Steiner's Basic Books---Pt. 1
- FIRST STEPS IN ANTHROPOSOPHY
A Few words About The Way of Approach To Anthroposophy
Most thinkers construct an abstract philosophical system out of thoughts, which then is supposed to be able to cover anything new the thinker comes upon afterwards, rather like the way in which an engineer takes the physical principles in which he was trained and applies them to any construction job facing him throughout his career. But Anthroposophy is not a philosophy in this sense. As Oliver Wendell Holmes remarked, "Life is like painting a picture, not solving a problem"; and so is Rudolf Steiner's approach to the riddles of the world and life more like an artist's than a mathematician's. Rather than laying down a system of thoughts and then deducing his conclusions from them, he first "paints" a series of "idea-pictures" in his books---but then paints them all afresh in each of his lectures, from ever new perspectives, and lets these grow into the various areas of life and knowledge out of themselves.
Rather than a rigid system of principles, then, the basis of Anthroposophy is living ideas, spiritually experienced and then put into words. The source of these living, creative ideas was Dr. Steiner's scientifically controlled clairvoyance; but once these ideas are expressed, any unprejudiced thinker can grasp them, and this thinking is itself the first step towards direct knowledge. However, we must seek to experience these ideas anew each time, to catch them in all their livingness , not just repeat definitions. Anthroposophy thus may seem elusive at first, for this requires a mobility and versatility of thinking which the mechanical applying of laws and definitions does not demand. It is more like writing a new poem about a subject each time, rather than only using correct grammar to express it.
The subject of Anthroposophy is the human being and the universe, nothing less. One could at least appear to explain these using definitions and rules; but to really understand them, to live within man and world as, say, a Shakespeare does, one must create them in all their livingness. One must live "Man" in one's life, and no one can have exp1ained today the 1ife he has not yet lived. The human being has art rather than only science because he is a creator, and so his experience goes beyond what already exists at any moment--- he will always have something new to understand. He must experience first; and afterwards explain, but a1ways continue to experience. Thus, Anthroposophy is something which one grows into through gradually making it a way of life and not just a "philosophy" ; it begins with the thinking , but must flow over into thinking and will.
2. Beginning the Study of Anthroposophy
Anthroposophy has its origins in the work of Rudolf Steiner. The person just becoming acquainted with it can easily be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of literature emanating from this one man, hundreds of titles on all manner of topics. But fortunately Steiner himself gave out his teaching in a structured way and had definite directions for its study, which we will summarize here. Firstly, the vast majority of titles published under Steiner's name are not books written as books, but transcripts of lectures. He first wrote several books in which the basic teachings of Anthroposophy were outlined in a way appropriate for the general public, then founded the Anthroposophical Society (at first within the Theosophical Society) and gave lectures to groups of students already acquainted with the ideas and terms used in the books. He always stressed the need to read the books first, and a quote from his autobiography to that effect is often printed on the first page of lectures.
The books are written in a way that makes them difficult to read for many people, and Steiner explains why:
"The character I impressed upon my books, is such that their very study is the beginning of spiritual training. For the calm, conscious effort of thought that this reading makes necessary strengthens the forces of the sou1 and through this makes them capable of approaching the spirit world." (From the preface to An Out1ine of Occult Science,)
"In the matter of style. I do not so describe that my subjective feelings can be detected in the sentences. In writing I subdue to a dry, mathematical style what has come out of warm and profound feeling. But only such a style can be an awakener, for the reader must cause warmth and feeling to awaken in himself. He cannot simply allow these to flow into him from the one setting forth the truth, whi1e he remains passively composed." (From Steiner's Autobiography.)
Thus, these books require inner work while reading. Steiner wrote elsewhere that assimi1ating the contents of the books was of minimal importance, but that what was essential was that, having read them, a change in one's thinking and feeling would occur. As one goes on studying the various lectures one should return to the books again and again.
The following is a summary of the basic books and their contents.
3. The Basic Books
The Philosophy of Freedom (1894)
The earliest written work considered a basic book of Anthroposophy is Steiner's major philosophical statement, The Philosophy of Freedom. It is the fruit of his first spiritual experience: that of the true spiritual nature of thinking itself. We are now just emerging from the era in which he wrote, when some materialists went so far as to teach that "the brain secretes thought as the liver secretes bile;" Steiner experienced, rather, how thinking grasps itself within itself without any influence from the body -and further, when it does so, man can determine his own motives for action in full freedom. He designed the book to put the reader who thinks it through to be led through a "catharsis" of his own thinking and experience this for himself. The need for this realization is very great; far from being a merely academic difference of opinion, the choice of the "materialist" or the "idealist" point of view is a crucial one for everyone, for if the body alone is the source of our consciousness, then the laws of nature determine us and we cannot be free beings. Experiencing oneself as a free spiritual being is the first perception into the spiritua1 world, the first thing we see when our "spiritual eyes" are opened, the first step in Anthroposophy; Steiner wrote that this awakening could be done through Theosophy (and, presumably, through Occult Science) but that it might be helpful to some to read The Philosophy of Freedom as well.
Christianity As Mystical Fact (1901)
At the turn of the century, Steiner's spiritual development enabled him to experience Christ, and to understand that Christianity gave new form to the old "Mystery-Religions." In Christianity As Mystical Fact and the Mysteries of Antiquity, he explains that these old "Mysteries" into which men were initiated were methods of accelerating the evolution of the soul, through men contacting the power we now call Christ. When this Being came into the f1esh-~the central event of the earth--conditions changed so that men could now be initiated by Him direct1y: the "Mystery of Golgotha." This book is the foundation for all that Anthroposophy has to say about Christianity.
Through this "Christian initiation", Steiner now could describe the spiritual world directly, and began to do so with his next book Theosophy.
To Be Continued....