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Karmic Relationships I
GA 235

Lecture IX

15 March 1924, Dornach

In these lectures we are speaking of karma, of the paths of human destiny, and in the last lecture we studied certain connections which can throw light on the way in which destiny works through the course of successive earthly lives. I have decided—although needless to say it was a decision fraught with risk—to speak in detail of such karmic connections, and today we will carry our studies a little further.

You will have seen that in describing karmic connections it is necessary to mention many details in the life and character of a human being which in the ordinary way might escape attention. In the case of Dühring, I pointed out how a bodily peculiarity of one incarnation became a particular trend and attitude of soul in the next. For it is a fact that when one presses through to the spiritual worlds in search of the true being of man, the spiritual loses its abstractness and becomes full of force; on the other hand, the corporeality, all that comes to expression in the bodily nature of man, loses, one may truthfully say, its materiality; it assumes a spiritual significance and acquires a definite place in the interconnections of human life.

How does destiny actually work? Destiny arises from the whole being of man. What a man seeks in life as the result of a karmic urge, and which then comes to him in the form of destiny, depends upon the fact that forces of destiny, as they pass from life to life, influence and condition the very composition of the blood in its more delicate qualities and regulate the activity of the nerves; to their working is due also the instinctive sensitiveness of the soul to this or that influence. We shall not easily find our way into the innermost nature of karmic connections if we do not pay attention—with the eye of the soul, of course—to the particular mannerisms of an individual. Believe me, for the study of karma it is just as important to be interested in a gesture of the hand as in some great spiritual talent. It is just as important to be able to observe—from the spiritual side (astral body and ego)—how a man sits down on a chair as to observe, let us say, how he discharges his moral obligations. If a man is given to frowning, to knitting his brow, this may be just as important as whether he is virtuous or the reverse.

Much that in ordinary life seems to be quite insignificant is of very great importance when we begin to consider destiny and observe how it weaves its web from life to life; while many a thing in this or the other human being that appears to us particularly important becomes of negligible significance,

Generally speaking, it is not, as you know, very easy to pay real attention to bodily peculiarities. They are there and we must learn to observe them naturally without wounding our fellow-men—as we certainly shall do if we observe merely for observation's sake. That must never be. Everything must arise entirely of itself. When, however, we have trained our powers of attention and perception, individual peculiarities do show themselves in every human being, peculiarities which may be accounted trifling but are of paramount importance in connection with the study of karma. A really penetrating observation of human beings in respect of their karmic connections is possible only when we can discern these significant peculiarities.

Some decades ago, a personality whose inner, spiritual life as well as his outer life were intensely interesting to me, was the philosopher Eduard von Hartmann.

When I try to study von Hartmann's life in such a way as to lead to a perception of his karma, I have to picture. to myself what was of value in his life somewhat in the following way.—Eduard von Hartmann, the philosopher of the Unconscious, was really an explosive influence in philosophy, but thinkers of the 19th century—pardon me if I sound critical, I mean it not unkindly—received the effects of this explosive effect in the realm of the spirit with extraordinary apathy. Indeed, the men of the 19th century simply cannot be wakened—and I include, of course, the 20th century that has now begun; it is impossible to shake them out of their phlegmatic attitude towards anything that really stirs the world inwardly. No enthusiasm of any depth is to be found in this phlegmatic age—phlegmatic, that is to say, in respect of spiritual life.

In another recent series of lectures I gave a picture of the encounter between the Roman world and the world of the Northern Germanic peoples at the time of the migrations, at the time when Christianity was beginning to spread to the North from the southerly regions of Greece and Rome. You have only to picture these physical forefathers of Middle and Southern Europe truly, and you will get some impression of the inner, dynamic vigour which once spurred men to action in the world. The Germanic tribes whom the Romans encountered in the early Christian centuries knew what it was to live in union with the spiritual powers of nature. The attitude of these men to the Spiritual was quite different from ours; in most of them, of course, there was still an instinctive inclination towards the Spiritual. And whereas we today speak for the most part phlegmatically, so that one word simply follows another, as though speech contained nothing real, these people poured out what they actually experienced into words and speech. For them the surging roar of the wind was as much a physical gesture, a manifestation of soul-and-spirit, as when a man moves his arm. In the surge of the wind and in the flickering of the light in the wind, they saw an expression of Wodan. And when they carried these realities over into speech, when they clothed them in language, they imbued their words with the character of what they experienced. If we were to express it in modern words, saying “Wodan weht im Winde” (Wodan weaves in the wind)—and the words were almost similar in olden times—there the weaving activity pours into the language itself. Think of how this direct participation in the life and forces of nature vibrates and pulsates in the words, how it surges into them! When a man of those times looked up to the heavens and heard the thunder roaring and rumbling out of the clouds, and behind this nature-gesture of the thunder beheld the corresponding spiritual reality of being, he brought the whole experience to expression in the words ”Donner (or Donar) dröhnt im Donner” (Thor rumbles in the thunder)—for thus we may hear, transposed into modern language, words that still echo the sound of the ancient speech. And just as these men felt the Spiritual in the workings of nature and expressed it in their speech, so did they also express their experience of the God who aided them when they went forth to battle, who lived in their very limbs and in their whole bearing and action. They held their mighty shields before them, shouting the words like a war-cry. And the fact that spirits, whether good spirits or demons, stormed into the words which rose and fell with powerful resonance—all this they expressed as they rushed forward to attack, in the words: “Ziu Zwingt Zwist.” Spoken behind the shield, spoken with all the rage and lust of battle, that really was like the breaking of a storm! You must imagine it shouted as it were against the shields by thousands of voices at once. In those early centuries, when the peoples of the South came into conflict with those pouring down from Middle Europe, it was not the outer course of the battle that had the decisive effect. No—it was rather this mighty shout accompanying the attack against the Romans! For in those early times it was this shout that filled the people coming from the South with a terrible fear. Knees trembled before the “Ziu Zwingt Zwist,” bellowed forth by a thousand throats behind the shields.

And so we are bound to say: these same men are there again in the world today, but they have become phlegmatic! Many a man alive today bellowed and roared in those days of yore but has now become utterly phlegmatic, has adopted the attitude of soul typical of the 19th and 20th centuries. But if those men were to return in the mood of soul that inspired them in the days when they yelled their war-cry, they would feel like donning a nightcap in their present incarnation, for they would say: This phlegmatic apathy out of which people simply cannot be roused, belongs properly under a nightcap; bed is the place for it, not the arena of human action!

I say this only because I want to indicate how little inclination there was among the men of von Hartmann's time to let themselves be roused by an explosive force like that contained in his Philosophy of the Unconscious. He spoke, to begin with, of how all that is conscious in man, all his conscious thinking is of less significance than that which works and weaves unconsciously in him, as it does in nature, and can never be raised into consciousness. Of clairvoyant Imagination and Intuition, Eduard von Hartmann knew nothing; he did not know that the unconscious can penetrate into the sphere of human cognition. And so he asserts that what is really essential in the world and in life remains in the unconscious. This very reasoning, however, gives him the ground for his view that the world in which we live is the worst world imaginable. He carried his pessimism even further than Schopenhauer and reached the conclusion that the evolution of culture must culminate in the destruction of the whole of earth-evolution. He would not insist, he said, that this would happen in the immediate future, because that would not give time to apply all that will be necessary for carrying the destruction so far that no human civilisation—which in any case, according to his view, is worthless—will be left. And he dreamed—you will find it in his Philosophy of the Unconscious—he dreamed of how men will ultimately invent a huge machine which they will be able to lower deeply enough into the earth to produce a terrific explosion, scattering the whole earth in fragments through universal space.

It is true that many people have been enthusiastic about this Philosophy of the Unconscious. But when they come to talk about it, one does not feel that it has taken any real hold of them. A statement like Hartmann's can, of course, be made, and there is something powerful in the mere fact of its utterance—but people quote it as though they were making a casual remark, and that is the really terrible thing.

Yes, there was actually a philosopher who spoke in this way. And this same philosopher went on to expound the subject of human morality on earth. It was his work Phänomenologie des sittlichen Bewusstseins (Phenomenology of the Moral Consciousness) that interested me most of all. He also wrote a book entitled Das religiöse Bewusstsein der Menschheit (The Religious Consciousness of Mankind), and another on Aesthetics—in fact he wrote a very great deal.[With the exception of the Philosophy of the Unconscious the works of Eduard von Hartmann mentioned in this lecture have not been translated into English.] And it was all extraordinarily interesting, particularly where one could not agree with him.

In the case of such a man one may very naturally desire to know the connections of his destiny. One may try, perhaps, to make a deep study of his philosophy, to glean from his philosophical thoughts some idea of his earlier earthly lives, but all such attempts will be fruitless. Nevertheless a personality like Eduard von Hartmann interested me in the highest degree.

When one has occultism in one's very bones—if I may put it so—the impulses for looking at things in the right way arise of themselves. And here one is confronted with the following circumstances.—Eduard von Hartmann was a soldier, an officer. The Kürschner Directory, besides recording his Doctorate of Philosophy and other academic degrees, put him down until the day of his death as “First Lieutenant.” Eduard von Hartmann was an officer in the Prussian Army and is said to have been a very good one.

From a certain day onwards this fact seemed to me more significant in connection with the threads of his destiny than all the details of his philosophy. As for his philosophy—well, one is inclined to accept certain things and reject others. But there is nothing much in that; everyone who knows a little philosophy can do the same and the result will not amount to anything very striking. But now let us ask ourselves: How comes it that a Prussian officer, who was a good officer, who took very little interest in philosophy while he was in the Army but was much more concerned with sword-exercises—how comes it that such a man turns into a representative philosopher of his age?

It was due to the fact that an illness left him with an affliction of the knee from which he suffered for the rest of his life, and he was invalided out of the Army on a pension. At times he was quite unable to walk and was obliged to recline with his legs stretched out on a sofa. And then, after having imbibed contemporary scholarship, he wrote one philosophical work after another. Eduard von Hartmann's philosophical writings are a whole library in themselves; his output was prodigious.

Now when I came to study this personality, it dawned upon me one day that there was very special importance in the onset of this knee affliction. The fact that at a certain age the man began to suffer from an affliction of the knee interested me much more than his transcendental realism, or even than his famous saying: “First there was the religion of the Father, then the religion of the Son, and in the future there will come the religion of the Spirit.” Such sayings show ability and astuteness of mind, but they were to be met with at every street comer, so to say, in the 19th century. But for a man to become a philosopher through contracting, while he was a Lieutenant, an infirmity of the knee—that is a most significant fact. Moreover until we can go back to such things and not allow ourselves to be dazzled by what appears to be the most striking feature in a man's life, we shall not be able to discover the karmic connections.

When I was able to bring the affliction of the knee into its right relation with the whole personality, I began to perceive how destiny manifested in the life of this man. And then I could go back. It was not by starting from the head of Eduard von Hartmann, but from the knee, that I found the way to his earlier incarnations. What seems to be of most importance in the life between birth and death does not, as a rule, afford the most reliable starting-point.

And now, what is the connection? Man as he stands before us as a physical being in earthly life, is a threefold being. He has his nerves-and-senses organism, which is concentrated mainly in the head but at the same time extends over the whole body. He has his rhythmic organisation, which manifests particularly clearly in the rhythm of the breath and of the circulation of the blood, but again extends over the whole human being and comes to expression every where within him. And thirdly, he has his motor organisation which is connected with the limbs, with the functioning of metabolism, with the reconstruction of the substances of the body and so forth. Man is a threefold being.

And then in regard to the whole constitution of life, we come to realise that on the journey through births and deaths, what we are accustomed to consider in earthly life as the most important part of man, namely the head, becomes of comparatively little importance shortly after death. The head that in the physical world is the most essentially human part of man, really expends itself in physical existence; whereas the rest of the organism—which, physically speaking, is subordinate—is of higher importance in the spiritual world. In his head, man is most of all physical and least of all spiritual. In the other members of his organism, in the rhythmic organisation and in the limbs-organisation, he is more spiritual. He is most spiritual of all in his motor organisation, in the activity of his limbs.

Now gifts and talents belonging to the head are lost comparatively soon after death. On the other hand, the soul-and-spirit which, in the realm of the unconscious, belongs to the lower part of the human organism, assumes great importance between death and a new birth. But whereas, speaking generally, the organism of man apart from the head becomes, in respect of its spiritual form, its spiritual content, the head of the next incarnation, it is also true that what is of the nature of will in the head, works especially into the limbs in the next incarnation. A man who is lazy in his thinking in one incarnation will most certainly be no fast runner in the next: the laziness of thinking becomes slowness of limb; and, vice versa, slowness of limb in the present incarnation comes to expression in sluggish, lazy thinking in the next.

Thus a metamorphosis, an interchange, takes place between the three members of the human being in passing over from one incarnation to another.

What I am telling you here is not put forward as a theory; it is based on the very facts of life. And in the case of Eduard von Hartmann, as soon as I turned my attention to the affliction of the knee, I was guided to his earlier incarnation, during which at a certain moment in his life he had a kind of sunstroke. In respect of destiny, this sunstroke was the cause that led in the next earthly life, through metamorphosis, to an infirmity of the knee—the sunstroke being, as you will realise, an affliction of the head. One day he was no longer able to think. He had a kind of paralysis of the brain, and this came to expression in the next incarnation as an affliction of one of the limbs. Now the destiny that led to paralysis of the brain was due to the following circumstances.—This individuality was one of those who went to the East with the Crusades and fought over in Asia against the Turks and Asiatic peoples, acquiring, however, a tremendous admiration for the latter. The Crusaders encountered very much that was great and sublime in the East, and the individuality of whom we are speaking absorbed it all with deep admiration. And now he came across a man concerning whom he felt instinctively that he had had something to do with him in a still earlier life. The account, so to speak, that had now to be settled between this and the still earlier incarnation, was a moral account. The metamorphosis of the sunstroke in one incarnation into the affliction of the knee in the next appears at first to be a purely physical matter, but when it is a question of destiny we are invariably led back to something that appertains to the moral life. This individuality bore with him from a still earlier incarnation the impulse to wage a fierce battle with the man whom he now encountered and in the heat of the blazing sun he set about persecuting his opponent. The persecution was unjust, and it recoiled upon the persecutor himself inasmuch as his brain was paralysed by the heat of the sun. What was to be brought to an issue in this fight originated in a still earlier incarnation when this individuality had been brilliantly, outstandingly clever. The opponent whom he encountered during the Crusades had suffered injury and embarrassment in an earlier incarnation at the hands of this brilliant individuality. As you see, it all leads back to the moral life, for the forces in play originated in the earlier incarnation.

Thus we have three consecutive incarnations of an individuality. A remarkably clever and able personality in very ancient times—that is one incarnation. Following that, a Crusader, who at a certain time in his life gets paralysis of the brain, brought about as the result of a wrong committed by his cleverness which had, however, in the next incarnation, caused him to acquire tremendous admiration for oriental civilisation. Third incarnation: a Prussian officer who is obliged to retire owing to an affliction of the knee, does not know what to do with his time, goes in for philosophy and writes a most impressive book, a perfect product of the civilisation of the second half of the 19th century: The Philosophy of the Unconscious.

Once this connection of lives is perceived, things that were previously obscure become quite clear. When I was reading Hartmann while I was still young, without knowing anything about these connections, I always had the feeling: Yes, this is extremely clever! But when I had read one page I used to think: There is something brilliantly clever here, but the cleverness is not on this particular page! I always felt I must turn the page and look at the previous one to see if the cleverness were there. In short, the cleverness in this writing was not of today, but of yesterday, or of the day before yesterday.

Light came to me for the first time when I perceived: the outstanding cleverness really lies two incarnations ago and is working on from there. Great illumination is shed upon the whole of this Hartmann literature—which, as I said, is a library in itself—as soon as one realises that the cleverness in it is working on from a much earlier incarnation.

And when one came to know Eduard von Hartmann personally and was talking with him, one also felt: another man is there behind him, but even he is not the one who is talking; behind him again is a third, and it is the third who is really the source of the inspirations. For listening to Hartmann was often enough to drive one to despair! There was an officer, talking philosophy without enthusiasm, apathetically, speaking with a certain crudity of the loftiest truths. One could see how things really were only when one knew: the cleverness behind what he says is that of two incarnations ago.

It may seem disrespectful to relate such things, but no disrespect whatever is intended. Moreover I am convinced that it can be of great value for any human being to know of such connections and apply them to his own life, even if it means that he has to say to himself: Three incarnations ago I was an out-and-out scoundrel! It can be of immense benefit to life when a man can say to himself: In one incarnation or another, perhaps not only in one, I was a thoroughly bad lot! In speaking of such things, just as in other circumstances present company is always excepted, so here present incarnations are excepted!

I was also intensely interested in the connections of destiny of a man with whom my own life brought me into contact, namely Friedrich Nietzsche. I have studied the problem of Nietzsche in all its aspects and, as you know, have written and spoken a great deal about him.

His was indeed a strange and remarkable destiny. I saw him only once during his life. It was in Naumburg, in the nineties of last century, when his mind was already seriously deranged. In the afternoon, about half-past-two, his sister took me into his room. He lay on the couch, listless and unresponsive, with eyes unable to see that someone was standing by him: He lay there with the remarkable, beautifully formed brow that made such a striking impression upon one. Although the eyes were expressionless, one nevertheless had the feeling: This is not a case of insanity, but rather of a man who has been working spiritually the whole morning with great intensity of soul, has had his mid-day meal and is now lying at rest, pondering, half dreamily pondering on what his soul worked out in the morning. Spiritually seen, there were present only a physical body and an etheric body, especially in respect of the upper parts of the organism, for the being of soul-and-spirit was already outside, attached to the body as it were by a stubborn thread only. In reality a kind of death had already set in, but a death that could not be complete because the physical organisation was so healthy. The astral body and the ego that would fain escape were still held by the extraordinarily healthy metabolic and rhythmic organisations, while a completely ruined nerves-and-senses system was no longer able to hold the astral body and the ego. So one had the wonderful impression that the true Nietzsche was hovering above the head. There he was. And down below was something that from the vantage-point of the soul might well have been a corpse, and was only not a corpse because it still held on with might and main to the soul—but only in respect of the lower parts of the organism—because of the extraordinarily healthy metabolic and rhythmic organisation.

Such a spectacle may well make one attentive to the connections of destiny. In this case, at any rate, quite a different light was thrown upon them. Here one could not start from a suffering limb or the like, but one was led to look at the spirituality of Friedrich Nietzsche in its totality.

There are three strongly marked and distinct periods in Nietzsche's life. The first period begins when he wrote The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music while he was still quite young, inspired by the thought of music springing from Greek tragedy which had itself been born from music. Then, in the same strain, he wrote the four following works: David Friedrich Strauss; Confessor and Author, Schopenhauer as Educator, Thoughts out of Season, Richard Wagner in Bayreuth. This was in the year 1876. (The Birth of Tragedy was written in 1871). Richard Wagner in Bayreuth is a hymn of praise to Richard Wagner, actually perhaps the best thing that has been written by any admirer of Wagner.

Then a second period begins. Nietzsche writes his books, Human, All-too Human, in two volumes, the work entitled Dawn and thirdly, The Joyful Wisdom.

In the early writings, up to the year 1876, Nietzsche was in the highest sense of the word an idealist. In the second epoch of his life he bids farewell to idealism in every shape and form; he makes fun of ideals; he convinces himself that if men set themselves ideals, this is due to weakness. When a man can do nothing in life, he says: Life is not worth any thing, one must hunt for an ideal.—And so Nietzsche knocks down ideals one by one, puts them to the test, and conceives the manifestations of the Divine in nature as something “all-too-human,” something paltry and petty. Here we have Nietzsche the disciple of Voltaire, to whom he dedicates one of his writings. Nietzsche is here the rationalist, the intellectualist. And this phase lasts until about the year 1882 or 1883. Then begins the final epoch of his life, when he unfolds ideas like that of the Eternal Recurrence and presents the figure of Zarathustra as a human ideal. He writes Thus spake Zarathustra in the style of a hymn.

Then he takes out again the notes he had once made on Wagner, and here we find something very remarkable! If one follows Nietzsche's way of working, it does indeed seem strange. Read his work Richard Wagner in Bayreuth.—It is a grand, enraptured hymn of praise. And now, in the last epoch of his life, comes the book The Case of Wagner, in which everything that can possibly be said against Wagner is set down!

If one is content with trivialities, one will simply say: Nietzsche has changed sides, he has altered his views. But those who are really familiar with Nietzsche's manuscripts will not speak in this way. In point of fact, when Nietzsche had written a few pages in the form of a hymn of praise to Wagner, he then proceeded to write down as well everything he could against what he himself had said! Then he wrote another hymn of praise, and then again he wrote in the reverse sense! The whole of The Case of Wagner was actually written in 1876, only Nietzsche put it aside, discarded it, and printed only the hymn of praise. And all that he did later on was to take his old drafts and interpolate a few caustic passages.

In this last period of his life the urge came to him to carry through an attack which in the first epoch he had abandoned. In all probability, if the manuscript he put aside as being out of keeping with his Richard Wagner in Bayreuth had been destroyed by fire, we should never have had The Case of Wagner at all.

If you study these three periods in Nietzsche's life you will find that all show evidence of a uniform trend. Even the last book, the last published writing at any rate, The Twilight of Idols, which shows entirely his other side—even this last book bears something of the fundamental character of Nietzsche's spiritual life. In old age, however, when this work was composed, he becomes imaginative, writing in a graphic, vividly descriptive style. For example, he wants to characterise Michelet, the French writer. He lights on a very apt expression when he speaks of him as having the kind of enthusiasm that takes off its coat. This is a marvelously apt description of one aspect of Michelet. Other similar utterances—graphic and imaginative—are also to be found in The Twilight of Idols.

If you once have this tragic, deeply moving picture before you of the individuality hovering above the body of Nietzsche, you will be compelled to say of his writings that the impression they make is as though Nietzsche were never fully present in his body while he was writing down his sentences. He used to write, you know, sometimes sitting but more often while walking, especially while going for long tramps. It is as though he had always been a little outside his body. You will have this impression most strongly of all in the case of certain passages in the fourth part of Thus Spake Zarathustra, of which you will feel that they could have been written only when the body no longer had control, when the soul was outside the body.

One feels that when Nietzsche is being spiritually creative, he always leaves his body behind. And this same tendency can be perceived, too, in his habits. He was particularly fond of taking chloral in order to induce a mood that strives to get away from the body, a mood of aloofness from the body. This tendency was of course due to the fact that the body was in many respects ailing; for example, Nietzsche suffered from constant and always very prolonged headaches, and so on.

All these things give a uniform picture of Nietzsche in this incarnation at the end of the 19th century, an incarnation which finally culminated in insanity, so that he no longer knew who he was. There are letters addressed to George Brandes signed “The Crucified One”—indicating that Nietzsche regards himself as the Crucified One; and at another time he looks at himself as at a man who is actually present outside him, thinks that he is a God walking by the River Po, and signs himself “Dionysos.” This separation from the body while spiritual work is going on reveals itself as something that is peculiarly characteristic of this personality, characteristic, that is to say, of this particular incarnation.

If we ponder this inwardly, with Imagination, then we are led back to an incarnation lying not so very long ago. It is characteristic of many such representative personalities that their previous incarnations do not lie in the distant past but in the comparatively near past, even, maybe, in quite recent times.

We come to a life where this individuality was a Franciscan, a Franciscan ascetic who inflicted intense self-torture on his body. Now we have the key to the riddle. The gaze falls upon a man in the characteristic Franciscan habit, lying for hours at a time in front of the altar, praying until his knees are bruised and sore, beseeching grace, mortifying his flesh with severest penances—with the result that through the self-inflicted pain he knits himself very strongly with his physical body. Pain makes one intensely aware of the physical body because the astral body yearns after the body that is in pain, wants to penetrate it through and through. The effect of this concentration upon making the body fit for salvation in the one incarnation was that, in the next, the soul had no desire to be in the body at all.

Such are the connections of destiny in certain typical cases. It can certainly be said that they are not what one would have expected! In the matter of successive earthly lives, speculation is impermissible and generally leads to false conclusions. But when we do come upon the truth, marvellous enlightenment is shed upon life.

Because studies of this kind can help us to look at karma in the right way, I have not been afraid—although such a course has its dangers—to give you certain concrete examples of karmic connections which can, I think, throw a great deal of light upon the nature of human karma, of human destiny.