The Foundations of Human Experience
As we worked on our translation of Allgemeine Menschenkunde
(GA 293), many people asked us why the English title was changed
from the familiar Study of Man to The Foundations of
Human Experience. In almost all cases, the constraints of time
permitted only a quick, "sound bite" response, "Because
we feel the new title reflects the American perspective."
If a few more moments were allowed, we might add, "Because
Americans see everything in terms of doing." What follows
is our attempt to fully answer the question in a way not possible
on a sidewalk between appointments. In this answer, we have tried
to present not only our experience and understanding of this lecture
cycle, but also to place our perspective within the context of
the panorama of human evolution as articulated by Rudolf Steiner.
Bob and Nancy
What is America's role in the flow of human evolution? The answer
to this question begins with a journey back into the ancient origins
of social life. Modern social life presents itself as a mixture
of three elements:
The origins of our everyday social life did not arise out of the instinctive life of the human being, but rather were laid into the fabric of human community by the initiates of ancient mysteries. After the Atlantean deluge, those people who found their way to what is now India entered into a particular relationship to the spiritual world and to the Earth. This relationship was characterized by the view that objective reality existed only in the spiritual worlds and that the phenomena of Earthly life were mere illusion, maya. The leaders of this mystery stream, the rishis, opened themselves to a powerful connection with the spiritual world. It was their goal to become one with Spiritual Wisdom. They then communicated the fruits of this union to the people surrounding them. These communications of the spirit directed all aspects of life, from the planting and harvesting of the crops to the establishment of justice and the practices of religious life, the healing arts and education. This mystery stream is referred to as the Eastern Mystery Stream, the Mysteries of Light, and its direction and intent can be summarized as reaching into the spiritual worlds from which man had descended, in other words, into the past of mankind, and applying that wisdom to the organization of Earthly life. This stream could also be called the Stream of Recollection of Past Wisdom.
Later in time and in a different location, a new spiritual impulse arose. It had its origins in ancient Egypt and Chaldea and its breathtaking culmination in the Golden Age of ancient Greece. In contrast to the Eastern Stream reaching back into the spiritual past for the perfect wisdom to direct Earthly life, this mystery stream sought to fructify human life by effecting an ongoing balance between the divine and the mundane. Here it was not the retrieval of illuminating spiritual insight that was of overwhelming significance, but rather the development of an awareness of Spiritual Reality, the Reality of Man and Earthly Reality. Once aware, mankind could become an active participant in the maintenance of balance between all Reality. To the ancient Greek, a man could stand upright between Heaven and Earth only as keeper of Universal Justice in the broadest sense of the concept. The wisdom and activity of the gods was no longer seen as all important. Very important, yes; the gods were far from forgotten and the deeds from Olympus play as an omnipresent continuo throughout the lives of mortals. But mankind of this age and mystery stream had a responsibility to do their part to maintain Universal Order and did so as much out of their own wisdom and experience as out of that of the gods. The narrow, middle path, the path of active balance between Spirit and matter, of right relationship, was the task of the Southern Mystery Stream, the Mysteries of Man. This mystery stream might also be called the Mysteries of Present Reality.
In the northern climes of Europe at a still later time the third stream of spiritual mysteries appears. The initiates of this stream did not seek for spiritual union by raising their consciousness away from the Earth into the spiritual worlds, as in the Eastern Mystery Stream, nor by striving for the ongoing balance sought by the Southern Stream. Rather, it was their task to consciously penetrate all Earthly and cosmic activity in order to experience the Spirit, not as Wisdom or Reality, but as Purpose. Movement revealed spiritual purpose, and movement was found in all phenomena, everywhere. Whether they found movement in the growth and nature of a plant, the circling stars, the cycle of the seasons, the realities of the mountains, valleys, sea and shore, or in rocks and soil, it all revealed the Purpose of the Spirit. The initiates of this mystery stream could be characterized as diving headlong into the activity of material existence to arrive at an experience of Divine Intent. With this experience, human beings could direct their activity toward the wishes and hopes of the spiritual world and proceed toward a future in harmony with the Will of God. It is the "movement toward," as distinct from "being at" or "looking back," that is the life of this stream. This was the Northern Mystery Stream, the Mysteries of the Earth, and it was a path in which the will of the human being stormed all phenomena to encounter Divine Will. The Mysteries of Intent might well be another name for this stream.
The ages rolled by and things changed. What was once experienced through revered mystery centers faded from view to reappear in the present in a very different form. These exalted spiritual mysteries gave up their lives as such in order to enter human life at a deeper, more inward level. In ancient times these mysteries, these living relationships to the spirit and the human being, each appeared in a particular region to a particular culture and race, and their application was limited to that area and group. The world has changed over the millennia, and much that was separated has merged together. In their modern garb, the impulses of these mystery streams have spread throughout all the Earth. The Eastern Mystery Stream has become the impulses of our modern cultural life; the Southern Mystery Stream now informs our rights realm and the Northern Mysteries gives modern economy its impetus.
Although all three mystery streams now live intermingled all over the world, there has arisen a new form of regional separation. Just as these different mysteries once arose in different locations, so today different cultures and nationalities emphasize one or the other of these impulses as their purpose and essence. The Far East still breathes the air of the Eastern Mysteries, Middle Europe that of the Southern Mystery Stream, to give two examples. In the context of the threefold social organism, the genius of the Far East lies in the Eastern Stream capacity of the Cultural Realm to recall the wisdom of the past and make it effective on the Earth, that of the German speaking peoples lies in the Southern Stream, that is the Rights Realm, the realm of balance in the present. The essence of the English speaking peoples, particularly of America and Americans (we are not speaking of individuals anywhere in this article) arises out of the nature of the Northern Mystery Stream, the Economic Realm of purposeful activity, a stream in which the will, doing, is the primary aspect.
Viewed out of this perspective, it is evident that the functional meaning, the import, of any of Rudolf Steiner's works will shift from culture to culture in (rightful) relation to the group's purpose and experience. Rudolf Steiner was aware of this difference in viewpoints. The German title of his primary work is The Philosophy of Freedom, that is, the philosophy of the state of being free. However, for the English speaking world he suggested The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity as a means of verbalizing the element of will and doing. An English-speaking person sees it as a philosophy of doing in spiritual realms.
Steiner's German title for these lectures is Study of Man and it reflects the Southern Mystery Stream perspective of their content. Because the Southern Mystery Stream task is the task of the German speaking peoples, for them this is an invaluable guide to the nature of being, of active being here and now. If someone's purpose is to effect a balance in the present between Heaven, Man and Earth, then what is useful is a description of the realities of that balance and a picture of their relationship to one another. To further the work of the Mysteries of Present Reality, a "study" of what is seen is precisely what is needed.
However, the American experience and purpose, arising out of the Northern Mystery Stream as it does, is quite different, and therefore the import of these lectures is different for Americans. Americans have a strongly developed instinct to stand upright on their own two feet, to be independent and free. This instinct is an essential prerequisite for the fulfillment of the modern task of the Northern Mystery Stream. In the past, the Northern Stream priesthood guided the rest of the community toward activity in union with the Spiritual Intent for the future. Now, this alignment can no longer be achieved from outside; each individual must become his own priest and direct himself. Each human being must act in freedom.
The task of America is to cultivate the courage to experience Spiritual Intent and the strength of will to undertake activity toward that future. What is needed for this task is not a description of how people are, but an explanation of the physiology of experience. For America, these lectures are that explanation. Once understood, the possibility of directing human will toward the future intended by "those spirits . . . full of grace" emerges as a fact.
And so, we looked for a title that would reflect the American viewpoint. Someone standing in the Northern Stream would not read these lectures as descriptions of the state of being. Rather, such a person would see them as explanations of the activity of life. For an American, life is activity, experience, human experience. Thus, we arrived at The Foundations of Human Experience.
The Foundations of Human Experience - of human experience.
You may have noticed that we speak of the Eastern and Southern
Mystery Streams as being concerned with man and the Northern
Stream as having to do with the human being, and, if you
haven't jumped to the conclusion that our copy editor failed to
remove gender specific language, you may have wonder why. Throughout
the history of humanity and even before, human beings have been
aware of two fundamental experiences of human existence. Plato
characterized them as "being and becoming." These two
aspects are reflected in every culture's accounts of the creation,
sometimes with the emphasis placed on the one and sometimes placed
on the other. As an example, we can take the two stories of creation
found in Genesis.
In the first, we find the Elohim engaged in the act of creation by divine declaration. "Let there be . . ." resounds throughout the cosmos; the universe answers by enveloping the creative word with Form. All of creation, including Man, is literally called out of heaven into worldly Form.
The second story presents a very different picture. The events of the first story must have already taken place because the Earth exists; yet, we encounter Jehovah preparing to create the first person. Man has already been created, but there are no people. Jehovah, on the Earth, takes up some clay, mixes it with His own spit, and shapes it into human form. When the form fashioned from Earthly substance and divine metabolic fluid is complete, He lifts it to His lips and breathes spirit, human life, into it. Thus, a human being comes to walk upon Earth.
In the German language, there is only one word for this being, Mensch, which derives from the first picture of creation and points to our divine origins and eternal being. However, in English we have the fortunate circumstance of possessing two words - each corresponding to one of the pictures of the creation in Genesis. In other words, the language itself provides us with these two pictures.
The word man has the same linguistic origin as Mensch, deriving from the Sanskrit manas, meaning our spiritual aspect that we bring out of heaven and into Earthly existence, out of our cosmic home into our material one. Human, on the other hand, is related in its origins to both humus, living soil, and humble, to stand below. Here we can see ourselves as having the task of "preparing our soil" so that it becomes ready to receive the spirit. With only a little insight, it becomes clear that it is the picture of mankind which is carried by both the Eastern and Southern Mystery Streams, and that humanity is a Northern Stream expression. For America, the name for our very being which speaks to the heart of our collective purpose is "human being," independent of any considerations of whether or not this is or should be a truly gender inclusive term.
The Foundations of Human Experience - of human experience.
We have already looked at the differences between man and
human. What, exactly, is experience?
Experience can be a reflection or an outcome. In this sense, experience is the result of having done, that is, of exercising the will and doing what must be done for the further development of the individual, society and human beings as a whole. Once again, the genius of the English language provides a clue to this fact. Experience is composed of two parts derived from Latin: ex meaning without or away from, and perio meaning to fear. Thus, experience results in a state of being without fear. We know from an examination of our own lives that we achieve experience through doing and that through doing we overcome the fear of the unknown. This is commonly observed in every child who, preceding swimming instruction, has great fear of the water, but upon learning to swim, that is, doing what is needed, loses that fear.
Experience can also be perception itself. "Pure experience is the form of reality in which reality appears to us when we confront it to the complete exclusion of what we ourselves bring to it." In other words, pure experience is our perception of the world free from any of the filters of our personality. To be able to purely experience would be to stand before the world in a state completely free from any of the defenses of prejudice, antipathy and denial (to name but a few) arising out of the many varieties of fear to which human beings fall prey. Practical, everyday experience can be said to be the form reality takes after we filter it with our fear. Pure experience would be a state where our courage takes precedence over our fear such that as full human beings we can stand in direct relationship to all creation. This is the goal of human evolution from the perspective of the Northern Mystery Stream. In this context, ex perio, standing away from fear, that is, standing with courage, is not the result, but the precondition of human experience.
Having come to understand the position of America in relation
to human development and comprehending the significance of "human
experience" to the Northern Stream, we must now ask, what
is the relationship of Anthroposophy to these realities?
In 1909, Rudolf Steiner described the relationship of Anthroposophy to other views of human nature, specifically natural science as represented by physical anthropology, and to the view of Theosophy. (Recall that at that time, Rudolf Steiner was a leading member of the Theosophical Society, the Anthroposophical Society had not yet been founded.) The picture he painted may be summarized in the following way. Imagine the panorama of the Alps, the tall mountains reaching into the clouds and fertile plains dotted with villages below. Physical anthropology rummages about in the villages, looking at the details of the buildings, streets, fields. Anthropology focuses its attention toward the ground and things connected to it, never lifting its gaze to the high mountains and the beauty depicted there. On the other hand, Theosophy stands upon the highest peaks, reaching for divine inspiration and truths with a desire to bring these to humanity. But from this vantage point humanity remains as distant, barely perceptible specks in the distance below. Anthroposophy occupies a position midway up the mountains. It lives in an alm, an alpine meadow filled by a kind of beauty and truth and peace so real that it can be perceived by any visitor. From this position, Anthroposophy can still see the details of Earthly life and move in them while also being able to reach up to the mountaintops of eternal truths. Its gaze is not directed solely toward the Earth as is that of physical anthropology nor solely toward eternal spirit as is that of Theosophy. Anthroposophy reaches equally into Earthly physical realms and into cosmic spiritual realms, bringing these two together within itself and creating an organic, living whole.
Anthroposophy represents a path of human development, both for individuals and for humanity as a whole, that integrates the three basic aspects of the human being, body, soul and spirit, or thinking, feeling and willing, or head, heart and hands. It provides a picture that can be used as a map, beginning with what is perceptible by the senses, not just the common senses of taste, smell, etc., but including those less commonly recognized such as the senses of speech or life, and ending with an understanding of the existence of higher worlds and how they affect human beings. Anthroposophy is a path of doing, or actively participating in human development.
The path of Anthroposophy is universal. Regardless of one's relationship to the Mystery Streams, the path of Anthroposophy is the same. Yet, it is also not the same, for each stream begins at a different vantage point and moves toward the achievement of full development in a way consistent with the unique gifts it bears.
The genius of the Eastern Stream, the modern cultural realm, is the ability to apprehend Spiritual Wisdom. A person practicing Anthroposophy would, of course, be seeking a development toward an increasing consciousness of that Wisdom. But, they would also be seeking a increasing sensitivity to the needs of the Earth and a strengthening of the will such that, once apprehended, this Wisdom could be selectively applied where needed.
The gift of the Southern Stream, the rights realm, is that of balance, of being able to move upright between seeming opposites. Anthroposophical development within this stream would be toward increasing awareness in the moment and increasing the capacity to act on behalf of the needs of the soul. Then, Justice would be truly possible, as distinct from the administration of laws.
But, what of the Northern Stream, the stream carried by the destiny of America and the English-speaking peoples in general? The inherent capacity of the Northern Stream could be said to be that of sensing the future and moving toward it. A person standing within the Northern Stream would find in the Anthroposophical path the opportunity to develop an enhanced experience of sensible and supersensible trends and to achieve the balance of soul necessary to work toward a more positive future.
As individuals, we may be most closely connected with any one of the Mystery Streams, but, to the extent that we participate in the national-cultural life in the United States or elsewhere in the English-speaking world, we are part of the sweeping currents seeking the fulfillment of the Northern Stream. In this context, The Foundations of Human Experience can become a lantern on the path of spiritual development, a tool enabling a kind of active understanding that points the way to a positive future
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Last update: November 30, 1997