IV. Karma Impulses through Recurring Earth Lives
24 February 1924, Dornach
Today I wish, primarily, to bring before you some of the more comprehensive aspects in the development of karma, in order to be able gradually to go more and more into matters of detail. If we wish to gain insight into the course of karma, we must be able to imagine how the human being gathers his whole organization together as he descends out of the spiritual world into the physical. You will understand, my dear friends, that in the language of today there are no suitable expressions for certain processes which are practically unknown to modern civilization, and that, therefore, the expressions employed here for what takes place under certain conditions can only be approximate.
When we descend out of the spiritual into the physical world for an earth life, we have, to begin with, prepared our physical body by means of the stream of heredity. We shall see how this physical body is, nevertheless, connected in a certain sense with what the human being experiences between death and a new birth. Today, however, it will suffice if we are clear about the fact that the physical body is given to us from the earth; on the other hand, those members which we may describe as the higher members of the human being — the ether body, astral body, and ego — come down from the spiritual world.
The human being attracts, so to speak, the ether body out of the whole universal ether before he unites himself with the physical body which is given to him by heredity. The union of the soul-spirit man — i.e. ego, astral body, and ether body — with the physical human embryo can ensue only through the gradual withdrawal of the ether body of the maternal organism from the physical human embryo.
The human being, thus, unites himself with the physical germ after having attracted his ether body out of the common universal ether. The more precise descriptions of these events will occupy us later. At present we are to interest ourselves mainly in asking: Whence come the individual members of human nature which the human being possesses during earth life between birth and death?
The physical organism comes, as we have seen, from the stream of heredity, the etheric organism out of the universal ether from which it is attracted. The astral organism — of which the human being remains, we might say, in all respects unconscious or only sub-consciously aware during his earth life — this astral body contains all the results of the life between death and a new birth. And it is a fact that between death and a new birth, according to what the human being has become through his preceding earth lives, he comes, in the most manifold way, into relationship with other human souls who are also in the life between death and a new birth, or with other spiritual beings of a higher cosmic order who do not descend to earth in a human body, but have their existence in the spiritual world.
All that a man brings over from his former lives on earth according to what he was, according to what he has done, all this is met by the sympathy or antipathy of the beings whom he learns to know while he passes through the world between death and a new birth. What sympathies and antipathies he meets among the higher beings according to what he has done in his preceding earth life is of great significance for karma during this period; but, above all, it is of deep significance that he comes into relationship with those human souls with whom he was in relationship on earth, and that a peculiar reflection takes place between his own nature and the nature of the souls with whom he had this relationship. Let us assume that someone has had a good relationship with a soul whom he now encounters again between death and a new birth. All that the good relationship implies had lived in him during former earth lives. Then this good relationship is reflected in the soul, when this soul is encountered between death and a new birth. And it is really true that the human being during this passage through the life between death and a new birth sees himself reflected everywhere in the souls with whom he is now associated because he was associated with them on earth. If he did good to a human being, something is mirrored to him from the other soul; if he did him an evil turn, something is likewise mirrored to him from the other soul. And he has the feeling — if I may use the word “feeling” with the reservation made at the beginning of these observations — he has the feeling: “You have advanced this human soul. What you have experienced through advancing him, what you then felt for this soul, that impulse in your feelings which led to your attitude toward him, your own inner experiences in performing the deed that advanced this soul, come back to you from him. They are reflected to you from this soul. In another case you have injured a soul; what has lived in you during this injury is reflected to you.”
And the human being has actually spread out before him, as though in a mighty and wide-extending reflector, his previous earth lives, but chiefly the last one, mirrored from the souls with whom he was associated. And we gain the impression, just in regard to our life of action, that all that is departing from us. We lose the ego-feeling which we had on earth in the body, or we really lost it a long time ago between death and a new birth. Now, however, the ego-feeling arises in us from this whole reflection. With the mirroring of our deeds, we come to life in all the souls with whom we were associated during our earth life.
On earth, our I, our ego, was like a point. Here between death and a new birth, it is reflected to us everywhere from the periphery. This is an intimate association with other souls, but an association in accordance with the relations into which we have entered with them.
And in the spiritual world all this is a reality. If we go through a room hung with many mirrors, we see ourselves reflected in each one. But we also know that the reflections — according to ordinary human parlance — are “not there;” when we depart they do not remain; we are no longer reflected. But that which is reflected there in human souls remains as something present. And there comes a time in the last third of the life between death and a new birth when we form our astral body out of these mirrored images. We draw all this together to form our astral body, so that, in truth, when we descend from the spiritual world into the physical, we carry in our astral body what we have taken up again into ourselves, in accordance with the reflection to which our actions of the former earth life have given rise in other souls between death and a new birth. This gives us the impulses which impel us toward or away from the human souls with whom we are born again at the same time in the physical body.
In this way, between death and a new birth, the impulse for the karma of the new earth life is fashioned. I shall, very soon, have to describe the process more in detail by taking the ego into consideration also.
And now we can trace how an impulse from one life works on into other lives. Let us take, for example, the impulse of love. We can perform our deeds in relation to other human beings out of that impulse which we call love. There is a difference whether we perform our acts out of a mere sense of duty, of convention, of decency, or the like, or whether we perform them out of a greater or lesser degree of love.
Let us assume that during an earth life a human being is able to perform actions warmed through and through by love. This, indeed, remains as a real force in his soul. What he now takes with him as result of his deeds, what is mirrored there in the other souls, comes back to him as a reflection. And from this he forms his astral body with which he descends to the earth. There the love of the former earth life, the love which has streamed out of him and which now returns to him from other human beings, transforms itself into joy. So that, when the human being does something for his fellow-men that is sustained by love, something in connection with which love streams out of him and accompanies the deeds which advance his fellow-men, then the metamorphosis in the passage through life between death and a new birth is of such a character that what is outpouring love in one life on earth is, in the next earth life, transmuted, metamorphosed, into joy streaming toward him.
If you experience joy, my dear friends, through a human being in one earth life, you may be sure it is the outcome of the love which you have shown for him in a former life. This joy now flows back again into your soul during earth life. You know this inwardly warming feeling of joy. You know what meaning joy has in life, especially the joy which conies from human beings. It warms life, it sustains life, we may say that it gives wings to life. It is karmically the result of love bestowed.
In our joy, however, we again experience a relation to the other human being who gives us joy. So that in our former earth lives we have had something within us that made the love flow out from us; in our subsequent earth lives we already have, as a result, the inward experience of the warmth of joy. And that is again something that streams from us. A human being who is allowed to experience joy in life, is of importance to his fellow-men, has warming significance. A human being who has cause for going joylessly through life behaves differently toward his fellow-men from the one who is permitted to go through life joyfully.
But what is experienced in joy in the life between birth and death is reflected again in the souls of the most various kinds with whom we were associated on earth and who are now also in the life between death and a new birth. And this reflection, which in manifold ways then comes back to us from the souls of the human beings known to us on earth, this reflection works back in turn. We carry it again in our astral body when we descend into the next earth life — we are now dealing with the third earth life. Once more it is instilled, imprinted, in our astral body. And it now becomes in its result the underlying basis, the impulse for a quick and ready understanding of human beings and the world. It becomes the basis for that soul condition which sustains us by virtue of our having the ability to understand the world. If we find the conduct of human beings interesting and can take joy in it, if we understand their conduct and take interest in it in a given incarnation on earth, then that directs us back to the joy of our previous incarnation, to the love of our still earlier incarnation. Human beings who are able to go through the world with a free and open mind, so that the free and open mind permits the world to flow into them, so that they have an understanding for the world, these are human beings who have gained this attitude to the world through love and joy.
What we perform in our deeds out of love is altogether different from what we do out of a rigid and dry sense of duty. You know, indeed, that I have always emphasized in my books that the deeds springing from love are to be understood as the truly ethical, as the truly moral deeds. I have often been compelled to indicate the great contrast, in this regard, between Kant and Schiller. Kant, both in life and in knowledge, “kantified” [Kante in German means a hard edge or angle. (Note by translator)] everything. Through Kant, everything in knowledge became sharp and angular; and thus, also human conduct. “Duty, thou great and exalted name, thou who containest nothing of pleasure, nothing that curries favors ...” this passage I quoted in my Philosophy of Spiritual Activity to the pretended vexation — not the sincere, but the pretended, hypocritical vexation — of many opponents, and I opposed to it what I must acknowledge to be my view: “Love, thou impulse that speaketh warmly to the soul. ...”
Over against the dry and rigid Kantian concept of duty, Schiller coined the expression: “Gladly I serve my friends; yet alas, I do it with pleasure, wherefore it oftentimes vexes me that I am not virtuous,” For, according to the Kantian ethics, that which we do out of inclination is not virtuous, but only that which we do out of the rigid concept of duty.
Now, there are human beings who, in the first place, do not attain to love. But, because they cannot tell their fellow-man the truth out of love (for if we love a human being we tell him the truth, and not lies), because they are unable to love, they tell the truth out of a sense of duty; since they cannot love, they refrain, merely out of a sense of duty, from thrashing their fellow-man, or boxing his ears, striking him, or doing something similar, when he does anything they do not like. There is, indeed, a difference between the deeds of love and acting out of a rigid sense of duty — which, to be sure, is absolutely necessary in social life, necessary for many things.
Now, the deeds that are done out of a rigid concept of duty, or out of convention or propriety, because it is “the proper thing to do,” will not call forth joy in the next earth life, but in that they pass in the same way through the reflection by the souls, as I have described it, they call forth in the next earth life something which we might describe as follows: We sense that we are an object of indifference to other human beings. Many a person carries through life the sense that he is an object of indifference to other human beings and suffers from it. And rightly he suffers from it, if he is of no concern to other human beings, for human beings are there for one another, and the human being is dependent upon not being a matter of indifference to his fellow-men. What the human being thus suffers here is simply the result of the lack of love in a former earth life where he behaved as a decent human being because of the rigid duty which hung over him like the sword of Damocles — I will not say, a sword of steel, for that would be disquieting for most dutiful people, but just like a wooden sword of Damocles.
We have now reached the second earth life. That which comes as joy from love becomes in the third life, as we have seen, a free and open heart, bringing the world near to us, giving us open-minded insight into all things beautiful and true and good. That which streams to us as indifference from other human beings, and what we experience thereby in one earth life, fashions us for the third, that is to say for the next earth life, into a human being who does not know what to do with himself. When such a person enters school, he is at a loss what to do with that which the teachers impart to him. When he grows a little older, he does not know whether to become a locksmith or Privy Councilor. He does not know what to do with himself in life. He actually drifts aimlessly through life without direction. In regard to his observation of the outer world, he is not exactly dull. Music, for instance, he understands well enough, but it gives him no pleasure. It is, after all, a matter of indifference to him whether the music is more or less good or more or less bad. To be sure, he feels the beauty of a painting or other work of art, but there is always something in his soul that irritates him: “What is the good of it, anyhow? To what purpose is all this?” These, in turn, are the things that make their appearance in karmic connection in the third earth life.
Now let us assume, however, that out of hate or an inclination to antipathy a human being does certain injuries to his fellow-men. Here we may imagine every conceivable degree. One individual with criminal feelings of hatred may harm his fellow-men. Or — I am omitting the intermediate stages — he may be a critic. To be a critic, one must always hate a little — unless one is a praising critic, and such critics are few nowadays, for it is not interesting to show recognition of other people's work; it becomes interesting only when one can make fun of things. Now, there are all manner of intermediate stages. But we have here to think of human deeds which proceed from a cold antipathy — antipathy about which we are often not at all clear — or, at the other extreme, from hatred. All that is brought about in this way by human beings against their fellow-men or even against sub-human creatures, all this vents itself in soul conditions which in turn also mirror themselves in the life between death and a new birth. And then, in the next earth life, out of the hatred is born that which streams to us from the world as sorrow, as unhappiness caused from without, as the opposite of joy.
You will reply: “But really, we experience so much sorrow; is that all due to hatred, greater or lesser hatred, in our preceding life? I cannot possibly imagine” — a man will be apt to say — “that I have been such a bad lot, so that I must experience so much sorrow, because I have hated so much.” Well, if we wish to think without prejudice on these things, we must become aware of how great is the illusion which gives us satisfaction and to which, therefore, we easily surrender if it is a question of our suggesting away from our conscious mind any feeling of antipathy against other human beings. People really go through the world with far more hatred than they think — at least, with far more antipathy. And it is a matter of fact that hatred, because it gives satisfaction to the soul, is not as a rule consciously experienced. It is eclipsed by the satisfaction it gives. But, when it returns as sorrow which streams to us from without, then we notice it, as sorrow.
But just consider for a moment, my dear friends — in order to represent in a quite trivial fashion what is present there as a possibility — think of an afternoon-tea chatter, a real, a genuine gossiping tea party where half a dozen (half a dozen is quite enough) “aunts” or “uncles” — it can be uncles, too — or “cousins,” if you will, are sitting together discussing their fellows. Just think how many antipathies are unloaded on human beings, say, in the course of an hour and a half — often it is longer. While this antipathy pours out, people do not notice it; but when it returns in the next earth life, then it will, indeed, be noticed. And it returns, inexorably.
Thus, in actual fact, a portion — not all; we shall still become acquainted with other karmic connections — a portion of what we experience in one earth life as sorrow caused from outside may very well be due to our feelings of antipathy in a former earth life.
In connection with all this we must, naturally, always realize that karma, that some sort of karmic stream, must begin at some time, somewhere. So that, if you have here, for example, a succession of earth lives:
a b c (d)
and this (d) is the present life; not all pain, naturally, that falls to our lot from without need be due to our former earth lives. It may also be an original sorrow, which will work itself out karmically only in the next earth life. I say, therefore, that a large part of that sorrow which streams to us from outside is a result of hate which was brought into being in former earth lives.
If we now proceed again to the third earth life, the result of what streams to us there as sorrow — but only the result of that sorrow which comes to us, so to speak, out of stored-up hate — the result of this sorrow which then unloads in our soul is, in the first place, a kind of mental dullness, a sort of dullness in the capacity of insight into the world. If you have a human being who confronts the world phlegmatically and with indifference, who does not confront the things of the world, or other human beings, with an open heart, the fact is, very often, that he has acquired this obtuseness of mind through the sorrow of a previous earth life, caused in his own karma. This sorrow, however, when it expresses itself in this way in obtuseness of soul must be retraced to the feelings of hatred which occurred at least in the second earth life prior to this one. We can be absolutely sure that stupidity in any one earth life is always the consequence of hatred in a certain former earth life.
Yet, my dear friends, the understanding of karma shall not rest only on the fact that we comprehend karma for the purpose of understanding life, but that we are also able to comprehend it as an impulse of life, that we are conscious that with life there is not merely an “a, b, c, d,” but also an “e, f, g, h,”
a, b, c, (d), e, f, g, h
that there are also earth lives still to come, and that what we develop as the content of our soul in a present earth life will have its effects, its results, in the next earth life. If any one wishes to be especially stupid in his second earth life after this one, he need, really, only hate a great deal in this present earth life. But, if someone wishes to have a free and open insight in the second earth life after this one, he need only love with special intensity in this earth life. And insight into karma, knowledge of karma, gains real value only through the fact that it flows into our will for the future, that it plays a role in this will for the future. And it is true in every respect that the moment is now at hand in the evolution of mankind when the unconscious can no longer continue to be effective in the same way it was effective previously, while our souls were passing through previous earth lives, for human beings are becoming constantly freer and more conscious.
Since the first third of the fifteenth century we have been in the age in which human beings are continually becoming freer and more conscious. Hence, those individuals who are human beings of the present time will have in a subsequent earth life a dim feeling of previous earth lives. And just as the modern man, if he notices that he is not very bright, does not ascribe this to himself, but to his natural lack of ability — the cause of which he usually seeks in his physical nature in accordance with the theories of modern materialism — so will the human beings who will be the re-incarnated human beings of the present time, have at least an obscure feeling which will worry them. If they are not very bright, they will feel that something must have taken place which was connected with feelings of hate and antipathy.
And, if we speak today of a Waldorf School pedagogy, we must naturally take into account the present earth civilization. We cannot yet educate in complete frankness in such a way that we consciously employ repeated earth lives in education, for modern human beings have not yet even a dim feeling for repeated earth lives. The beginnings, however, that have been made just in the Waldorf School pedagogy, if they are taken up, will continue to develop in the coming centuries with the result that the following will be included in ethical, moral education: If a child has little talent, it is due to former earth lives in which it has hated intensely, and we shall then, with the help of spiritual science, seek out whom it might have hated. For the human beings who were hated, and against whom deeds were committed out of hate, must be rediscovered somewhere in the child's environment. Gradually, in coming centuries, the education of a child will have to be related far more definitely to human life. We shall have to see, in regard to this dull child, whence that is reflected or has been reflected in the life between death and a new birth, which goes through a metamorphosis resulting in unintelligence in this earth life. We shall then be able to do something to the end that in childhood a special love is developed for those human beings for whom the child felt specific hatred in former earth lives. And we shall see that through such a specifically aroused and directed love, the child's intellect, nay, the child's whole soul state, will brighten.
It is not in general theories about karma that we shall find what can aid education, but in looking concretely into life in order to see what the karmic connections are. We shall soon notice that the fact that children are brought together in a school class by fate is, indeed, not something to be regarded with complete indifference. And when we shall have risen beyond the hideous carelessness that prevails in these things nowadays, when the “human material” — for so it is often called — which is thrown together in a school class is actually conceived as though it were thrown together by mere chance, not as though destiny had brought these human beings together, — if we shall have risen beyond this appalling indifference, we shall then gain a new outlook as educators, we shall then be able to perceive what strange karmic threads are spun from one child to the other as a result of former lives. And we shall then bring into the children's development that which can effect equalization.
In a certain respect, karma is under the domination of an inexorable necessity. Out of an inexorable necessity we are able definitely to establish the sequence:
— Open Heart
Antipathy or Hatred
These are unconditional connections. Although it is true that we are confronted by an absolute necessity when a river follows its course, yet we have frequently regulated rivers, have given them a different course. So in like manner is it also possible to regulate, if I may say so, the karmic stream, to affect its course. Indeed, this is possible.
Thus, if you notice that in childhood there is a tendency to idiocy, and if you then realize the necessity of guiding the child, especially of developing love in his heart, if you discover — and this should be possible even today for people with a fine observation of life, — if you discover to which other children the child is karmically related, and if you are able
to bring the child to the point of loving just these children, to perforin deeds of love for them, you will then see that you are able with love to give a counterweight to antipathy, and that you are able by means of it to correct this idiocy in the next incarnation, in the next earth life.
There are educators, trained, as it were, by their own instinct, who often do some such thing out of their instinct, who bring dull-witted children to the point where they are able to love, and thus educate them by degrees to become more intelligent human beings.
It is such things that make our insight into karmic connections of service to life.
— Open Heart
Before we go further in considering the details of karma, yet another question will have to confront our souls. Just ask yourself: What is a human being really with whom — in general, at least — we may know ourselves to be karmically related? I must use an expression which is often used today rather ironically: such a man is a “contemporary”; he is on the earth at the same time that we are.
If you bear this in mind, you will say to yourself that, if you are associated with certain human beings in one earth life, you were associated with them in a previous earth life also (generally speaking, at least; matters may, of course, be somewhat shifted). And you were, likewise, associated with them in a still earlier life. (See Figure V)
Now, those individuals, who live fifty years later than you, were associated in turn with human beings in former earth lives. Generally speaking, the human beings of, let us say, the B series do not, in accordance with the thought we have developed here, come in contact with the human beings of the A series. This is an oppressive thought, but a true one.
I shall later speak about other debatable questions, such as arise, for instance, through the fact that people often say that humanity multiplies on the earth. Today, however, I should like to place the following thought before you; it is, perhaps, an oppressive thought, but it is none the less a true one. It is an actual fact that the continued life of men on earth takes place in rhythms. One shift of human beings — if I may put it so — proceeds, as a general rule, from one earth life to another; another shift of human beings does the same, and they are in a certain sense separated from one another; they do not come together during earth life. To be sure, in the long intervening life between death and a new birth they do come together; but for earth life it is, indeed, a fact that we descend to the earth with a limited circle of people. To be “contemporaries” has an inner meaning, an inner importance just for repeated earth lives.
Why is it so? I can assure you, this question which, in the first place, may occupy us intellectually, has caused me the greatest imaginable pain in the field of spiritual science, because it is necessary to discover the truth regarding this question, the inner nature of the facts. And thus, we may ask ourself — forgive my using an example which really concerns me only as a matter of research — we may ask ourself the question: “Why were you not a contemporary of Goethe's? By your not a contemporary of Goethe's you can, according to this truth, conclude on general principles that you have never lived with Goethe on the earth. Goethe belongs to another shift of human beings.”
What really lies behind this? Here we must reverse the question. But to do so we must have an open, liberal mind for human social relationships. We must be able to ask ourself a question — and I shall have very much to say in the near future about this question — we must be able to ask ourself the question: What is it really to be another man's contemporary? What is it, on the other hand, to be able to know of him only from history, so far as the earth life is concerned? What does this mean?
Well, my dear friends, we must have an open, liberal mind in order to answer the intimate question: “How do matters stand with regard to all the inner accompanying phenomena of the soul when a contemporary of yours speaks to you, performs actions which come near you? How do matters stand?” And, after having acquired the necessary knowledge, you must then be able to compare this with what the situation would be were you to come into contact with a personality who is not your contemporary, perhaps has never been such in any life on earth, and whom you may, nevertheless, revere to the highest degree, much more, perhaps, than any of your contemporaries — what would be the situation were you to encounter this personality as a contemporary? In a word — pardon the personal note — what would the situation be, had I been a contemporary of Goethe? If you are not an indifferent kind of person — naturally, if you are an indifferent person and have no comprehension of what a contemporary can be, you cannot very well answer such a question — then you can ask the question: “How would it be if I, walking down the Schillergasse in Weimar toward the Frauenplan, had seen the fat Privy Councilor approaching me, say in the year 1826, 1827?” Now, we know quite well, we could not have stood it. Our contemporary we can stand. If the one with whom we cannot be contemporary were, nevertheless, our contemporary, we should not be able to endure him; he would, in a certain sense, act like a poison on our soul life. We endure him as a historical character, because he is not our contemporary, but our successor or predecessor.
Of course, if we have no feeling for such things, they remain in the unconscious. We can well imagine that a certain man has a fine feeling for the spiritual and knows that, had he walked down the Schillergasse in Weimar toward the Frauenplan, and had he, as a contemporary, encountered the fat Privy Councilor Goethe with the double chin, he would then have felt himself in an inwardly impossible state. The one, however, who has no feeling for such things — well, he would, perhaps, have taken off his hat!
These things, my dear friends, do not derive from the earth life, be- cause the reasons why we cannot be the contemporary of some particular man are not to be found within earth life, because here we must penetrate with our preception into the spiritual relationships. This is why, for earth life, such things appear at times paradoxical. Nevertheless, they are facts, most certainly facts.
I can assure you that I wrote with genuine love an Introduction to Jean Paul's works, published in the Cotta'sche Bibliothek der Weltliteratur. Yet, if I had ever had to sit side by side with Jean Paul at Bayreuth — without doubt, I should have had a stomach ache. That does not hinder us from having the highest reverence. But such an experience comes to every human being, only, with most people it remains in the subconscious, in the astral or in the ether body; it does not take hold of the physical body. For the soul experience which must seize upon the physical body must, indeed, become conscious. But the following must also be clear to you, my dear friends: If you wish to gain knowledge of the spiritual world, you cannot escape hearing things which seem grotesque and paradoxical, because the spiritual world is different from the physical.
It is, of course, easy enough for anyone to ridicule the statement that if I had been a contemporary of Jean Paul's, it would have given me a stomach ache to sit in his company. It goes without saying that for the everyday, banal, philistine world of earthly life ridicule is to be expected. But the laws of the banal, philistine world do not hold good for spiritual relationships. If we wish to understand the spiritual world we must accustom ourselves to think with other thought forms; we must be prepared to experience many quite surprising things. When, in our everyday consciousness, we read about Goethe, we may naturally feel impelled to say: “How I should like to have known him personally, to have shaken hands with him!” and so on. That is thoughtlessness, for there are laws according to which we are predestined for a certain epoch of the earth in which we can live. Just as we are preconditioned to stand a certain pressure of the air in our physical body, and therefore cannot rise above the earth beyond a certain height where the pressure is not agreeable, so is a man who is predestined for the twentieth century unable to live at the time of Goethe.
These were the things which, at the outset, I wished to bring forward about karma.