Anthroposophy ministers to the frail human ego. So many people are unsure of their own worth, unsure that their lives have meaning or purpose. Steiner assures us that indeed each of us is of inestimable worth. Central to all of the cosmos, and bearing internally all the wisdom of the cosmos, each of us possesses a spiritual ego, an “I” that links the individual to divinity.
It’s a pretty thought, no doubt. There is, however, little or no evidence to support it. We are all valuable, of course; we are all worthy of full respect. But exaggerating our occult status and powers is self-defeating. Individuals gravitate to pretty, self-affirming, occult fantasies because of their psychological needs — not because our thinking brains affirm the fantasies’ truth. People with healthy self-esteem — neither plagued by an unwarranted sense of inferiority nor made monstrous by megalomania — have no need for false, esoteric reassurances.
Here are some of Steiner’s central assertions about the “I”, and a peek at the main source he drew from.
"[I]n the whole domain of language there is one name which differs in its essence from all other names. It is the name ‘ I .’ Every other name can be given by every man to the thing or being to which it belongs. ‘ I ,’ on the other hand, as the designation of a being, only has meaning when the being gives itself this name. The name ‘ I ’ can never reach a man from without as a designation of himself. It is only to himself that any being can apply this name. ‘ I ’ am an I only to myself; to every other being I am a you, and every other being is a you to me.’
"This is the outer expression of a deeply significant truth. The real being of the I is independent of all external things and for this very reason no external thing or person can call it by its name. Hence those religious faiths which have consciously maintained their connection with the supersensible wisdom speak of the I as the Unutterable Name of God. For this is what they mean to indicate. Nothing external has access to the part of the human soul which is here envisaged. Here is the ‘hidden Holy of Holies’ of the soul, to which no entry is possible save for a Being with whom the soul is of like kind and essence. ‘The God who dwells in man, — He it is who speaks when the soul perceives and knows itself as ‘ I .’ As the sentient soul and intellectual soul live in the outer world, so does a third member of the soul immerse itself in the Divine when the soul comes to a perception of its own essence and nature.
"One may all too easily be misunderstood at this point — as though one were asserting that the human I and God were one and the same. Yet it is not said that the I is God, but only that it is of like kind and essence with the Divine. When we say that a drop of water taken from the ocean is of the same essence or substance as the ocean, are we thereby stating that the drop is the ocean? If we must use a comparison, we may put it thus: as the drop is to the ocean, so is the I to the Divine. Man can find a Divine within himself, because his own and most essential being springs from the Divine." — Rudolf Steiner, OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1969), pp. 49-50.
"Man, in the form and figure in which he is now evolving, does not emerge until the fourth of the above planetary embodiments — the Earth proper. The essential feature of man's present form is that he consists of the four members: physical body, life-body, astral body and Ego. This form however could not have emerged at all, had it not been prepared by the preceding facts of evolution. The preparation took place through the gradual evolution, during the earlier planetary embodiment, of beings who had already three of the four members of the present human being, namely physical body, life-body and astral body. These beings, whom we may call in a certain respect the ancestors of man, had as yet no I, but they evolved the other three members and the mutual connections of these three up to the point where they were ripe, subsequently to receive the I. Thus on the preceding embodiment of the planet, man's ancestor had reached a certain degree of maturity in three members. With this he passed into the state of spiritualization, out of which the new planetary condition — that of the Earth — subsequently arose. In this Earth were contained, like seeds, the thus far matured ancestors of man. By undergoing entire spiritualization and re-appearing in a new form, the planet could give the seeds it contained within it, with their physical body, life-body and astral body, not only the opportunity to evolve again up to the height which had been theirs before, but the further possibility, having attained this height, to go beyond it by receiving in addition the I. Earth evolution falls accordingly into two parts. In the first the Earth appears as a re-embodiment of the earlier planetary condition, although by virtue of the spiritualized condition it has meanwhile undergone, this recapitulation represents a higher stage than that of the former embodiment. Within it the Earth contains the seeds of the ancestors of man which have come from the earlier planet. To begin with, the seeds evolve up to the level on which they were before. When they have reached it, the first period is at an end. And now, since its own evolution is at a higher stage, the Earth can bring the seeds also to a higher level; it can make them capable of receiving the I. Thus the second period of Earth evolution is characterized by the unfolding of the I in physical body, life-body and astral body.
"... [T]he real kernel of man's being, namely the I or Ego, is now only at the beginning of its evolution. For how much has the Ego yet accomplished of its task, which is to transform the other members until these become a revelation of itself?" — Ibid., pp. 109-114.
"When the pupil is making his way upwards on the path that leads to higher worlds, he will remark at a certain stage that the interconnection of the activities of his personality is beginning to assume a new form. In the world of the physical senses the I sees to it that the various faculties of the soul co-operate in an orderly manner. In the affairs of everyday life these faculties — we refer here especially to Thinking, Feeling and Willing — always stand in a certain recognized relation to one another. Let us say we are looking at some object. It pleases us, or perhaps we dislike it. That is to say, a feeling associates itself, almost inevitably, with our mental picture, our idea of the object. Very possibly we may also wish we could possess it or we may feel impelled to alter it in this or that particular. That is to say, desire and will unite themselves with the thought and the feeling. That this association comes about is due to the fact that the I unites ideation (thinking,) feeling and willing into a harmonious whole, thus bringing order into the forces of our personality. This healthy harmony would be broken if the I were to show itself powerless in the matter — if desire, for example, were to branch off in another direction than feeling or thinking. If someone thought that a particular course was right, and yet his will were set on following another course — one that did not comment itself to him — his soul would certainly not be in a healthy condition. The same could be said of a person who was bent on having, not what he liked, but rather what he disliked.
"The pupil will, however, find that on the way to the attainment of higher powers of cognition, thinking, feeling and willing do definitely separate one from another, each of them assuming a kind of independent existence. A thought, for instance, will not now of its own accord stir up a particular feeling and evoke a particular volition. The situation will be that while in our thinking we can perceive a thing objectively and truly, yet before we can have any feeling about it or come to any resolve in the matter, we shall need to develop within us a distinct and independent impulse. While engaged in supersensible observation, our thinking, feeling and willing do not continue to simply three powers of the soul raying out, as if were, from the I, as a single center of our personality; they become independent beings. It is as though they were three separate personalities. The implication is that our I or Ego needs to be made all the stronger, for it has no longer merely to ensure that order reigns among three faculties of soul; it has to guide and lead three beings. This partition into three distinct beings must, however, only be allowed to subsist during the time of supersensible observation. Here again we see how important it is to include among the exercises for more advanced training those that give stability and firmness to the faculty of thoughtful judgment, to the feeling life and to the life of will. For if we fail to bring with us into the higher world the necessary stability and firmness of soul, then we shall very soon find how weak the I will prove itself to be — not fit guide for the thinking, feeling and willing! Should such weakness manifest in the I, it will be as though the soul were being pulled in different ways by distinct personalities; its inner integrity will inevitably be destroyed. If, however, development has taken its right course, the change will signify a genuine advance. The Ego does not lose control but remains in command even of the independent beings that now constitute the soul." — Ibid., pp. 278- 280.
Steiner spoke of “[T]he longing human soul in its yearning, tormented emptiness” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL HIERARCHIES AND THE PHYSICAL WORLD (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 224. He offered his system as an antidote to suffering: “[W]e may point to spiritual science as a bearer of the redemption of human longing ... [S]piritual science now provides what tempestuous but also woeful human beings have sought for a long time.” — Ibid., p. 231.
Steiner sought to assuage the emptiness that so many people feel — the sense of inferiority, worthlessness, self-loathing that gnaws at innumerable human hearts. Do our lives have meaning? Does the universe give a damn about me? Why am I here?
In his doctrines, Steiner emphasized the "I" — the sense of self. He celebrated it, and he promised a wonderful ultimate fulfillment. Your lives are not meaningless, Steiner assured his followers. You are central to the entire universe, and one day you will stand at the absolute pinnacle of all creation. You will be God!
What a vision! What a promise! If you can take it seriously, that is.
Of course, there is an alternative, one that we can take perfectly seriously. Instead of plunging into occultism hoping for a grandiose, fantastical payoff bordering on megalomania, we could set our feet on the ground, open our eyes, and gain authentic self-respect in the here-and-now by treating one another well. Morality and rationality could take us a long way, here and now, if we'd care to give them a try.
It's just a thought.
Although Steiner claimed that his occult teachings result from his own clairvoyant investigations of the spirit realm, in fact he drew heavily from other mystics, adapting their teachings to his. The concept of the spiritual ego or “I” reached Anthroposophy directly from Theosophy. Here is a Theosophical explication of the “I” and a brief statement about egoity.
Ego (Latin) The personal pronoun "I"; in philosophy and theosophy, the ego is the center of 'I-am-ship' or egoity in the human being. There are two such centers: the spiritual and impersonal, commonly called the individuality; and the personal, often called the soul or the personality. The former ego is unconditionally immortal, the latter ego is conditionally immortal, but in most cases mortal because of its lack of binding aspirations with its higher Over-self, the individuality.
The ego is that which says "I am I"; it is indirect or reflected consciousness, consciousness recognizing its own mayavi existence as a separate entity. It is not the permanent self or the atma-buddhi-manas considered as an indissoluble triad; for all egos in the human constitution are reflections of the permanent spiritual selfhood. This means that there are innumerable egos of the same kind — "myself" and other similar myselves — also that there are egos of different kinds.
If we consider the hierarchy of the human constitution to grow from the immanent or permanent self, regarding this as the very seed of essential egoity, then a mayavi ego will be formed on each of the planes of matter and therefore on all the planes or layers of the human constitution; the seed of egoity manifesting itself in each successive vehicle and thus producing there an ego, permanent or impermanent according to its distance from the permanent self.
Thus we have: atman, the divine monad, giving birth to the divine ego, which latter evolves forth the monadic envelope or divine soul. Jiva, the spiritual monad, has its child, which is the spiritual ego, and this in turn evolves forth the spiritual soul or individual; and the combination of these two, considered as a unit, generally speaking, is atma-buddhi; bhutatman, the human ego — the higher human soul, including the lower buddhi and higher manas; pranatman, the personal ego — the ordinary human soul or person — including manas, kama, and prana; and finally the beast or animal ego — the vital-astral soul: kama and prana.
Egoity I-am-I-ness, ahamkara; human egoity is dual, but egoity really should mean individuality, not personality. The characteristic or swabhava of individuality is egoity or the essential root of I-am-I-ness, while the characteristic or swabhava of the personality is egoism, the faint shadow of egoity drunken with the sense of its own exclusive importance in the world. Further, both egoity and egoism are sharply distinguished from essential selfhood; paradoxically, the stronger the idea of essential selfhood in the human being, the less is there of egoity, and the least there is of egoism, for even egoity is a reflection, albeit high, of spiritual selfhood, which recognizes its oneness with the All. Thus ego is defined as I-am-I, consciousness recognizing its own mayavi existence as a separate entity, hence often called reflected consciousness. Essential selfhood is the characteristic of atman in the human constitution; egoity arises in the conjunction of atma-buddhi with manas; whereas personality or egoism is the faint reflection of the latter working in and through the lower manas, kama, and prana. — ENCYCLOPEDIC THEOSOPHICAL GLOSSARY: Ea-El (Theosophical University Press, 1999).
[R. R., 2010.]
- Compilation and commentary by Roger Rawlings