What is Anthroposophy? (continued)

Two basic ideas pervade Steiner's work, namely, the essential nature of the human being, and the evolution of consciousness. Subsumed particularly under the second is the reality, indeed the absolute necessity, of karma and reincarnation. That the reality of karma and reincarnation is sensed by such a large segment of Western humanity today is merely evidence of the spiritual stirrings of our time. But what is generally said about it must be extensively modified and expanded to come into harmony with anthroposophical understanding. When this is done, it shall be seen to be not only in complete harmony with the Bible story, but expressed in and inexorably demanded thereby. Indeed, both "basic ideas" are profusely manifested by the scriptural account as radically new insight into its meaning takes shape. One who comprehends such insight can take new hope for humanity and for the universal power of the essential Christian message.

In anthroposophical understanding, the human being, in its most condensed portrayal, is threefold, made up of body, soul and spirit. The "body" is then seen to be made up of three interpenetrating elements or "sheaths"—in fact to be "Three Bodies"—namely, physical, etheric (also called life) and astral (manifesting in sense, passion and the like). Only the physical form has been filled out by mineral substance. (Implicit in this statement is the first hint of what is theologically known as "the resurrection body," the spiritually physical form emptied of its mineral substance). The other two "bodies" can be known from their manifestations, but are actually more real than the physical. We humans have physical bodies in common with the mineral kingdom, etheric (life) bodies in common with the plant kingdom. Thus, insofar as their earthly presence is concerned, the animal is comprised also of three "bodies," the plant of two, and the mineral of only one. It is only through coming to a fuller understanding of these three "bodies" that many scriptural mysteries can be understood.

There is, however, a fourth element that makes the human being unique as the crown of creation. It is the Ego, or the "I Am," the self-consciousness that enables each human being to say "I" and to have a sense of continuity of that "I." The Ego here is not the Jungian ego, which is the personality; the Jungian term for the individuality is the Self. In anthroposophy, the Ego or "I Am" is the eternal individuality, the "burning bush" as we shall see, while the personality is its embodiment in a particular incarnation. A personality is unique in the sense of never having lived before nor ever living again after this life, but the individuality manifests again and again in appropriate personality-form during the course of its own evolutionary perfection.

The human Ego is the "soul" in the body-soul-spirit makeup. The soul is the mediator between body and spirit, receiving impressions from the outer world through the body and reshaping them through the three human activities of thinking, feeling and willing. Actually, each element is itself again threefold so that, in its largest presentation, the human being is ninefold. The eternal soul, being central, is enabled by taking into itself the Christ to work from life to life in the evolutionary task of perfecting, one by one, its lower three bodies into its higher three components that compose the perfected human spirit. At this eventual point, one has attained to the resurrection in the ultimate sense, having returned full cycle to the point from which the human journey began in the spiritual world. We said at the outset that Christ condensed the sixty-six or so books of the Bible into seventeen verses in the account of the Prodigal Son. He then condenses the human journey from seventeen to a single verse in Mt 13,33, 'The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened."

The development of the higher human components requires many lifetimes on Earth. After death, the physical body dissolves into the mineral world, the etheric body into the etheric world, and, after a period of purification (sometimes described as "judgment,' "burning," 'refiner's fire" or terms of similar import), the astral body into the astral world. But an extract is saved from the etheric and astral bodies, the transformed fruit of the experiences of the immediate past life. This unites with the immortal Ego. Together they become a "Seed" that now begins a sojourn in the world of spirit, where its spiritual elements will be built up. There, in accordance with the extract or fruit of the past life the Ego, with the help of spiritual beings, creates an archetype of a new human being, the personality it can become in its next earthly life. Thus the destiny or karma of the next life is determined by the accumulated fruits of an Ego's past lives on Earth. And through its deeds on Earth, a human being can evolve more and more into a spiritual being. Because an individual's actions also have an outer effect on other human beings and on the life of the Earth, these deeds also contribute to the spiritual evolution of humanity as a whole.

As indicated, inherent in this whole out-and-back journey of the Prodigal Son is a changing human consciousness. In its earliest condition of consciousness, the human being dwelled in the spiritual world with, was interpenetrated by, and felt itself at one with the Hierarchies (the "Heavenly Host"). What is described by Moses as the "fall" from the "garden" was infection of the human astral body, before the entry of the Ego and moral responsibility, with the Luciferic urge for sensual experience and knowledge. From this point, ever so slowly over vast eras the human being descended into materiality, and the spiritual world "hid its face" more and more. At the outset, memory was near perfect but individual intellect did not exist. As the human Ego approached the three bodies, conscious communion with the Hierarchies faded and human beings began to associate, first in families, then in tribes or groups. Individual identification did not exist separate from these. Memories and loving relationships were carried by the blood lines. Only gradually did tribal consciousness give way to individual consciousness. Its announcement was most dramatic to Moses on Mt. Sinai: "I Am the I Am." But Moses scarcely comprehended what was happening. He still represented the fading light of ancient clairvoyance, or, as Paul said, his was a "Fading Splendor." The seraphim painfully revealed to Isaiah that the ancient ability to "see, hear and understand" was disappearing, to return only after long ages of torment. Still, he, along with Jeremiah, the Gospel writers and Paul, realized that the day would come when a new insight would be given directly to each human being. This could not happen unless the descent of humanity were arrested and reversed, a deed that could only be accomplished by the incarnation of the Christ on Earth and the shedding of his blood before humanity had hardened beyond redemption.

The loss of consciousness is additionally expressed by the end of ancient prophecy—vision was darkened, and awareness of the eternal nature of the individual Ego was lost. It was essential that for two millennia humanity forget the reality of its nature in order to concentrate on the importance of each individual life on Earth. But those who gave us the scriptures were themselves aware of the recurring lives of the individual Ego, and buried this knowledge within the scriptures themselves in such a way that it would be uncovered and recognized when the time was right. For humanity was not, at the time of Christ, ready for all that would be later revealed.

Commensurate with the fading of ancient clairvoyance and memory capacity, human intelligence increased. But it was an intelligence associated with the material world, shut off from the direct revelation of spiritual consciousness. This change of consciousness was accompanied by the development of individual identity in place of fading group identity. Egoism was born and flowered, and will be the cause of much tragedy still. Recognition of the true nature of the Christ and of human salvation is imperative for those who would escape its clutches. The purpose of anthroposophy is to enable that recognition and to encourage the pursuit of its demands. As yet, that goal is still in the distance, but there is evidence of spiritual readiness among much of humanity.

What is Anthroposophy? Part One