrete affirmative response to the growing recognition of life-forces and the etheric in Nature, as an urgently needed expression of resilience vis-à-vis materialistic destruction, can be jointly shaped – in a universal context – with the help of modern insights on threefolding.

More concretely threefolding addresses: the challenges of freedom as well as responsibility of citizens; sovereignty of nation-states; and property rights in the economic sphere. All three have to be reframed.

Christopher Weeramantry, Sri Lanka (1926 – 2017), Vice President of the International Court of Justice, The Hague, himself a Christian, said about property:

(…) concepts such as ownership are often taught and conceived in Western jurisprudence as being of absolutist nature, which is the very antithesis of the Buddhist approach to these concepts. Their stress on rights overshadows the accompanying concept of duties, and the latter is what Buddhist teaching tends to emphasize. This elevated concept of duties lies at the heart of the notion of trusteeship.

C.G. WeeramantryTread Lightly on the Earth. Religion, the Environment and the Human Nature, Stanford Lake, 2014 (second print)

And the Constitution of Bhutan (2008), the last Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas, stipulates:

Every Bhutanese is a trustee of the Kingdom’s natural resources and environment for the benefit of the present and future generations.

Earth Trusteeship implies that all global citizens are equal trustees of the Earth. A new threefold world order will be based on Earth Trusteeship.

Regressive trends of our time, like Brexit (sorry Steve), are based on the old paradigm of sovereignty of the nation-state and accompanying nationalism.

We need to turn to the new paradigm of Earth Trusteeship.

Martin Large formulates, more concretely:

Social threefolding can also help answer the question of the conditions for organisational success. For example, community land trusts (CLT) are well grounded on threefolding principles. They secure the land as a commons or right into the trusteeship of a civil society, non-profit body, whilst leasing the right to use the land to a homeowner, who owns the actual ‘house structure’ standing on the land. The homeowner is able to sell or buy the house, but not the land, to qualified buyers. CLT thinking sees the house as a commodity and the land as a commons held in trust, so that land ‘value’ is captured for community, rather than for private benefit.

Rudolf Steiner’s Vision for our Social Future: Openings for Social Threefolding by Martin Large, New View magazine, issue 81, Autumn 2016.

Jeremy may have news about the Emerson College gathering in 2020.*

* Not yet – but I hope to have some preliminary information by Spring 2019. J.

 

50 Comments

Filed under Alois Mailander, Anthroposophy, Bodhisattva, Buddhism, Rudolf Steiner

What’s in a name?

Back in 2014, at the summer conference of the Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain (ASGB) I was heartened to hear the then recently appointed general secretary, Marjatta van Boeschoten, announce that the ASGB Council was seriously considering a name change for the society. I was even more encouraged that the members present seemed to be overwhelmingly in favour of such a change and wanted the society to play a much more active, outward-facing role in the world.

Four years on, it’s apparent that other counsels have prevailed and that changing the society’s name was felt to be more than the members (or perhaps Dornach) would stand for. But it still seems to me that, if our intention is to help other people to find out more about what it really means to be a human being, then the word “anthroposophy”, at least in the English-speaking world, is a hindrance rather than a help.

To the ear of an English speaker, “anthroposophy” and “anthroposophical” are not only difficult to pronounce but they also sound vaguely cult-like, perhaps causing the listener to bracket us alongside Scientology or the Jehovah’s Witnesses. “What’s in a name?” asked Juliet in the balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.  This may be true, but if the rose were called Sticky Willy, Knobweed or Nipplewort, then I doubt whether today it would be the national flower of England.

So names do matter in terms of shaping perceptions, and we should ask ourselves whether “anthroposophy” is doing us any favours.  From where did Steiner get the name? According to Wikipedia:

The term began to appear with some frequency in philosophical works of the mid- and late-nineteenth century. In the early part of that century, Ignaz Troxler used the term anthroposophy to refer to philosophy deepened to self-knowledge, which he suggested allows deeper knowledge of nature as well. He spoke of human nature as a mystical unity of God and world. Immanuel Hermann Fichte used the term anthroposophy to refer to “rigorous human self-knowledge,” achievable through thorough comprehension of the human spirit and of the working of God in this spirit, in his 1856 work Anthropology: The Study of the Human Soul. In 1872, the philosopher of religion Gideon Spicker used the term anthroposophy to refer to self-knowledge that would unite God and world: “the true study of the human being is the human being, and philosophy’s highest aim is self-knowledge, or Anthroposophy.” In 1882, the philosopher Robert Zimmermann published the treatise, An Outline of Anthroposophy: Proposal for a System of Idealism on a Realistic Basis,proposing that idealistic philosophy should employ logical thinking to extend empirical experience.” Steiner attended lectures by Zimmermann at the University of Vienna in the early 1880s, and it is therefore possible that this is where he came across the term.

From this it is clear that Steiner didn’t invent the name, nor did he think it so special that it should be kept for all time. In a lecture given in Dornach on April 15th1923, Steiner made the following remark: “If I had my way, I would give anthroposophy a new name every day to prevent people from hanging on to its literal meaning, from translating it from the Greek, so they can form judgments accordingly. It is immaterial what name we attach to what is being done here. The only thing that matters is that everything we do here is focused on life’s realities and that we never lose sight of them. We must never be tempted to implement sectarian ideas.”

And yet the irony is that anthroposophy has often been accused by some misguided or malicious “skeptics” as promoting sectarian or even crackpot ideas. “Life’s realities”, according to these people, include their beliefs that we have just one lifetime; that our consciousness is extinguished with death; that there is no such thing as a spiritual world existing alongside the physical world and that the only real things are those which are material.

Yet surely it is these materialistic ways of regarding the world which have in large part brought humanity and our planet to its present parlous state. Materialistic civilisation has led to environmental degradation on such a scale that the entire biosphere of the earth is now under serious threat. Nationalism, religious and racial hatreds and political confrontation are making the world a much more dangerous place than at any time since the Second World War. The powerful, prosperous industrial nations keep the majority of the Earth’s inhabitants in the Third World in economic dependence and abject poverty. In many dictatorships, human rights are routinely violated. But, even in supposedly advanced democracies, the dignity of the free human being is assaulted in many ways by the media, by commerce, by schooling systems and materialistic science dominated by economic interests.

Insights gained from anthroposophy show us what each of us can and should do – politically, economically and spiritually – to work effectively against these challenges and all their associated problems. Yet since 1925, the year of Steiner’s death, what has the Anthroposophical Society done to help turn the tide? Why have there been no attempts by the Society to engage in the general development of society by way of contributing to public discourse?

I’m not suggesting that the Society should be putting its opinions into the world. One of the outstanding features of the Society is that members are not asked to sign up to any opinions or articles of faith, or pledge themselves to carry out any obligations. A member’s opinions are her or his own, and they cannot hold heterodox views as there is no anthroposophical orthodoxy. This of course means that neither the national societies nor the General Anthroposophical Society in Dornach can make any pronouncements in the name of the members. But I am suggesting that where anthroposophy has real knowledge and insights to contribute, then the Society should be bringing them forward into the public realm. Anthroposophy is here not only for its members but is also (and I would say, primarily) an approach to life created by Rudolf Steiner for the transformation of consciousness both of individuals and society, thus leading to the increasing wellbeing and development of the world and its inhabitants.

What then should be the role of anthroposophy in today’s society? Is anthroposophy just something that is for individuals to pursue in quest of their own spiritual development, or is it also meant to make a vital difference to the way in which society is organised and how human beings live their lives? If the latter aim is accepted as legitimate, does anyone experience the Anthroposophical Society as a community in which current world problems are discussed openly and freely, dealt with from a position of real knowledge and insight and then communicated to the interested public?  I’m being very unfair, of course, in order to make my point that since Steiner’s death, anthroposophy hasn’t had the impact in the world that he had envisaged. Part of the reason for this, of course, is that without the leadership of a charismatic initiate such as Steiner, the Society no longer generates the same kind of intensity of response as it did when he was alive.

The history of the Society since 1925 has, on the whole, not been a happy one. The growing disagreements between members of the Vorstand after Steiner’s death, the mass expulsion of members in 1935, and a few disgraceful accommodations with Nazism in Germany and Fascism in Italy in the period leading up to the Second World War, were indicators of a movement that had lost its way. Perhaps, after all this, the spiritual world concluded that the Anthroposophical Society was no longer a suitable vehicle within which serious work could be done. The fact that the GAS has just spent part of its 2018 AGM in rescinding the expulsion of Ita Wegman and Elisabeth Vreede 83 years after the event points to a certain frivolity in their approach to what is needed today, however justified it may be to make a belated acknowledgement of that disastrous misstep.

So to whom is the Anthroposophical Society now speaking? It seems unlikely that it can now be a significant change-maker in the world, except inasmuch as individual anthroposophists can find common cause with people and organisations of goodwill throughout the world. It is the work of Rudolf Steiner that can still connect us to other people, because so much of what he brought through speaks powerfully to the dilemmas of today. Even the most dedicated materialists and skeptics are feeling the hugely pervasive disquiet seething in the collective consciousness of humanity at this time, as the true scale of environmental vandalism, economic disparity and social injustice reaches breaking point.  At these times, the wounding power of ridicule from the skeptics towards the notion that humans are in reality spiritual beings currently in physical incarnation just loses its potency; to quote Susan Raven (author of the book Nature Spirits: the Remembrance): “If you hold another human being’s eye and speak your truth with the indefinable power that infuses a human voice when it sounds out from a point of profound and undeniable experience – there will be movement. And if the listener then goes on to hear the same, or similar, information from another two sources, the shell of denial might just begin to crack – be it ever so slightly!”

To people who are now open to treading a spiritual path, to come across the work of Rudolf Steiner, a very great initiate and master seer, can be life-changing. It is Rudolf Steiner whose extraordinary life and astonishing body of work can reach out to these people, not the society with its headquarters in Switzerland and a name that is difficult to pronounce. Is it not now time to acknowledge this reality? Is now the moment, in other words, to change the name of the Society, at least in English-speaking countries, to something like the “Rudolf Steiner Association”?

Such a move would not be without its dangers. The late Rudi Lissau said that: “If we look at every statement Steiner made as a message of the spiritual world, we endow Steiner with greater authority than that assumed by the Roman Pope. It is essential to bear in mind that certain ideas of his have their root in the general climate of the time and sometimes stem from definite people. Like any other human being Steiner was, to a certain degree, shaped by his environment and, like any other human being, had certain prejudices. He had not studied everything and, as he repeatedly stated, made many of his statements to particular groups of people in unique situations never to be repeated. If we fail to remember this, we turn a real man into an idol. One can, if one is so inclined, worship an idol. A real man with all his faults and weaknesses can be loved and there are few people more worthy of love than Steiner.”

So we should remember that Steiner was a real man who also had initiate consciousness, someone who was able to bring forward huge amounts of information for us to seek to understand, to work with, to reject or accept according to our inner being, or to take forward into further research, or to apply in practical situations. Let us put no obstacle, name or otherwise, between Rudolf Steiner and those people who need to meet him.

61 Comments

Filed under Anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner

What next after capitalism?

After the results of the UK election, held on 8th June, one thing became very clear: young people have started to lose faith in the way our present society runs, particularly in our current model of capitalism. The situation is even more stark in the USA; Naomi Klein has analysed it brilliantly here.

It is not hard to understand some of the economic pressures which have led young people to conclude that capitalism is not working for them. A study by the Resolution Foundation last year found that people born between 1981 and 1985 are earning £40 a week less in today’s terms than were, at the same age, people born a decade earlier – making the current under-35s the first generation since the industrial revolution to suffer such a reversal. Meanwhile, the cost of housing has gone beyond their reach. Over the past five years, according to the Nationwide Building Society, the rate of home-ownership among 30-34 year olds has plunged from 49.3 per cent to 43.1 per cent – while older people have enjoyed higher rates of home-ownership.

Moreover, high rents have prevented many young people from putting aside any kind of savings. If they cannot win a stake in the capitalist system, in spite of working hard, why should they support it?  Add to that some of the many other issues that Theresa May’s government is either supporting or which are resulting from its policies, eg fracking, foodbanks, stealth privatisation of the NHS and other public services, student tuition fees, constant austerity for ordinary people but not the rich, etc., and it is no wonder that so many young people voted in such numbers for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.

For many older people, capitalism was associated with freedom. But there is little reason today for young people to feel the same way, when they are confronted on a daily basis by large, tax-dodging corporations and bankers who wrecked the economy, who escaped without punishment and yet who carried on skimming off vast bonuses. What they see instead are the failures of Conservative industrial policy, such as over-priced trains run by private companies, which have ruthlessly exploited the private monopolies granted to them, in what was surely the most flawed of all the privatisations.

It will not be possible for the Conservatives to continue to preach the benefits of the free market if it is patently not working in favour of an entire generation. By the next election the current generation of under-35s will comprise nearly half the population. If they have a sense that the economic system is rigged against them, they will revolt against it – and so they should.

But it’s even worse than just a system rigged against the young; those of you who are regular readers of this blog may be aware that from time-to-time, I’ve expressed grave doubts as to whether this planet and all the species living on it will be able to survive the consequences of our present system of economics.

Our current model of capitalism, with its emphasis on constant growth and its elevation of money to something which trumps every other argument, is leading us inevitably towards what has been called the Sixth Great Extinction in the history of our planet. The Holocene epoch, the past 12,000 years of stable climate in which agriculture, settled communities, and great civilisations first appeared, has come to an end, and a new epoch has begun. The term “Anthropocene” was coined in the 1970s to describe this new epoch, in which we are seeing significant human impact on the Earth’s geology and ecosystems.

Another and in some ways better term for the present epoch has been coined even more recently by those who want to focus attention on the role of capitalism in bringing us to this crisis in Earth’s existence, and this is the “Capitalocene”.  We are living in a new and dangerous epoch in Earth history, as identified in overwhelming detail by scientists. It is characterised by the violation of critical planetary boundaries, the unprecedented disruption of our planet’s life-support systems with potentially catastrophic results, including climate chaos, mass extinctions, acidified oceans, poisoned rivers, rising sea levels, over-population and more.

Whatever one calls this new era, it’s clear that most people (with the possible exception of Donald Trump and those who share his attitudes) are prepared to accept that the Earth System as a whole is experiencing unprecedented negative changes caused by recent human action (from the time of the Industrial Revolution onwards). The concept that perpetual, constant, infinite growth without limits is leading us directly to disaster is one that is probably accepted by most sane people these days. The question is: what can be done about it? Who is going to tell voters in a democracy that there are limits to growth? Who will tell a Premier League footballer or a rock star that there should be a limit to the number of Ferraris they own? More to the point, is there any politician with the courage to say to people like me that two cars per family is quite enough?

No doubt most people can see the connection between unlimited numbers of consumer goods and ecological destruction – but which of us is prepared to accept that the limits to growth have to start with you and me?

Rudolf Steiner identified the economic, social and cultural aspects of the problem a century ago and put forward Threefolding as an alternative to our headlong pursuit of disaster. These ideas still need to be brought to the world’s attention but my assumption is that there will not be any cut-through to political and public notice by anthroposophical concepts alone, unless they are also accompanied by additional ideas and solutions propounded by other people of goodwill. Sadly, anthroposophy is too strange a word, its ideas are too remote from common attitudes today, and its historical baggage is too cumbersome to enable it to make the necessary difference on its own.

That is why I am proposing, along with a few colleagues, to organise a conference at Emerson College in 2019 to look for a new story, a new narrative about what has to pass away, and what has to come into being, if we are to survive as a species on our beautiful blue planet – and I invite you to help “crowdthink” this conference into a form that will enable it to be most useful. Here are a few ideas to get us started, and I would be most grateful for your own input, such as suggestions for speakers, themes, alternative ways forward and who should be invited to attend and participate. Please send in your thoughts and ideas via the Comment button below.

Conference working title: What next after capitalism?

Conference venue: Emerson College, Forest Row, East Sussex, UK

Proposed date: Around Easter 2019

Basic premise: The world is hurtling towards disaster because of the way we treat the planet and people and this is a direct result of our current economic systems. We are not living with love for one another and the world. Does the conference accept/agree with this? Does the conference accept/agree the concept that the problem is our present model of capitalism?

Duration: 3 days

Day 1: THEME – What’s broken?

Establishing what’s not working and why, using examples from around the world. 20-minute “Ted type” talks on identifying what is broken.

Day 2: THEME – Alternatives

Looking at alternatives from around the world – examples of success and failures

Day 3: THEME – Call to Action

Leaving with determination, purpose and a clear set of realistic actions for each of the 3 themes.

Underlying structure: 3-fold. Cross-cutting themes throughout conference, including Economic, Cultural and Rights spheres, and taking in topics such as the impact of our present model of capitalism on the environment, global economy, banking, agriculture, medicine, company structures, shareholder system, developing countries and relations between people, etc

Our ideal will be to find a backer who will fully fund the conference so that attendance can be by invitation only. Our aim will be to put together a stellar group of keynote speakers and leading thinkers, and to invite top civil servants, social entrepreneurs, pioneers who are already doing the alternatives, academics, influencers and opinion-formers to attend.

I would be very grateful to receive via the Comments below your own thoughts, ideas and suggestions to develop this proposal – please suggest speakers, topics and a structure for each day of the conference. It would be a magnificent achievement if this conference could be a result of “crowdthinking” in action!

 

57 Comments

Filed under Anthroposophy, Capitalism, Emerson College UK

The UK’s Brexit and anti-globalisation general election

Apart from his efforts to bring about the Threefold Social Order after the First World War, Rudolf Steiner stayed away from involvement with politics. Indeed, he went so far as to say: “The Anthroposophical Society is averse to any kind of sectarian tendency. Politics it does not consider to be among its tasks.”  This is a line that many anthroposophists also take, for understandable reasons.

Despite this, I am going to write here about politics, because the forthcoming “snap” British general election, called by the British prime minister Theresa May to be held on June 8th 2017, is of such a momentous nature, with implications not just for the UK but also for many other countries around the world, that it surely deserves a wider anthroposophical perspective.

We have also just had the result of the presidential election in France, which was won decisively by Emmanuel Macron, leader of a new political party, En Marche! (On the Move!), whose name by a strange coincidence bears the same initials as his own. His defeated opponent, Marine Le Pen of the far-right Front National party, had one of the most devastating lines in their televised debate, when she said: “France is going to be led by a woman, either me or Frau Merkel” but her aggressive, hectoring style led most observers to conclude that she had lost the arguments.

(As an interesting aside, a respected clairvoyant suggested to me that Emmanuel Macron is an aspect of Napoleon Bonaparte, who has reincarnated to do what he can to compensate for all the death and destruction he caused during his life as Emperor of France. A fanciful notion, perhaps, but put pictures of Macron and Bonaparte side by side and there is a distinct resemblance. I shall watch with great interest how Macron approaches his task of seeking to unite a very divided nation.)

Macron Bonaparte

Macron Bonaparte (image via the blog Conseil dans l’Espérance du Roi)

The Eurozone economic crisis, combined with the cultural and social impact of its open borders policy, has led to the rise of far-right parties not just in France but in many EU nations: the very thing which defenders of the EU say it exists to counter. But discontent with the EU is only one factor; another important one, which applies much more widely than just within Europe, is that the bankers and money-men collectively bankrupted us a decade ago – and got away with it. The resulting surge of rage across the Western world unleashed the Brexit vote in the UK; it smashed the established French party system, so that neither of the main parties there was any longer even in contention for the presidency; and in the USA it carried Donald Trump all the way to the White House. The tide in favour of national self-determination and anti-globalisation appears to be running high in many countries right now.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I voted to leave the European Union during the referendum held on June 23rd 2016, and I gave my reasons here and here. Most anthroposophists I know took a different line, and voted to remain. There has been a lively discussion about all of this in recent issues of the Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain’s Newsletter. I don’t intend to repeat the arguments I made last year, but will add here a few further observations.

First of all, a glance back at the history of Britain and the European project, together with a question: why was it that Conservative and Labour statesmen such as Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin, as well as the great European Charles de Gaulle, were all against the idea of Britain joining what was to become the European Union? Was it because they all understood what the European project was about and realised that Britain was not a natural part of it?

Churchill de Gaulle

Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle

The case made by those in favour of joining the European Economic Community (such as Harold Macmillan, prime minister from 1957 to 1963) was that Britain’s relative economic and actual geopolitical decline after the Second World War left joining the rest of Europe as the only viable alternative. However, after the war and in the early 1950s, most British politicians were unable to see just how difficult Britain’s position had become; or perhaps some of them could see it, but weren’t prepared to tell the British people that our imperial pretensions could no longer be sustained. It was the Suez War of 1956 that revealed just how far Britain’s economy had weakened, and how dependent it had become on the USA.

Britain after the Second World War and into the 1950s resisted the idea of joining in any moves towards European integration. True, Churchill had publicly supported the idea of a United States of Europe, notably when he made the keynote speech at the Hague Congress that created the Council of Europe in 1948; though whether he ever envisaged Britain being part of any such union is very doubtful. Certainly, he was far less sympathetic to the idea of union by the time he had returned to power in 1951. Nor was the post-war Labour government in favour of any moves towards union that might cede sovereignty in any form. In May 1950 foreign secretary Bevin said that because of links with the USA and the Commonwealth, Britain was “different in character from other European nations and fundamentally incapable of wholehearted integration with them.” In any case, measures towards political union of any kind aroused him to vigorous rejection. ‘I don’t like it. I don’t like it,’ he famously said of the idea of the Council of Europe: ‘When you open that Pandora’s Box you’ll find it’s full of Trojan horses.’

Bevin and Attlee

Ernest Bevin and Clement Attlee

Most Conservative politicians agreed with him. So Britain failed to engage in the creation of the EEC in the Treaty of Rome of 1957, and then later tried but failed to remedy what had come to be seen as a mistake. For Charles de Gaulle had never forgotten that Churchill had once told him that “if we had to choose between France and the US, Britain would always choose the latter.” So when Britain finally tried to join the EEC, first in 1963 and then again in 1967, de Gaulle vetoed our applications. Giving his reasons in 1963 for saying “Non”, he commented: “England in effect is insular, she is maritime, she is linked through her interactions, her markets and her supply lines to the most diverse and often the most distant countries; she pursues essentially industrial and commercial activities, and only slight agricultural ones. She has, in all her doings, very marked and very original habits and traditions.”

De Gaulle also believed that Britain would represent American interests: it would be the US’s Trojan horse in the EEC. He had concluded that Britain was not committed to the goals of the EEC because, having withdrawn in 1955 from the original talks that led to the creation of the EEC, Britain had then proceeded to establish its own rival customs union (EFTA – the European Free Trade Association). In addition, he found the British both arrogant and self-important. Was de Gaulle wrong about any of this? I don’t think so.

This is all ancient and unfortunate history, some might say. Eventually, in 1973, Britain managed to join the EEC – but only after de Gaulle had left office. Nearly half a century later, we’re all Europeans and global citizens now, drinking our fairtrade coffee while we wait for our flight to some agreeable holiday destination. We like the idea of being able to move to any EU country for work, and in any case, without all those helpful Eastern Europeans coming to the UK, who will look after the elderly in our care homes or serve us our skinny latte?

Despite such compelling arguments, I voted to leave on June 23rd 2016, and thus opened myself up to accusations of racism, fascism, betraying young people etc from furious Remainers. Even so, I was somewhat bemused to find myself characterised by Michael Eggert, a German blogger, as someone who was siding with “neo-nationalist reactionaries” and “reflecting the internal arguments of the UKIP supporters.” He tells his readers that if they go to the anthropopper blog they will know what to expect if they are “familiar with today’s neo-right and open-fascist conspiracy theories. The ingredients for anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism are the same, albeit with the pseudo-occult bluff arguments which so many believing Steiner supporters derive from his statements of 100 years ago.”

Actually, Michael, if I were pushed to define my political position, I would say that I lean towards anarcho-syndicalism with a deep green tinge. I thought I had taken great care in my Brexit essay to set out quite a distinct and principled position from a progressive standpoint – but perhaps the argument was too nuanced to pierce the hard shell of your cultural infallibility.

Leaving the uncomprehending Egoisten aside, I still remain baffled by the poor reasoning exhibited by so many Remainers; why is it, for example, that pro-EU people on the left or Green sides of the argument are so in favour of the European Union? What are they doing, these radicals who like to think of themselves as being in the forefront of the fight against globalisation, by fighting instead for an undemocratic, unaccountable trading bloc which is backed by the world’s banks, multinational corporations, financiers, and heads of governments? To listen to these Remainers, it’s clear that the decision to leave is being treated not as an opportunity to engage more fully with the wider world, nor a throwing-off of economic handcuffs or even simply as a change that must be accommodated after due democratic process, but rather as some kind of a national disaster.

Caroline Lucas

Caroline Lucas, the Green Party’s only MP and one half of the party leadership

And what is the Green Party thinking of, when it supports the EU? The EU cannot by any stretch of the imagination be described as green. Has Caroline Lucas forgotten the continent-wide destruction created by the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy – the wiping out of hedgerows, forests and wildlife, landscape features, small and family farms, and the promotion of industrial farming and agricultural free trade – which has arguably done more damage to the rural landscapes of Europe in 50 years than any other single instrument in the previous 500? This of course is now being extended to Romania, Poland, Hungary and the other newer members of the EU, where we will once again see the destruction of the peasantry, wildlife and diverse landscapes and the introduction of monocultures and the triumph of agri-business.

As for the Labour Party, I confess I don’t know what their attitude to the EU is today, nor do I understand what their position is on Brexit. What I do know is that they have failed to provide any kind of leadership, or to show that they have any clue about what caused the vote to leave. It seems that they have already given up on any prospect of winning this general election and are now manoeuvring behind the scenes for the leadership election that seems likely to follow a heavy general election defeat for their party.

The weakness of the left and the Greens means that this general election campaign will be more or less entirely about Brexit – and if I am right about most people’s motivations for voting to leave the EU, then in some ways it is also a manifestation of anti-globalisation, as we have seen elsewhere around the world.

The ruthlessness and will to power of the Conservatives have been much in evidence ever since the country voted to leave. We saw this first of all in the leadership contest to succeed David Cameron and then in everything Theresa May has done since becoming prime minister, especially in the way she has called this general election after denying on at least six occasions that there would be any election before 2020. The chances are that we are in for an extended period of Conservative rule. This has huge consequences, most obviously for Brexit and the UK’s future relations with Europe, but also for the futures of Labour’s leadership, public services, and the constitutional outlook for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar.

may juncker

Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker (photo via the Daily Telegraph)

Mrs May has of course been fortunate in her enemies; nothing is better calculated to bring voters over to her side than leaked vindictive accounts from the aides of Jean-Claude Juncker of private dinners at Downing Street, or the threat of charging British taxpayers £100 billion because we were foolish enough to want to resign from the club. This is perhaps one reason why the Liberal Democrats were not able to make any kind of a breakthrough in the British local elections held on 4th May – as the one British political party which is unequivocally for Remain, they are now seen as supporting the vindictive and venal elite of the European project.

For the European Union has always been an elite project. Since it took shape in 1992, its architects have always been reticent about putting their project to the people. Referenda were rare, and if people voted the wrong way, as they did in Ireland or in Portugal, they were told to vote again until they gave the ‘right’ answer. The unspoken but clear aim has been to diminish, if not abolish, the democratic sovereignty of European nations, and to ‘pool’ that sovereignty in the interests of creating a giant, borderless free-trade zone. Of course, it was dressed up with talk of peace, equality and brotherhood, but it was primarily an economic project, as well as an attempt to keep Germany from becoming too dominant. (I wonder what happened to that?) People were not asked to vote on any of this, for a simple reason: it was clear they would say no. People remain stubbornly attached to their national identities, as we have seen in Britain, and as we see across the continent. This has been the EU’s fatal and quite deliberate flaw: it has never carried the people with it.

Were Rudolf Steiner alive today, he would not be giving his backing to the European Union as it has evolved. Why so many anthroposophists are unable to see this escapes me, because Steiner was quite clear about what should happen. He hoped for a threefold association of European nations that would themselves be threefold societies in which the cultural, legal-political and economic spheres would be clearly separated yet inter-related, his diagnosis being that Europe’s ills were caused by the interference of the three spheres with one another: business seeking to dominate the political state and the state seeking to dominate the cultural life (e.g. education). For the European level, Steiner looked forward to a common European economic life (which the EEC had started to provide), a common supranational European cultural life (which over the last fifty years has started to emerge in many ways) but to the maintenance of national values and traditions in the sphere of rights and law. It is this last point that the European Union, in its inept attempts to become a superstate, has completely failed to understand, and this is why Brexit became a necessity.

If Macron and others could begin to help the EU to reform itself along the lines indicated by Steiner, I would not hesitate to seek to rejoin such a community – and I think this would apply to many other people as well, not just in Britain but throughout Europe.

80 Comments

Filed under Anthroposophy, Brexit, European Union, Rudolf Steiner

The supersensible powers of Rudolf Steiner

Long before writing this blog post, I recall reading an account by Walter Johannes Stein of a car journey he had taken with Steiner. They were going through a town when Steiner suddenly asked the driver to stop the car outside a bookshop they had just passed. Steiner went into the bookshop and re-emerged shortly with a book, which he showed to Stein with great satisfaction, saying that he had been wanting to obtain a copy of it for some time. “But how did you know it was in that bookshop?” asked Stein. “Oh, I saw it in the window,” said Steiner. Stein knew that this was quite impossible by any normal means, because it was just before dusk and the light was poor, and the car had in any case been moving too fast for anyone to have been able to pick out a title in the bookshop window. Unfortunately, I can’t now recall where I read about this and despite googling extensively, have not been able to re-locate it. Should any reader discover it, I would be grateful to know. But what this anecdote shows is that Rudolf Steiner had some amazing abilities that are not available to most of us in our present stages of development. What were these abilities, and what use did Steiner make of them?

steiner in spiritual world

Rudolf Steiner, photographed when in supersensible contact with the non-physical realm

Édouard Schuré (1841 – 1929) was a French philosopher, poet, playwright, novelist and music critic who had known Marie von Sivers (the future Frau Dr Steiner) since the year 1900, when she had contacted him with a request to translate some of his works into German. It was Marie von Sivers who introduced Schuré to Rudolf Steiner in 1906. According to the Wikipedia article on Schuré, “he was deeply impressed and thought of Steiner as an authentic ‘initiate’ in line with his The Great Initiates. After hearing Steiner lecture in Paris for the first time in 1906, Schuré in an ecstatic state ran home and wrote down the entirety of the lecture from memory. This first lecture, and the other lectures in the series (which Schuré wrote down) were published as Esoteric Cosmology. Subsequently, Steiner and von Sivers staged Schuré’s esoteric dramas at the Theosophical Congresses in Berlin and Munich. Schuré’s The Children of Lucifer, served as a precursor of Rudolf Steiner’s own esoteric dramas.”

220px-Edouard_Schuré_01

Edouard Schure

So Schuré was someone who knew Steiner well and had a very high regard for him. In 1910, he wrote some biographical notes on Steiner, which describe Steiner as an adept, a higher initiate, combining the powers of both mystic and occultist:

“The mystic…is one who seeks for truth, and the divine directly within himself, by a gradual detachment and a veritable birth of his higher soul. If he attains it after prolonged effort, he plunges into his own glowing centre. Then he immerses himself, and identifies himself with that ocean of life which is the primordial Force.

The occultist, on the other hand, discovers, studies, and contemplates this same Divine outpouring, given forth in diverse portions, endowed, with force, and multiplied to infinity in Nature and in Humanity. According to the profound saying of Paracelsus: he sees in all beings the letters of an alphabet, which, united in man, form the complete and conscious Word of life

The weapons of the mystic are concentration and inner vision; the weapons of the occultist are intuition and synthesis. Each corresponds to the other; they complete and presuppose each other.

These two human types are blended in the Adept, in the higher Initiate… Rudolf Steiner is both a mystic and an occultist. These two natures appear in him in perfect harmony. One could not say which of the two predominates over the other. In intermingling and blending, they have become one homogeneous force.”

There are numerous accounts, from people who knew him well, of Steiner’s supersensible abilities. From these accounts, it is clear that Steiner always waited for the conscious co-operation of the people with whom he worked; and that he never used his powers in an egotistical or selfish way, or to bring about a particular end. The freedom of other human beings was a fundamental and absolute principle underlying everything he did and said. I have chosen here a few examples, which have particularly appealed to me, to illustrate some of Steiner’s supersensible abilities but there are many others available.

The first example comes from Eleanor Merry (1873 – 1956), an English anthroposophist and artist who studied in Vienna and met Rudolf Steiner in 1922 after becoming interested in his teachings. Eleanor Merry was one of the organisers of Steiner’s 1924 summer school in Torquay, and this account comes from a meeting she had with Steiner in Paris in May of that year to discuss some of the details of the forthcoming conference.

Eleanor Merry

Eleanor Merry

“I told Dr Steiner about my efforts at painting according to his methods, and as I meant to exhibit some of my work at Torquay, I wished so much he had seen them beforehand. He replied: ‘I have seen your paintings’, and I said ‘No, Herr Doktor. You haven’t seen them; they are all in London.’

He said again: ‘I have seen them.’

I contradicted him, and for the third time he repeated that he had seen them, looking at me with his intense dark gaze.

Then for the first time I realised that he had indeed seen them, but not with earthly sight.

This incident gave me still greater confidence, because his ‘seeing’ had obviously not been the usual type of clairvoyance, but something entirely different. And there was something else. I told him that one day in London I had had great anxiety about my conduct of life, and my son and daughter, and had been nearly at my wits’ end and extremely unhappy. I was walking in the Park, thinking these anxious thoughts, when I heard distinctly a voice saying to me ‘Alles Licht kommt aus der Finsternis heraus.’ (All light comes out of the darkness.) It was so clear that I was startled, and I told him I had thought he was himself speaking. He looked kindly at me and said the simple words: ‘Warum nicht?’ (Why not?)

Never again could I doubt that in spirit he could be at any moment present with his pupils, no matter where they were.”

Anna Samweber (1884 – 1969) was an active co-worker in Berlin with Rudolf Steiner and Marie Steiner-von Sivers for several years. Her anecdotes and recollections were recorded by Jacob Streit during an intensive two days shortly before Anna’s death. They contribute a warm and intimate picture of Rudolf Steiner, the man, and his work.

csm_Samweber_Anna_dfb76cd481

Anna Samweber

“Frau Dr Steiner owned a lovely diamond watch with her initials inscribed on the lid. It was broken, and I had to take it to a well-known watchmaker who lived a long way from the Motzstrasse (the house at 17 Motzstrasse in Berlin was where Rudolf and Marie Steiner lived from 1903 – 1913, and where the work of the Anthroposophical Society was carried on). It was late on a cold and foggy November evening when I made my way in the direction of Nollendorfplatz, where the building site for a subway was situated. I was walking along a long, wooden blank wall when suddenly two human shapes appeared from the dark and attacked me. I remembered that once Rudolf Steiner had told me that if ever I was in need I could call on him. So when these two attackers went for me, the one holding me from behind so that the other could rob me, I called inwardly and spontaneously: ‘Doctor, help me!’ At the same moment both fellows fell back like lightning and were gone.

When Rudolf Steiner came for breakfast the next morning he greeted me with the words ‘Good morning, Sam. What was the matter that you cried so loud last night?’ When I told him about my experience and he had listened quietly, he said simply: ‘But I did help you, didn’t I?’ “

Now here is an intriguing little story that will no doubt invite derision from some, but to my mind is highly significant. There is a book, Summer with the Leprechauns, by a Canadian author, Tanis Helliwell. In it, Helliwell describes how she went to Ireland and lived in a cottage with leprechauns (the race of elemental beings to which elves, leprechauns and fairies belong), one of whom became her particular friend and teacher about these beings. It’s an entertaining book to read and has been praised by Dorothy MacLean (one of the three founders of the Findhorn Community, well known for her work with the elemental kingdom).

Tanis-Dorothy-McLean-smaller-332x205

Tanis Helliwell (L) with Dorothy MacLean

In an interview, Helliwell was asked: What is the intention of elementals, what is their role, what do they mean for us in these ecologically very sensitive times and how do you see the writings of Rudolf Steiner on elementals?” Tanis Helliwell replied:

“In my book Summer with Leprechauns: The Authorized Edition I describe a new caste of elementals. About 100 years ago Rudolf Steiner (founder of anthroposophy) met with my leprechaun friend. He asked him and other elementals coming from all different castes: leprechauns, elves, goblins, gnomes, trolls and fairies to work in partnership with the humans to help create a healthier Earth and also to learn how to use free will and learn to be co-creators. My work assists him in the process. I travel around the world to speak to interest groups to work with elementals. Wherever I go be it the Maori of New Zealand, the Haida in Canada, the Mayan in Central America or people in Germany or Ireland the traditions of these people, all of them, believe in elementals. It is in their stories, in their legends and it is also in their present because so many people have encounters with elementals in their lives.”

I’m going to finish with a lengthy extract from an article, ‘The Initiate and the Teacher’, published in 1959 in The Golden Blade by the English artist, Gladys Mayer (1888 – 1980). She first came across Steiner’s work in 1915, when she read The Way of Initiation. In April 1922 she attended Steiner’s series of lectures on education at Stratford-on-Avon, then went to the Vienna Congress in June. The following year she visited Steiner in Dornach and decided to become a painter and art teacher at the Goetheanum.

“Mine was a strange, perhaps unique, experience of him. It is of the Initiate I must write, for I came to him late in his earthly mission, and I was not permitted to speak with him in outer life, until I had recognised him, supersensibly, as my Teacher.

Shattering events in life brought me to Rudolf Steiner. I came, not for myself, but on behalf of others. I came with doubt in my heart concerning him, yet the events which made me seek his help were beyond the competence of any but an Initiate to understand. I needed the advice which I knew he could give…”

Gladys Mayer 2

Gladys Mayer

Mayer then describes how she experienced what she called “the great karmic crisis of my life”:

“On not only one occasion but three times in the space of about six weeks, I had to face madness and impending tragedy in my own immediate environment. Twice in this period, on distinct occasions and amongst unrelated people, I had to intervene when a murder seemed imminent, and once to check an intended suicide. I began to ask myself: ‘Is the world about me going mad?’

But The Way of Initiation had already begun to bear fruits in spiritual experiences which guided me through events of terrifying responsibility, from day to day, and sometimes from moment to moment. I knew the spiritual worlds as reality, and Spiritual Beings as my aid. I received pictured instruction, through which healing was brought to the madness of one friend, and through which I was able to save the life of another. At length, I received the instruction to go to Rudolf Steiner for further advice…I met him frequently for something over two weeks: each time I met him he greeted me with a smile and a warm hand-clasp. Each time I asked him, ‘May I come and speak with you?’ he put me off with the reply: ‘Frage mir nochmal (Not just yet).’ Friends in Dornach told me this did happen sometimes, and of course it had a reason…Meanwhile, my spiritual instruction was going on, but it had developed a new phase.

Every night I awoke about two hours after midnight, and was aware of a continuous experience. At first it was a Star, very distant, that was shining on me: then it was gradually coming nearer, and at length it was a man with a lamp who stood by my bed. By the light of the lamp I was aware of another, greater figure, and from this other one, though I could not see him clearly, came words instructing me in the spiritual understanding of what was going on around me. I was shown, unexpectedly, the concealed suffering in the heart of a nearby friend: it was as though I were lifted up by the unseen Teacher to learn to know, through the Light of the Lamp, what was happening behind the veils of sense appearances.

At length, after about 14 days, I became anxious to know from whom I was receiving such teaching. I had become accustomed earlier to receiving instructions from an unseen Spiritual World. I had been made aware of the reality of spiritual discarnate Beings. But this Teacher was more concrete. I could see him unclearly towering above me, too great, it seemed, to be in any way connected with a human form. I could see the great form, but not yet the face of this Being.

At last, I could bear it no longer: I felt I must know more. I seized hold of him, as it were, with all my soul forces, and challenged him, saying: ‘Who are you?’ Then, as there came no answer, I asked wonderingly: ‘Are you the Christ?’ ‘Nicht so’ (Not so). Then, because these were German words, a further thought came to me. ‘Are you, can you be, he whom we know on earth as Rudolf Steiner?’

There was an instant stillness, and then the answer came softly, ‘Eben so’ (Even so).

I was still not satisfied. It seemed impossible for anyone so spiritually great to be also a human being. So I pressed further. ‘Then show me your face,’ I asked.

Immediately away to my left, where was situated the studio in which Rudolf Steiner lived and worked, I saw a tiny distant picture of his face and form resting with eyes closed, as it seemed to me, not in sleep, but in deep meditation.

I understood now why I had been kept waiting. I had doubted, and doubt came in through a false spiritual perception. It could be put right only by my seeing and recognising him in truth, in supersensible experience, as my Teacher. I came to him joyfully the next day, and asked confidently: ‘Now can I come to see you?’

I knew what the answer would be, and was not mistaken. When we talked together, I felt that I had known him for all time. I told him of all the terrible and wonderful experiences I had gone through, where earthly disasters had been averted through spiritual enlightenment, yet had eventually left me with responsibilities I felt were too great for me to bear alone; and how these responsibilities had eventually brought me to him. He listened quietly, and one had the impression he made his whole being receptive, soul to soul. Then he explained my experiences with the simple words: ‘Dies ist eine karmische Sache (This is a karmic matter).’ I felt enormous relief. Here, at last, is someone who understands, who takes all these astounding events calmly, and is competent to give advice. This is a matter of karma.”

Gladys Mayer’s account continues with her decision to sell up all she possessed so as to move from England to Dornach to be a painter at the Goetheanum, conscious that because of Steiner’s failing health there might not be much time left. As one of his many pupils, she continued to receive answers in meditation to her questions, particularly in relation to her painting and use of colour. She received these answers at night, when she would see a painting she had done during the day as muddy and grey. When she asked how the picture should have been, she saw it transformed into radiant transparent colour.

After Steiner’s death in 1925, Gladys Mayer was one of those people who was very upset by the dissensions and splits that occurred between factions in the Vorstand and in the wider General Anthroposophical Society: “Once in those first years, I heard his voice again, in a kind of despairing wonder: ‘Aber, mein lieben Freunde, was tun si alle?’ (‘But, my dear friends, what are you all doing?’)

Steinertot

Rudolf Steiner on his deathbed

She concludes with an assessment of what Rudolf Steiner has brought to us all:

“As it seems to me, he has given certainty of the Spirit, guidance to the awakening faculties of spiritual seeing, and example of strength, courage and love to attempt the tasks of the New Age…But are we awake enough? The Teacher is there working with us, and through us, but he waits always for our conscious co-operation…Because humans are so very hungry for the certainty, the wisdom and the good, which this teaching, entrusted to Rudolf Steiner out of the divine worlds, can bring to our suffering Earth.”

21 Comments

Filed under Anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner

What was it like to hear Rudolf Steiner give a lecture?

I’ve sometimes wondered what it must have been like to have been a member of the audience at one of Rudolf Steiner’s lectures. “Sculpting in snow” is how Heinrich von Kleist described the art of acting in the theatre, and there is a similarly short term of life for the lecture; both the actor and the lecturer have the happiness of communication with the audience in moments of inspiration; but the lecture and the performance only exist as long as the creator is there, when he is present and speaking, when he is physically and spiritually alive.

If Steiner had lived another ten or twenty years, perhaps we would have had a recording or even some brief filmed glimpses of him – but he died in 1925, before the age of routine sound recordings, filmed newsreels etc.; so all we have are a few photographs, stenographic records of his words (“from shorthand reports unrevised by the lecturer”, as we are always told) and some recollections by people who heard him lecture.

It is from these written recollections of those who heard Steiner speak that we can gain some idea of the effect he had on his audiences. I’ve selected a few representative samples of these. Here, for instance, is Frederick William Zeylmans van Emmichoven (1893 – 1961), a Dutch psychiatrist and anthroposophist, who from 1923 until his death was chairman of the Dutch Anthroposophical Society. He recalls herehis first experience of hearing Steiner lecture; this was in Dornach in December 1920.

Steiner in schreinerei

A rare photo of Rudolf Steiner lecturing in the Schreinerei.

“On December 17, in the evening, I was sitting in the Schreinerei (the carpentry workshop adjacent to the Goetheanum, often used for lectures and performances) with my fiancée, who was studying eurythmy in Dornach. Happy at being together again, we were waiting for Rudolf Steiner’s lecture. Outside it was bitterly cold; Dornach lay covered in snow. Suddenly the blue curtain by the side of the stage lifted, and Rudolf Steiner went to the lecture-desk. At that moment I had the direct experience of recognition. The impression was so strong that a whole series of pictures simultaneously arose before me, pointing indeterminately to earlier situations – as if I were seeing him as my teacher through ages of time. It was the most memorable experience I have ever had in all my life. For some time I sat as though carried away and did not realise until later that his lecture had already begun. It was the first of the three lectures subsequently published under the title: The Bridge between the Spirituality of the Cosmos and Physical Man….

When I came to myself again and saw Rudolf Steiner standing at the lecture-desk, I had the strange feeling that for the first time I was looking at a Man! It is not at all easy to describe this impression. I had met many well-known and famous people, among them scholars and noted artists, and had always moved in circles where a great deal was going on – it had by no means been a humdrum existence. But now I realised: this is what Man is meant to be. I began to question myself: what is the explanation for this? You have encountered many human beings – what is it that is so significant here? I said to myself first of all that it was his whole bearing, the bearing of one who is like a tree that grows freely between earth and sky. This impression was connected not only with his straight, erect figure, but above all with the poise of the head – it seemed to hover between heaven and earth. The second feeling was profoundly moving: from this beautiful, powerful voice came forth words which lived on even after they had been spoken. And thirdly, there were the thoughts. I was obliged to confess to myself that I could not always understand them, but I realised that they were not there merely to be understood intellectually, but they had another, quite different, significance as well. Listening to professors, what always mattered was whether one understood everything they said. What mattered here was not whether I actually understood – it was something different. Today I could speak of ‘ideas’, of seed-bearing impulses and the like, but at that time I could not. I knew only that different impulses were at work here.”

zeylmans

F.W.Zeylmans van Emmichoven (photo via the Ita Wegman Institut)

A different account comes from Assya Turgeniev (1890 – 1966), a Russian artist who was in close contact with Rudolf Steiner from 1912 until his death in 1925. She was married to the Russian writer, Andrei Belyi. When she and Belyi first came across the writings of Steiner in 1912, they were struggling with questions arising from some disturbing recent mystical experiences. The two books by Steiner they had read (Christianity as Mystical Fact and How to Attain Knowledge of Higher Worlds) had given them the sense that they could trust Steiner to provide answers to their questions. As soon as they had come to this conclusion, they rushed to catch a train from Brussels, where they had been staying, to Cologne, where Rudolf Steiner was lecturing. They first of all tried to meet Steiner but were rebuffed by a fierce lady, whom they came to know later as Marie von Sivers (the future Frau Dr Steiner). Instead, she invited them to attend a “members only” lecture later that day. They decided to attend this lecture, with very mixed feelings after their stern reception, particularly as neither of them spoke German. Turgeniev’s account2 continues:

“A remarkable audience assembled in a longish room decorated in blue. The majority were ladies, most of them not very young. Many were wearing peculiar shirtlike dresses with straight stoles over them, and others wore necklaces or chains with strange pendants. Even among those with some pretensions one could not discern any real style. The absence of make-up was very noticeable…

Half-bored, I watched the assembling audience. But what was that? Far off on the platform, partly covered by other people, something like a gleam of light showed. Then it disappeared and returned once more. Finally the outline of a head emerged. Dr Steiner! I knew that it was he, even though I could scarcely see him. Now he steps up onto the platform…an immense seriousness, a power which is beyond words spoke through those features…we sat there, gazed into the countenance of this person and listened to his words. That was the greatest and most important thing that had ever happened to me up till then, and something which went so deep into my very being that I could no more separate myself from it. One was immersed with such intensity into the voice with its resonance and rhythms, into the gestures and the expression of the face, that one accepted it all without question; one only knew that that in which one now lived and breathed was the original source of one’s being. Only when the lecture had come to an end did one ask oneself in amazement: “What has happened here? I did not understand one word of what was said and yet, in listening to it, I had such a deep experience, as though I had understood each word.”

Asya-184x300

Assya Turgeniev and Andrei Belyi (photo via The Swetlana Geier Collection)

Friedrich Hiebel (1903-1989) was a personal student of Rudolf Steiner and a teacher at the first Waldorf school in Stuttgart. Later in life he became a professor of German Literature and in 1963, he became a member of the Vorstand in Dornach. He attended seventy of Rudolf Steiner’s lectures. The following account3 is a description of the first lecture he ever heard, at the congress in Stuttgart in 1921, on the topic of Agnosticism – the Destroyer of Genuine Human Nature (not available online):

“…all eyes turned to the tall figure of the man in black tails who slowly walked from backstage to the centre and then let his eyes wander over the audience.

Slowly, Rudolf Steiner walked over to the lectern. The way he walked revealed something of the balance between a soaring freedom from the body and the permeation of earth substance with will. Indeed, Rudolf Steiner’s gait was like that of a young man. His face was framed by black hair, which still showed no trace of gray at the age of sixty. Lines on the forehead and furrows around the chin and the corners of the mouth bore witness to the spiritual battles of the quest for knowledge, and in their dignity contrasted strangely with the youthful agility of his limbs…

None of the many carefully taken photographs…can fully convey the essence of his stature. For even the best pictures remain silent, and it was only in his word that the essence of his being was revealed…

Rudolf Steiner’s word now resounded in the great hall, speaking to the almost two thousand listeners. The contrast between the delicate features of his spiritualised physique and the deep resonance of his speech, resulting from breathing deeply with the diaphragm, was surprising. The deep tone of his speech rested in the larynx, vibrated in the chest, and was permeated with the warmth of the heart…

During the introductory sentences of his lecture, he seemed to keep his eyes almost completely closed, and his glance directed downwards. His posture was that of a man listening inwardly. He remained in this inwardly listening stance, gathering himself with all his will forces, for the duration of several long sentences. Then came a clearly discernible breakthrough: he opened his eyes, looked directly at the listeners, and began to reinforce his talk with a forceful and diverse language of gestures…

Here, a man stood before me who taught first how to comprehend consciously and in freedom with the head, then knew how to reach people from heart to heart, and finally was able to enter into the depths of the will…Those who were gripped by these lectures were lifted out of themselves, as it were. They received an inkling of the future image of the human being that was exemplified and fought for by the founder of anthroposophy.”

hiebel_friedrich_5139

Friedrich Hiebel (photo via Verlag Freies Geistesleben)

But what about those people who heard Steiner but did not have that sudden shock of recognition or the sense that something very important had just happened to them? Here is one such example4, this time from England. In 1922, Steiner visited England to lecture at a conference on ‘Drama and Education’, which was taking place in Stratford-on–Avon. The Times Educational Supplement carried a front-page article ‘from a correspondent’, headed ‘Anthroposophy’.

This unnamed correspondent, who refers to himself in the third person throughout the following extract, first of all described in a semi-ironical way the development of anthroposophy out of theosophy and its vast ambitions in all areas of knowledge, its philosophical approach to the occult and the building of the Goetheanum. He then described his responses after listening to Steiner’s lectures:

“It is interesting to note the effect of all this on a typical English public school and old university man who spent a strenuous fortnight in listening to lectures and demonstrations on education. His impression of the man Steiner is noteworthy. It appears that the philosopher has an imposing presence, and exercises a remarkable effect upon his audience. Our English schoolmaster found this personal influence exhausting. At first he sat immediately in front, under the speaker’s eye. But after a day or two he found the strain more than he could bear, and retreated to a seat in the background. With quite a laudable mixture of scepticism and fair-mindedness the schoolmaster gave the lecturer every chance, but remained unconvinced. He says that the lectures appeared to him to be nearly nonsense, but delivered in a fascinating way and marked by all the appearance of sturdy common sense. From any other person the hearer said he would not for an instant have tolerated the startling things set forth by the lecturer, but from him they seemed somehow or other to be at the same time entirely plausible, not to say reasonable.”

There you have a good example of solid, stolid British middle-class common sense and conservatism in the face of something strange and disturbing – yet almost in spite of himself, the correspondent noted the fascinating way in which the lecture was delivered and “the appearance of sturdy common sense”, which rendered the startling content somehow or other to be “entirely plausible, not to say reasonable.”

I will finish with some recollectionsby George Adams. He was a most remarkable man – an anthroposophist, mathematician, scientist and translator – who translated over one hundred of Steiner’s lectures, and translated for Steiner whenever he came to England. The arrangements he describes for these translations sound absolutely hair-raising: the lecture was divided into three parts by Steiner, who then spoke for 20-25 minutes, during which time Adams scribbled furiously, using his own system (he never learned shorthand) of invented signs, symbolic logic, abbreviations and capital letters. Steiner would then sit down, while Adams gave his translation. Then Steiner would give part 2 of the lecture, speaking for another 20 minutes, and so on. To the very end of his life, Steiner was unable to lecture in any language other than German.

George Adams

George Adams (photo via Forschungsstelle Kulturimpuls)

In a 1957 essay, Rudolf Steiner in England, George Adams recalled his impressions of Steiner:

“My impression … was, so to speak, of many Rudolf Steiners. There was the simple, friendly gentleman…Then there was Dr Steiner lecturing – deeply impressive and stern, vivid in characterisation, then often moving into anecdote, good-natured satire, rollicking fun and humour… there was Dr Steiner speaking in a more esoteric meeting … the initiate from timeless realms. Moreover, there was Dr Steiner as you might see him during a personal interview, when you told him of your life’s difficulties and ideals and he answered your questions – the deep, silent look in his eyes, the warm kindness and encouragement at some moments, and at others the absolute quiet, so that it was left entirely to you to come out with what you had to say, with seemingly no help from him, but silent waiting. And then again there was Dr Steiner as I saw him at the large public gatherings in Germany in 1921-22, often with audiences of two or three thousand, partly indifferent or merely curious or even hostile – the way he held them, the firmness and buoyancy of his carriage, the utter lack of compromise or any attempt to influence them. He rather put them through the mill, building up the ground of spiritual science or the stages of higher cognition with closely knit trains of thought, speaking for two hours or more and yet holding his audience completely.”

1 From ‘Rudolf Steiner in Holland’, an essay included in Rudolf Steiner, Recollections by some of his pupils. Translated from the German and published in a special issue of The Golden Blade edited by Arnold Freeman and Charles Waterman, in London, November 1957.

2 From Reminiscences of Rudolf Steiner and Work on the First Goetheanum by Assya Turgeniev. Translated from German by John and Margaret Wood. Published by Temple Lodge, 2003.

3 From Time of Decision with Rudolf Steiner by Friedrich Hiebel. Translated from the German by Maria St. Goar. Published by Anthroposophic Press, 1989.

4 Quoted on page 704 of Volume II (1922 – 1925) of Rudolf Steiner in Britain by Crispian Villeneuve. Published by Temple Lodge, 2004

5 From ‘Rudolf Steiner in England’, an essay included in Rudolf Steiner, Recollections by some of his pupils. Published in a special issue of The Golden Blade edited by Arnold Freeman and Charles Waterman, in London, November 1957.

67 Comments

Filed under Anthroposophy, Lectures by Steiner, Rudolf Steiner

Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think…

Looking back at the postings on this blog, the anthropopper must ruefully admit that he takes life a little too seriously at times. This po-faced quality is one of the things I would most like to change about Me. Lighten up, I tell myself, but my default personality position seems to be set at Earnest & Responsible and this is what keeps the Inner Scintillating Me from coming to the fore. I spot my Earnest & Responsible side coming out in all sorts of circumstances and situations. As an example, a song by the late Prince Buster came on the radio and, listening to the lyrics, I found myself feeling just a tad disapproving of the sentiments expressed:

Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think

Enjoy yourself, while you’re still in the pink

The years go by as quickly as you wink

Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think!

prince-buster

Prince Buster, pioneer of ska music. (Photo via The Guardian)

Life is not about enjoyment, I thought, although joy can be part of the story. Nor is the implication that we have just the one life a sound concept on which to base one’s actions. No, life is about discovering and fulfilling as far as possible your purpose for this lifetime. It’s about opportunities to burn off some of your bad karma and wherever you can, helping to build up some good karma for future lifetimes through behaving with kindness and unselfishness to those whose karmic paths cross with yours. Hedonism and living for the moment, I told myself, are not compatible with Taking Responsibility for One’s Soul Development.

Well, I’m sure you can tell from this that I’m hopelessly inept at letting my hair down and having a good time; but then I started to wonder whether my default personality position has been reinforced by my interest in anthroposophy. Rudolf Steiner, after all, frequently tells his followers to become aware of the seriousness of our age – “serious” and “earnest” are two words that I always associate with him.

There’s no doubt, of course, that more than ever we do indeed live in serious and challenging times – so is it frivolous and trivial actively to seek enjoyment in life? “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” sort of thing? I’ve just seen an interview with the Buddhist Pema Chödrön, who was interviewed at her home, Gampo Abbey, in Nova Scotia:

pema-melvin-liza-matthews

Pema Chodron being interviewed by Melvin McLeod (photo by Liza Matthews)

Melvin McLeod: I notice there’s a sign in the entrance to Gampo Abbey that says “Enjoy Your Life.” We don’t usually think of that as a spiritual teaching, but as we noted in a recent issue of Lion’s Roar, enjoying your life is really a transformative practice. But it’s hard for many of us to do.

Pema Chödrön: It’s a great sign to have in a Buddhist monastery. Right away, it presents a paradox: Aren’t you here to escape all that hedonism? Aren’t you here not to seek enjoyment from outer things?

The answer is yes, that is why you’re here. So in that case, what does “enjoy your life” mean, if it doesn’t mean getting your pleasure and sense of wellbeing from external things, including people and relationships as well as material goods?

You know who said it best? Leonard Cohen. He meditated all those years at Mt. Baldy Zen Center, often for twelve hours at a time. In an interview, he said his storyline just wore itself out. He got so bored with his dramatic storyline. And then he made the comment, “The less there was of me, the happier I got.”

That’s the answer to how to enjoy your life. It’s to show up and have a sense of curiosity about whatever might appear that day, including it all in your sense of appreciation of this precious human birth, which is so short. I don’t want to call it delight, although it can feel like that. It’s more curiosity. Some people say, I know what’s going to show up today—the same old thing. But it’s never really the same old thing. Even in Groundhog Day, every day was a different experience for Phil, until finally he learned that caring about people was the answer.

This is actually a big point, because the less there is of you, the more you’re interested in and curious about other people. Who you live with and who you rub up against and who you share this world with is a very important part of enjoying your life.

Sartre said, “Hell is other people,” but this is the other view of that. When people irritate you, when they get your goat, when they slander you, whatever it might be, you still have a relationship with them. It’s interesting that of all the billions of people on the earth, they’re the particular ones who came into your world. There’s respect for whatever happens, and this is only really possible if you’re not rejecting whole parts of your experience.”

Well, I can go along with that. Caring about people is the answer for anyone who has a problem in enjoying life. Rudolf Steiner, of course knew all of this and in ways far more profound than I will ever know, but I can’t help thinking a disrespectful thought: that he might have enjoyed life more (and lived longer) if he hadn’t taken life quite so seriously. Our karma determines the way our life unfolds, and enjoyment of it is usually not the point. But was it really essential for Steiner to work himself into the ground and wreck his health for the sake of his mission – which in any case it seems all too likely he didn’t manage to complete. Is there a lesson there for me? After all, each one of us has got more than just this present incarnation to get things right – or is that a cop-out?

14 Comments

Filed under Anthroposophy, Enjoyment of Life, Rudolf Steiner

Anthroposophy, the First Class and the Dharma Protectors

Some of the comments on the recent thread “An Open Letter to Frank Thomas Smith,” about the online publication of the lessons of the First Class of the School of Spiritual Science, have caused me to think quite hard about my own position on making the lessons and mantrams available to any who seek them. Is there today still a justification for keeping them only for Blue Card members (ie members who have applied and been accepted into membership of the School of Spiritual Science)?

I was struck by the contribution from Daniel Perez, who said:

“Rudolf Steiner expressed to Marie Steiner that if the society became sectarian, or the Class Lessons were a source of personal power, that the Lessons would have to be made public. I recently was dismayed as my local class reader expressed both traits. The individual wondered if a recently departed soul could participate in the earthly reading of the Class Lessons without a blue card! I was surprised at the conception that a spiritual being needed a ticket for entry. I wished to give my card to this poor soul at the moment I heard this. My aunt, Baptist fundamentalist, would say the same about the gates of heaven. Only Baptists had the ticket to the gates of heaven. I never understood such thinking, but I know now why the Lessons are public.”

Some other people said that they, too, had experienced sectarian attitudes within the Society, while Tom Mellett sought to draw us off-topic by revealing the existence of a secretive body within the Society called The Circle, Youth Circle or JugendKreis, which he alleges to wield unseen and unspoken power in a number of anthroposophical institutions. I had never heard of the Kreis before, so was intrigued to learn something about it. It does appear to exist, and a number of anthroposophists said that they had been disturbed by its hidden influence in their local Steiner Waldorf school or among First Class readers.

Anthroposophy, of course, has a long and often tragic history of human frailty. I’m inclined to feel that, at least since 1935 and the mass expulsions of members, the spiritual world may have simply stopped regarding the Anthroposophical Society as a vehicle for progress of any kind. And yet the Society has continued to regard itself as the earthly body of the School of Michael, and believes that it is only through anthroposophy that one can continue this connection between Michael and his human disciples.

I was reflecting on all of this when a Buddhist friend came to visit, and I told her something of what I was thinking. She in turn told me about Bön , which is Tibet’s oldest spiritual tradition. Followers of Bön receive oral teachings and transmissions from teachers in a lineage unbroken from ancient times until the present day. In addition, most of the scriptural texts also have been preserved. While much in modern Bön is similar to Tibetan Buddhism, Bön retains the richness and flavour of its pre-Buddhist roots.

Until very recently, the ancient teachings of Bön were offered to very few students of any generation. But now it seems that its lamas are reaching out to teach Western students about the rich Bön spiritual tradition and its practices. In particular, my friend told me about a teacher called Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, who is making these teachings very widely available to many thousands of students via books, YouTube and the internet. Here is what Tenzin has to say about making the teachings accessible:

“Some Tibetan masters might find it strange that I teach these practices to Westerners who have not done certain preliminary practices or who do not have certain understandings. The teachings were traditionally maintained as secret teachings, both as a sign of respect and as a protection against dilution through the misunderstanding of unprepared practitioners. They were never taught publicly nor given lightly, but were reserved for individuals who had prepared to receive them. The practices are no less efficacious and valuable than they ever were, but conditions in the world have changed, and so I am trying something different. I hope that by teaching what is effective, openly and simply, the tradition will be better preserved and more people will be able to benefit from it. But it is important to respect the teachings, both to protect them and to further our own practice.”

Rinpoche, Tenzin Wangyal. The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep (p. 15). Shambhala. Kindle Edition.

tenzin-wangyal-rinpoche

Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche

And in this passage, Tenzin enlarges on his reasons for stopping the secrecy, and his belief that the teachings in some way contain their own protection:

“Some of the teachings in this book, particularly those related to dzogchen and tantra, were until recently held in strict secrecy both as a sign of respect and as a protection against their being diluted through the misunderstanding of unprepared practitioners. They were never taught publicly or given lightly but were reserved for individuals who had prepared to receive them. In times past, suitable vessels were willing to travel far on foot and endure other great hardships to access these teachings. But this is seldom the case now; and to preserve the teachings we are challenged to bring them to a new, global audience. My teacher Lopön Sangyé Tenzin Rinpoche advised me that it is time to teach openly. I believe there are some people who simply will not understand, no matter how clearly you teach, and that the goddess is keeping the teachings secret from them. We must trust that the teachings will inevitably reach the right vessels and that what is meant to be kept secret will remain so.”

Wangyal Rinpoche, Tenzin. Tibetan Yogas of Body, Speech, and Mind . Shambhala Publications. Kindle Edition.

I was intrigued by this, since one of the reasons I had given for opposing the online publication of the lessons of the First Class was that the lessons are steeped in esoteric knowledge and require much background preparation from the student – and yet here was Tenzin, from a similarly secretive spiritual tradition, saying that, after centuries of secrecy, it is now time to teach openly.  I was also struck by the last two sentences of the quotation above: “I believe there are some people who simply will not understand, no matter how clearly you teach, and that the goddess is keeping the teachings secret from them. We must trust that the teachings will inevitably reach the right vessels and that what is meant to be kept secret will remain so.”

My friend then introduced me to the concept of the ‘Dharma Protector’.

Dharma is a Sanskrit term to denote law or doctrine. Dharma also means the teachings, code of conduct and philosophies that belong to a certain religion or belief system. Therefore, we can have Hindu Dharma, Christian Dharma and so forth. However Dharma is usually used in the Buddhist context, which is Buddhadharma or just Dharma in short.

The word ‘Protector’ literally means one who stands guard to protect. Therefore, ‘Dharma Protector’ refers to the one who protects the Dharma in you. This is a being who acts as a guardian angel to safeguard our spiritual path and our general wellbeing.

dharma-protector-glenn-nagel-photography

A Dharma Protector (photo via Glenn Nagel Photography)

A defining feature of a Dharma Protector is his or her wrathful appearance. In Buddhism, wrath reflects the innate quality of extreme compassion. Dharma Protectors often have blue, black or red skin, and a fierce expression with protruding fangs. Though they have a terrifying appearance and countenance, they are all bodhisattvas or buddhas, meaning that they are embodiments of compassion that act in a wrathful way for the benefit of sentient beings. Perhaps it is these Dharma Protectors who are keeping the Bön teachings safe and away from those who are unable to understand or become “right vessels,” while allowing thousands upon thousands of genuine seekers worldwide to find their way to Bön.

Why, I ask myself, is this not happening with anthroposophy and the School of Spiritual Science? What is it about the Society and its ways of being that hinder Steiner’s teachings from going around the world to all those who are hungering for spiritual sustenance? Why do we not have teachers like Tenzin, able to speak to the needs of thousands of ordinary people?

Whatever the reasons, I have now changed my mind about the necessity of keeping secret the lessons and mantrams of the School of Spiritual Science. That particular horse bolted long ago and shutting the stable door now is worse than useless. The situation has changed utterly since 1924 and it is possible that we are now in a post-anthroposophical world. At a time of such huge turmoil for humanity, it almost seems frivolous to fret about these matters.

Yet that which has been experienced in the School of Spiritual Science and transformed within the student’s own inner life can never be taken away. The lessons and mantrams retain their power for those who wish to work seriously and sincerely with them. Let us now stop this futile pretence of secrecy and fling open the doors that have been hiding the teachings. I’ve no doubt that the First Class has its own dharma protectors, who, should the need arise, will wheel into action to protect it from the “misunderstanding of unprepared practitioners.” What is meant to be kept secret will remain so. What is meant to reach many thousands should be allowed free passage into the world.

42 Comments

Filed under Anthroposophy, First Class, School of Spiritual Science