On the Meaning of Life

Rudolf Steiner (1889)

Lecture 2.

(Copenhagen, 24th May, 1912.)

[Human Participation in Evolution]

IT would be a grave error if one were to believe that the question as to the meaning of life and existence could be put in such a simple way that one could ask: “What is the meaning of life and existence?” and then someone could give a simple answer in a few words, saying perhaps: “This or that is the meaning of life.” In this way no real feeling, no idea could ever be gained of the sublimity, majesty, and power which lie behind this question as to the meaning of life. It is true that an abstract answer might be given, but you will realise by what I say later on how little satisfactory such an answer would be. It might be said that the meaning of life consists in the fact that spiritual beings to whom we look up as Divine Beings gradually bring man to the stage where he is permitted to co-operate in the evolution of existence, so that man who was imperfect in the beginning of his development and was incapable of taking part in the whole construction of the universe, might in the course of evolution gradually be trained to participate more and more in this evolution.

That would be an abstract answer, telling us very little. Rather must we penetrate into certain secrets of existence and life, if we would grasp something like an answer to a question of such far-reaching importance. So we may take as a basis the facts considered yesterday: penetrating yet a little more deeply into the mysteries of existence. When we observe the world around us, it is not really enough that we see growth and decay. Yesterday we drew attention to the fact that this growth and decay affect our souls mysteriously when we ask ourselves what is the meaning of it all. But there is something that is a still more difficult problem. We see already in the origin and growth of things something that is highly remarkable, which if only observed superficially gives us a feeling of sadness and of tragedy. If, with the knowledge gained from the physical world, we look into the depths of the ocean or into the vast fields of any other form of existence, we know that countless microorganisms of life arise and that but few of these become fully developed beings. Only think how many microorganisms of different fish are produced yearly in the sea which do not reach their goal of development, but disappear again before reaching it, and how only a small number of these microorganisms attain maturity.

Yesterday we turned our attention to the fact that everything which comes into existence perishes again. But now the other fact forces itself on our attention, that out of a limitless domain of immeasurable possibilities but few realities emerge, and that already in the origin of things there is something enigmatical in the fact that what strives to come into existence cannot really develop.

Let us take a concrete case. If we sow a field with corn, we see springing up a great number of ears of corn. We know quite well that out of every single grain in these ears of corn a new ear of corn can come into existence.

And now we ask: “How many of all those grains of corn we see on the cornfield reach this goal?” Let us think for a moment of the numberless grains which go quite a different way from that which is their object, namely to become ears of corn in their turn. In concrete form we can therefore assert that the life surrounding us only comes into existence as such through the fact that, in its birth, it seems to push down numberless life-organisms as if into an abyss of non-fulfilment. Everywhere in our surroundings, what exists is built on a groundwork of infinitely rich possibilities which may become realities in the ordinary sense of the word. Let us keep in mind that on such a foundation of possibilities realities do arise, and let us regard this as one view of the mysterious life-existence that is presented to us.

Now we shall look at the other side of the picture which also exists, but of which we are only aware when we enter deeply into spiritual truths. The other side is that which presents itself to man when he follows the path to Anthroposophy. This path is sometimes described, as you know, as dangerous. And why? Simply for the reason that if we wish to follow the path to spiritual knowledge we enter a realm which may on no account be accepted off-hand in the form in which it presents itself to us.

Let us suppose that a person were following the spiritual path by methods known to you, and which are to be found in my book How to Attain Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, and that such a person reached the point when what we call imaginative pictures arose out of the depths of his soul. We know what imaginative pictures are. They are visionary images, confronting a man when he is following the spiritual path as an entirely new world. If a person is really seriously following this path, he comes to the stage at which the whole of the physical world around him grows dim. In the place of this physical world there appears a world of moving images, a world of surging impressions of the nature of sounds, smell, taste and light. This presses on and whirls within our spiritual horizon and we experience what may be called imaginative visions which then surround us on all sides and constitute the world in which our souls live and move.

Now let us suppose that a person were convinced that in the visionary world which appeared before him, he had something entirely real; such a  person would be subject to a very grave mistake. And here we are at the point where danger begins. The realm of visionary life is immeasurable as long as we do not ascend from Imagination, which conjures up a visionary world, to Inspiration. It is the latter which first tells us to direct our attention to one particular picture, to turn our spiritual gaze to it, and that then we shall experience truth; and the countless other pictures that surround this one must vanish into lifeless space. This one picture will arise from countless others and will prove itself to be an expression of the truth.

Thus, when we find ourselves on the spiritual path, we enter a realm where countless visions are possible and we must develop, so that we can select, as it were, out of this realm of infinite possibilities of vision, those which express a true spiritual reality. No other guarantee is possible than the one just mentioned, for if anyone were to come and say: “I enter a realm infinitely rich in visions, tell me which are true and which are false, can you not give a rule whereby I can distinguish the one from the other?” — no genuine occultist or spiritual investigator would answer these questions with a rule, but he would have to say: “If you wish to learn to discriminate, you must go on developing yourself. Then it will be possible for you to direct your vision to what remains. The visions which endure are those that have reached a certain level; but those which must be wiped out by you are merely misty images.”

Now danger lies in the fact that many people feel themselves extremely pleased and comfortable in the realm of visions. When once surrounded by a visionary world they do not trouble to develop themselves further, or go on striving, because this visionary world pleases them extremely well. But it is impossible to attain reality in the spiritual life when we simply surrender ourselves to this feeling of bliss, to revelling, as it were, in the visionary world. We cannot then ascend to reality of truth. It is necessary to go on striving with all the means at our disposal; for only then does spiritual reality really emerge out of the limitless possibility of visions. Now compare the two things which I have described. On the one hand, the world without, where we find numberless possibilities for life-germs, whereof only a few can attain their goal; on the other hand the inner world to which the path of knowledge leads us: an infinite world of visions which is to be compared with the world of infinite possibilities for the microorganisms. A few of these are such visions to which we at last attain, and which may be compared to the few real lives which emerge from among the numerous life-germs. These two things correspond completely; they belong entirely to each other in the world.

Now let us carry this thought a little further: “Is that person right who is faint-hearted and sad about life and existence because in this life numberless microorganisms can only, so to speak, half emerge and but few reach their goal?” Is it possible for us to be sad about these facts? Is it possible to say: “All around there is a wild struggle for existence from which only a few accidentally escape?” Let us consider our concrete example of the cornfield. Let us suppose that all the grains of corn which grow there were really to reach their goal and become ears of corn. What would be the result? The world would then be impossible, for the things which are nourished on the grains of corn would have no food. In order that certain things or beings well known to us may reach their present stage of development, other things or beings have to fall short of their goal, have to sink down into the abyss as far as their own destiny is concerned. But notwithstanding that, we have no reason for sadness, for if we concern ourselves with the world, if we concern ourselves with its existence, the world consists only of beings and those beings must be able to find nourishment. If they are to be nourished, then other beings must sacrifice themselves. Therefore, only few organisms can really reach their goal. The others must go another way. They have to go a different way because the world has to exist, because it is really the only way in which the world can be wisely ordered. We are thus surrounded by a world which is such as it is because certain beings sacrifice themselves before they have reached their goal. If we follow the way of those which are sacrificed, we find them within other beings which are more highly organised; beings who have need of this sacrifice in order that they may exist. Here, in a nutshell, we can grasp the meaning of existence, which is so seemingly difficult to understand in the coming forth of beings into existence and their annihilation. Yet we have discovered that it is precisely in this that wisdom and meaning in existence are revealed, and that it is only our reflection that does not go far enough, when we lament that so many things must apparently disappear without reaching their goal.

Now let us turn to the other, the spiritual side. Let us take what we have called the limitless world of visions. Here we must in the first place understand what this boundless world of vision really means. It is not simply false in such a sense that we can say: that which disappears is false, that which finally remains is true. Not in this sense is this world false. That would be as short-sighted a judgment as if we were to believe that the life-germs which do not come to fruition are not really life-germs at all. Just as in external life the fact confronts us that only a few beings reach their goal, so it is only possible for a few things out of the limitless spiritual life to enter our horizon. And why?

This question as to the “why” will be extremely instructive for us. Let us suppose that a person simply surrenders himself to the visions floating in on him in immeasurable variety. If once this visionary world is opened, the visions pour in incessantly, one after another, they come and go and surge and flow into one another. It is quite impossible to shut ourselves off from the pictures and impressions which pulsate around us in the spiritual world. But on closer observation we find something very peculiar in a person who thus simply surrenders himself to this visionary world. In the first place we find when we encounter a person who does not want to develop any further, but just wishes to remain at the visionary stage, that he has experienced something, that he has had this or that experience.

Good, we say, you have experienced things that are realities to you. Excellent, that is a manifestation from the spiritual world. But very soon we shall notice that when another person comes and tells us what visions he had in connection with the same thing, and this second one is no further advanced than the first, that his visions about the same thing have quite a different form, so that two different statements may be presented on the same subject. Indeed, we may even make worse discoveries. We find that such people who wish to remain at the mere visionary world even give different statements about one and the same matter; that sometimes they tell us one thing and sometimes another. Only it is unfortunate that visionaries generally have bad memories and have forgotten what they related the first time. They are not themselves aware of what they have related. In short, we have to do with a numberless variety of phenomena. If, as human beings with our present I, we would rightly judge of everything which presents itself in the visionary world, we should have to compare an infinite number of visions. But that would lead to no result. It must be taken as a principle that this visionary world is in the first pace a manifestation of the spirit, but that it has not the slightest value as information. However many visions may come to us, they are manifestations of the spiritual world, but they are not realities. If they are to become truths, the different visions of many persons would have to be compared and that is impossible. Instead of that there is the possibility of further development to the stage of Inspiration. Then there are no more differences; nothing which appears differently to different persons. Then the experiences are actually the same in the case of all who have reached the same stage of development.

Now we pass to the other question, which also in a certain way corresponds to what we find in the outer world. There the few microorganisms which reach their goal can be compared to the many which sink down into the abyss. We know that this loss is necessary in order that the outer world may exist. But how is it in the spiritual world, with these visions and inspirations? Here we must first of all understand that what we have before us, when we have selected the visions, stands before us as a spiritual reality, that in them we have not mere images which only give us knowledge in the ordinary sense of the word. That is not the case, and the fact that it is not so I shall make clear to you by a very important example. I shall explain how the selected visions stand in relation to the world just as we previously made it clear to ourselves how the life-germs which have reached their goal stand related to life-germs in general. These are used as nourishment by the others. How is it now with the selected visions, with those which really live in man as visions?

Here I must draw attention to one thing. You must not believe that the person who has become clairvoyant has reached a point at which the world of the spirit lives in him and does not live in others. You must not think of clairvoyance in such a way that you say: “Here is a clairvoyant and here is another person; in the soul of that clairvoyant lives the expression of the spiritual reality, but not in the soul of the other.” That would not be right. Rather must you say, if you would express it correctly: “Here we have two indivisuals, the one is clairvoyant, the other not. That which the clairvoyant sees lives in both. In the non-clairvoyant as well as in the clairvoyant the same things, the same spiritual impulses live; these things are also present in the soul of the non-clairvoyant.” The clairvoyant only differs from the non-clairvoyant in the fact that he sees them, whereas the other does not. The one bears them within him and sees them, the other bears them within him and does not see them. Whoever believes that the clairvoyant has something within him which the other has not would be making a great mistake. Just as the existence of a rose does not depend on whether man sees it or not, so it is with the clairvoyant. The reality lives in the soul of the clairvoyant and in the soul of the non-clairvoyant. The distinction consists in the fact that the one sees it and the other does not. Thus the fact is that there live in the souls of all men on earth all the things which the clairvoyant can perceive by means of his clairvoyance.

We shall now pass on to an apparently different realm of observation which will later bring us back again to what has been said. We shall turn our attention to the animal world. The animal world surrounds us in manifold forms, in forms of lions, bears, wolves, lambs, sharks, whales, etc. Man distinguishes between these animal-forms by forming ideas of them, by forming the idea of the lion, the wolf, the lamb, etc. But now we must not confuse that which man forms as an idea with what the lion or the wolf is in reality. In Anthroposophy we speak of so-called group-souls. All lions have a common lion group-soul, all wolves a wolf group-soul. It is true that certain abstruse philosophers say that that which the animals have in common only exists in ideas, that “wolf-hood” does not exist externally in the world. That is not true. Whoever believes that the “wolf-hood” as such, that is, that which exists objectively in the spiritual world as the group-soul, does not exist apart from our ideas, has but to consider the following. In the outer world there are beings which we call wolves. Let us now assume that the soul nature and characteristics of the wolf result from the kind of substance which forms the body of the wolf. We know that the substance of an animal’s body changes continually. An animal assimilates new substance and eliminates the old. In this way the consistency of the substance changes continually. But what matters is the fact that something is present in the wolf which changes the substance it assimilates into wolf-substance. Let us suppose that with all the means and methods of science we had found how long the wolf needs to renew his substance. Let us suppose further that we shut up a wolf for that time and feed it on nothing but lambs, so that for the time necessary to renew the substance of its physical body, it was fed on nothing but lamb-substance. If the wolf were nothing more than the physical substance from which its body is built, then it ought to have become a lamb by that time. But you will not believe that the wolf by eating lamb for ever so long becomes a lamb. So you will see that the ideas we form of the different animals correspond to realities which are super-physical in regard to that which is in the outer sense world.

It is the same with all animals. The group-soul, that which lies behind the whole animal species, causes one animal to be a wolf, another a lamb, one a lion, and another a tiger. We must however form clear ideas regarding the group-souls. The ideas which we generally form of the animal world are very incomplete. That they are incomplete is due to the fact that man in his present condition penetrates but very little into realities, that he really only clings to the surface of things. Were he to penetrate more deeply, then on forming the idea of a wolf, he would have not only the abstract idea in his mind, but he would have the state of feeling which corresponds to this idea. With the idea, a state of feeling would be evoked, and while forming the idea of the wolf, man would experience that which constitutes wolf-nature; he would feel the ferocity of the wolf, the patience of the lamb.

That this is not the case today is due to the fact that man, after having come under the Luciferic influence, was prevented by the gods from having the “life” as well as the “knowledge.” He was not to eat of the “Tree of Life.” Therefore he has only the knowledge and cannot experience the reality of the life. This he can only do when, in an occult or spiritual way, he penetrates into this realm. Then he not only has the abstract idea, but lives in that which we describe with the expressions “the ferocity of the wolf” and “the patience of the lamb.” Now you will understand how great is the difference between these two things; how all these things are surging within us because our ideas are permeated by the most inward life of the substance of the soul. But these ideas the occultist and the clairvoyant must form for himself; he must rise to these ideas. When the clairvoyant has ascended thus far it may be said that something of the soul-substance is already living in him. Indeed a living reflection of the whole animal world that is without does live within him. One might say here: “How fortunate it is for those who have not become clairvoyants.” But I have already pointed out that in this connection the clairvoyant does not differ from other people. What is in the one is also in the other. The difference is that the one sees it and the other does not. The whole world of which I have spoken is really within the soul of every man, only the ordinary man does not see it. This whole world surges up out of the hidden depths of the soul, makes man restless, throws him into doubt, draws him hither and thither, and makes him unbalanced in his desires and instincts. That which does not rise beyond a certain threshold and which only faintly finds expression, is none the less present. The person whose mental disposition makes him sensitive to these influences is so connected with the world that these feelings possess him, enter into his life struggles and bring him into serious relations with men and other beings. This is a fact — and why?

If this were not so, then the development of our earth along with the animal kingdom would in a certain respect come to an end. The animal kingdom, as it is, would then have been a kind of final stage, it could not have progressed. All the group-souls of the animals which live around us would not be able to carry their development over into subsequent incarnations of our earth. That would be a remarkable thing. These group-souls of the animals would be in the position (pardon the comparison, but it will make it clear to you what is meant) of a community of Amazons where never a man was allowed, which would of necessity die out as a community of human beings. It is true that it would not die out spiritually, for its soul would pass over into other realms, but as a community of Amazons this would be its fate. In the same way the community of the animal group-souls would have to die out if nothing else were there. For that which lives in the animal group-souls must be fertilised, and it cannot otherwise bridge the gulf in earthly evolution, which leads to the Jupiter incarnation [future incarnation of the earth - ed.], if not fertilised as I have described. The outer forms of the animals of the earth die out, but the group-souls are fertilised and appear on Jupiter ready for a higher state of being and thus they attain their next stage of development.

What is it that takes place through man’s furthering the development of the living form of the group-souls? He provides thereby the fertilising seed for souls which otherwise could not develop further. If we keep this in mind, then we can say: Hence we see that where man looks on the animal kingdom outwardly, he evolves from within certain inner impulses which have to be stimulated from without; these are fertilising seed for the animal group-souls. These impulses, which are the fertilising seed for the animal group-souls, arise through stimulus from without. But not from outward stimulus do the visions of the clairvoyant arise, nor those visions either which are selected as real. These exist only in the spiritual world, and live within the souls of men.

But you must not believe that nothing takes place in the spiritual world when out of a multitude of grains of corn certain of them are consumed, while but few develop again into heads of corn. While the grains are consumed, the spiritual part connected with the grain passes over into man. This is most evident to clairvoyant vision when directed towards a sea in which there are many fish organisms, and it is seen how few develop into full-grown fish. In those which develop into full-grown fish small flames may be observed, but those which do not develop physically, which disappear into the abyss physically, develop huge flaming light-forms. In these the spiritual element is so much the more considerable. So it is also with the grains of corn which are eaten. The material part of them is eaten. When crushed, a spiritual force which fills the space around, issues from those grains of corn which have not reached their goal. It is just the same for the clairvoyant when he looks at a man who is eating rice, or something similar. When he assimilates the material, the spiritual forces connected with the corn flow forth in streams. All this is not such a simple matter for spiritual observation, especially when the nourishment is not of a vegetable kind. But I will not enter into this to-day, because Anthroposophy must not agitate for any party movement, and therefore not even for vegetarianism.

Thus it is that spiritual beings are linked together. Everything that apparently perishes, gives up its spiritual part to the environment. This actually unites with what lives within man when he becomes clairvoyant, or is by any other means in his visionary world; and the selected visions (after Inspiration) are what fertilise the spiritual part that has been forced out of those life-seeds that do not reach their goal; the visions fertilise it and bring it to further evolution.

So our inner nature, through that which it inwardly evolves, is in continual relationship with the outer world, and works in connection with this outer world. This outer world would be condemned to perish, could not develop further, if we did not bring to meet it fertilising germs. Outside in the world spirituality exists, but only a half spirituality, as it were. In order that this spirituality outside may have offspring, the other spirituality that is within us must approach it. That which lives within us is by no means a mere reflection of the other, perceived mentally, but something that appertains to it. It unites with that which is outside us, and evolves further, just as the north and south poles have to come together as magnetism or electricity in order that something may be achieved. That which takes form in our inner world of visions must unite with that which flashes forth from those things which apparently perish. These are wonderful mysteries, which are however, gradually solved, and which show us how the inner is connected with the outer.

Now let us glance at what surrounds us in the outer world and at what we possess as selected visions, singled out from the measureless possibility of visions. That which we exalt as a vision that is worthy serves for our inner development. That which sinks down when we overlook all the immeasurable field of visionary life, that which disappears, does not sink away into nothingness; it merges with the outer world and fertilises it. What we have selected from the visions serves to our further development. The other visions leave us, and unite with what is around us, with the life which has not reached its goal. Just as living beings must assimilate that which has not attained to life, so we must absorb that which we do not hand over to the outer world in order to fertilise it. This has also its aim. All that is continually coming to birth spiritually in the world must perish, if we do not let our visions go, and do not select those only which are revealed in accordance with Inspiration. Now we come to the second point, to the danger of the visionary life. What does the person do who simply takes the innumerable and varied visions for truth, who does not select what is right for him, and extinguish by far the greater number of the visions! What does such a person do? He does spiritually the same as a man would do (when we interpret it physically you will at once see what he does) who, confronting a cornfield would not use the greater part of the corn for nourishment but who would utilise all the grains as seed. It would not be long before there was no room on the earth for all the corn. Such a thing could not go on, for all other creatures would die out, there would be no nourishment left for them. It is the same with the man who looks on everything as truth, who does not destroy a single vision and retains everything within him. He does the same as if he were to gather all the grains of corn and sow them again. Just as the world would soon be covered with nothing but cornfields and grains of corn, so the man who did not select his visions would be overwhelmed by them.

I have described what is around us, physically as well as spiritually, the animals and also the ideas which man forms of them. I have also shown how man has to assign an aim to his visions, and how this visionary world must be united with the outer world in order that evolution may proceed. But how is it now when we turn our attention to man? He meets an animal, considers its group-soul, and says: “wolf,” that is, he has formed the idea “wolf,” and while saying “wolf” the picture has arisen in him of which the non-clairvoyant, to be sure, has not the “feeling-substance,” but only the abstract idea. That which lives in the “feeling-substance” unites with the group-soul and fertilises it at the moment the man pronounces the word “wolf.” If he were not to pronounce the name, the animal kingdom as such would die out. And the same holds good for the vegetable kingdom.

What I have described with regard to man holds good for him alone; not for the animals, nor for the angels; these have quite other missions. Man alone exists in order that with his own being he can confront the world around him, so that life-giving germs may arise that find expression in “names.” It is thus that the possibility of further development is implanted in the inner nature of man. Let us now go back to the starting point we chose yesterday. Jahve or Jehovah was asked by the ministering angels for what purpose he wished to create man. The angels could not understand why. Then Jehovah gathered the plants and the animals and asked the angels what were the names of these beings. They did not know. They have tasks other than fertilisation of the group-souls. Man, however, was able to tell the names. In this way Jahve shows that He has need of man, because otherwise creation would die out.

In man those things evolve which have come to an end, and which have to be stimulated anew in order that evolution may go forward. Man had therefore to be created, so that the life-giving germ might be born which finds expression in “names.”

Thus we see that we are not placed in creation without a purpose. Think man away, and the transitional kingdoms would not be able to develop further. They would meet the fate which would befall a plant world that is not fertilised. Only through the fact that man is placed into Earth existence, is the bridge built between the world which was and the world which is to be, and man takes for his own path of development that which exists as “name” in the vast sum of created beings; thus does he bring about his own ascent together with that of the rest of evolution.

Here, but in no simple abstract way, we have answered the question, “What is the meaning of life?” although, after all, the abstract answer is contained therein. Man has become a co-worker with spiritual beings. He has become so through his whole nature. What he is has come about through his whole nature. He must exist, and without him there could be no creation. Knowing himself to be a part of creation, man thus feels that he is a participator in Divine spiritual activity.

Now he knows also why his inner life is such as it is, why outside is the world of stars, the clouds, the kingdoms of nature, with all that spiritually belongs thereto, and within there is a world of the soul. He now sees that these two worlds belong to one another, and that only through their mutually reacting on each other does evolution proceed. Outside in space, the infinite world is unfolding to our view. Within is our soul-world. We do not notice that that which lives within us shoots forth and blends with that which is outside, we are not aware that we are the stage on which this union is carried out. What is within us forms as it were the one pole, what is outside in the universe — the other; these two must unite in order that the evolution of the world may proceed. Our meaning, the meaning of man, consists in this — that we take part in it. The ordinary knowledge of the normal consciousness knows little of these things. But the more we progress in the knowledge of such things, the more we become conscious that in us lies the point where the North and the South Poles of the world (if I may make the comparison) exchange their opposite forces, and unite, so that evolution may advance. Through the teaching of the spiritual world we learn that in us is the stage where the adjustment of forces takes place. We feel how within us, as in a focal point, the Divine world of spirit dwells, how it unites with the world outside, and how these two mutually fructify one another.

When we feel ourselves to be the scene where all this takes place, and know that we take part in it, we find our right place in life, grasp the whole meaning of life and realise that what at first is unconscious in us will become more and more conscious through our progress in Anthroposophy. All magic is based on this. While it is not given to the normal consciousness to know that something within us unites with something outside, it is given to the magic consciousness to see it all. That which belongs to the outer world develops of its own free will. Hence it is necessary that a certain state of maturity be reached and that what is within should not be indiscriminately mixed up with what is without. For as soon as we ascend to a higher stage of consciousness, what lives in us is reality; it is appearance only as long as we live in the ordinary consciousness. We shall participate in Divine spiritual activity. But why shall we thus participate? Is there then, after all, sense in the whole thing if we are only an apparatus for balancing opposing forces? A very simple consideration shows us how the matter stands. Suppose that here is a certain quantity of force: one part within, the other without. That they confront each other is not owing to us. At first we keep them apart. Their coming together depends on us. We bring them together within ourselves. This is a thought that stirs the very deepest mysteries within us if we consider it rightly. The gods present the world to us as a duality: without is the objective world, within us the life of the soul [or mind]. We are present and we close the current, as it were, and thus bring the two poles together. All this takes place within us, on the stage of our consciousness.

Here enters freedom for us. With this we become independent beings. We have to regard the whole universe not merely as a stage, but as a field for co-operation. It is true that this induces a thought which the world does not easily understand, not even if it be presented philosophically, for that is what I tried to do years ago in my booklet Truth and Science, in which it is stated that first sense-activity appears and then the inner world, but that union and co-operation between them are necessary. There the thought is developed philosophically. I did not at that time try to show the spiritual mysteries behind, but the world did not at that time understand even the philosophy of it.

Now we see in what way we have to think of the meaning of our life. Meaning enters into it. We become co-actors in the world process. That which is in the world is divided into two opposing camps and we are placed in the midst in order to bring them together. It is by no means the case that we have to imagine this as a work within narrow limits. I know a humorous gentleman in Germany who writes much for German periodicals. Lately he wrote in a newspaper that it was necessary for the evolution of the world that man should ever remain at the point of not being able to solve the ordinary problems of existence and that it would not be right if he should be able intellectually to grasp and solve them. For if man should have solved the intellectual problems there would be nothing left for him to do. Thus there must always be a doubt about these intellectual problems and imperfect things must always occur. But this man has no idea that when the normal consciousness has come to an end, consciousness itself progresses and a new polarity appears which represents a new task, the poles of which have to be again united. How long will they take to be united? Till man has actually reached the point at which the Divine consciousness has been recapitulated in his own consciousness.

Now, after we have gained an idea of the immeasurable greatness of the problems, we can proceed to the abstract answer, for we know that in us fertilising germs are springing up for a spiritual world, which without us would not be able to develop further. Now we shall see also how it is with regard to the meaning of life, for now we are working on a broad basis. Now we can say: “Once, at the beginning of evolution, there was the Divine consciousness.” It was there in its infinity. Therewith we stand at the beginning of existence. This Divine consciousness first forms copies of itself. In what way do the copies differ from the Divine consciousness? In that they are many, whilst the Divine consciousness is one. Further, in that they are empty, whilst the Divine consciousness is full of content, so that in the first place the copies exist as a multiplicity, and further they are empty, just as our empty Ego was confronted by a Divine Ego that contained a whole world. But this empty Ego becomes the stage where the Divine contents which are divided into two opposing camps continually unite, and because the empty consciousness is continually bringing about adjustment it becomes more and more filled with what was originally in the Divine consciousness. Thus evolution proceeds in such a way that the individual consciousness becomes filled with what in the beginning was contained in the Divine consciousness. This is brought about through the perpetual adjustment of individuals.

Has the Divine consciousness need of this for its own development? So ask many who do not quite understand the meaning of life. Does the Divine consciousness need this for its own perfection, for its own development? No, the Divine consciousness does not need it. It has everything within itself. But the Divine consciousness is not egoistic. It wishes that an infinite number of beings may have the same content as itself. But these beings must first fulfil the law, so that they may have the Divine consciousness within them and that thereby the Divine consciousness may be multiplied. What existed at the beginning of world-evolution as unity then appears in multiplicity, but in the course of time it falls away again on the path of complete permeation with Divinity.

Evolution as it has now been described was really always so as regards humanity; it was so during the Saturn period; it was similar during the Sun and Moon periods [previous incarnations of the earth - ed.]. We have explained it clearly today as regards the earthly period. On Saturn this activity created the first rudiments of the physical body and at the same time fructified in an outward direction; on the Sun it created the first beginnings of the etheric body and so on. The process is the same, only it becomes more and more spiritual. There remained outside ever less and less which still needed fructification. As humanity evolves further, ever more and more will enter into life and ever less will remain outside that has still to be fructified. Therefore, in the end, man will have more and more within him of what had been outside. The outer world will have become his inner world. Making things “inward” is the other side of forward development.

To unite Divinity with what is external, to make inward what is external — these are the two directions in which man makes progress in evolution. He will resemble Divinity more and more and will at last become more and more inwardly enriched. In the Vulcan stage of evolution everything will have been fructified. Everything external will have become internal. To become inwardly enriched — is to become Divine. That is the aim and the meaning of life.

But we only get at the truth of the matter when we think of it in such a way that we do not merely set up abstract ideas, but really enter into details. Man must go deeply into the matter and so enter into details, that when he pronounces the name of plants or animals, something rises within him that unites the content of the word with that which lies at the basis of the plant or animal germ, and then lives on in the spiritual world. Our view of life needs improvement in the course of its evolution; for what has Darwinism performed in this direction? It speaks of the struggle for existence, but it does not take into account that that which, from its point of view, is defeated and destroyed, is also undergoing further development. The Darwinist sees only the beings which reach their goal and the others which perish. The spirit, however, flashes out of those which perish so that it is not only that which conquers in the physical struggle which is developing. That which apparently perishes goes through a spiritual development. That is the important point.

In this way we penetrate into the meaning of life; nothing, not even that which is defeated, or that which is eaten, is destroyed, it is being spiritually fertilised and springs up again spiritually. Much has disappeared in the whole course of the evolution of this earth and of humanity without man having anything directly to do with it. Let us take the whole of pre-Christian development. We know what this pre-Christian development was like. In the beginning man came forth from the spiritual world and gradually descended into the physical sense-world. That which he possessed in the beginning, that which lived in him, has vanished, just as have the life germs which have not reached their goal. Throughout human evolution we see countless things sink down as into an abyss. Whilst innumerable things are perishing in the outer development of human civilisation and of human life, the Christ-Impulse is developing above. Just as man develops life-giving germs for the world that is around him, so does the Christ-Impulse give what is necessary for the development of that which apparently perishes in man. Then the Mystery of Golgotha took place. This is the fructification from above of what has apparently perished. Here actually a change takes place in that which apparently had fallen away from the Divine and sunk into the abyss. The Christ-Impulse enters and fertilises it. And from the Mystery of Golgotha onwards, we see in the course of the further development of the earth a renewed blossoming and a continuation through the fructification received with the Christ-Impulse.

Thus what we have learned about polarity is also proved true in this greatest event of the earthly evolution. In our epoch the seeds of civilisation sown in the old Egyptian civilisation are coming to life. They are there in the earth evolution. The Christ-Impulse has come and has fertilised them and as a result of this fertilisation we have a repetition in our own epoch of the Egypto-Chaldean civilisation. In the civilisation which will follow our own, the old Persian civilisation will re-appear fructified by the seed of the Christ-Impulse. In the seventh age the old Indian civilisation, that lofty spiritual civilisation which came from the holy Rishis, will reappear in a new form, fructified by the Christ-Impulse.

We see in this continuous development, that what we have learned with regard to man may also become a reciprocity; an inner and an outer, a spiritual and a physical, mutually fertilising each other. Fertilisation with the Christ-Impulse is active above and below. Below the progressing earthly civilisation; from above, entering with the Mystery of Golgotha — the Christ-Impulse.

Now we can also understand the meaning of the Christ-Event. The earth has to participate in the cosmic mysteries just as the individual man has to participate in the Divine mysteries. Through this, polarity was implanted in man, as it is in the earth. That which is above the earth and that which, through the Mystery of Golgotha, first united with the earth, have evolved like two opposite poles. Christ and the earth belong to one another. In order to be able to unite they had first to develop apart from one another. Thus we see that it is necessary, in order that things may really come to fruition, that they differentiate into polarities, and that the polarities then reunite in order that life may progress. That is the meaning of life. If we look at it like this, then it is true that we feel ourselves standing in the centre of the world, feel that the world would be absolutely nothing without us. As deep a mystic as Angelus Silesius made the remarkable statement which at first may astound people: “I know that without me no God can live; were I brought to naught, he would of necessity have to give up the ghost.” Sectarian Christians may disagree with such a statement, but they should not forget the historical fact that Angelus Silesius, even before he became a Roman Catholic (which he did in order according to his opinion to stand entirely on the ground of Christianity), was a very pious man, and yet he pronounced this dictum. Whoever knows Angelus Silesius will know that this statement was not prompted by impiety. All things in the world would stand opposed to other things, like poles that cannot meet, were man to be thought away. Man stands in the midst and forms a part of it. If man thinks, the world thinks in him. He is the stage on which the action takes place; he only brings the thoughts together. When man thinks and when he wills, it is even so.

We can now estimate what it means when, directing our gaze into the vastness of space we say: It is Divinity that fills it, and Divinity is that which must be united with the Earth-seed. “In me is the meaning of life!” — man may exclaim. The gods have set before them certain aims; but they have also chosen the stage on which these aims are to be carried out. The souls of men are the stage. Therefore, if the human soul looks but deeply enough into itself, and does not only try to solve problems in the vastness of space, it finds within itself the stage where gods are accomplishing their deeds — and man himself is taking part in them. That is what I tried to express in the words which can be found in my Mystery Play, The Soul's Probation how in man’s inner being the gods work, how the meaning of the world finds expression in the soul of man and how the meaning of the world will live on in the soul of man. What is the meaning of life? It is that this meaning lives in man himself. This I tried to express in the words which the soul addresses to itself: —

“Within thy thinking cosmic thought doth live,
Within thy feeling cosmic forces play,
Within thy will do cosmic beings work;
Abandon thou thyself to cosmic thought,
Experience thyself through cosmic force,
Create thyself anew from cosmic will.
End not at last in cosmic distances,
By fantasies of dreamy thought beguiled.
Do thou begin in farthest spirit-realms
And end in the recesses of thy soul.
The plan Divine then shalt thou recognise
When thou hast realised thy Self in thee.”

See: Four Mystery Plays

If we wish to say something that is true, not something which has merely occurred to us, it must always be said out of the depths of spiritual secrets. That is extremely important. Therefore you must not think that words which are used in occult works, be it in the form of prose or poetry, arise in the same way as do words in other works. Such spiritual or occult works which really spring from truth, truth about the world and its mysteries, come into existence when the soul really allows world-thoughts to speak through it, really lets world-feelings, not its own personal feelings, inflame it and has really created these feelings and thoughts from beings of cosmic or universal will.

It is part of the mission of the Anthroposophical movement that man should learn to discriminate between what is sounding forth out of the cosmic mysteries and that which his own arbitrary imagination has invented. Ever more and more the development of civilisation will rise to the point where, in the place of arbitrary invention, there will appear that which lives in the human soul in such a way that it is the other pole of the corresponding spirituality. Things created in this way are in their turn life-giving seed which unite with the spirit. They have a purpose in the world process. It gives us quite a different feeling of responsibility as regards what we do ourselves, when we know that what we bring about are living germs — not sterile ones which simply perish. Then we must allow these germs too to spring up from the depths of the World-Soul.

Now it may be asked: But how is this to be attained? By patience. By approaching more and more to the stage where all personal ambition is eliminated. Personal ambition tempts us ever more and more to produce that which is merely personal, without listening to that which is the expression of the Divine. How are we to know that the Divine is speaking in us? We must eliminate everything that only comes from ourselves and first of all we must eliminate every tendency to ambition. This generates the right polarity in us and produces real fructifying germs in the soul. Impatience is the worst guide in life. It is that which destroys the world. If we are successful in this, you will see, as I have been explaining to you, that the meaning of life is reached in the way described, through the fructification of what is outward by that which is inward. Then we shall also understand that if our inner nature is not right, we sow wrong fertilising seed in the world. What is the result of that? The result is that deformities are born into the world. Our present civilisation is rich in such deformities. All over the world, books are written today one could almost say by steam-power; whilst even in the eighteenth century a celebrated author wrote: “A single country today produces five times as many books as the earth requires for its good.” Today it is much worse. These are things which surround the present civilisation with spiritual entities which are not fit for life, which would not and should not come into existence, if man had the requisite patience. That will also come to birth within the human soul as a kind of opposite pole — patience: so that the human soul does not simply scatter around what is merely a product of ambition and egoism!

This must not be taken as a kind of moral sermon, but as the representation of a fact. It is a fact that productions springing from ambition and desire for renown give rise in our souls to such seeds as bring deformities to birth in the spiritual world. To suppress these and also gradually to transform them is a fruitful task for the far future. It is the mission of Anthroposophy to accomplish this task, and it is the meaning of life that in doing so the anthroposophical world conception should take its place in the whole meaning of life; that everywhere meaning should flow in on us in life, that everywhere life should be full of meaning. What Spiritual Science desires to teach men is this: that we are in the midst of this meaning, and can express it truly thus: —

“Within thy thinking cosmic thought doth live,
Within thy feeling cosmic forces play,
Within thy will do cosmic beings work;
Abandon thou thyself to cosmic thought,
Experience thyself through cosmic force,
Create thyself anew from cosmic will.
End not at last in cosmic distances
By fantasies of dreamy thought beguiled.
Do thou begin in farthest spirit-realms
And end in the recesses of thy soul,
The plan Divine then shalt thou recognise
When thou hast realised thy Self in thee.”

That, my dear anthroposophical friends, is the meaning of life, as man must understand it at present. This is what I wished to consider with you. If we understand it fully and make it entirely our own, the souls which have become Divine will make it effective in your souls.

What is difficult to understand in these lectures you must ascribe to the circumstance that Karma obliges us to restrict such an important subject as “The Meaning of Life” to two short lectures; much could therefore merely be hinted at, which can only be developed in the soul of each one for himself. Consider this also as a polarity: an impulse must be given which through meditation is developed further, that through this further development all our intercourse acquires meaning — reality; it ought to become so full of meaning that our souls should be able to play one into the other. It is of the essence of real love that it is also an equilibrium of polarities. At the point where anthroposophical thoughts find entrance to a soul, the other pole is stimulated and agreement found. It is this that can work like an anthroposophical “Music of the Spheres.” When we work thus in harmony with the spiritual world, when we really are living anthroposophical life, we also live united in this life.

This is the way in which I should like you to take our meeting here in these two days. Such spiritual subjects are an expression of the Spirit of Love and are consecrated to the Spirit of Love amongst true anthroposophists. This love, through the touchstone we possess, will be instrumental in the exchange of our spiritual content; it will be something through which we not only receive, but through which we are also stimulated more and more to anthroposophical efforts. In this way Anthroposophy will become a means of spreading a love that touches the innermost depths of the human soul. Such love lives on. For as members of the Anthroposophical Movement we have something that causes the love of those who are separated in space to endure until Karma again unites us on the physical plane. So we remain united and find the true cause for remaining so in the fact that with all the best in our souls, with the best of our spiritual powers, we have together risen to Divine spiritual heights. In this way, we also desire, my dear friends, to continue to be united with one another.

Thanks to The Rudolf Steiner Archive.
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