On the Meaning of Life

"The Sistine Madonna" - Raphael


Rudolf Steiner

Copenhagen, 23rd May, 1912)

Lecture 1

In these two lectures I should like to speak to you from the point of view of Spiritual Research, on the question so frequently and urgently put: “What is the meaning of life?” If in these two evenings we are to get anywhere near this subject we shall have to create first of all a kind of foundation or basis, on which to construct the edifice of knowledge, and from this deduce the answer in outline.

When we contemplate the things around us, those which exist for our ordinary sense-perception and our ordinary experience, and then turn to our own life, the result is at best the formulation of a question — the presentation of an oppressive, a painful problem. We see how the beings of external nature arise and decay. We can observe every year in spring how the earth, stimulated by the forces of the sun and the universe, bestows on us the plants which sprout and bud and bear fruit through the summer. Towards autumn, we see how they decay and pass away. Some remain indeed throughout the year, some for very many years, for instance, our long-lived trees. But of these also we know that even though in many cases they may outlive us, they also pass away at last, disappear and sink down into that which, in the great world of nature, is the realm of the lifeless. Especially do we know that even in the greatest phenomena of nature this growth and decay rules: even the continents on which our civilizations develop did not exist in times past, for they have only risen in the course of time, and we know for certain that they will one day pass away.

Thus we see around us growth and decay; we can trace it in the plant kingdom and in the mineral kingdom as well as in the animal kingdom. What is the meaning of it all? Ever an arising, ever a passing away all around us! What is the meaning of this arising and this passing away? When we consider our own life and see how we have lived through years and decades, we can recognize there also this coming into being and decay. When we call to mind the days of our childhood: they are vanished and only the memory of them remains. This stirs within us anxious questionings about life. The most important thing is that we ourselves have progressed a little through it, that we have become wiser. Usually, however, it is only when we have accomplished something that we know how it ought to have been done. If we are no longer in a position to do a thing better, we still know how much better it might have been done, so that actually our mistakes become a part of our life; but it is just through our mistakes and errors that we gain our widest experiences.

A question is put to us, and it seems as if what we can grasp with our senses and our intellect is unable to answer it. That is the position of man to-day; all that surrounds him confronts him with the problem, with the question: “What is the meaning of existence as a whole?” and particularly “Why has man his peculiar position within this existence?”

An extremely interesting legend of Hebrew antiquity tells us that in those old Hebrew times there was a consciousness that this anxious question which we formulated as to the meaning of life, and especially as to the meaning of man, occurs not only to man, but to beings quite other than man. This legend is extremely instructive and runs as follows: — When the Elohim were about to create man after their own image and likeness, the so-called ministering angels, certain spiritual beings of a lower grade than the Elohim themselves, asked Jahve or Jehovah: “Why is man to be made in the image and likeness of God!” Then Jehovah collected — so continues the legend — the animals and the plants which could already spring forth on earth before man was there in his earthly form, and He gathered together the angels also, the so-called ministering angels — those who immediately served Him. To those He showed the animals and plants and asked them what they were called, what were their names? But the Angels did not know the names of the animals and plants. Then man was created, as he was before the Fall. And again Jehovah gathered around him Angels, animals and plants, and in the presence of the Angels he asked man what the animals that He made to pass by in succession before man’s eyes, were called, what their names were. And behold! Man was able to answer: “This animal has this name, that animal has that, this plant has this name, that plant has that,” Then Jehovah asked man: “And what is thine own name?” And man said: “I must be called Adam.” (Adam is related to Adama, and means: “Out of the earth: earth-being”). Jehovah then asked man: “And what am I myself to be called?” “Thou shalt be called Adonai,” man replied, “Thou art the Lord of all created beings of the earth.” The Angels now began to have an idea of the meaning of man’s existence on the earth. Though religious tradition and religious writings often express the most important riddle of life in the simplest way, there are many difficulties in understanding them, because we have to get behind their simplicity. We must first penetrate into the meaning behind them. If we succeed in this, great wisdom and deep knowledge are revealed. It may well be so with this legend, which we shall just keep in mind for a moment, for these two lectures will give us, to some extent, an answer to the question which it contains.

Now you know that there is a religion which has put the question as to the meaning and value of life by placing it in a wonderful form into the mouth of its own founder. You all know the story of the Buddha, how it tells us that when he left the palace in which he was born and came face to face with the real facts of life, of which in that incarnation he had as yet learned nothing, he was most profoundly dismayed and pronounced the judgment: “Life is suffering,” which as we know comprises the four statements: “Birth is suffering — disease is suffering — old age is suffering — death is suffering,” and to which is added “to be united with those we do not love is suffering, to be separated from those we love is suffering, not to be able to attain that to which we aspire is suffering.” We know then that to the adherents of this religion the meaning of life can be summed up by saying: “Life, which is suffering, only acquires a meaning when it is conquered, when it transcends itself.” All the various religions, all philosophies and views of life, are, after all, attempts to answer the question as to the meaning of life. Now we are not going to approach the question in an abstract, philosophical way. Rather we shall review some of the phenomena of life, some of the facts of life from the point of view of Spiritual Science in order to see if a deeper occult view of life furnishes us with something with which to approach this question as to the meaning of life. Let us take the matter up again at the point we have already touched — the annual growth and decay in physical nature, the life, growth and decay in the plant world. In Spring we see the plants spring up out of the earth, and that which we see there as germinating, budding life, calls forth our joy and delight. We become aware that the whole of our existence is bound up with the plant world, for without it we could not exist. We feel how what springs up out of the earth at the approach of Summer is related to our own life. We feel in the Autumn how what in a certain sense belongs to us, again decays.

It is natural for us to compare with our own life that which we see germinating and decaying. For an external observation based only on what can be perceived by the senses and judged by the intellect, it is very natural to compare the vernal springing up of the plants with, let us say, man’s awakening in the morning; and the withering and decaying of the plant world in Autumn with man’s falling asleep at night. But such a comparison is quite superficial. It would leave out of account the real events with which we can already become acquainted through the elementary truths of occultism. What happens when we fall asleep at night? We have learned that we leave our physical and etheric bodies behind in bed. With our astral body and our ego we withdraw from our physical body and etheric body. During the night, from the moment of our falling asleep to the moment of our waking, we are with our astral body and our ego in a spiritual world. From this spiritual world we draw the forces which we require. Not only our astral body and our ego, but our physical and etheric bodies go through a kind of restorative process during our sleep at night, when the latter lie in bed, separated from the astral body and ego.

When one looks clairvoyantly down from the ego upon the astral, the etheric and physical bodies, one sees what has been destroyed by waking life; one sees that that which finds its expression in fatigue is present as a destructive process and is made good during the night. The whole conscious life of the daytime is in fact, if we look at it in its connection with human consciousness and in its relation to the physical and etheric bodies, a kind of destructive process as regards the physical and etheric bodies. We always destroy something by it, and the fact that we destroy expresses itself in our fatigue. That which is destroyed is made good again at night.

Now if we look at what happens when we have withdrawn our astral body and our ego, or I, out of the etheric and physical bodies, it is as if we had left behind us a devastated field. But in the moment we are out of them, out of the physical and etheric bodies, they begin gradually to restore themselves. It is as if the forces belonging to the physical and etheric bodies begin to bud and blossom, and as if an entire vegetation should arise on the scene of destruction. The further night advances and the longer sleep lasts, the more do the forces in the etheric body bud and blossom. The nearer morning approaches and the more we re-enter our physical and etheric bodies with our astral body, the more a kind of withering or drying up sets in as regards the physical and etheric bodies.

In short, when the ego and the astral body look down from the spiritual world on the physical and etheric bodies, they see at night, at the moment of falling asleep, the same phenomenon which we see in the great world outside, when the plants bud and germinate in Spring. Therefore, to make a real comparison, we must compare our falling asleep and the earlier part of the sleep condition at night with Spring in nature; and the time of our awakening, the time in which the ego and the astral body begin to re-enter the physical and etheric bodies, with Autumn, in external nature. Spring corresponds to our falling asleep and Autumn to our awakening.

But how does the matter stand when the occult observer, he who really can look into the spiritual world, directs his gaze to external nature and watches what takes place there in the course of the year? What then presents itself to the occult vision teaches us that we must not compare things in an outward, but in an inward way. Occult observation shows that just as the physical and etheric bodies of man are connected with his astral body and his I, so is what we call the spiritual part of the earth connected to our earth. The earth also must be compared with a body, a widely spread body. If we consider it only as far as its physical part is concerned, it is just as if we were to consider man with regard to his physical body only. We consider the earth completely when we consider it as the body of spiritual beings, in the same way in which, in the case of man, we consider the spirit as being connected with the body, yet there is a distinction. Man has a single nature controlling his physical and etheric bodies; a single psycho-spiritual nature belongs to that which is his physical human body and etheric human body. But there are a great many spirits belonging to the Earth-body. What in man’s psycho-spiritual nature is a unity is, as regards that of the earth, a multiplicity. This is the chief distinction. With the exception of this difference everything else is in a certain way analogous. To occult vision is revealed how in the same measure as green plants come forth from the earth in Spring, those spirits whom we call the earth-spirits, withdraw from the earth. Only here again they do not, as is the case with man, absolutely leave the earth; they move round it, they pass in a certain way to the other side of the earth. When it is Summer in one hemisphere it is Winter in the other. In the case of the earth, the spiritual part moves from the northern to the southern hemisphere when Summer is approaching in the north.

But that does not alter the fact that to the occult vision of a person who experiences Spring on any given part of the globe, the spirits leave the earth; he sees how they rise and pass out into the cosmos. He does not see them move to the other side, but he sees them go away, in the same way as he sees the ego and the astral body leave man at the moment of his falling asleep. In the Autumn the earth-spirits approach and re-unite themselves with the earth. During the Winter, when the earth is covered with snow, the earth-spirits are directly united with the earth. In fact something similar then begins for the earth to what is found in man: a kind of self-consciousness. During the Summer the spiritual part of the earth knows nothing of what goes on around it in the universe. But in Winter the spirit of the earth knows what is happening in the universe, just as man, on waking, knows and beholds what is taking place around him.

The analogy is thus complete, only it is the reverse of what the outer consciousness draws. It is true that if we wish to go into the question fully, we cannot simply say: “When in Spring plants bud and spring from the earth, the earth spirits go away,” for with the budding and sprouting of plants there arise, as if out of the depths, out of the interior of the earth, other and mightier spirits. Therefore the mythologies were right when they distinguished between the higher and the nether gods. When man spoke of the gods who left the earth in Spring and returned in Autumn, he spoke of the higher gods. But there were mightier, older gods, called by the Greeks the Chthonic gods. These arise in Summer when everything is budding and flourishing, and they descend again when in Winter the real earth spirits unite with the body of the earth.

Now, I should here like to mention that a certain idea, taken from scientific and occult research, is of immense importance for human life. For this shows us that when we consider the individual human being, we have really before us something like an image of the great Earth-being itself. What do we see when we turn towards plants which are beginning to sprout and bud? We see exactly the same as takes place in man when his inner life is active; we see how the one exactly corresponds to the other. How single plants are related to the human body, what their significance is for the human body, can only be recognized when such relations are understood. For it is in fact true that, on close examination, one sees how when man falls asleep everything begins to sprout and bud in his physical and etheric bodies: how a whole vegetation springs up in him: how man is in reality a tree or a garden in which plants are growing.

Whoever follows this with occult vision sees that the sprouting and germinating within man corresponds to what is germinating and budding in nature without. Thus you can form an idea of what will be possible when, in the future, Anthroposophy — often considered as foolishness today — is applied to life and made fruitful. We have for example, a person who has something wrong in his bodily life-activities. Let us now observe, when he falls asleep, what kind of plants are wanting when his physical and etheric bodies begin to develop their vegetation. When we see that on earth whole species of plants are missing, we know that something must be wrong with the life of the earth. And it is the same with the deficiency of certain plants in the physical and etheric bodies of man. In order to make good the defect we have only to seek on the earth for the plants which are missing in the man in question, and introduce their juices either in the form of diet or medicine and then we shall find the relation between medicine and disease. From this example, we see how Anthroposophy or Spiritual Science will intervene directly in life, but we are only at the beginning of these things.

In what I have just said I have given you, in a comparison drawn from nature, some idea of the composition of man and the connection of his whole being with the environment in which he is placed. We shall now look at the matter from a spiritual point of view. Here I would like to call attention to a matter that is of great importance, namely, that our anthroposophical outlook on life, while letting its gaze range over the evolution of mankind from the point of view of occultism in order to decipher the meaning of existence, gives no preference to any one special creed, or any one view of life over any other. How often has it been emphasized in our occult movement that we can point to what earthly humanity experienced and developed immediately after the great Atlantean catastrophe — the Flood. We passed through, as the first great post-Atlantean civilization, the sacred civilization of Ancient India. Here in Copenhagen we have already spoken of this old sacred Indian civilization, and we laid stress upon the fact that it was so lofty, that that which has survived in the Vedas or in written tradition is only an echo of it. It is only in the Akashic Records that we can catch glimpses of the primeval teachings that issued from that time. There we gaze on heights which have not been re-attained.

The later epochs had quite a different mission. We know that a descent has taken place since then, but we know also that there will be again an ascent and that, as already mentioned, Anthroposophy or Spiritual Science has to prepare this ascent. We know that in the seventh post-Atlantean age of civilization there will be a kind of renewal of the ancient holy Indian civilization. We do not give preference to any religious view or creed, for all are measured with the same measure, in every particular they are described: in each the kernel of truth is sought.

The important thing is that essentials be kept in view. We must not allow ourselves to stray in the consideration of the nature of each separate creed, and if we keep this in mind in approaching the various points of view we find one fundamental difference. We find views on life which are of a more oriental nature and others which have permeated our Western civilization. Once we make this clear to ourselves, we have something which throws light on the meaning of existence. We then find that the ancients were already in possession of something which we have to regain with difficulty - that is, the doctrine of reincarnation. The oriental stream possessed this as something springing from the profoundest depths of existence. You can still realize how the oriental mind shapes the whole of life from this doctrine when you look at the relation of the oriental to his Bodhisattvas and his Buddhas. If you keep in view how little it concerns the oriental to select a single figure with this or that definite name as the ruling power in human evolution, you see at once how he attaches much more importance to tracing the individuality which goes on from life to life. Orientals say that there are such and such a number of Bodhisattvas, high beings who have sprung from men, but who have gradually evolved to a height which we can describe by saying: A Being has passed through many incarnations and then has become a Bodhisattva, as did Gautama, the son of King Sudhodana. He was Bodhisattva and became Buddha. The name Buddha, however, is given to many, because they passed through many incarnations, became Bodhisattva, and then ascended to the next higher stage, that of Buddhahood. The name Buddha is a generic name. It denotes a degree of human attainment and has no sense apart from the spiritual being who goes through many incarnations. Brahmanism fully agrees with Buddhism in regarding the individual who goes through the different personalities rather than the single person. It comes to the same whether the Buddhist says: — “A Bodhisattva is destined to ascend to the highest degree of human attainment, and for this he has to go through many incarnations; but for me the highest is the Buddha.” Or whether the adherent of Brahmanism says: “The Bodhisattvas are indeed highly developed beings who ascend to Buddhahood, but they are inferior to the Avatars, who are higher spiritual individualities.” You see, consideration of the persisting spiritual entity is what characterizes both these oriental points of view.

But now let us turn to the West and see what is of greatest importance here. In order to enter a little more deeply into this connection we must consider the ancient Hebrew point of view, where the personal element enters. When we speak of Plato, of Socrates, of Michelangelo, of Charlemagne, or of others, we are always speaking of a person: we place before people the separate life of the personality with all that this personality has done for mankind. In our Western life we do not direct our attention to the life which has gone from personality to personality, for it has been the mission of Western civilization to direct attention for a time to the single life. When in the East the Buddha is spoken of, it is understood that the designation “Buddha” is an honorable title which may be applied to many personalities. When, on the contrary, the name “Plato” is uttered, we know that this refers only to a single personality. This has been the education of the West.

Let us now turn to our own day. In Western civilization mankind has been trained for a time to direct his attention to the personality, but the individual element, the “individuality”, has now to be added to the personal element. We stand now at the point where we must reconquer the individual element, but strengthened, vivified, by the contemplation of the personal.

Let us take a definite case. In this connection we look back to the old Hebrew civilization which preceded that of the West. Let us turn our attention to the mighty personality of the prophet Elijah. To begin with, we may describe him as a personality. In the West he is seldom regarded in any other way. If we leave aside details and look at the personality from a wider point of view, we see that Elijah was something very important for our evolution. He gives the impression of being a forerunner of the Christ-Impulse.

On looking back to the time of Moses we see how something had been proclaimed to the people; we see that the God in man was proclaimed. “I AM the God Who was, Who is, Who is to come.” He has to be comprehended as in the ego, but among the ancient Hebrews He was comprehended as the Folk-soul of the race. Elijah went beyond Moses, though he did not make clear that the ego, or I, dwells in the single human individual as divinity, for he could not make clear to the people of his time more than the world was then able to receive. While even the Mosaic Culture of the old Hebrews was conscious of the fact that “the Highest lies in the Ego,” and that this Ego found expression in the time of Moses in the Group-Soul of the people, we find Elijah already pointing to the individual human soul. We see a forward leap in evolution. But a further impulse was needed, and again a forerunner appeared, whom we know as John the Baptist. Once more it was in a significant expression that the quality of John the Baptist as a “Forerunner” found expression. A great occult fact is here indicated that man, as primeval man, once possessed ancient clairvoyance, so that he could look into the spiritual world — into divine activity — but he gradually approached materialism; the vision of the spiritual world was cut off. To this fact John the Baptist alludes when he says: “Change the attitude of your soul; look no longer at what you can gain in the physical world: be watchful, a new impulse is at hand (he means the Christ-Impulse). Therefore I say unto you, seek the spiritual world that is in your midst; there the spiritual element appears with the Christ-Impulse.” Through this saying John the Baptist became a forerunner of the Christ-Impulse.

Now we can direct our gaze to another personality, to the remarkable personality of the painter Raphael. This remarkable personality presents itself to us in an unusual way. In the first place we need only compare Raphael to — let us say — Titian, a painter of a later period. Whoever has an eye for such things, even if he looks at the reproductions, will find the distinction. Look at the pictures of Raphael and at those of Titian. Raphael painted in such a way that he put Christian ideas into his pictures. He painted for the people of Europe as Christians of the West. His pictures are comprehensible to all Christians of the West, and will become so more and more. Take, on the other hand, the later painters. They painted almost exclusively for the Latin race, so that even the schisms of the Church found expression in their pictures.

With which pictures was Raphael most successful? With those in which he was able to demonstrate the impulses that lie in Christianity. He is at his best where he could represent some relationship of the Jesus-Child to the Madonna, where this Christ-relation appears as something that is an impulse to feeling. These are the things which he really painted best. We have for instance no Crucifixion of his, but we have a Transfiguration. Wherever he can paint the budding and germinating aspect, that which is self-revealing, he paints with joy and there he paints his greatest and best pictures.

It is the same with the impression which his pictures produce. If some day you come to Germany and see the Sistine Madonna in Dresden, you will realize that that work of art — of which it is said that the Germans may rejoice to have such a celebrated picture among them, Yes! that they may even regard it as the flower of the painters’ art — you will realize that this work discloses a mystery of existence.

When Goethe in his time traveled from Leipzig to Dresden, he heard something quite different about the picture of the Madonna. The officials of the Dresden Gallery said something like this to him: “We have also a picture of Raphael’s, but it is nothing special. It is badly painted. The look of the Child, the whole Child itself, everything to do with the Child, is common. The same with the Madonna. One can only think that she is painted by a dauber. And then these figures down below – you can’t tell whether they are meant for children’s heads or angels!” Goethe heard this coarse opinion, so that at first he had no right appreciation of the picture. Everything which we hear about the picture at the present time only came to be understood later on, and the fact that Raphael’s pictures made their triumphal march through the world in reproductions is a result of this better appreciation. We have only to call to mind what England has done for the reproduction and circulation of these pictures. But what was accomplished in England by the trouble which has been taken for the reproduction and circulation of Raphael’s pictures will only be recognized when people have learned to look at the matter from the point of view of spiritual science.

Thus through his pictures Raphael becomes for us the forerunner of a Christianity which will be cosmopolitan. Protestantism has long regarded the Madonna as specifically Catholic; but today the Madonna has penetrated everywhere into Protestant countries and we are nearing more to the occult interpretation, to a higher inter-denominational Christianity. So it will be more and more. If we may hope for such results as regards interdenominational Christianity, what Raphael has done will also help us in Anthroposophy.

It is remarkable that the above three personalities confront us in this manner: all three have the quality of being forerunners of Christianity. Now let us direct occult observation to these three persons. What does it teach us? It teaches us that the same individuality lived in Elijah, in John the Baptist and in Raphael. However impossible it may seem, it is the same soul which lived in Elijah and in Raphael.

When it is revealed to occult vision — which searches and investigates and does not merely compare in a superficial way — that it is the same soul that is present in Elijah, in John the Baptist and in Raphael, we may ask how it is possible that Raphael the painter becomes the vehicle for the individuality which lived in John the Baptist? One can conceive that this remarkable soul of John the Baptist lived in the forces which were present in Raphael.

Occult research comes in here again, not merely to put forth theories, but to tell us how things actually are in life. How do people write biographies of Raphael today? Even the best are so written that they simply state that Raphael was born on Good Friday of the year 1483. It is not for nothing that Raphael was born on a Good Friday. This birth already proclaimed his exceptional position in Christianity and shows that in the deepest and most significant way he was connected with the Christian Mysteries. It was on a Good Friday that Raphael was born. His father was Giovanni Santi. He died when Raphael was eleven years old. At the age of eight years his father sent him as a pupil to a painter who was, however, not of any special eminence. But if one realizes what was in Giovanni Santi, Raphael’s father, one gets a peculiar impression which is further strengthened when the matter is investigated in the Akashic Records. There it appears that there lived in the soul of Giovanni Santi much more than could be expressed in his personality and then we can agree with the duchess, who at his death said: “A man full of light and truth and fervent faith has died.” As occultist, one can say that in him there lived a much greater painter than appeared outwardly. The outer faculties, which depend on the physical and etheric organs, were not developed in Giovanni Santi. That was the original cause why he could not bring the capacities of his soul to full expression; but really a great painter lived in him. Giovanni Santi died when Raphael was eleven years old. If we now follow what takes place we see that man certainly loses his body, but that the longings, the aspirations, the impulses of his soul continue to exist and continue to be active where they are most closely connected.

There will come a time when Anthroposophy will be made fruitful for life, as it can already be made fruitful by those who have grasped it vitally and not merely theoretically. Permit me here to interpolate something before going on with Raphael. What I tell you in the examples I give is not mere speculation; on the contrary, it is always taken from real life. Let us suppose that I had children to educate. Whoever pays attention to the capabilities of children can notice the individual element in every child, but such experiences can only be made by those who educate children. Now if one of the parents of a child dies while the child is still young and the other parent is still living, the following may be noticed: Certain inclinations will show themselves in the child which were not there before and which consequently cannot be explained. But one who has charge of children has to occupy himself with these things. Such a one would do well if he said: “People generally look upon what is in anthroposophical books as mere folly: I will not take this for granted, but will try whether it is right or not.” Then he will soon be able to say “I find forces at work which were already there and again there are other forces playing into those which were already there.” Let us suppose that the father has passed through the gates of death and there now appears in the child, with some strength, certain qualities which had belonged to the father. If this assumption is made and if the matter is looked upon in this way, the knowledge which comes to us through Anthroposophy is applied to life in a sensible way, and then, as is soon discovered, we find our way in life, whereas before we did not. Thus the person who has gone through the gateway of death remains united, through his forces, with those with whom he was connected in life. People do not observe things closely enough, otherwise they would see more often that children are quite different before the death of their parents from what they are afterwards. At present there is not enough regard for these things, but the time is coming when they will receive attention.

Giovanni Santi, the father, died when Raphael was eleven years old; he had not been able to attain great perfection as a painter, but powerful imagination was left to him and this was then developed in the soul of Raphael. We do not depreciate Raphael, if, while observing his soul, we say: Giovanni Santi lives on in Raphael, who appears to us as a completed personality, as one incapable of higher attainment because a dead man gives life to his work. [Probably should be: “…as one ‘capable’ of higher attainment… - Ed.]

We now realize that in the soul of Raphael are reborn the vigorous forces of John the Baptist and, in addition, there live in his soul the forces of Giovanni Santi; that together these two were able to bring to fruition the result which confronts us as Raphael. It is true that today we cannot yet speak publicly of such extraordinary things, but in fifty years’ time this may be possible, because evolution is progressing quickly and the opinions held today are rapidly approaching their decline. Whoever accepts such things sees that in Anthroposophy our task is to regard life everywhere from a new point of view. Just as in the future people will heal in the way to which I have referred, so they will reflect on the strange miracle of life wherein men attract to their assistance, from the spiritual world, the achievements of those who have passed through the gates of death.

I should like to draw your attention to two things when speaking on the riddles of life; things which so truly can illuminate the meaning of life. One is the fate that has befallen the works of Raphael. Whoever looks today at the reproductions of his pictures does not see what Raphael painted. And if he travels to Dresden or to Rome, he finds them so much spoiled that he can hardly be said to see the pictures of Raphael. It is easy to see what will become of them when we consider the fate of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” which is falling more and more into decay. These pictures, in times to come, will fall into dust, and everything which great men have created will disappear. When these things have vanished we may well ask: “What is the meaning of this creation and decay!” We shall see that really nothing remains of what the single personality has created.

Still another fact I should like to put before you, and that is the following: If when today, with Anthroposophy as an instrument, we desire to understand, and must understand, Christianity as an impulse that works for the future, we have need of certain fundamental ideas through which we know how the Christ-Impulse will continue to work. And we can point to a development of Christianity for which Anthroposophy is necessary. We can point to a person who presents anthroposophical truth in special form — namely, that of aphorisms. When we approach him we find much that is significant for Anthroposophy. This person is the German poet Novalis. When we study his writings we find that he describes the future of Christianity from out of the occult truths it contains. Anthroposophy teaches us that we have here to do with the same individuality as is in Raphael, John the Baptist and Elijah.

We have here again to glance into the further development of Christianity. That is a fact of an occult nature, for no one reaches this result by reasoning. Let us once more put the different pictures together. We have the tragic fact of the destruction of the creations and works of single personalities. Raphael appears and allows his interdenominational Christianity to flow into the souls of men. But we have a foreboding that some day his creations will be destroyed, that his works will fall to dust. Then Novalis appears to take in hand the fulfillment of the task and continue the work he had begun. The idea is no longer now so tragic. We see that just as the personality dissolves in its sheaths, so the work dissolves, but the essential kernel lives on and continues the work it had begun. Here once again it is the individual to which our attention is directed. But because we have kept firmly in mind the Western view of life and therewith the personality, we are able to grasp the full significance of the individuality. Thus we see how important it is that the East directed its attention to the individuality, to the Bodhisattvas, who go through many incarnations; and how important it is that the West first directed its attention to the contemplation of the single personality, in order, later on, to grasp what the individuality is.

Now I think there are many Anthroposophists who will say: “Well, this is something we have just to believe, when Elijah, John the Baptist, Raphael and Novalis are mentioned.” For many the main thing is that they must just believe. It is essentially the same as when from the scientific side some fact is asserted that many people have to believe, such as that this or that spectrum appears when certain metals are examined by spectrum analysis, or when, for instance, the nebula in Orion is so examined. Some people have certainly investigated it, but the others, the majority, have to believe. But that is after all not the essential point. The essential point is that Anthroposophy is at the beginning of its development and will bring souls to the point of examining for themselves such matters as we have discussed today. In this respect, Anthroposophy will help forward human evolution very rapidly.

I have put before you a few instances, which I submit as resulting from the occult point of view regarding life. Take only the three points which we have considered and you will see that by knowing in what way life is related to the Spirit of the Earth, the art of healing can be given a new direction and supplied with new impulses; how Raphael can only be understood when not only his personal forces are taken into account, but also those forces which came from his father. The third point is that we can educate children when we know the interplay of forces acting on them. Outwardly people admit that they are surrounded by numberless forces which incessantly influence them, that man is continually influenced by air, the temperature, his surroundings and the other karmic conditions under which he lives. That these things do not interfere with his freedom everyone knows. They are the factors with which we have to reckon today. But that man is continually surrounded by spiritual forces and that these spiritual forces must be investigated is what Anthroposophy has to teach people: they will have to learn to take these forces into account and will have to reckon with them in important cases of health and disease, of education and life. They will have to be mindful of such influences as come from without, from the supersensible world, when, for instance, someone’s friend dies and he then shares those sympathies and ideas that belonged to him. What has been said does not hold good for children only, but for all ages. It is not at all necessary that people should know with their ordinary consciousness in what way the forces of the supersensible world are active. Their general frame of mind may show it, even their state of health or illness may show it. And those things which signify the connection of man’s life on the physical plane with the facts of the supersensible worlds have a still wider bearing.

I should like to put before you a simple fact which will show you the nature of this connection, a fact which is not invented, but has been observed in many cases. A person notices at a certain time that he has feelings which formerly he did not know; that he has sympathies and antipathies which formerly he did not know; that he succeeds easily where before he found difficulties. He cannot explain it. His surroundings cannot explain it to him, nor do the facts of life itself give him any clue. In such a case it can be found, when we observe accurately (it is true that one must have an eye for such things), that now he knows things which he did not know before and does things which he could not do before. If we examine matters further and have had experience of the teachings of Anthroposophy, it may be that we shall hear something like the following from him: “I do not know what to think of myself. I dream of a person whom I have never seen in my life. He comes into my dreams, though I never had anything to do with him.” If we follow the matter up it will be found that till now he had no occasion to occupy himself with this person. But this person had died and now first approaches him in the spiritual world. When he had come near enough to him he appeared to him in a dream which was yet more than a dream. From this person, whom he had not known in life, who, however, after death, gained influence on his life, came the impulses which he had not known before. It is not a question of saying: “It is only a dream.” It is far more a question of what the dream contained. It may be something which, although in the form of a dream, is nearer to reality than the outer consciousness. Does it matter at all whether Edison invents something in a dream or in clear waking consciousness? What matters is whether the invention is true, is useful. So also it does not matter whether an experience takes place in dream-consciousness or in physical consciousness; what is of importance is whether the experience is true or false.

If we now summarize what we are able to understand from what has just been said, we may say “It is clear to us when we learn to apply Anthroposophy, that life appears to us in quite a different light from before.” In this respect people who are very learned in materialistic ways of thought are but children. We can convince ourselves of this at any time. When today I came here by train I took up the pamphlet of a German physiologist in its second edition. In it the writer says that we cannot speak of “active attention” in the soul [or “mind” – Ed.], of directing the attention of the soul to anything, but that everything depends on the functioning of the various ganglia of the brain; and because the tracks have to be made by thoughts, everything depends on how the separate brain cells function. No intensity of the soul intervenes, it depends entirely upon whether this or that connecting thread in our brain has been pulled or not. These learned materialists are really children. When we lay our hands on anything of this kind one cannot help thinking how guileless these people are! In the same pamphlet one finds the statement that lately the centenary of Darwin was celebrated, and that on that occasion both qualified and unqualified people spoke. The author of the pamphlet thought himself of course quite specially qualified. And then follows the whole brain-cell theory and its application. But how is it with the logic of the matter? When one is used to considering things in accordance with truth and then sees what these great children offer people concerning the meaning of life, the thought occurs to one that after all it comes to the same as if someone should say that it was simply nonsense that a human will had any part in the way the railways intersect the face of Europe! For it is just the same as if at a given time one considered all the engines in their varied parts and functions, and said that these are organized in such and such a way and run in so many directions. But the different roads meet at certain junctions and through them the engines can be turned in any direction. What would occur if this were done would be a great disarrangement of trains on the European railways. Just as little, however, can it be asserted that what takes place in the human brain cells as the life of human thought depends only on the condition of the cells. If such learned people then happen, without previous knowledge, to hear a lecture on Anthroposophy, they look upon that which is said as the most utter nonsense. They are firmly convinced that a human will can never have anything to do with the mode and manner in which the European engines run, but that it depends on how they are heated and driven.

So we see how at the present day we stand confronted by questions regarding the meaning of life. On the one side there is darkness, on the other the spiritual facts press in upon us. If we grasp what has been said today we can, with this as a basis, put the question before our soul in the way in which it has to be put in Anthroposophy, namely: What is the meaning of life and existence, and especially of human life and human existence?

Lecture 2

Thanks to: The Rudolf Steiner Archive