Chapter II: Re-Embodiment of the Spirit and DestinyThe soul lives between body and spirit. The impressions coming to it through the body are transitory, enduring only as long as the body opens its organs to the things of the outer world. Only while the rose is in my line of vision can my open eye perceive its color. The presence of the things of the outer world as well as of the bodily organs is necessary in order that an impression, a sensation or a perception can occur. But what I have recognized in my mind as truth concerning the rose does not pass with the present moment, and as regards its truth, it is not in the least dependent on me. It would be true even though I had never stood before the rose. What I know through the spirit is rooted in an element of the soul life through which the soul is linked with a world-content that manifests itself in the soul independent of its bodily basis. The point here is not whether what manifests itself is essentially imperishable, but whether the manifestation occurs for the soul in such a way that its perishable bodily basis plays no part, and only that plays a part in it that is independent of this perishable body. The enduring element in the soul comes under observation at the moment we become aware that the soul has experiences not limited by its perishable factor. Again the important point is not whether these experiences come to consciousness primarily through perishable processes of the bodily organization, but the fact that they contain something that does indeed live in the soul, yet is independent of the transient process of perception. The soul is placed between the present and duration in that it holds the middle place between body and spirit. It also mediates between the present and duration. It preserves the present for remembrance, thus rescuing it from impermanence by taking it up into the duration of its own spiritual being. It also stamps what endures upon the temporal and impermanent by not merely yielding itself up in its own life to the transitory incitements, but by determining things out of its own initiative and embodying its own nature in them in the shape of the actions it performs. By remembrance the soul preserves the yesterday; by action it prepares the tomorrow.
If my soul could not retain the red of the rose through remembrance, it would always have to perceive it anew to be conscious of it. What can be retained by the soul after an external impression can become a mental image, independent of the external impression. Through this power of forming visualizations the soul makes the outer world so much its own inner world that it can then retain the latter in memory for remembrance and, independent of the impressions acquired, lead a life of its own with it. The soul life thus becomes the enduring effect of the transitory impressions of the external world.
Action also receives permanence when once it is stamped on the outer world. If I cut a twig from a tree, something has taken place through my soul that completely changes the course of events in the outer world. Something quite different would have happened to the branch of the tree had I not interfered by my action. I have called into life a series of effects that, without my existence, would not have been present. What I have done today endures for tomorrow. Through the deed it acquires permanence just as my impressions of yesterday have become permanent for my soul through memory.
For this fact of creating permanence through action we do not, in our ordinary consciousness form a definite visualization such as we have for memory, or as the result of a perception of an experience made permanent. Is not the ego of a man, however, linked just as much to the alteration in the world resulting from the deed as it is to a memory resulting from an impression? The ego judges new impressions differently depending upon whether or not it has one or another recollection. It has also as an “I” entered into a different relation to the world according to whether or not it has performed one deed or another. Whether, in the relation between the world and my “I,” a certain new quality is present or not depends upon whether or not I have made an impression on another person through my action. I am quite a different person in my relationship to the world after having made an impression on my surroundings.
The fact that what is meant here is not so generally noticed as is the change taking place in the ego through its having acquired a recollection, is solely due to the circumstances that the moment a recollection is formed it unites itself with the soul life that man has always felt to be his own. The external effects of the deed, detached from this soul life, produce consequences that are again something quite different from what the memory retains of this deed. Apart from this, it must be admitted that after a deed has been accomplished, there is something in the world upon which the ego has stamped its character. If we really think out what is here being considered, the question must arise as to whether the results of a deed, on which the “I” has stamped its own nature, retain a tendency to return to the “I” just as an impression preserved in the memory is revived in response to some external inducement. Is it not possible that what has retained the imprint of the ego in the external world waits also to approach the human soul from without, just as memory, in response to a given inducement, approaches it from within? This matter is only put forward here as a question because it certainly might happen that the occasion would never arise on which the consequences of a deed, bearing the impress of the ego, could take effect in the human soul. That these consequences are present as such, and that through their presence they determine the relation of the world to the “I,” is seen at once to be a possibility when we really follow out in thought the matter before us. In the following considerations we shall inquire whether there is anything in human life that, starting from this possibility, points to a reality.
Let us first consider memory. How does it originate? Evidently in quite a different way from sensation or perception. Without the eye I cannot have the sensation blue, but by means of the eye alone I do not have the remembrance of blue. If the eye is to give me this sensation now, a blue object must stand before it. The body would allow all impressions to sink back again into oblivion were it not for the fact that while the present image is being formed through the act of perception, something is also taking place in the relationship between the outer world and the soul. This activity brings about certain results within man enabling him through processes within himself to form a new image of what, in the first place, was brought about by an image from outside. Anyone who has acquired practice in observing the life of the soul will see the opinion to be quite erroneous that holds that the perception a man has today is the same he recalls tomorrow through memory, it having meanwhile remained somewhere or other within him. No, the perception I now have is a phenomenon that passes away with the “now.” When recollection occurs, a process takes place in me that is the result of something that happened in the relation between the external world and me quite apart from the arousing of the present visualization. The mental image called forth through remembrance is not an old preserved visualization, but a new one. Recollection consists in the fact, not that a visualization can be revived, but that we can present to ourselves again and again what has been perceived. What reappears is something different from the original visualization. This remark is made here because in the domain of spiritual science it is necessary that more accurate conceptions should be formed than is the case in ordinary life, and indeed, also in ordinary science.
I remember; that is, I experience something that is itself no longer present. I unite a past experience with my present life. This is the case with every remembrance. Let us say, for instance, that I meet a man and, because I met him yesterday, recognize him. He would be a complete stranger to me if I were unable to unite the picture that I made yesterday through my perception with my impression of him today. Today's image of him is given me through my perception, that is to say, through my sense organs. Who, then, conjures up yesterday's picture in my soul? It is conjured up by the same being in me that was present during my experience yesterday, and that is also present today. In the previous explanations this being has been called soul. Were it not for this faithful preserver of the past, each external impression would always be new to us. It is certain that the soul imprints upon the body, as though by means of a sign, the process through which something becomes a recollection. Yet it is the soul itself that must make this impression and then perceive what it has made, just as it perceives something external. Thus the soul is the preserver of memory.
As preserver of the past, the soul continually gathers treasures for the spirit. That I can distinguish between what is correct or incorrect depends on the fact that I, as a man, am a thinking being able to grasp the truth in my spirit. Truth is eternal, and it could always reveal itself to me again in things even if I were to lose sight of the past and each impression were to be a new one to me. The spirit within me, however, is not restricted to the impressions of the present alone. The soul extends the spirit's horizon over the past, and the more the soul is able to bring to the spirit out of the past, the more does it enrich the spirit. The soul thus hands on to the spirit what it has received from the body. The spirit of man, therefore, carries at each moment of its life a twofold possession within itself. Firstly, the eternal laws of the good and the true, and secondly, the remembrance of the experiences of the past. What the human spirit does is accompanied under the influence of these two factors. If we want to understand a human spirit we must, therefore, know two different things about it. Firstly, how much of the eternal has been revealed to it, and secondly, how much treasure from the past lies stored up within it.
These treasures by no means remain in the spirit in an unchanged shape. The impressions that man acquires from his experiences fade gradually from memory. Not so, however, their fruits. We do not remember all the experiences lived through during childhood while acquiring the arts of reading and writing. Yet we could not read or write had we not had such experiences, and had not their fruits been preserved in the form of abilities. Such is the transmutation that the spirit effects in the treasures of memory. The spirit consigns to its fate whatever can lead to pictures of the separate experiences, and extracts therefrom only the force necessary for enhancing its abilities. Thus not a single experience passes by unutilized. The soul preserves each one as memory, and from each the spirit draws forth all that can enrich its abilities and the whole content of its life. The human spirit grows through assimilated experiences, and although one cannot find past experiences in the spirit as if in a storeroom, one nevertheless finds their effects in the abilities that man has acquired.
Thus far spirit and soul have been considered only within the period lying between birth and death. We cannot stop there. Anyone wishing to do so would be like the man who would observe the human body only within these same limits. Much can certainly be discovered within these limits, but the human form can never be explained by what lies between birth and death. It cannot build itself up directly out of mere physical substances and forces. It can only descend from a form like its own that arises as the result of what has handed itself on by heredity. The physical materials and forces build up the body during life. The forces of propagation enable another body, a body with a like form, to proceed from it — that is to say, one able to be the bearer of the same life body. Each life body is a repetition of its forebear. Only because it is such does it appear, not in any chance form, but in that passed on to it by heredity. The forces that make possible my human form lay in my forefathers.
The spirit of a man also appears in a definite form, and these forms of spiritual man are the most varied imaginable. In saying this, the word form is naturally used in a spiritual sense. No two human beings have the same spiritual form. Observations should be made in this region in a manner just as quietly and matter-of-factly as they would be made in the physical world. It cannot be said that the differences in man in spiritual respects arise only from the differences in their environment and their upbringing. No, this is by no means the case because two people under similar influences of environment and upbringing develop in quite different ways. We are, therefore, forced to admit that they have entered on their paths of life with quite different dispositions. Here we are brought face to face with an important fact that sheds light on the nature of man when its full bearing is recognized.
Anyone who is set upon directing his outlook exclusively towards the side of material happenings could, indeed, assert that the individual differences of human personalities arise from differences in the constitution of the material germs. In view of the laws of heredity discovered by Gregor Mendel and developed further by others, such a claim can offer much that gives it the appearance of justification even in scientific judgments. Such judgment only shows, however, that these people have no insight into the real relation of man to his experiences. Careful observation shows that external circumstances affect different people in different ways because of something that by no means enters immediately into mutual relations with material development. To the really accurate researcher in this domain it becomes apparent that what proceeds from the material basis can be distinguished from what arises through the mutual interaction between a man and his experiences, although these experiences can only take shape and form through the participation of the soul itself in this mutual interaction. The soul stands there clearly in relation to something within the external world that, by virtue of its very nature, cannot be connected with the material germinal basis.
Men differ from their animal fellow-creatures on earth through their physical form, but regarding this form they are, within certain limits, like one another. There is only one human species. However great may be the differences between races, people, tribes and personalities, as regards the physical body, the resemblance between man and man is greater than between man and any animal species. All that finds expression in the human species is conditioned by the inheritance of descendants from forebears, and the human form is bound to this heredity. As the lion can inherit its physical bodily form from lion forebears only, so can man inherit his physical bodily form only from human forebears.
The physical similarity of men is apparent to our physical eyes, and the differences of their spiritual forms lie revealed to our unbiased spiritual gaze. There is one fact that shows this clearly — the existence of a man's biography. Were a man merely a member of a species, no biography could exist. A lion or a dove are interesting insofar as they belong to the lion or the dove species. The separate being in all its essentials has been understood when the species has been described. It matters little whether one has to do with father, son or grandson. What they have of interest in them, father, son and grandson have in common. What a man signifies, however, is found only in his individuality, not in his being merely a member of a species. I have not in the least understood the nature of Mr. Smith of Hoboken if I have described his son or his father. I must know his own biography. Anyone who reflects on the nature of biography realizes that regarding the spiritual each man is himself a species.
To be sure, those people who regard a biography merely as a collection of external incidents in the life of an individual may claim they can write the biography of a dog in the same way they can that of a man. But anyone who depicts in a biography the real individuality of a man grasps the fact that he has in the biography of a single man something that corresponds to the description of a whole species in the animal kingdom. The point is obviously not that we can say something in the nature of a biography about an animal — especially clever ones. The point is that the human biography does not correspond to a biography of an animal, but to the description of the animal species. Of course, there will always be people who will seek to refute this by urging that owners of menageries, for instance, know how single animals of the same species differ individually from one another. The man who judges in this way, however shows only that he is unable to distinguish individual difference from difference that is acquired only through individuality.
Now if genus or species in the physical sense becomes intelligible only when we understand it as conditioned by heredity, so, too, the spiritual being can be understood only through a similar spiritual heredity. I have received my physical human form because of my descent from human forebears, but whence have I received what finds expression in my biography? As physical man, I repeat the shape of my forbears. What do I repeat as spiritual man? Anyone who claims that what comprises my biography needs no further explanation but must be accepted just as it stands, is also forced to maintain that he has seen an earth-mound somewhere on which lumps of matter have integrated themselves quite unaided into a living man.
As physical man I spring from other physical men because I have the same shape as the whole human species. The qualities of the species, accordingly, could thus be acquired only within the species. As spiritual man I have my own shape just as I have my own biography. I can have obtained this shape, therefore, from no one but myself. I did not enter the world with undefined, but with defined soul-predispositions, and since the course of my life as it comes to expression in my biography is determined by these predispositions, my work upon myself cannot have begun with my birth. That is to say, I must have existed as spiritual man before my birth. I certainly did not exist in my forebears because as spiritual human beings, they differ from me. My biography is not explainable through theirs. On the contrary, as a spiritual being I must be the repetition of someone through whose biography mine can be explained. The only conceivable alternative at the moment would be that I owe the character of the content of my biography to a spiritual life in which I existed prior to birth or, more correctly, to conception. We should, however, only be allowed to hold this opinion if we are willing to assume that what acts upon the human soul from its physical surroundings is of the same nature as that which affects the soul from a purely spiritual world. Such an assumption contradicts really accurate observation because the effect of its physical environment on the human soul is like the impression made by a new experience on a similar past experience in the same life.
In order to observe these relations correctly, one must acquire a perception of the impressions operating in human life, whose influence upon the predispositions of the soul is like that of standing before a deed that has to be done, and that is related to what has already been experienced in physical life. But the soul does not bring faculties gained in this immediate life to meet these impressions, but predispositions, which receive the impressions in the same way as do the faculties acquired through practice. He who has insight into these matters arrives at the conception of earth-lives that must have preceded this present one. In his thinking he cannot stop at purely spiritual experiences that preceded this present earth-life. The physical form that Schiller bore was inherited from his forebears. In the same way that it was impossible for Schiller's physical form to have grown out of the earth, it was also impossible for his spiritual being to have originated from it. He must have been the repetition of another spiritual being through whose biography his own becomes explicable as his physical human form is explicable through human propagation. In the same way, therefore, that the physical human form is again and again a repetition, a reincarnation of a being of the human species, so too the spiritual man must be a reincarnation of the same spiritual man, since, as spiritual man, each individual is, in fact, his own species.
The objection might be made that what has been stated here is a mere spinning of thoughts, and external proofs might be demanded as are customary in ordinary natural science. The reply to this is that the re-embodiment of the spiritual man is, naturally, a process that does not belong to the domain of external physical facts, but is one that takes place entirely in the spiritual region. No other of our ordinary powers of intelligence has entrance to this region save that of thinking. A person who will not trust the power of thinking cannot in fact enlighten himself regarding higher spiritual facts. For the one whose spiritual eye is opened, the above trains of thought act with exactly the same force as does an event that takes place before his physical eyes. The individual who ascribes to a so-called “proof,” constructed according to the methods of natural science, greater power to convince than the above observations concerning the significance of biography, may be in the ordinary sense of the word a great scientist, but he is far from the paths of true spiritual research.
One of the most dangerous assumptions at present consists in trying to explain the spiritual qualities of a man by hereditary transmission from father, mother or other ancestors. Anyone who holds the opinion, for example, that Goethe inherited what constitutes his essential being from his father or mother will at first be hardly accessible to argument because there lies within such a one a deep antipathy to unprejudiced observation. A materialistic spell prevents him from seeing the mutual connections of phenomena in their true light.
In such observations as the above, the presuppositions are supplied for following man beyond birth and death. Within the boundaries formed by birth and death, man belongs to the worlds of physical body, of soul, and of spirit. The soul forms the intermediate link between body and spirit, inasmuch as it endows the third member of the body, the soul body, with the capacity for sensation, and inasmuch as it permeates the first member of the spirit, the spirit self, as consciousness soul. Thus it takes part and lot during life with the body as well as with the spirit. This comes to expression in its whole existence. How the sentient soul can unfold its capabilities will depend on the organization of the soul body. On the other hand, the extent to which the spirit self can develop itself within the consciousness soul will depend on the life of that soul. The more highly organized the soul body, the more complete the intercourse that the sentient soul can develop with the outer world. The spirit self will become that much richer and more powerful the more the consciousness soul brings nourishment to it. It has been shown that during life this nourishment is supplied to the spirit self through assimilated experiences and the fruits of these experiences. The interaction of the soul and spirit described above can, of course, only take place where soul and spirit are within each other, interpenetrating each other, that is, within the union of spirit self with consciousness soul.
Let us consider first the interaction of the soul body and the sentient soul. It is evident that the soul body is the most finely elaborated part of the body. Nevertheless, the soul body belongs to it and is dependent upon it. In a certain sense, physical body, ether body and soul body compose a single whole. Hence the soul body is also drawn within the laws of physical heredity that give the body its shape. Since it is the most mobile and volatile form of body, it must also exhibit the most mobile and volatile manifestations of heredity. Therefore, while the difference in the physical body corresponding to races, peoples and tribes is the smallest, and while in general the ether body presents a preponderating likeness and in single individuals a greater divergence, in the soul body the difference is already a considerable one. In it is expressed what is felt to be the external, personal uniqueness of an individual. Thus, it is also the bearer of that part of this personal uniqueness that is passed on from parents, grandparents, and so forth, to their descendants. As has been explained, it is true that the soul as such leads a completely self-contained life of its own in shutting itself up with its inclinations and disinclinations, its feelings and passions. It is nevertheless active as a whole and this whole comes to expression also in the sentient soul. Because the sentient soul interpenetrates and fills up the soul body, the latter forms itself according to the nature of the soul and can in this way, as the bearer of heredity, pass on tendencies, passions and other qualities from forefathers to children.
On this fact rests the statement of Goethe, “From my father I have stature and the serious manner of life; from my mother, a joyous disposition and the love of romance.” Genius, of course, he did not receive from either. In this way we are shown what part of a man's soul qualities he hands over, as it were, to the line of physical heredity. The substances and forces of the physical body are in like manner present in the whole sphere of external physical nature. They are continually being taken up from it and given back to it. In the space of a few years the matter that composes our physical body is entirely renewed. That this matter takes the form of the human body, and that it always renews itself again within this body, depends upon the fact that it is held together by the ether body. The form of the ether body is not determined by events between birth or conception, and death alone, but is dependent on the laws of heredity that extend beyond birth and death. That soul qualities also can be transmitted by heredity — that the process of physical heredity receives an infusion from the soul — is due to the fact that the soul body can be influenced by the sentient soul.
Now, how does the interaction between soul and spirit proceed? During life, the spirit is bound up with the soul in the way shown above. The soul receives from the spirit the gift of living within the good and the true, and thereby of bringing the spirit itself to expression within its own life, within its tendencies, impulses and passions. From the world of the spirit, the spirit self brings to the “I” the eternal laws of the true and the good. These link themselves through the consciousness soul with the experiences of the soul's own life. These experiences themselves pass away, but their fruits remain. The spirit self receives an abiding impression by having been linked with them. When the human spirit encounters an experience similar to one to which it has already been linked, it sees therein something familiar, and is able to take up an attitude towards it quite different from what would be the case were the spirit facing it for the first time. This is the basis of all learning. The fruits of learning are acquired capacities. The fruits of the transitory life are in this way graven on the eternal spirit. Do we not see these fruits? Whence spring the innate predispositions and talents described above as characteristic of the spiritual man? Surely only from capacities of one kind or another that a man brings with him when he begins his earthly life. In certain respects, these capacities resemble exactly those that we can also acquire for ourselves during life.
Take the case of a genius. It is known that the boy Mozart could write out from memory a long musical work after only one hearing. He was able to do this because he could survey the whole at once. Within certain limits a man is also able during life to increase his capacity of rapid survey, of grasping connections, so that he then possesses new faculties. Indeed, Lessing has said of himself that through a talent for critical observation, he had acquired for himself something that came near to genius. We have either to regard such abilities, founded on innate capacities, with wonder, or to consider them as fruits of experiences that the spirit self has had through the medium of a soul. They have been graven on this spirit self, and since they have not been implanted in this life, they must have been in a former one. The human spirit is its own species. Just as man as a physical being belonging to a species bequeaths his qualities within the species, so does the spirit bequeath its qualities within its species, that is, within itself. In each life, the human spirit appears as a repetition of itself with the fruits of its former experiences in previous lives. This life is consequently the repetition of others and brings with it what the spirit self has, by work, acquired for itself in the previous life. When the spirit self absorbs something that can develop into fruit, it permeates itself with the life spirit. Just as the life body reproduces the form from species to species, so does the life spirit reproduce the soul from personal existence to personal existence.
Through the preceding considerations the thought that seeks the reason for certain life processes of man in repeated earth lives is raised into the sphere of validity. This idea can receive its full significance only by means of observations that spring from spiritual insight as it is acquired by following the path of knowledge described at the close of this book. Here it was only intended to show that ordinary observation rightly oriented by thinking already leads to this idea. Observation of this kind, it is true, will at first perceive the idea something like a silhouette, and it will not be possible to defend the idea entirely against the objections advanced by observation that is neither accurate nor guided aright by thinking. On the other hand, it is true that anyone who acquires such an idea through ordinary thoughtful observation, makes himself ready for supersensible observation. To a certain extent, he develops something that, of necessity, he must possess prior to this supersensible observation, just as one must have eyes prior to observing through the senses. Anyone who objects that through the formation of such an idea he can readily suggest to himself the supersensible observation proves only that he is incapable of entering into reality by means of free thinking and that it is just he who thus suggests to himself his own objections.
The experiences of the soul become lasting not only within the boundaries of birth and death, but beyond death. The soul, however, does not stamp its experiences only on the spirit that flashes up within it. It impresses them, as has been shown, on the outer world also through its deeds. What a man did yesterday is today still present in its effects. A picture of the connection between cause and effect is given in the simile of sleep and death. Sleep has often been called the younger brother of death. I get up in the morning. My consecutive activity has been interrupted by the night. Now, under ordinary circumstances it is not possible for me to begin my activity again just as I please. I must connect it with my doings of yesterday if there is to be order and coherence in my life. My actions of yesterday are the conditions predetermining those actions that fall to me today. I have created my destiny of today by what I did yesterday. I have separated myself for awhile from my activity, but this activity belongs to me and draws me again to itself after I have withdrawn myself from it for awhile. My past remains bound up with me; it lives on in my present and will follow me into my future. If the effects of my deeds of yesterday were not to be my destiny of today, I should not have had to awake this morning, but to be newly created out of nothing. In the same way it would be absurd if under ordinary circumstances I were not to occupy a house that I have had built for me.
The human spirit is no more created anew when it begins its earthly life than a man is newly created every morning. Let us try to make clear to ourselves what happens when entrance into this life takes place. A physical body, receiving its form through the laws of heredity, makes its appearance. This body becomes the bearer of a spirit that repeats a previous life in a new form. Between the two stands the soul that leads a self-contained life of its own. Its inclinations and disinclinations, wishes and desires, minister to it. It presses thought into its service. As sentient soul, it receives the impressions of the outer world and caries them to the spirit in order that the spirit may extract from them the fruits that are permanent. It plays, as it were, the part of intermediary, and its task is fulfilled when it is adequate to this part. The body forms impressions for the sentient soul that transforms them into sensations, retains them in the memory as thought images, and surrenders them to the spirit to hold throughout duration. The soul is really that part of a man through which he belongs to his earthly life. Through his body he belongs to the physical human species; through it he is a member of this species. With his spirit he lives in a higher world. The soul binds the two worlds together for a time.
The physical world into which the human spirit enters, however, is no strange field of action to it. On it the traces of the spirit's actions are imprinted. Something in this field of action belongs to the spirit. It bears the impress of, and is related to, the spirit's being. Just as the soul formerly transmitted the impressions from the outer world to the spirit in order that they might become enduring in it, so now the soul, as the spirit's organ, has converted the capacities bestowed upon it by the spirit into deeds that are also enduring in their effects. Thus the soul has actually flowed into these actions. In the effects of his actions, a man's soul lives a second independent life. This statement provides us with a motive for examining life in order to see how the processes of destiny enter into it. Something happens to a man. He is probably at first inclined to regard such a happening as something coming into his life by chance, but he can become aware of how he himself is the outcome of such chances. Anyone who studies himself in his fortieth year, and in the search for his soul nature refuses to be content with an unreal, abstract conception of the “I,” may well say to himself, “I am, indeed, nothing more nor less than what I have become through life's experiences, through what has happened to me by reason of destiny up to the present. Would I not be a different man today had I, for example, gone through a set of experiences different from those through which I actually went when I was twenty years of age?” The man will then seek his “I” not only in those impulses of development that come to him from within outwards, but also in what has formatively thrust itself into his life from without. He will recognize his own “I” in what happens to him. If we give ourselves up unreservedly to such a perception, then only one more really intimate observation of life is needed to show us that in what comes to us through certain experiences of destiny there is something that lays hold on the ego from without, just as memory, working from within, lays hold on us in order to make a past experience flash up again. Thus we can make ourselves fitted to perceive in the experiences of destiny, how a former action of the soul finds its way to the ego, just as in memory an earlier experience, if called forth by an external cause, finds its way into the mind as a thought.
It has already been alluded to as a possible subject of consideration that the consequences of a deed may meet the human soul again. Regarding the consequences of some deeds, such a meeting is out of the question in the course of one earth life because that earth life was arranged especially for the carrying out of the deed. Experience lies in its fulfillment. In that case, a definite consequence of that action can no more re-act upon the soul than can someone remember an experience while still in the midst of it. It can only be a question here of the experience of the results of actions that do not meet the ego while it has the same disposition it had during the earth life in which the deed was done. Our gaze can only be directed to the consequences of action from another earth life. If an experience of destiny “befalls” us, and we feel that it is connected with the ego like something that has fashioned itself out of the ego's inner nature, then we can only think we have to do with the consequences of the actions of former earth lives. We see that we are led through an intimate thoughtful comprehension of life to the supposition — paradoxical to ordinary consciousness — that the experiences of destiny of one earth life are connected with the deeds of previous earth lives. This idea again can only receive its full content through supersensible knowledge; lacking this, it remains like a mere silhouette. Once more, however, this thought, this idea, gained by ordinary consciousness, prepares the soul so that it is enabled to behold its truth in actual supersensible observation.
Only one part of my deed is in the outer world; the other is in myself. Let us make this relation of the ego to the deed clear by a simple example from natural science. Animals that once could see migrated to the caves of Kentucky and, as a result of their life there, lost their power of sight. Existence in darkness deprived the eyes of their function. Consequently today the physical and chemical activity that normally occurs when seeing takes place is no longer carried on in these eyes. The stream of nourishment formerly expended on this activity now flows to other organs. These animals are now able to live only in these caves. They have by their act, by their immigration, created the conditions of their later life. The immigration has become a part of their destiny. A being that once acted has united itself with the results of its action. This is also true of the human spirit. The soul was only able to impart certain capacities to the spirit by performing actions, and these capacities correspond to the actions. Through an action that the soul has performed, there lives in the soul the energetic predisposition to perform another action that is the fruit of the first action. The soul carries this as a necessity within itself until the subsequent action has taken place. One might also say that through an action there has been imprinted upon the soul the necessity of carrying out the consequences of that action.
By means of its actions the human spirit has really brought about its own destiny. In a new life it finds itself linked to what it did in a former one. It may be asked, “How can that be, when the human spirit on reincarnating finds itself in an entirely different world from the one it left at an earlier time?” This question is based on a superficial notion of the connections of destiny. If I change my scene of action from Europe to America, I also find myself in entirely new surroundings. Nevertheless, my life in America depends entirely on my previous life in Europe. If I have been a mechanic in Europe, my life in America will shape itself in quite a different way from what would have been the case had I been a bank clerk. In the one instance, I should probably be surrounded in America by machinery, in the other, by banking paraphernalia. In each case my previous life decides my environment. It attracts to itself, as it were, out of the whole surrounding world, those things that are related to it. So it is with the spirit self. It inevitably surrounds itself in a new life with what it is related to from previous lives. On that account sleep is an apt image of death because a man during sleep is withdrawn from the field of action in which his destiny awaits him. While we sleep, events in this field of action pursue their course. We have for a certain time no influence on this course of events. Our life on a new day depends, nevertheless, on the effects of the deeds of the previous day. Our personality actually embodies or incarnates itself anew every morning in our world of action. What was separated from us during the night is spread out around us, as it were, during the day. So it is with the actions of former human embodiments or incarnations. They are bound up with a man as his destiny, just as life in the dark Kentucky caves remains bound up with the animals that, by migrating into them, have lost their power of sight. Just as these animals can only live in the surroundings in which they have placed themselves, so the human spirit is able to live only in the surroundings that it has created for itself by its acts. That I find in the morning a certain state of affairs, created by me on the previous day, is brought about by the immediate course of events. That I find surroundings when I reincarnate corresponding to the results of my deeds in a previous life, is brought about by the relationship of my reincarnated spirit with the things in the surrounding world. From this we can form an idea of how the soul is set into the human constitution. The physical body is subject to the laws of heredity. The human spirit, on the contrary, has to incarnate over and over again, and its law consists in its bringing over the fruits of the former lives into the following ones. The soul lives in the present, but this life in the present is not independent of the previous lives because the incarnating spirit brings its destiny with it from its previous incarnations. This destiny determines life. What impressions the soul will be able to have, what wishes it will be able to have gratified, what sorrows and joys shall develop for it, with what men and women it shall come into contact — all this depends upon the nature of the actions in the past incarnations of the spirit. The soul must meet those people again in a subsequent life with whom it was bound up in a previous life because the actions that have taken place between them must have their consequences. When this soul seeks re-embodiment, those other souls that are bound up with it will also strive towards their incarnation at the same time. The life of the soul is, therefore, the result of the self-created destiny of the human spirit. The course of man's life between birth and death is determined in a threefold way. In consequence, he is dependent in a threefold way on factors that lie on the other side of birth and death. The body is subject to the law of heredity; the soul is subject to its self-created destiny. We call this destiny, created by man himself, his karma. The spirit is under the law of re-embodiment, repeated earth lives. One can accordingly also express the relationship between spirit, soul and body in the following way. The spirit is immortal; birth and death reign over the body according of the laws of the physical world; the soul life, which is subject to destiny, mediates the connection of both during an earthly life. All further knowledge about the being of man presupposes acquaintance with the three worlds to which he belongs. These three worlds are dealt with in the following pages.
Thinking that frankly faces the phenomena of life and is not afraid to follow out to their final consequences the thoughts resulting from a living, vivid contemplation of life can, by pure logic, arrive at the conception of the law of karma and repeated incarnations. Just as it is true that for the seer with the opened spiritual eye, past lives lie like an open book before him as experience, so it is true that the truth of these things can become obvious to the unbiased reason that reflects upon it.