Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Rosicrucian Esotericism
GA 109

10. On Karma, Reincarnation and Initiation

Budapest, June 12, 1909

We have heard that the Atlanteans were still consciously at home in the spiritual world where they experienced day consciousness. So-called night consciousness was experienced in the physical world. We have subsequently followed the descent of humanity during the post-Atlantean era through the different cultural-epochs up to the Greco-Latin when Christ Jesus appeared on the earth.

We will now once again study our own time, the fifth cultural epoch. Because men's intelligence today is being directed solely to the physical plane, humanity has descended far more deeply into the physical world than was the case during the other main epochs of culture. Materialism has led to a tremendous upsurge of intellectual power and activity, with merely the satisfaction of physical needs in view. The typical hallmark of our epoch has crystallized, for example, in the department store. The culture of the present age works only for the needs of the physical plane, but it works with a subtlety hitherto unachieved. It is therefore clear to occultism why the contrast between religion and science, expressed as it is in the many different movements is so great and the cleft between them so wide. The conflict between religion and science, under which art also suffers, is always in evidence when the level of culture declines. This can be detected in the science of today, which has become irrevocably entangled in a materialistic and abstract mode of thinking. Philosophy is not something absolute but a mode of thinking that has come into existence in the course of evolution; it has certain antecedents and must be amenable to change. Before philosophical thinking, (which originated in the sixth century B.C. among the Greeks,) came into existence, the kind of knowledge then current was an extract of the wisdom contained in the Mysteries. The source of this wisdom was inner experience in the soul, experience in which the secrets of world happenings were revealed. When the human soul lost the ancient faculty of intuitive vision the intellectual analysis of sensory and soul perceptions began. But in the early days, through inner vision that was still possible for the philosophers, or through tradition, they still knew of the existence of the old Mystery wisdom and applied to it the intellectual faculty that was then developing. Seership was still the source of the wisdom of Pythagoras and Plato; Aristotle, the founder of logic, was the first to apply the technique of pure thought. Aristotelianism dominated thought throughout the Middle Ages, experiencing its heyday in Scholasticism. But an abyss gradually opened between knowledge and faith. Between reason and its mental technique on the one side and super-sensible truth on the other, a cleft arose, finding its ultimate expression in Kant. There is to be found in Kant and his philosophy one of the blind alleys into which materialistic thinking had led, and Kant, unfortunately, was the one who fertilized the whole of modern philosophy.

But it is not with the object of criticizing modern science that the spiritual investigator draws attention to such facts. He reveals them in order to shed light on the path that can lead away from the fossilizing of thoughts. There is only one solution, which is that science, art and religion, the three branches of culture, must again be united and mutually enrich each other; spiritual life must stream from them. To achieve this union is the task of Western spiritual science. It must establish harmony between faith and knowledge, the two aspects that the soul can no longer unite within itself. Even in our material. world nothing whatever takes place in which the spiritual is not an active factor. The spiritual is always the creator of the physical. The much vaunted philosophical pragmatism of James can only be designated as pseudo-spirituality, having a materialistic conception of the spiritual. For all that, however, it has also done a certain amount of good.

Our epoch places stress on the tremendous importance of heredity. In reference to this it must be said, from the point of view of the science of the spirit, which regards the physical as a product of the spiritual, that in the pathological manifestations attributed to heredity the spiritual is being obstructed by the physical and cannot take effect. But the spirit has, after all, only descended into physical matter and will ascend again when its experiences in the physical have been gathered. Everything in the world is in process of evolution, so too physical man and his organs. We know that man's physical body contains organs that today no longer function. They are organs of the past, the remnants of which we still bear within us. We also have within us the foundations for organs of the future, organs that today are in process of transition or transformation. First and foremost of these organs is the human heart, which contains striated muscle. The heart is a veritable nightmare for materialistic anatomy because it is an involuntary organ that consists of smooth as well as striated muscle, which is to be found in all voluntary organs in man. In point of fact, unsuspected by science, it is an organ of the future and is on the way to becoming a voluntary organ in the human being. In the initiate today it has already developed. The larynx, too, is an organ of the future, connected with the deep mystery of procreation. There is an indication of this at the present time in the break of the voice at puberty. In the far distant future, man will “utter” his offspring into existence, for the larynx will become a creative organ. The future of humanity lies in giving shape to the soul and spiritual in material forms. Man is on the way to spiritualization, in order to work ever more consciously at the transformation of his bodies. It behoves us to engender strength for this future task by adopting a spiritual conception of the world. Moreover, the feeling of becoming collaborators in this glorious evolution should fill us with happiness and vigor.

Let me now say a few words about the the great cosmic laws of karma and reincarnation. On Old Moon these laws were not yet in existence. The beginning of a process of reincarnation such as exists at present can first be spoken of when the ego is being incorporated into the earth, that is to say, from the middle of the Lemurian epoch until the middle of the Atlantean. For the animal, whose ego is the group soul, there is even today no reincarnation. The connection between an animal species and the ego belonging to it is to be found in the astral world. For the group soul of lions, for example, the death of a lion here on the physical plane means as much as it means to you to cut a fingernail. A lion is at first an astral structure, reaching down like a strand from the group soul; it descends to the physical plane, densifies, and at the death of the individual lion this astrality passes back again to the astral plane. The group soul draws it in again like a limb. On Old Moon the human soul underwent the same process. The human soul was then a member of its group soul and returned to it. The soul, as the Bible puts it, is sheltered in the bosom of Father Abraham.

Reincarnation and karma first began to have meaning during the Lemurian epoch and in time will cease to have significance. Man will then enter permanently into a spiritual world in which he will continue to be active. When, for example, man has developed the impulse of brotherliness in himself, the growth of races will cease, will be overcome. In the sixth cultural epoch, human beings will already understand better how to arrange their lives; concepts of race will no longer have validity. Men will no longer order their lives according to external, physical considerations but rather on a spiritual basis. In the seventh cultural epoch, which will reflect that of ancient India, there will once again be distribution into castes, but a voluntary distribution. Changes in the process of evolution constantly take place, yet continual progress is certain. In the Atlantean epoch, the middle epoch of our earth's evolution, the significant point occurred that is designated by the now complete penetration of the ego into man's physical body. The process began in the middle of the Lemurian epoch after the exit of the moon from the earth. Humanity has continued to evolve and when the concept of brotherliness finds practical fulfilment on the earth, races will be superseded. Karma will also then be overcome.

What is the law of karma? The principle of making good in a subsequent incarnation what was reprehensible in a preceding one. Differentiation must be made between karma that takes effect inwardly and one that has more external results. Karma taking effect inwardly is connected with the forming of character, talents and habits. Karma that manifests in more external ways takes the form of the conditions of life in which a man is placed, such as family, nationality and so forth. We will now consider more closely how karma works in physical life. For example, what appears in one life as urge or impulse, desire and ideation, emerges in the next life, or one of the following lives, as habit. From good habits a fine, well-knit, healthy physical body will come into existence in the next incarnation. A bad habit snakes its appearance in another life in the form of an illness or as a tendency to illness. Thus, the causes of illnesses are to be sought in the inclinations and habits of a previous life. The actual destiny of an individual is, on the contrary, the result of his former deeds. A person who radiates much love in one life will, in another, be able to stay young, inwardly as well as outwardly, for a long time. A person who harbors many feelings of hatred in one life will age prematurely in another. Individuals who abandon themselves to an ordinary, indolent life, which avoids all forms of spirituality, deprive themselves of something for their subsequent life that will be difficult for them to retrieve.

Now let me add a few words on the subject of initiation. At all times the leaders of humanity have drawn upon its fountainhead. The great individualities who presided over the Mysteries and whom we call the Masters have guided and led humanity. To understand this better we will consider the principle of initiation. Truth to tell, it is only possible since the time of the Atlantean catastrophe to speak of an initiation available to human beings because the process of initiation has also been subject to development and change in accordance with the needs of human beings. This is true not only in its outer forms.

Why is man in sleep unaware of sensory impressions although he is surrounded by a material world? It is because during the night his intellect is not working. The physical and etheric bodies of a man asleep remain in bed; his astral body and ego emerge and are in the spiritual world. But why is it that he perceives nothing of the spiritual world that is all around him and into which his astral body and ego enter during the night? It is because the astral body of the average human being who leaves the physical body during sleep at night has no astral sense organs. Hence, it is impossible for him to perceive any-thing in the astral world. Through initiation or spiritual training, the chaotic astral mass, which the astral body of the average individual reveals itself to be, is organized in such a way that it gradually begins to develop organs and can then have perceptions during the night. In normal life man is not yet able to form organs in his astral body. To be capable of this the power in his inner life must be essentially strengthened. This is achieved through definite exercises of meditation, concentration, and other indications. In his feelings and life of thought the pupil must give himself up to certain mental pictures, choosing subjects that tally only slightly or not at all with reality. Mental pictures that represent objects in the outer world are not suitable for developing organs in the astral body. But visualize a figure, for example, such as that of the Rose Cross, the black cross with the seven red roses, and if you practice the exercise with the necessary vigor and patience, you will experience something through it according to your degree of development. You will transform your astral body thereby, generating organs in it. These mental pictures should riot be abstractions; the right feelings and perceptive experiences must be involved. Only then will the desired results be achieved.

There are three different kinds of initiation, all of which lead to the same goal. There are three paths, the choice of one of which depends upon a man's individuality. One initiation is that of wisdom; it is the fitting goal for Indian and Oriental training. This path is fraught with great dangers for European and Western bodies and is therefore not the right one. The, second initiation is based upon the life of feeling; it is the fundamentally Christian path. Only few individuals can still take this path because it demands a strong power of devotion and piety. The third path of initiation is the Rosicrucian training, the path of the initiation of thinking and of will. It leads to union with the forces of the other paths of initiation. The final goal is definite in the case of every initiation, but in the course of evolution it must be adjusted in accordance with the current needs of souls and the possibilities offered by the human body.

The pupil of the old initiation was compelled to be entombed in a grave for three and a half days and was as if dead. His etheric and astral bodies were outside his physical body and in the spiritual world. The hierophant watched over the process and called the neophyte back to life. After his awakening he was a witness of the spiritual world. Such was the form of the old initiation; today that process is no longer necessary. The Christian and the Rosicrucian initiations have such powerful effects that the human being involved can achieve what, through the old initiation, was meant to be brought about by the emergence of the higher members from the physical body. The impressions from the spiritual world are now imprinted into the astral and etheric bodies without lethargy being induced for three and a half days. The modern initiation, if we like to call it so, once the purification or catharsis of the astral body has been achieved, brings about effects that lead to genuine spiritual sight and knowledge of the spiritual world based on actual experience; the impressions received by the soul in the spiritual world are then imprinted in the astral and etheric bodies. That is what is called illumination in the course of occult development.