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May 28, 2023

The Dignity of Humanity by Sebastian Gronbach

The Four Mysteries of Anthroposophical Teachers

The Integral Academy has invited Info3 to participate in a discussion concerning the necessary criteria for a spiritual education, fitting for our times. From an anthroposophical perspective Sebastian Gronbach presents a position paper for the “School of integral evolutionary spirituality”. He focuses particularly on the role of the spiritual teacher.

By Sebastian Gronbach

So we are discussing a mystery. We are discussing what it means to be a spiritual teacher. And here in this paper we are especially focusing on what is particular to spiritual teaching within an anthroposophical context.

Those serious about working in the tradition of Rudolf Steiner at this time – whether coaches, life-coaches, those within companies or teams, moderators, speakers or authors – are always aware they are part of a mystery. And this mystery has four aspects.

The Mystery of Transformation

Ken Wilber highlighted this first aspect when he was asked how spiritual growth, consciousness and soul development, and in the end the awakening of a human being should be realized. Despite this spiritual genius’ ability to answer completely any question posed, he replied, “How and why individuals grow, develop and transform is one of the greatest puzzles of human psychology.”

Thus it would seem the word “mystery” is appropriate here.

This is not about secrecy for secrecy’s sake. By all means let us discuss our methods, our techniques, our successes and our failures. Let us openly explore our good experiences and also where we repeatedly hit our limits. Let us bring the idea of a spiritual academy to life, and let us recover the field of interior development from the back streets of New Age mysticism. Let us demystify their magic-mythic ritual for what it is: the pre-trans fallacy. Let us be serious about the second word “science” in Rudolf Steiner’s description of anthroposophy as a spiritual science.

So let’s be done with secrecy for secrecy’s sake. Let us continue to explain our work as it relates to both old and new spiritual movements. But, despite all necessary explanations and clarifications, by all means avoid any impression that the mystery of transformation and development can ever be revealed; by all means avoid the impression that we have found the one universally reliable method to bring humanity to the next developmental stage. Certainly we recognize such stages. We are constantly developing better ways to describe how these stages look. Good spiritual teachers do indeed have reliable criteria with which to assess exactly which stage someone has reached. Perhaps this even allows very clear mapping of the way to any particular stage: but via hindsight, and not via prediction. Indeed, despite our burning heart’s desire for the progress of our students, we cannot outline a successful spiritual path for another. And what applies for developmental stages is so more the case for the leap into the Unknown: “Enlightenment is a secret,” says Andrew Cohen.

Again I want to emphasize that, despite the unprecedented bounty of wisdom traditions now available to today’s spiritual teacher, it is essential to be humble in the face of this mystery of development, if the body of teachers is to manifest genuine integrity. There is a great mass of Wisdom now available to us and yet there still remains the overwhelming power of the “silent majority”, or in other words the fact of not-knowing. We are experts and we cannot know, and both are true.

This understanding provides the first principle for spiritual teachers from the Rudolf Steiner tradition: The immeasurable trust, that my students place in me, is based on my own humility in the face of this Mystery of Transformation., I remain always very conscious that, no matter how appropriate my suggestions might be to my students, the Mystery of transformation is undergone in a manner unknown to me as their teacher. This is the position I take regarding my engagement with my students. This means more than simply respect for people, it approaches the worth and potential of the human being. (translator’s note: “der Würde des Menschen” from the German Constitution) And that is sacred (translator’s note: “die Würde des Menschen ist unantastbar” from the German Constitution).

The Mystery of the Highest

Spiritual teachers have to deal with both that most malicious and most banal species on earth; with nothing less than what is traditionally called the devil. In other words, with ego. The struggle with one’s own ego is grim and unrelenting enough. Yet how much more so is the battle with the devil in others. A spiritual teacher must not only be wily, patient, strong, ethical, and indeed at times a “rude boy” (or girl), but also above all must have a pure and incorruptible soul. In every moment. If not then, in the end, such teachers will not only sell their own soul but also the trusting souls of others who have believed in them.

That may well be some spiritual teachers’ calling. While honoring and respecting such teachers, those within anthroposophy go in a different direction. Rudolf Steiner developed an Anthroposophical form of instruction which, with reference to the ego, can be compared to various practices including “Voice Dialogue”, though they come from other backgrounds. Steiner took hold of the undifferentiated mass of ego and divided it into two basic forms. He called all  Absolute spiritual climbers as being like Lucifer and all Absolute spiritual descenders being like Ahriman When one is ahramanisch influenced then everything is dominated by the intellect, expressed through excessive cramped tension, structure, rigidity, and spiritual coldness.

In contrast those following Lucifer express extreme emotional magic-mythic pre-rationality, including every form of flakiness, vagueness, dissolution and spiritual drama.

With this division of the ego into two entities – which he extensively detailed in innumerable lectures and books – he removed people’s fear of the unknown, thereby enabling them to examine their own interior phenomena in a somewhat scientific manner.

But Rudolf Steiner went further when he laid down the standard for anthroposophical teaching: the so-called “Mystery Drama” in which, similar to “Voice Dialogue” he let the various parts of the ego express themselves.  What is unusual here is that the subject of the “Mysteriendramen” is none other than the individual themselves on their own inner journey; the individual on their way to Awakened Consciousness; the individual and their higher development. The individual is accompanied en route by the various expressions of ego: for example the doubter, the permanent seeker, the observer, the know-it-all, and the striving “effort-maker” amongst many other possibilities.

Without going into many other examples from the anthroposophical context, we can put it in a nutshell by saying that anthroposophy takes the ego apart: artistically, scientifically, creatively and with the forensic precision of a criminal profiler. In anthroposophy we don’t bulldoze our way through the sheer insurmountable mass of ego but rather, through breaking the ego down into individual parts, we sweep the resultant pebbles out of our way. Thus it is necessary that the student’s path should be carefully and intentionally revealed over time, otherwise there is the risk of getting stuck in such egoic details.

Thus it appears that the anthroposophical way of awakening lasts forever. Yes it is indeed long but we believe that in the end it will liberate many many people, and not just an elite. From this perspective we as anthroposophical teachers do not work with the ego at all. In the truest meaning of the words we go beyond the ego as though it doesn’t exist.  Keeping the ego in its various expressions under our feet, we look away from the dragon, giving our attention always and exclusively to the Light. By the way this is the real reason anthroposophy appears as a way of light. It is simply the holy Light to which we orient ourselves and which shines through everything.

To reiterate, anthroposophy is not a form of exorcism. “Anthroposophy is a service to God and also from God, in both its parts and its entirety. Anthroposophy always orients itself within a developmental hierarchy towards the highest, but that highest is a non-dual Mystery beyond any perspective: in other words, a secret. At no time is it “the” highest. Rather it stands beyond and outside any and all hierarchical concepts. Thus when anthroposophy appears too religious, too solemn, too holy this surely reflects the presence of ego. Nevertheless this also reflects a very human helplessness in the face of this secret. This reverence before the greatest Mystery of the Highest belongs to the deepest nature of the anthroposophical teacher.

Rudolf Steiner framed all mantras, every religious instruction and all suggestions of the inner path in such a way that the human soul would maintain a permanent connection with the Mystery of the Highest. He believed that our Soul would be strengthened through this uninterrupted godly spiritual impulse. That is why anthroposophy is only partially striving towards the goal of complete Enlightenment. Much more is the task of anthroposophical teachers to support the relationship of every student with the Highest, in the faith that this strengthens students’ souls. Because Rudolf Steiner desired one thing above all else: strong souls. He was completely focused on the strength of the soul. He was focused on individuals with soul strength full with sufficient love to take action, who are willing to assume responsibility for further world progress. Indeed it was sometimes the case that he consciously held back someone’s Awakening or Enlightenment. Why? Because for him by far the most important thing was the awakening to higher developmental steps or stages. Steiner described in great detail the human and evolutionary drama in which someone at a lower level awakens but, through that very process, thereby becomes unavailable to Evolution as a whole, and indeed even becomes anti-evolutionary.  Steiner was convinced that the developmental level of the soul was ultimately more important than the experience itself that enabled that level of development. Upon Awakening a strong highly-developed and capable Soul should immediately be able to take responsibility and leadership, out of love for Evolution. Or in Steiner’s words, “From love to action”.

For spiritual teachers in the Steiner tradition this provides the second principle, “I always direct my students towards the highest impulse. I recognize this indeed as my Authentic Self , and I see this as the living fabric in all of creation, but I always bow in reverence to this Highest. In the face of this Mystery, whatever I as a teacher know may be seen at best as only the ground on which I humbly kneel. At the same time I recognize this Highest to be part and parcel of each and every cell of my students, and also my students’ entirety is derived of the Highest. With this attitude I face you.  This  approaches the significance of the worth and potential of a human being.  Yet the worth and potential of a human being remains sacred. (Die Würde des Menschen ist unantastbar).

The Mystery of Relationship

The relationship between spiritual teacher and student is a Mystery. That doesn’t mean that dishonest and secretive behavior should occur. It doesn’t mean that different ethical rules apply to this relationship, or that no-one else should hear about this relationship. This is not about secrecy for secrecy’s sake, but rather it is about a Secret. It is also doesn’t mean that someone could unthinkingly spill a secret, but simply that the essence of the student-teacher relationship is a secret. It is also not because there could be something betrayed but rather there is something in the relationship that neither of those involved knows. Whoever works long enough as a spiritual teacher  knows that some progress only occurs because of this special relationship, and also knows that sometimes one must refuse a relationship with a student. This is because a part of this Mystery is to know that not every student-teacher combination is suitable for this Mystery of relationship.

In the face of this Mystery anthroposophical teachers practice an all-encompassing care. They consciously walk on egg shells in their relationship with their students. They trust that everyday life is possible within this Mystery. We believe in seeds. We nourish and care for them. But we don’t cut them off in order to evaluate progress, nor do we pull on the green shoots to encourage growth.“Take each action and say each word in such a way that no one’s freedom to choose is threatened” is the way Steiner put it. We remember that we’re a part of a miracle. Rudolf Steiner said, “Every ethical action should be a miracle, not just something average, but something extraordinary. A person needs to be capable of miracles.

This miracle needs our most delicate care or, otherwise said, our loving discrimination. Discrimination comes from the Latin “discernere” which means to distinguish, in this case between the important and the trivial. It is thinking that sometimes makes it difficult to recognize what is important, because inessentials delight in puffing themselves up. Just one thing resists the trivial – Stillness. This is why one can’t describe the essence of the Mystery of the student-teacher relationship. Sure one tries but at best it appears unconvincing. In the worst case one lapses into silence. For teachers in the tradition of Steiner this Mystery refers also to our ideas of reincarnation and karma. By this I don’t mean some child-like belief in the “journey of the soul”. I am not referring to some fantasy where a student in a past life was my teacher or vice versa.  It is simply that the issue of karma and reincarnation has not been sufficiently researched. That could mean that one simply rejects the issue entirely, but the number of  reports about reincarnation also prevent us saying that this is a collective cultural delusion. Thus karma and reincarnation are also a part of this Mystery.

Through the metaphor of the egg and the seed we can see that this relationship represents a secure area, in which the Mystery of a higher life can unfold. The metaphor is further applicable here too: Yes, we know a lot about the emergence of life, but when we remove the seed or the egg in order to grasp the Mystery, then we kill not only the Mystery but also the new life.

For spiritual teachers in the tradition of Steiner yields  the third Principle: “I honor the Mystery of our relationship. Not because every thought, every word and every action is in principle transparent but because the higher life, towards which my students are striving, needs a secure environment in order to emerge in a viable form. This attitude forms the foundation of my relationship to my student in their entirety . They are like me a part of a Mystery which our researcher’s perspective may draw from. That is not simply respect for those within a relationship, but relates more to the worth and potential of the individual. And that  is sacred. (“Die Würde des Menschen ist unantastbar”)

The Mystery of Fate

It is not important that we know exactly in every case what the term “Fate” means. It is not important whether there is a higher power, order or direction or only cosmic anarchy, chaos and random mutation: for everyone it is immediately obvious that we humans cannot foresee the someone’s future life. Within every resumé there lies a secret, and so we need to constantly face that which cannot be reckoned with. In all areas of life there can occur completely unpredictable leaps, crashes, meetings, losses, wins, insights, discoveries and revolutions which can, not only influence but, also radically change the course of any life. In hindsight there may sometimes appear to be a divine order which wasn’t imaginable beforehand and certainly not for any particular individual.

As spiritual teachers we experience the hand of fate. We may give a talk or write an article about something which is important to us. We put all our attention on the topic and concentrate on the most important message. And what happens? Through an accidental sentence, which for us seems utterly beside the point, can an entire cosmos be revealed to the listener. For such a person their life can be changed simply because we were not entirely concentrated. It is even more miraculous when we are misunderstood and through that very misunderstanding something very positive occurs. I am thankful for a typo in my first book . In the text was the phrase “No faith” where there should have been “No fate”. I have never spoken about this, pun intended, fated typo but it led to a constructive dialogue and a series of lectures.

Perhaps Steiner’s most important teaching model is the wooden sculpture representing humanity. The eye of the beholder is drawn to the middle figure which to the right and left has an eye on both of the big parts of the ego. However the whole tableau would be incomplete without a small unprepossessing and rather ridiculous figure standing near the edge of the group. Steiner called this figure “Cosmic humor.”

In referring to this I want to say that the Mystery of Fate is nothing sentimental, but exactly the opposite: it protects against spiritual sentimentality. As in the example with my book, we often find Fate to be something ludicrous. When we hear of such fateful or serendipitous outcomes our initial reaction is to exclaim, “That can’t be true – I’m simply not ready to believe it!” accompanied by surprised laughter. From this point of view “Cosmic humor” always played an important role for Steiner:

“There are good reasons to meet first appearances with a quizzical eye. It is absolutely not correct to want to be carried into a higher dimension on the wings of raw emotion.  If one wants to work towards a higher dimension one doesn’t have to do it based only on emotion. Such sentimentality always smacks of ego.  At those times when the highest spiritual context needs to be discussed, you will notice that I try to maintain the emotional current, but in a way that avoids sentimentality. Only when one has truly come to a more spiritual level, only when one is not tempted by egoistic sentimentality but rather is drawn to the purity of the Soul (which by the way never exists without humor and lightness of  being), only then can one be allowed entry to the spiritual domain.”

In writing these words I am once again after a very long time reminded of an email from my friend Jelle van der Meulen, who wrote the epilogue to my aforementioned first book. In this email written to someone else he wrote, “Sometimes it is difficult to say what path we are actually on. En route we build little chapels, big churches and indeed sometimes even cathedrals. But perhaps the value of our current times lies not in understanding the construction of chapels, churches and cathedrals as goals, but rather in understanding the events and the human connections that arise during the process.” No matter how we interpret this email in the context of the topic of Fate, none of us could have known ahead of time that this email would now find itself in the middle of this text. None of us could have known beforehand that this email’s words represent something that is of the greatest importance for anthroposophical teachers which is:

Perhaps from time to time it is not so important if my student learns this lesson or, by the end of a seminar, she glimpses the face she had before her parents were born. Perhaps it is much more important that on her way home from the seminar she gets to know a man on a train, with whom she has a child, who later finds the solution for global energy.

Perhaps it seems to us that the resistance in a certain student is expressing itself through the vicious circle of ego (and probably that is indeed the case), and perhaps he is disappointed and full of complaints, and slams the door as he leaves. But perhaps as he goes he is hit by a car, breaking not only his leg but also driving home a necessary and lasting epiphany. Sure it sounds ridiculous but this is actually how life works. And when we respect this Mystery of Fate, then we also preserve the purity of the soul – and that purity smiles.

We can be always and at any moment prepared, but such preparation is only over when we have completely forgotten who we are and what we waiting for. “The spiritual heights can only be reached when one has stepped through the door of humility” This quote from Steiner also points to the Mystery of Fate. This humility makes us open and vast. For an intelligence which goes beyond us everything known must die, including all book knowledge from the “Schule integraler evolutionärer Spiritualität” . Only when we are completely one-pointed on our goal, can our goal of the New appear.

So there is the fourth principle for anthroposophical teachers within the tradition of Steiner: “I honor the Mystery of Fate. Not in the sense of a magic-mythic New Age belief but rather through numerous direct personal experiences and the understanding of universal texts from all traditions.

This Mystery does not result in a fatalistic attitude but rather to real responsibility in relation to my students: always to work with them according to my best understanding and conscience. Moreover it encompasses my understanding of my own recognition of what I know, and also what I don’t know. My conscience prompts me to treat each of my students in such a way that the Mystery of Fate remains intact. This is more than respect for those within a relationship it is close to “der Würde des Menschen”, and that worth and potential in the individual is sacred.


While the goal of the awakening of pure Spirit was paramount for other spiritual teachers and masters, for Rudolf Steiner he focused increasingly on the living expression of that Spirit in men. He wanted to show that cosmic awareness can manifest itself in human consciousness. When Steiner posited that, “free is the man if he can follow every moment of his life itself” then he dedicated himself not only to human awareness of cosmic Freedom but also to letting that awareness be expressed on Earth. He wanted every spiritual effort to be grounded within a context of moral growth: “The golden rule is: When you try to take a step forward in the recognition of secret truths then you should at the same time take three steps forward in the refinement of your character”. For him this good was something practical: he provided highly effective exercises to mentally handicapped children; he developed practical education for the socially disadvantaged; he taught farmers how to connect the soil with the stars; through personal example and emulation he brought tortured artists to brave innovation; he had new prescriptions for those with cancer; and he gave helpful pointers to those who suffered from diarrhea or stuttering.

Steiner’s Mission was not only about the direct recognition of the truth of cosmic love but also about increasingly allowing that love to flow into people’s lives. Anthroposophy is a divine service but we manifest this on the earth and with the Earth. For us wisdom and mercy are inseparably intertwined. When we refer to giving someone the benefit of the doubt it is not meant in a resigned way. Rather, we say it in complete trust and in total surrender to life itself, because this life is God. In this attitude with our ever-growing understanding we stretch our hand out to God, in order to make heaven on earth, to make real our own hope. The real creation doesn’t come in the beginning but rather at the end of the process, in other words NOW.

Rudolf Steiner was born a hundred and fifty years ago. As teachers within his tradition we embrace each student as an expression of that evolutionary force that never ceases becoming more aware and more powerful. And this love for our students arises ever new.

We hold true what Steiner wrote his Waldorf teachers to take note of: “There are three effective tools to raise a child: fear, ambition and love. We renounce the first two. Anthroposophical teachers love the person for who they could become, but also for who they are. We love them as a complete expression of the divine which is also not separate from us. For Rudolf Steiner, and also for us his successors, the light of Spirit is also warmth of the human heart.



By Rudolf Steiner (Translated by Tom Mellett)


Whatever comes my way,
whether within the hour or the day,
even if I don’t know what it is,
I know I cannot change it through my fear.

Yet I welcome it
with the most perfect inner stillness of soul
resting on an utter calm sea of emotion.
Through fear and dread our development is stunted.

So we decline the future waves of fear and dread
that seek to drown our souls.

The devotion to what we call
divine wisdom in our experiences;
the certainty that,come what may,
and come what must,
and even not knowing in what direction
the good effects will flow —
the evocation of this mood
in words, in impressions, in ideas —

THIS is the mood of the acceptance prayer.

It’s something that we have to learn
in this modern age:
To live in pure reliance,
even while doubting our very existence.

To keep on trusting in
the ever-growing presence
of the world of spirit helping us.

How could it be otherwise
if our courage is not to fail

If we would only take our will in hand,
and seek our inner awakening
every single morning
and every single evening.


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