steiner’s change of mind

There was a discussion on critics on Steiner’s pre-theosophical phase and his theosophical, later anthroposophical, phase. I’m not sure my reply would add anything to the topic as such and, besides, the dicussion has evolved to other things (surreal and Monty Python-esque things), so I’ll post this comment here.

Diana: Steve asked for examples of the discrepancies (betw/ Steiner’s own account of things and the account proferred by historians): the easiest ones that come to mind are 1) his later tagging of PoF as anthroposophy, when it doesn’t contain esoteric content; and 2) his recasting of his atheist period as merely a step on his course of spiritual development.

The latter especially is not at all surprising, nor is it intended to be some damning judgment on Steiner as a person. I would guess most people who begin as atheists and become believers describe their spiritual development this way. It stands to reason. We do not like to see ourselves as contradictory, it is much more pleasing to see the course of one’s development as a coherent narrative, all meant to be, everything developing as it should.

Peter S:  Annie Besant, Steiner’s predecessor and rival within the theosophical leadership, followed a similar trajectory from an earlier phase of atheism and spiritual searching to a mature esoteric stance. It isn’t uncommon within the esoteric milieu. As Diana and Alicia and others have pointed out, this is a matter of viewing Steiner as a human being like other human beings. It isn’t a sneaky way of ‘denouncing’ Steiner’s esoteric teachings. If anything, the contrary would be the case: for folks like Diana and Alicia and Dan et al, recognizing that Steiner had an earlier non-esoteric and secular period can yield more familiarity and even a bit of respect. Somehow this point seems lost on anthroposophists.

This is, at least for me, absolutely true. I’m not at all appalled by the fact that Steiner changed. I don’t think this decreases whatever value there is to his teachings, neither the ones before his turn to theosophy or after. All it tells us is that he, like everybody else, changed. This is obviously not a problem — except for the person who sees Steiner as an infallible, clairvoyant guru. For me, it’s more the other way around; I suspect that only a monster, or a robot, would never change. And I’m relieved he’s neither. Because, actually, that’s what he was in my mind: a horror figure. So, I have respect, indeed, for the early Steiner (and, believe it or not, some respect for the older Steiner, too), but I feel relief that he was a human being who changed, who was contradictory, who reinterpreted himself to make his life and his teachings fit a coherent whole, and so forth. Anything else would just be too spooky. However, what does scare me is the perfect Steiner; the Steiner that is a figment of anthroposophical imagination, rather than a real person. The one who knew exactly how everything in the entire universe is or is supposed to be because he had super-powers; yes, precisely that clairvoyant and infallible guru whose life-path and teachings show no inconsistencies. The perfect man whose perfection some anthroposophists want to defend, because, somehow they seem to believe that if he isn’t perfect, then what he said or did was useless (instead of letting it live, or die, on its own merit). That stuff scares me more, because that’s the stuff that breeds dogmatism and fanaticism. It’s because of Steiner’s infallibility that waldorf teachers around the world believe they know exactly how everything is to be, without much non-anthroposophical evidence for it. The insights he gave them were indisputable. I’d much rather know the Steiner who was human, who could be wrong, and who changed his mind. A little bit more realism in this regard, and just a tiny bit of insight into Steiner’s humanness, would — I think — serve to make waldorf education more human and more amenable to necessary change. Clearly, if you think Steiner never changed, that he was completely consistent and coherent, that is his insights and knowledge were of perfect quality from the start and his life a perfect manifestation of them, it follows that questioning his ‘indications’ would be pointless. You don’t even admit that he was capable of questioning them himself.

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65 thoughts on “steiner’s change of mind

  1. only religious movements want their founders to be super-human. As you say, no one is, it would be dull if they were. And from a movement which says all the time that it understands what it means to be ‘fully human’, it would be inconsistent.

  2. Of course, they are often inconsistent.

    Peter S just wrote, after having to explain, once again, that changing one’s mind isn’t the same as lying:

    ‘If they could tear themselves away from their cherished myths for a moment, Steiner’s admirers might be pleasantly surprised at the lively and interesting human being, the actual Rudolf Steiner, that is buried underneath their fantasies and projections.’

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/21424

  3. This comment by Diana is worth reading:

    ‘On the perennial topic of why Steiner’s followers can’t admit he was ever wrong about anything … first of course they believe he was clairvoyant, and clairvoyance doesn’t mesh well with things like “faulty human memory” or “revising one’s life story to make a coherent narrative.” But there’s a couple of other factors too.
    First, reincarnation: in anthroposophy, a person is an “individuality” with multiple lifetimes, each of which has a specific spiritual purpose or mission. The events in a person’s life are if not exactly preordained at least necessarily coherent from start to finish. People don’t change their minds, they enact their karma. All the pieces must fit, and reversals or apparent contradictions are resolved in this light. Whatever one did as a young person is only understandable in terms of where one wound up later, whatever acts or deeds one committed serve the longer-term inevitable course. This is basic to the anthroposophical concept of “biography” and “biographical” research.’

    Here’s the rest:
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/21441

  4. I don’t really understand this formulation of the notion of karma.

    “All the pieces must fit, and reversals or apparent contradictions are resolved in this light.”

    Lets imagine you mess your life up in some way and all the consequences of that are visited on you. After death the important thing is not the experiences themselves but what it is that you learn from them.

    This is why many people can go through what might appear to be the same experience,( for example, being wrongly imprisoned), and yet come out with a completely different attitude and feeling about what happened to them. (Compare John McCarthy and Brian Keenan’s reaction to being imprisoned in Beirut for 5 years)

    “The events in a person’s life are if not exactly preordained at least necessarily coherent from start to finish. People don’t change their minds, they enact their karma.”

    This seems to be a very confused notion of karma. In a given life you might change your mind thousands of times. At the end looking back you might see that in fact there is a particular outcome of all this mind-changing and then you are free to see this as a coherent picture or not. The phrase, ‘……they enact their karma..” suggests that Diana thinks karma IS preordained – a sort of schedule of events one follows. This seems to contradict what she has said in the previous sentence.

    Karma is not something preordained. It is an intention you form while you are in the spiritual world, to undergo certain experiences in order to try to achieve certain things in a given life. But how it works out in a given life depends to a degree on what actually happens as you actually live that life.

    A karmic intention doesn’t look like, “I will be rich and own a pink Cadillac by the age of 35’, then give it all up and live in a log cabin by Walden Pond at the age of 42”. It is more like, ‘I had a previous life in which I did not love others – I had a tendency to be harshly judgemental and fanatical. I must find life experiences which will help me to develop empathy, and if possible meet once again those whom I judged harshly’.
    So before birth, with the help of higher spiritual beings one chooses parents and life situations which will tend to realise that intention. But nothing is perfect. It may be that events that affect everyone impartially such as war, plague, volcanic eruptions etc. intervene to prevent the development and experiences you were seeking. Then it all has to wait for another life. Not necessarily even the next one.

    As regards ‘biography’ and ‘biographical research’, they are notions some anthroposophists subscribe to but are not any kind of dogma to be ‘believed in’.

  5. ‘A karmic intention doesn’t look like, “I will be rich and own a pink Cadillac by the age of 35′, then give it all up and live in a log cabin by Walden Pond at the age of 42″.’

    Oh darn. I have been working on my karmic intentions the wrong way ;-)

    I’ll be back later. But, very short, I think she means to say not that they *must* fit, but that they do — fit into the bigger karmic picture –, because nothing happens without karmic meaning.

  6. ‘Karma is not something preordained. It is an intention you form while you are in the spiritual world, to undergo certain experiences in order to try to achieve certain things in a given life. But how it works out in a given life depends to a degree on what actually happens as you actually live that life.’

    But this means that seen within — from the perspective of being within — this one life-time, there is an element of preordainement; it depends on an intention formed, supposedly, before this life began. Even if the person making the ‘decision’ is you, as far as this life is concerned, what you are supposed to accomplish (or try accomplish) is to some extent preordained. It came from before this life. And for all practical purposes, seen from our perspective here and now, it’s not that much different from the DNA sequence that makes your hair blonde or brown or red.

    ‘But nothing is perfect. It may be that events that affect everyone impartially such as war, plague, volcanic eruptions etc. intervene to prevent the development and experiences you were seeking.’

    Or it may be, is it not true, that you seek the circumstances like these. So that they’re not really affecting everyone impartially, in a deeper sense, because the individuals who experience them have much earlier — before they were born — made a ‘choice’ for an existence that will give them just that experience. Which, in the end, makes it sort of perfect — these events, essentially, don’t intervene to precent the development and experiences you were seeking, they are part of what you were seeking, due to a karmic need for them and an intention formed before you were born.

  7. “This seems to be a very confused notion of karma.”

    LOL, Falk, we’ve already had this conversation. I agree it is confused, but I didn’t make it up, Steiner did, remember?

    Karma is not fate, but it definitely has a component of “preordained,” as Alicia noted. Particularly when we are talking about children, according to anthroposophy, certain events or behaviors that one observes are thought to be occurring because of events in a previous life.

    ” events that affect everyone impartially such as war, plague, volcanic eruptions etc. intervene to prevent the development and experiences you were seeking.”

    No, that is not what Steiner said. Steiner said that the people to whom these things occur sought them on purpose, to fulfill their karma. Not that these things are “intervening” but rather they are actively sought.

    We went through this before – you’re one of many anthroposophists I’ve spoken to who have smoothed over Steiner’s notion of karma for themselves to something a little more palatable than the original – or at least you present it that way for public consumption. The actual teachings are harsher and more punitive than you portray here.

  8. “Biography and biographical research” – I didn’t say they were doctrines anyone had to believe in.

    I really much prefer conversations with anthroposophists who are willing to own what they believe, rather than spend most of their time trying to minimize it, obfuscate, or pretty it up for non-anthroposophists.

  9. “This is why many people can go through what might appear to be the same experience,( for example, being wrongly imprisoned), and yet come out with a completely different attitude and feeling about what happened to them. (Compare John McCarthy and Brian Keenan’s reaction to being imprisoned in Beirut for 5 years)”

    This is incredibly screwed up, IMO. If I understand you, you are trying to say that one of them understood that there was a karmic reason he had to be “wrongly imprisoned” (while the other, presumably, never figured out this pseudo-“truth”).

    Do you not understand the implications of your own belief?

    Is everyone who is “wrongly imprisoned’ actually rightly imprisoned – if only we knew the true karmic reasons?

  10. In other words, the “real” reason they were wrongly imprisoned is found in an earlier lifetime.

    This stuff never stops amazing me.

  11. ‘I really much prefer conversations with anthroposophists who are willing to own what they believe, rather than spend most of their time trying to minimize it, obfuscate, or pretty it up for non-anthroposophists.’

    In most cases, perhaps, I would agree; it makes it easier, to a certain extent, to converse with an anthroposophists who believes — and stands behind, actively supports — everything Steiner ever said, even the weirdest things, and never tries to reinterpret or change them to fit his/her own ideals. There’s a certain very-true-to-Steiner honesty to them.

    That said… I very much prefer conversation with Falk to conversation with any of these fundamentalist anthros. For his many good qualities, which are perhaps irrelevant, in a way, to the discussion at hand, but make a huge difference in other ways . And, somehow, I think he owns what he believes. Whether this always aligns with what Steiner literally taught, well, that’s perhaps another matter…

  12. I’m sure Falk is a pleasant individual. There are a lot of anthroposophists whose beliefs aren’t really straight Steiner; they’re a softer version. Some of them don’t even know it. Others do, and just obfuscate what they really believe in public. I don’t know Falk well enough to know which is true in his case (or whether there’s some other explanation).

  13. Yep true. But I sometimes get so tired of the fundie types. And all the waldorf folks where it’s apparent they’re obfuscating to serve the movement. That stuff is so abundant.

  14. Thank You, both. i do try to own my own beliefs. I do think Steiner could get things wrong – unlike some anthros.
    Re. preordained vs intentions. I may intend to dig my garden but it is certainly not preordained that it will happen. If it happens it happens because I managed to do it.
    Re. Keenan and McCarthy. I don’t recall either of them having any belief in karma. I just wanted to point to two men undergoing the same experience (they were together for nearly all the time). However if you read their accounts of it there are some feelings/ thoughts in common but also great differences.
    Re.”The actual teachings are harsher and more punitive than you portray here.’. This is strange, Diana. I have lived with Rudolf Steiner’s ideas for over 40 years now and nowhere do I find his notion of karma to be harsh and punitive. Have you read Karmic Relationships?
    for Steiner karma is about development, not retribution.

  15. Karma is a straightforwardly punitive explanation for illness. Virtually any explanation that assigns “meanings” to illness is likely to be punitive, but karma is overtly so.

    Again, it is much nicer, I’m sure, to think of karma as being about “development,” but it is inaccurate in terms of what Steiner taught. He posited many direct links between illnesses and accidents and their karmic outcomes. Smallpox, for instance, results from “unlovingness” in a previous life.

  16. But it could also be said that if you didn’t manage to get the gardening done, it was no conincidence, it was meant to be that way. Or rather, your lack of resolve has karmic reasons and will have consequences that are beyond the comparatively trivial question of managing gardening vs not doing it.

  17. “I just wanted to point to two men undergoing the same experience (they were together for nearly all the time). However if you read their accounts of it there are some feelings/ thoughts in common but also great differences.”

    Okay, so you “just want to point to” this.
    Are you not saying something about karma? If not why would you say this?
    There are likely to be “great differences” between any two people undergoing seemingly similar experiences. This is because humans are individuals; it doesn’t point to past lives unless you have a lively imagination.

    But my real discomfort with what you are saying is that you are implying that at least one of them was not really “wrongly imprisoned” if we were to take karma into account. I’m not surprised that although you first hinted this, now you don’t want to discuss it.

  18. “Re. preordained vs intentions. I may intend to dig my garden but it is certainly not preordained that it will happen. If it happens it happens because I managed to do it.”

    What I have usually heard from anthroposophists (not sure if this is straight Steiner or not) is that before you do it, you have a choice. After you do it, it’s karma.

    Now please – don’t tell me this doesn’t make sense. I KNOW it doesn’t make sense. If there’s some way to explain it that DOES make sense and is not internally contradictory, feel free. You cannot say afterward that it did not have to happen, because in that case, it wasn’t karma. Or you can say that if you want, but you’ve eliminated any meaning to the word “karma.” Karma can’t mean just what happened. We have lots of other words for “what happened.” Karma is an additional layer of meaning; if it isn’t that it’s meaningless.

  19. “what you are saying is that you are implying that at least one of them was not really “wrongly imprisoned'”

    Clearly they were both wrongly imprisoned. No human being can ever sanction the wrongful imprisonment of another person. But yes, I would surmise that something so profoundly life-changing was a karmic choice for both of them. This statement, that it was a karmic choice, does not absolve anyone from trying to free these men if they were in a position to do so. It does not make the imprisonment ‘right’ in any sense at all. But yes I would say they chose to be in a position where something unjust was done to them, where a part of their lives was stolen from them. And I repeat this view does not in anyway at all absolve anyone from trying to redress the wrong that was done to these men.

    “Karma is a straightforwardly punitive explanation for illness”. No, not in Steiner’s cosmology. Unlovingness in a previous life may lead you to want to seek an experience that has the potential in some mysterious way to help you witness fully your own unlovingness. You are brought in some way to experience your own unlovingness – how other people have experienced it. Now that, thanks to vaccination, smallpox has disappeared, other experiences will need to be found to bring about the learning that a person could potentially get from having a serious disfiguring illness.

    I want to add an important consideration here. When Steiner linked something like unlovingness and smallpox he was giving an example of how an illness can help someone karmically – not a rule, law or formula. There are many other ways in which someone could try to ameliorate unlovingness.

    “But it could also be said that if you didn’t manage to get the gardening done, it was no conincidence, it was meant to be that way. Or rather, your lack of resolve has karmic reasons and will have consequences that are beyond the comparatively trivial question of managing gardening vs not doing it.”

    True that could happen. It would all depend on the context and what happened afterwards. It might be something quite trivial or it could be part of a chain of events that had significant karmic import. Its a devil of a job untangling it all. It is better to assume events are not karmic until something hits you bang in the face (not literally!), and you find yourself asking ‘why did that happen?’ in a deeper way, ie, apart from the obvious reasons.

  20. “Clearly they were both wrongly imprisoned. No human being can ever sanction the wrongful imprisonment of another person. But yes, I would surmise that something so profoundly life-changing was a karmic choice for both of them. This statement, that it was a karmic choice, does not absolve anyone from trying to free these men if they were in a position to do so. It does not make the imprisonment ‘right’ in any sense at all.”

    I disagree. I think you don’t take your own doctrine seriously enough. I can understand this, because it’s a bitter pill to swallow. But if we were to take seriously the notion that the imprisonment was karmic, this does suggest good reasons not to try to free them.

    If they have chosen the wrongful imprisonment deliberately, for karmic purposes, it makes all the sense in the world to leave them to it.

    Just as you say with smallpox vaccination: if with the vaccine, this means of karmically compensating for (whatever) becomes unavailable, the person who would have used the smallpox for this karmic purpose will have to find some other means to fulfill the same karma.

    By definition, you cannot avoid karma. If others remove obstacles from your path that you had in fact deliberately placed there yourself, this doesn’t help you, it hinders you. The person who gives you the vaccine, or advocates for your release if you are falsely imprisoned, is doing you no favor.

    You may not like what this says about your own belief system. It says that some people need a good wrongful imprisonment, for their soul development, and some people need to get smallpox for spiritual purposes. It is one of the basic teachings of anthroposophy, and this is why it is repugnant to many.

    It follows from this principle that if we have a friend who is suffering most excruciatingly, the best thing we can do for them is not try to relieve the suffering, but to understand that they need the suffering.

    You may assert “It doesn’t imply that” and I’m perfectly happy to hear that, faced with such a case, you would intervene if you could. You would, however, be acting contrary to what Steiner taught about the workings of karma. You would be potentially interfering in a friend’s karma, not helping them in the long run.

    “But yes I would say they chose to be in a position where something unjust was done to them, where a part of their lives was stolen from them. And I repeat this view does not in anyway at all absolve anyone from trying to redress the wrong that was done to these men.”

    It does indeed absolve them. Again this seems clear if you take seriously what it means to seek a misfortune for karmic purposes. It is not only not helpful to try to free them from wrongful imprisonment, it potentially harms their long-term soul development. A friend would not be a true friend if they did that.

    “Karma is a straightforwardly punitive explanation for illness”. No, not in Steiner’s cosmology. Unlovingness in a previous life may lead you to want to seek an experience that has the potential in some mysterious way to help you witness fully your own unlovingness. You are brought in some way to experience your own unlovingness – how other people have experienced it.

    Indeed Falk, that is called a punishment.

    “Now that, thanks to vaccination, smallpox has disappeared, other experiences will need to be found to bring about the learning that a person could potentially get from having a serious disfiguring illness.”

    Yup. So if you spare them the disfiguring illness, all you’ve done is postpone the unpleasantness for them. It’s in their interests, according to this doctrine, to suffer through it and be done with it. It not only can’t be avoided, it will drag on through even more lifetimes if it isn’t suffered through now.

    (No, don’t now try to claim that it CAN be avoided. If it can be avoided, it isn’t karma.)

  21. Keep in mind, YOU suggested the imprisonment might be karmic. You brought up the example.

    I understand that not every event or happenstance turns out to be karmic.

    But I find this a very common pattern in conversation with anthroposophists: you yourself plainly implied that at least one of these men may have been falsely imprisoned for karmic reasons. But you find yourself discomfited by discussions of the implications of this notion.

  22. Diana says, ‘By definition, you cannot avoid karma’.
    But her definition is wrong. It is derived from an inadequate understanding of the old Hindu religions.
    Rudolf Steiner was bringing a new understanding of karma, one that takes account of the deeds of Christ.
    One can avoid karma, because karma is to do with an intention, not some unstoppable, inexorable force.
    One doesn’t become free of normal human moral sense because one believes in karma. In a given situation it may be in one’s karma to alleviate some suffering that one is witness to and able to do something about. But one may not do it and then the karmic obligation would have to be fulfilled in a different way, maybe in a different life.
    It is nonsense to say Keenan and McCarthy were imprisoned for karmic reasons. They were imprisoned because they were journalists who fell into the hands of a terrorist/revolutionary group.
    Also we are not Gods, we do not know what is in another person’s destiny or the reasons for it. Confronted with suffering it can only be safely assumed that WE are being presented with an opportunity to heal something or put something right, not that the person suffering has to be allowed to get on with it. Again the karma involved could be precisely that the suffering is to end at the point where We personally are able to effect that.
    When I spoke of the situation of these two men I said, “yes, I would surmise that something so profoundly life-changing was a karmic choice for both of them.” The key word here is, ‘surmise’. I would never claim to know.

  23. “Diana says, ‘By definition, you cannot avoid karma’.
    But her definition is wrong. It is derived from an inadequate understanding of the old Hindu religions.
    Rudolf Steiner was bringing a new understanding of karma, one that takes account of the deeds of Christ.”

    It sounds like it’s you who lacks familiarity with notions of karma outside of Steiner. It’s Steiner’s conceptions of karma that are rigid; Hindu and other indigenous conceptions of karma tend to be significantly more flexible, often in very startling ways. Steiner, for instance, had no use for notions of karma as a physical substance, karma being inherited by children from parents, ritual karma, alternating incarnations as human and animal, etc. I do admit I’m not totally clear exactly what Steiner said Christ is supposed to have done in regards to karma; my impression is anthroposophists invoke Christ as “Lord of Karma” because it sounds pretty nifty, but I also admit I don’t really know what is meant by this.

    “One can avoid karma, because karma is to do with an intention, not some unstoppable, inexorable force.
    One doesn’t become free of normal human moral sense because one believes in karma.”

    I agree that most people who believe in karma don’t become free of normal human moral sense. My contention, however, is that to follow their “normal human moral sense” they must ignore what Steiner said about karma. I’ve observed that Steiner parents with an affinity for these teachings abandon them very, very fast when something bad happens to their own child.

    In a given situation it may be in one’s karma to alleviate some suffering that one is witness to and able to do something about. But one may not do it and then the karmic obligation would have to be fulfilled in a different way, maybe in a different life.”

    Yes, this is the standard reply here: that if someone else is suffering maybe it is our karma to help them.

    1) This really doesn’t solve the problem; it’s a nutty world this invokes, where some people suffer to fulfill their own karma, and some other people suffer so others can enact *their* karma by helping them. It reminds me of the joke about the little girl who asked her mother, Why are we here? and her mother replies, To help others, to which the little girl replies, Then what are the others here for?

    2) It really isn’t what Steiner said. Or, to be fair, he did say this, and in addition to the fact that that doesn’t make it make sense, he also was clear that such a situation is rare – the exception rather than the rule:

    from “Facing Karma” (in “Anthroposophy in Everyday Life,” Anthroposophic Press 1995, p. 53:)

    ” … if we face our karma … we will come to the conclusion that all pain that hits us, that all suffering that comes our way, are of such a nature that they are being sought by our shortcomings.”

    (Get that? All our pain. All of it. Then, however, he softens this, and continues immediately:)

    “By far the greater part of our pain and suffering is sought by imperfections that we have brought over from previous incarnations.”

    Okay, so maybe not absolutely all but “by far the greater part.”

    So there is some room for this comforting scenario, much beloved by anthroposophists trying to defend the karma doctrines, whereby “We’ve got to help suffering people because it’s our karma to help them” – but it is only a very tiny amount of wiggle room this can provide you. It is clearly not the basis of Steiner’s teachings on karma and it pretty plainly misses THE POINT of karma.

    You know, Falk, if some people suffer, and some other people ought to help them, we really can all agree on that. There isn’t anything that a notion of “karma” adds to such a discussion. Would you NOT help them if it WEREN’T your karma? This is “no value added,” and yet we’re left with the suspicion the suffering person probably brought it on themselves, in a dark and mysterious past (a previous incarnation).

    Does such a doctrine motivate anyone to ease other people’s suffering? I’m skeptical.

    “It is nonsense to say Keenan and McCarthy were imprisoned for karmic reasons.”

    I quite agree, but it’s what you said. You repeat it below as well, contradicting yourself:

    “They were imprisoned because they were journalists who fell into the hands of a terrorist/revolutionary group.
    Also we are not Gods, we do not know what is in another person’s destiny or the reasons for it. Confronted with suffering it can only be safely assumed that WE are being presented with an opportunity to heal something or put something right, not that the person suffering has to be allowed to get on with it. Again the karma involved could be precisely that the suffering is to end at the point where We personally are able to effect that.
    When I spoke of the situation of these two men I said, “yes, I would surmise that something so profoundly life-changing was a karmic choice for both of them.” The key word here is, ‘surmise’. I would never claim to know.”

    So, you were surmising nonsense? Why?

  24. ‘There isn’t anything that a notion of “karma” adds to such a discussion.’

    For me, this clinches it.

    Evolutionary theory is more useful. Also far more interesting.

  25. Well, I do find karma pretty interesting :) I’ve been reading anthropological (not -sophical) materials on karma and related belief systems, in an effort to compare them to Steiner. Karma isn’t just one thing, there are dozens of variants on this belief, and it is a very old belief (it far predates Hinduism). I’m interested in understanding Steiner’s attempt to “westernize” and “christianize” karma. Obviously, no such notion is ever going to stand up to scientific scrutiny, and I often marvel that people who believe such things seemingly never get around to asking themselves how this can possibly WORK (since to me it seems so plain that it can’t, but obviously the difficulties I see with the notion don’t bother a lot of people, now or historically).

    In some systems, karma can be acquired through eating certain foods. It can be passed between parents and children or spouses or lovers (sometimes children can relieve their parents of bad karma etc.). It can be confirmed or cast off through various rituals. There are many wrinkles to it that aren’t in Steiner’s system, which is much more abstract.

    One piece that I did not originally understand is that in the eastern systems, the idea of continual rebirth is negative and the goal is to end the cycle, which consists solely of suffering. In my comfortable clueless-American way, I always thought it would be pretty cool to be reincarnated, but obviously even wishing so is a luxury for a relatively well-off person who hasn’t experienced much suffering (not that I am really well off, but in comparison to most of the world’s poor, I certainly am).

  26. In terms of helping the suffering, it seems plain to me that the notion of “karma” is not in the least helpful. There is no reason the helper’s karma should enter into it; you’re either going to help someone who is suffering or you’re not, and if you don’t because you think it’s NOT your karma, well, what kind of jerk are you? If you help them because it IS your karma, well very nice, but the belief seems self-indulgent. You do not need a belief in karma to go out and help the poor or the sick.

    In terms of the sufferer, Steiner said “most if not all” of our suffering is karmic – that whatever illness or misfortune befalls us, we are to understand that we brought it on ourselves. How could this possibly not be judgmental? It introduces judgement of the sufferer into the minds of those who might help. This cannot possibly do good. Perhaps they still help, but judgment of the sufferer is inherent. I for one am thoroughly uncomfortable with this belief system underpinning a school system, or a medical system, or treatment programs for the disabled.

  27. Sorry I’ve been absent. I intended to be present, but I guess it wasn’t preordained… or something ;-) Anyway, it’s late afternoon already, and after battling with my damn, evil, horrible printer half a day (stupid printers is a punishment for something in your past life, I can just feel it), I have totally lost focus and am hungry.

  28. Suddenly they cannot connect, apparently, the printer and the computer. The printer was always slightly daft, you had to smack its paper tray occasionally and sometimes it printed these nonsensical error messages. I certainly, to some degree, understand the computer who now says he can’t connect with the printer, but their problems between them affect others (I try to tell them, while the next second threatening to throw them both out the windoe). He’s ‘not connected’ yells the computer, and I think he means the printer’s mental wiring. Anyway, I feel like calling in a psychic healer. Any kind of magic that would not include having to reinstall the entire system would be a great relief…

  29. So I’m trying to cook dinner while simultaneously praying to the elementals of technology and electricity and all the forces and beings that are involved in this stuff.

  30. “He’s ‘not connected’ yells the computer, and I think he means the printer’s mental wiring. Anyway, I feel like calling in a psychic healer. ”

    Clearly this is a spiritual message for you …

    Is there more than one account on the computer, or more than one person who uses it? This always trips me up on my husband’s computer, which has personal accounts, business accounts etc. That printer routinely tells me that it does not know what I want it to do, what it should connect to, etc. After I get it sorted out, it usually turns out that I have clicked Print on some job 23 times and reams of paper are pouring out and we have another fight where I frantically click Cancel, Stop etc.

    Ahriman has the last laugh.

  31. Nope, only me and mr Dog. One computer, one printer, no elusive wireless stuff either. Just plain and simple. Ahriman always has the last laugh, that’s why you need to be his friend so that you can laugh with him rather than be laughed at by him.

    As for karma, I feel that the greatest risk is that it provides such a handy excuse for not doing anything — believers in karma, as most other people, are likely to more often than not choose the easy path. Which is why it might be so much more attractive to reason that it’s just karmic destiny playing itself out (these things ‘need’ to happen because of the individual’s development, s/he might have even sought them out) rather than to think it’s your karma to help, do something, et c. Human laziness sure befalls karma believers too.

    Ok, I’ll be back later, must take mr D out. He tells me it’s my karmic destiny.

  32. “only me and mr Dog. One computer, one printer”

    Hm, you might question Mr. Dog a bit more closely. We’re pretty sure our cats have parties when we go out; we always see them with their heads together when we’re about to leave. I wonder if Mr. Dog works on the computer on the (I’m sure rare) occasions when you have to go out without him. Perhaps he’s printing pictures of bunnies, or cute she-dogs.

  33. “Which is why it might be so much more attractive to reason that it’s just karmic destiny playing itself out”

    I’m sure Falk understands that one of the reasons we suspect this (that karma becomes an excuse for non-intervention) is that we saw otherwise very puzzling “non-intervention” in the schools, in situations, e.g., bullying or violence, where clearly intervention was called for yet didn’t happen. Our director, who also taught kindergarten, very deliberately turned her head to avoid looking at violence between the children. This mystified me until I read Steiner’s views on karma, including how when we are very young we meet people we knew in the last part of our previous incarnation and with whom we often have “unfinished business.”

  34. ‘Perhaps he’s printing pictures of bunnies, or cute she-dogs.’

    Oh, I bet. I’m pretty sure of this, actually. It would be so typical for him.

    And, exactly. If they were in another place, or held other beliefs, they would have to find other justifications for not intervening, for looking away. But karma can be handy. I’m not saying it’s always a conscious effort at excusing passivity — it’s more like this kind of explanation lies in the back of the head, together with lots and lots of beliefs, it’s part of a whole array of conceptions and ideas that are used more or less consciously to interpret what happens and one’s own role in it.

  35. Karma is not an excuse for passivity or non-intervention beacuse one does not know what the karma being worked out in a given situation is.
    I do not deny that some people may have used a mistaken notion of karma to justify their non-intervention in specific scenarios. If they have done so they were mistaken and behaved immorally.

    Alicia says, ‘ I’m not saying it’s always a conscious effort at excusing passivity — it’s more like this kind of explanation lies in the back of the head, together with lots and lots of beliefs, it’s part of a whole array of conceptions and ideas that are used more or less consciously to interpret what happens and one’s own role in it.’
    Are you saying that someone may be acting unconsciously – that they might have an unconscious motive for their behaviour. Maybe it could be true, – but how would you ever demonstrate that?

  36. Of course, that would be difficult to demonstrate. But I think the point is that the person must not consciously think it through, consciously make the decision to not intervene, based upon reasoning around karma — but that the beliefs a person has always, to greater or lesser extents, colour the decisions we make, even when we don’t bring the specific beliefs to conscious attention in the particular situation. It’s not peculiar to anthroposophists, or to believers in karma, to be influenced by their background beliefs.

    ‘Karma is not an excuse for passivity or non-intervention beacuse one does not know what the karma being worked out in a given situation is.’

    That may be — but it still seems to happen, and as far as I can see, people think they know how to interpret the workings of karma, no matter warnings against doing so. The fact that they are there at all, all those explanations to why things happen, is just very handy because it makes the idea of interpreting events this way into a possibility — and, in the real world, what good are all these explanations of karma’s workings if they don’t influence interpretations of concrete events, and even behaviour. I think it happens because they are there, and people who believe in karma are human.

    ‘If they have done so they were mistaken and behaved immorally.’

    I agree, but I do think the waldorf movement might have a problem to deal with here. I can’t say how big the problem is, because it usually doesn’t surface until a parent is suddenly faced with karma-based excuses… and reacts badly to them. Most of the time, I guess no actual problems arise — and thus no problems that can be traced to karma reasoning.

  37. Diana: ‘What I have usually heard from anthroposophists (not sure if this is straight Steiner or not) is that before you do it, you have a choice. After you do it, it’s karma.’

    It doesn’t seem like straight Steiner, actually. Karma can’t just appear out of nowhere — the sould, when it’s in the higher worlds, before births, make these ‘decisions’ on where to go and which life to get, which parents, wich circumstances, et c. That’s obviously karmic considerations before the stuff happens. Long before.

    Falk: ‘Unlovingness in a previous life may lead you to want to seek an experience that has the potential in some mysterious way to help you witness fully your own unlovingness. You are brought in some way to experience your own unlovingness – how other people have experienced it.’

    But obviously, when human nature enters the picture, a witness to the situation (i e, of you learning through witnessing your own unlovingness), might conclude that this learning experience must take its course because it is, on some level or other, beneficial. Naturally, this might mean that the passive observer will ‘pay for’ his/her callousness in the next life — having to learn what it might have been like for the other — but there’s a short term gain (laziness) pitted against a long-term (might never happen) loss.

    ‘It is better to assume events are not karmic until something hits you bang in the face (not literally!), and you find yourself asking ‘why did that happen?’ in a deeper way, ie, apart from the obvious reasons.’

    Another option would be, of course, to assume they are karmic, but leave it at that. I e, not try to entangle the chain of karmic events and how they’re connected. Because that’s when human error really gets in the way of things — even in potentially dangerous ways (as with the anti-vaccine folks). Though the obvious objection is that once karma is there as an intellectual potential, will people not seek the karmic explanations, will karma reasoning not influence them?

    Diana: ‘If others remove obstacles from your path that you had in fact deliberately placed there yourself, this doesn’t help you, it hinders you. The person who gives you the vaccine, or advocates for your release if you are falsely imprisoned, is doing you no favor.’

    Interestingly, Steiner says that the development of a vaccine may be humanity’s karma. So, if karma has ‘allowed’ it to be developed — it wouldn’t have, if the time was not right –, there might be no reason to abstain from using this perventative measure. The time in humanity’s history to learn karmic lessons from getting, e g, small-pox is over; either the lesson isn’t needed anymore, or there are other ways for karma to work. This puts the anti-vax sentiments in question, because, presumably, the vaccines may have good karmic reasons for existing, or they wouldn’ exist ;-) And the person refusing to use them might be in the wrong. Possibly.

    ‘You may assert “It doesn’t imply that” and I’m perfectly happy to hear that, faced with such a case, you would intervene if you could. You would, however, be acting contrary to what Steiner taught about the workings of karma.’

    He was contradictory, because his indications would lead to this conclusion — at least some of the time. At other times, he makes a pretty clear case that not doing everything to help would be wrong, because anything else would be to try to interpret things that, he puts it something like this, is too complex for man — here in this earthly lifetime — to grasp. Put bluntly, if someone is meant to die, he will die — you won’t be able to help. If he doesn’t die, your help was meant to help. Obviously, there’s some contradiction in this line of reasoning…

    ‘Would you NOT help them if it WEREN’T your karma? This is “no value added,” and yet we’re left with the suspicion the suffering person probably brought it on themselves, in a dark and mysterious past (a previous incarnation).’

    Yep.

    ‘One piece that I did not originally understand is that in the eastern systems, the idea of continual rebirth is negative and the goal is to end the cycle, which consists solely of suffering.’

    I find that very bizarre. But I remember it was one of the first things you learnt about these religions in school — that the goal was to stop reincarnating. So I was perhaps more surprised about the anthroposophical idea that is not focused on reincarnation as suffering (not in that same way) and something to be stopped. It’s a long time ago, and I don’t remember what I thought, but I was struck by the difference.

  38. “Karma is not an excuse for passivity or non-intervention beacuse one does not know what the karma being worked out in a given situation is.”

    I’ve made a case that it is a darn good excuse for passivity or nonintervention, if you take the doctrine seriously. I’ve never yet conversed with an anthroposophist who will answer this point (they merely repeat that I don’t understand).

    If, in fact, we choose and need our sufferings for our spiritual development, someone who relieves us of them is doing us no favor.

    If that’s not an excuse for nonintervention, I can’t think what it would be.

    “I do not deny that some people may have used a mistaken notion of karma to justify their non-intervention in specific scenarios. If they have done so they were mistaken and behaved immorally.”

    I think I’ve made a strong case that these people do not have a “mistaken” notion of karma per Steiner. They understand exactly what Steiner said, and that isn’t Steiner said there may be a FEW cases where an accident or misfortune is not karmic, but in most cases it is. Sorry Falk, but that’s what he said. Someone who, based on this understanding, fails to intervene in someone else’s suffering is doing the most reasonable and helpful thing under the circumstances, if they believe what Steiner taught.

  39. Sorry, that was garbled. That sentence should read, “They understand exactly what Steiner said, and that isn’t surprising because what Steiner said is simple and clear.”
    I better go to bed, I can barely post on the right page.

  40. “Are you saying that someone may be acting unconsciously – ”

    I for one would not suggest it is unconscious; I’ve heard Waldorf teachers say it clearly, so I don’t think it was unconscious.

  41. Falk:
    “It is better to assume events are not karmic until something hits you bang in the face (not literally!), and you find yourself asking ‘why did that happen?’ in a deeper way, ie, apart from the obvious reasons.”

    Alicia:
    “Another option would be, of course, to assume they are karmic,”

    Steiner taught that we are to assume that events ARE karmic. Especially negative events. Positive events, that bring happiness, we should assume that they are the grace of God. Negative events are pretty much always karma.

    Falk is softening it all up. Oh, maybe if you’re in an earthquake, it was something happening to everybody impartially? Nope, if you are in an earthquake, you and all the people who also experience the earthquake together actually threw yourselves in the path of this earthquake on purpose. That is what karma means. I have heard a hundred nicer versions from anthroposophists who don’t want to talk to non-anthroposophists about what it actually means, but I’m assuming they have read the same texts I have read, and they know better.

  42. I furthermore submit that a person is not acting immorally if they believe in the karma doctrine and, accordingly, do NOT intervene in other people’s suffering. They would in fact be helping in the best way they know how, according to their belief system.

  43. Diana says, ‘That is what karma means.’
    Not to me, nor to Rudolf Steiner who was not so simplistic in his approach to anything. In Manifestations of Karma he recognises that there are things which happen such as war, earthquakes etc, which may affect a person but are not part of their personal karma.
    Karma is not something inexorable and rigid. It is a manifestation of our common humanity, the spiritual aspect of evolution working through many many lifetimes.
    I have a good friend who is a novelist and who frequently tells me, ‘Life is messy!’
    Things that happen are not all sewn up neatly into a grand design, correct down to the last stitch. An intention may be partially resolved in one life or even not at all, The developing freedom of the individual is part of Steiner’s picture of the human being.

    Dealing with Steiner’s revelation does present challenges. He often presented ideas in a emphatic way, but none of it is intended as a dogma. Throughout his life he said over and over again that one has to find the truth about his revelation through one’s own efforts – not to believe it because he said it, that none of it was to be taken as gospel.

  44. ‘one has to find the truth about his revelation ‘

    – and this is religious, is it not?

    If you have a hypothesis as alarming as Steiner’s (albeit much of it taken from previously existing belief-systems) unless it is religious, it’s testable. If it is only testable via the medium of spiritual science, it is not likely to be taken seriously by many people.

    Admitting that anthroposophy is a (new) religion gets round this demand for evidence.

    Of course you could start fighting back with some sort of survey whereby various spiritually scientific exercises are undertaken systematically and the results are noted (don’t know if this has been done, you would hope so) and it could be interesting – do a certain number of people experience particular revelations? Are they different from Steiner’s? Are they willing to admit this to their peers? Do they have a pink or blue card? etc. And so on.

    If this really is spiritual freedom, you would expect all sorts of things to happen. People might intuit giant lizards in spectacles, or talking sandwiches. It might be culturally dictated: an English anthroposophist might experience taking tea with the Guardian of the Threshold, who would look (and sound) very much like Alec Guinness. An Italian anthroposophist might imagine a more colourful aesthetic for the Higher-Worldly mise-en-scène than a Swede. Some highly sophisticated individuals may even see the face of Dog. We can’t rule anything out.

    Of course it is perfectly possible to ascribe revelation to perfectly understandable phenomena rather than any kind of supersensible thing – but that’s so obvious I don’t even need to mention it. Do I?

    ‘Karma is not something inexorable and rigid. It is a manifestation of our common humanity, the spiritual aspect of evolution working through many many lifetimes.’

    No it isn’t, it’s entirely fantasy.

  45. I found Steiner’s Karmic Relationships vol vii next to Idiocy — A Cultural History at a book sale just now. I wonder what that means. Karmically. Of course, I had to rescue poor Steiner. I’m taking him home ;-)

  46. Falk:
    “Diana says, ‘That is what karma means.’
    Not to me, nor to Rudolf Steiner”

    I have quoted Rudolf Steiner to you saying … well, saying the things I have said Rudolf Steiner said! I quite understand why many anthroposophists bat that back saying Oh it’s all very subtle, it’s not rigid etc. I quite understand that unless one softens it up for oneself, it’s stark and unbearable.

    The “Facing Karma” lecture is completely orthodox; I’m not quoting something obscure.

    If that’s the point you got from the earthquakes/natural disasters lectures, I’m afraid you missed the point. No one can read that and come away believing that the gist was that earthquakes etc. are stuff that happen equally and randomly to people, or that “life is messy.” The entire POINT was that they’re karmic. Not every person in every earthquake, no, but mostly. That’s the point of the lecture, Falk.

  47. “Dealing with Steiner’s revelation does present challenges. He often presented ideas in a emphatic way, but none of it is intended as a dogma.”

    More to the point, Steiner said many things that anthroposophists agree among themselves are true, yet to outsiders they call these same teachings “difficult,” “challenging” etc. I have listened to faculty conversations where teachers agreed something happening was karmic, but that parents would not be “ready” for such information.

  48. “Karmic Relationships vol vii next to Idiocy — A Cultural History”

    They would make an interesting paired reading …
    I’m not joking, I’m not saying because anthroposophists are idiots, I’m referring to the anthroposophical “take” on idiocy – its karmic meanings.

  49. Diana wrote: “I furthermore submit that a person is not acting immorally if they believe in the karma doctrine and, accordingly, do NOT intervene in other people’s suffering. They would in fact be helping in the best way they know how, according to their belief system.”

    I think this is, in part, why the suffering of many children in Waldorf is left unchecked. Their “karma” is to be bullied or worse and their Waldorf teachers *know* this. If anyone, say another parent, dares to question bullying or abuse being done to someone’s child… the all-knowing Waldorf teacher explains that this is the child’s karma. If you get a whole community believing in “karma” – it becomes like anti-vac herd mentality… bullying and abuse go unchecked. Horrible things can happen to children and be explained away to anyone concerned as the child’s “karma”.

  50. The above was a reply to Diana’s comment, naturally.

    In any case, he’s very categorical: he says you can *always* be sure idiocy in one lifetime has been caused by hatred in a previous life; 24 february 1924, in Karmic Rel. Vol i.

  51. Thetis says, first quoting my post, ‘ ‘‘one has to find the truth about his revelation ‘’- and this is religious, is it not?’. And I would agree that Steiner’s revelation is more akin to religion than to science. But it is not quite religion (most religious apologists recoil from it as intensely as ideological materialists do) and it is clearly not science in the strict definition used by many people. I think of it as a kind of mythology but a mythology that approaches higher truths in the way that poetry and music can do. When I read a poem by Mary Oliver something changes in me – and for me that change is real. It is in this ‘soul’ realm that I find the truth of anthroposophy. In the realm of ‘meaning’.

  52. He does say things in a categorical way and I think that is part of the cultural milieu he operated in. It is balanced by the fact that he also said time and time again that his word was NOT to be taken as gospel.

  53. Yup. He’s delightfully contradictory; like a piece of art.

    It’s true that reliogious apologists recoil. But religious apologists of different brands often recoil from each others’ teachings, too.

  54. “he says you can *always* be sure idiocy in one lifetime has been caused by hatred in a previous life”

    Yes. But anthroposophists like Falk would like to smooth this over … oh, no, he didn’t really mean always even if he said always, everything is flexible and lovely.

    What kind of view of the disabled is this? Anyone trying to sell this as progressive, or even just not appalling, is kidding themselves.

  55. yes they do.

    Falk – I don’t object to it if it’s the internal mythology of say, a novel. Or your internal mythology. I’ve always thought anthroposophy would end in fiction, and of course it already exists there. My concern is the tangible results of its existence in real institutions. But you know all that.

    I’m not sure if there’s such a thing as an ‘ideological materialist’. Humanists, atheists, lovers of the rational respond as keenly to poetry as those who think of themselves as ‘spiritual’. And some even write it.

  56. Yes, the fact that a religious person “recoils” from anthroposophy hardly indicates that anthroposophy is not religious. Sheesh. World history anyone? It’s all about religious people recoiling from one another, when they weren’t busy slitting each other’s throats.

  57. “He does say things in a categorical way and I think that is part of the cultural milieu he operated in.”

    Uh-huh. In his cultural milieu, “always” meant “occasionally”?

    No Falk I think when he said that something “always” is karmic, he meant it was always karmic.

  58. ‘If this really is spiritual freedom, you would expect all sorts of things to happen. People might intuit giant lizards in spectacles, or talking sandwiches. It might be culturally dictated: an English anthroposophist might experience taking tea with the Guardian of the Threshold, who would look (and sound) very much like Alec Guinness. An Italian anthroposophist might imagine a more colourful aesthetic for the Higher-Worldly mise-en-scène than a Swede. Some highly sophisticated individuals may even see the face of Dog. We can’t rule anything out.’

    LOL!

    ‘I have listened to faculty conversations where teachers agreed something happening was karmic, but that parents would not be “ready” for such information.’

    This is were problem arises, and clearly it would be much better if at least they didn’t avoid saying these things out loud — to parents and everybody else. Because there are enough waldorf teachers who make this kind of interpretation — I fear.

    ‘Their “karma” is to be bullied or worse and their Waldorf teachers *know* this. If anyone, say another parent, dares to question bullying or abuse being done to someone’s child… the all-knowing Waldorf teacher explains that this is the child’s karma.’

    Or the teacher doesn’t explain that — she says it was deserved or that the children have unresolved conflicts that need to be sorted out by themselves. Or she tells the bullied child to invite the bully home. Or instead of placing the bully in another class, in school, the staff deliberately place these two children together — after three years of kindergarten horror — in order for them to be together 12 more years.

    ‘I think of it as a kind of mythology but a mythology that approaches higher truths in the way that poetry and music can do. When I read a poem by Mary Oliver something changes in me – and for me that change is real. It is in this ‘soul’ realm that I find the truth of anthroposophy. In the realm of ‘meaning’.’

    Although I don’t really have a problem with this, it’s quite understandable in fact, I think this is a definition that doesn’t quite square with Steiner’s intentions. Or at least he seems to have higher goals than for anthroposophy to be a mythology, even one of higher truths, and that it wasn’t just like poetry (et c) but like the true explanation of everything. Or approaching it. Through his methods. Which clearly aren’t supposed to lead only to art and myth, but to the real truth behind everything.

  59. Steiner was quite clear that it is mistaken to view anthroposophy as mythology or metaphor. Steiner called this a complete misunderstanding. Perhaps we should be grateful some people misunderstand.

  60. I realise that a comment from Diana appeared between one from Alicia and my reply – I meant to agree with Alicia’s statement:

    ‘religious apologists of different brands often recoil from each others’ teachings, too.’

    I should have added ‘And then some’.

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