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Karmic Relationships II
GA 236

Lecture VI

4 May 1924, Dornach

We have considered a series of karmic relationships in the historical development of mankind, and have observed how one or other relationship flows over from one earthly life into another. We will now pass on to the consideration of karmic relationships from a fresh point of view, and you will find that it is one which leads still more directly into life. For the study of karma has real value only when it flows into the moral character of our life, into the whole mood and tenor of our life and soul; so that in taking our place in the world as human beings we can experience through the study of karma an invigoration as well as a deepening of our life. Life has many riddles, and it is wrong to regard them all as insoluble. If that were so, man would gradually be torn right out of his true being. Were the riddles of the nature of man to remain quite unknown to him, he would have to pass through existence like an unconscious being. But it is the task of man to grow ever more and more conscious. And this he can do only when he learns to penetrate with some degree of insight into all that is connected with him, all that is connected with his soul and his spirit.

As karma is a component part of our whole life and existence, it goes without saying that the study of karma is a study that has directly to do with the very foundations of human life. Nevertheless, it is very difficult for us in our present-day consciousness to undertake a study of karma in its direct application to life. For any at all adequate study of the working of karma in actual life, the life in which we ourselves are immersed, calls for a far more objective outlook than is possible for the kind of consciousness which arises from present-day conditions of living and education. In these conditions there is much that hides karmic connections, makes them invisible; for this reason, the very things that would make life comprehensible from the point of view of karma and destiny are extraordinarily difficult to observe.

Present-day man is very little inclined to detach himself from his own being and to give himself wholly to some other being or object. Modern man lives very strongly within himself. And the strange thing is that when he strives towards the spirit, when he receives into himself the spiritual, he runs great danger of living all the more within himself! For what do we find when someone begins to enter more deeply into anthroposophical life? Many a person who in the course of his life has come into the Anthroposophical Movement will be able to say to himself: As long as I lived in the outside world I had these or those relations with life: they absorbed me and I accepted them as belonging intimately to me. I prized this or that; I believed that this or that was necessary for living. Moreover, I had friends with whom I was on terms of intimacy by virtue of the habits and circumstances of daily life. Then came the time when I found Anthroposophy. Since that moment, much in my life has come to a stop. I have moved right away from many of the old connections; or at least they no longer have the same value for me. Many things that I enjoyed doing have become repulsive to me; I can no longer regard them as things with which I want to remain connected.

And if, having embarked on these reflections, he carries his thought a little farther, and tries to find what it is that has taken the place of these things, he will very quickly discover that his egoism has not decreased. I do not say this reproachfully, no, not even with the faintest shadow of reproach; I merely wish to state it as a fact which anyone is quite well able to observe in himself. His egoism has, in fact, increased; he pays far more heed now to the special way in which he himself is constituted. He asks more than he ever did before: “What sort of impression does my neighbour make on me?” Previously he had been accustomed to take the actions of another person more or less for granted. Now he enquires about the impression they have made on himself. Or, again, he may have been placed within some connection of life which used to seem quite satisfactory. He fulfilled his duties, and so forth. Now his duties become repulsive to him; he would like to quit them because he feels they are not sufficiently spiritual, and so forth.

Thus it is that spiritual endeavour within Anthroposophy may very easily lead into a kind of egoism; a man tends to attach far greater importance to himself than he did before.

But it all rests on the fact that, in such a case, there has been no expansion of interest towards the outside world; on the contrary, interest has been thrust back within. I have often pointed out that one who grows in a true and right way into anthroposophical life, does not take less interest in external life; rather does he, by reason of his Anthroposophy, take far more interest. Everything outside himself begins to be far more interesting to him than before; it has far more value for him. For this, however, it is necessary that he should not withdraw from external life, but perceive, rather, the spirituality in it.

This of course means that certain things begin to show themselves in other human beings which had not been noticed before. But then we must also have the courage to notice these things, and not to overlook them. For consideration of life from the point of view of karma, it is absolutely necessary that we acquire in some measure the power to go out of ourselves and into the other man.

Naturally, this is peculiarly difficult when the other person becomes a means for karmic adjustments in life which are unpleasant, and possibly even painful to us! But unless we are able to go out of ourselves, even in matters which are disagreeable and painful to us, no true and valid study of karma is possible. For let us remind ourselves: — what are the conditions that have to exist in the world for karma to be brought into being?

We are each placed within a certain human life. In the course of it we act, think, and feel in one way or another. We enter into certain relationships with other human beings and within these relationships things happen. We think, feel, will and do things that call for a karmic adjustment. We enter into relationships with other men, and again things happen which demand a karmic adjustment. Try to survey from this point of view one human earthly life and then observe how at the end of it a man passes through the portal of death into the spiritual world. He now lives within the spiritual world. In the spiritual world it is not as in the physical world. In the physical world you stand outside the other man. You stand outside even those people with whom you come in close contact. Between you and the other man there is at least air, and each one has his own skin! So that when you approach another ever so closely, you can always in a certain measure keep yourself to yourself. This, however, is no longer possible when you have gone through the portal of death and dwell in the spiritual world. Let us take a typical case. You have done something to another man which calls for a karmic compensation. You go on living with him, after you have both passed through the portal of death. You live then within the other man; and this not by virtue of your good will or your inner perfection, but compulsorily, if I may put it so.

Suppose A and B go through the portal of death. Afterwards they are in the spiritual world. They confront one another in the spiritual world. Yet, whereas here B lived within himself and A lived within himself, after death A lives in B as well as in himself, and B lives in A as well as in himself. In the spiritual world, men live entirely within one another; and in so doing they are maintained by the forces which they have stored up in their lives on earth. After death we do not enter into relation with just any kind of men; we enter into relation with those with whom we have already established a connection for good or for ill. And it is these connections which bring it about that we live not merely within ourselves but within the other. Now imagine, you have done something to another man, — or, let us say, B has acted towards A in a way which demands karmic compensation. When B passes through the portal of death, then after death, in the passage through the world between death and a new birth, he lives in A. He experiences, within A, what he did to A. And while he is thus living outside himself, he provides for the karmic compensation to be brought about. Thus all that is to be brought to pass as karmic compensation during the next earthly life, you yourself cause by living in the other man. It is only on descending again to the physical world that A makes what you have put into him into his own deed. In the next earthly life he comes to meet you with what you really have willed to inflict upon yourself through him.

When, therefore, in the next earthly life, something is inflicted on me by another man as a karmic compensation, this happens because I laid it into him during the time I lived within him between death and a new birth. At that time it was not his deed at all; it becomes his deed only as he descends again into earth-life. Thus the conditions for the working of karma in the course of evolution arise from the fact that karmically-connected human beings dwell within one another in the time between death and rebirth.

Now when we consider ordinary life on earth, we do not really penetrate very deeply into it. As far as the other man is concerned, we are extraordinarily little aware of him, consciously. For instance, how little we notice any slight difference in the behaviour of another man in relation to ourselves! Suppose we meet a man in life, and he behaves towards us in a certain way. We are aware of it, but we use very little discrimination. We do not observe what entirely different motives and impulses may account for his behaviour. A man, let us say, is antagonistically disposed towards me. This antagonism may be caused by the mere fact that my existence irritates him, because he is attuned to something quite different in life. Therefore he treats me in a certain way. This treatment can be of such a nature that only in the next life is it karmically balanced. In such a case the antagonism can be quite original, not in the least conditioned by preceding earthly lives.

But I may also receive a similar, perhaps even identical, treatment from another man, into whom I myself implanted bit by bit all that comes to me with this treatment, in the time between death and rebirth.

The feeling which can differentiate between two such kinds of treatment, externally similar, is very little developed to-day; it must show itself again, in order that the moral tenor of life may become purer, and man's moral perception stronger. In earlier epochs — in epochs not even very remote from us — such a distinction lay within human comprehension. One felt, e.g. towards one man: He hates me and does this or that out of hate for me; while with another man one had the feeling; he must do something against me, he simply cannot help it, he is inwardly predestined to act in this way.

This feeling, which can be subtly discerned in the facts of life, must again become more general. It will give to life many fine nuances which are of great importance.

There is another difference we must learn to observe. You will readily admit that when a man comes into relation with other men, all manner of things are connected with this relationship, things which do not interest him as much as the relationship itself. Again, I will take a characteristic instance. Suppose you enter a society — I am not thinking now of the Anthroposophical Society; I exclude it for reasons that will emerge in the course of these lectures. The reason why you enter this society may be that you have a karmic link with one or two persons, perhaps with only one person in the society; but you have to participate in everything connected with the society in order to approach this one person as closely as your karmic relations with him demand. While from the point of view of karma the relation to this one man only is important, you share in everything that you come up against in this society, through the people you meet there, etc. So we have to recognise that life confronts us in such a way that the relations into which it brings us are of the most varied shades; quite indifferent relationships may stand side by side with the most significant, in the deepest sense of the word.

But note in this connection, how true it is that external life is frequently only Maya, is in many respects the Great Illusion. Thus it can happen — I will again construct a hypothetical case — that you enter a society, and the relation to the one person, which is well determined karmically, has difficulty in establishing itself. You have to link on to all sorts of people in order to approach that one man. With these other men you make connections which — let us say — appear extremely important to a more rough-and-ready consideration of life; yes, it may be, they make themselves very strongly felt, whereas perhaps the connection which you approach last of all, and which is of real karmic importance, takes its course gently, softly, unobtrusively.

Thus it can really be that the karmically important element in some connection of life appears like a little mount beside giant mountains, which are in reality of lesser importance. To a spiritualised consideration, however, the little hillock reveals itself in its right significance. The events which occur in life cause us many illusions. As a rule we do not know how to judge them if we take only one earthly life into consideration. It is only when we perceive other earthly lives in the background that we can estimate correctly the one earthly life in all its events.

I should like to illustrate this by an example. Strange personalities have appeared in our time. Apart from those of whom I have spoken to you in our studies on karma, a number of quite remarkable personalities have appeared here and there. External study often does not lead at all into karmic connections; we need a study which is able to take note of incisive moments in life. Then we come to see, in all clarity, just those facts which make us realise how illusory external life is unless it is considered on the basis of the spiritual. Recently I mentioned here an example which may have appeared to you very strange, the example of an alchemist of the school of Basil Valentine, who reappeared again as Frank Wedekind.

My starting-point for the observation of this strange karma — the starting-point is not always significant in itself; if afterwards the starting-point has led on to inner clarity, then naturally the whole thing changes — the starting-point in this case was the circumstance that I had hardly ever before seen such hands as Frank Wedekind's, and I saw Frank Wedekind gesticulate with those hands of his when he acted in his own “Hidalla”. The whole apparent chaos of this play (which, as I recently mentioned, is a perfect horror from the ordinary, conventional point of view) connected itself with the impression of his hands that I had had before, and conjured up before my vision the chemical manipulations on which, in a former life, he had been engaged. On the basis of his “Hidalla”, in connection with these strange hands, appeared the earlier incarnation which one could then follow further.

You will see from this how one must develop an eye for what is of real significance in a human being. There are men in whom the countenance is the most characteristic element. But there are also men in whom the most important characteristic is not the face at all, but, for instance, the hands; from the face of such a man one can infer nothing, only from the hands. When you pass on from the individual to the general, precisely in the example which I have just brought forward, you can realise quite clearly how it stands. For these medieval alchemists were of course obliged to acquire extraordinary dexterity with their hands.

In earlier lectures I have spoken of how nothing is suffered to remain of all that man has developed in his head. But that which he bears in the rest of his organism is subsequently brought to expression in the (next) head. Now in childhood the whole forming of the body takes its start from the head. Above all, such expressive organs as the hands are shaped in accordance with the most intimate impulses of the head. We may therefore expect that something very characteristic will appear in the hands or feet of one who has worked in the manner of alchemists.

I say all this to show you how important it is to take one particular thing in its full significance, and to regard as insignificant what frequently presents itself in the sense-world as the most evident, the most essential, the greatest, etc. In our time, as I said, there have appeared many strange and remarkable personalities who stand before us without our being able to arrive at any complete survey of the karmic connections. Just in the case of such personalities it is a question of observing in them what is striking and significant. The fact that somebody was a great artist, for example, is something which may possibly be determined only in the very smallest measure by his karma. But what exactly he does in his art, how he conducts himself in it, these are things that are specially determined in karma. Thus, the very things which, one may say, make life really poetic, reveal themselves to a study of karma.

Let us suppose we can look back on a man's previous incarnations. In respect of the present incarnation they are remarkably illuminating in certain points. But we can never understand how to find our way intelligently in these investigations as long as we make use of the ordinary criteria for understanding and interpreting life. Life becomes a reality in quite a different sense when one resolves to pursue a study of karma in all earnestness.

Let me give you an example. I will in the first place relate quite simply what happened. I was walking one day along a street and I had a picture before me. I see a ship-wrecked man. His ship is far away, and sinking. The man is in a lifeboat, hurrying towards a fairly large island. His gaze is directed strangely, considering that he is still in doubt whether his boat will reach land and his life be safe! He is looking at the bubbling, foaming billows. I am impressed by the fact that he can still gaze at the waves, even though he is liable at any moment to be drowned. A disturbed and shaken soul, but in the shock — and so in a body-free manner — deeply united with Nature.

While still on the same walk — the picture had of course no connection whatever with my surroundings — my way led me to an Art Exhibition where I saw for the first time Boecklin's “Toteninsel” (Island of the Dead). I mention this only that you may see how in approaching these things we must take a wider outlook. It is not simply a matter of meditating upon all one can think and feel about Boecklin from the starting point of his picture, “Island of the Dead”. It need not be so at all; it is quite possible that under certain circumstances one has to revert to something one has seen prophetically, and link that on to one's experience of the picture.

And so, too, when we meet a man in real life. Then, in order to find karmic connections, it is not only important to consider what we experience just in the moment of meeting him; it is often most illuminating to recall some intimate previous experience, for we may find that we understand it only when we see how it connects with what we afterwards perceive in him or through him.

The very things that prove so illuminating for karma are often things that throw their shadows in advance — or, we may also say, their light. We need a fine sense for the intimacies of life, which sometimes means that we not only connect the future with the past, but regard the past as something that elucidates the future. Unless we can learn to look at life in this intimate way, we shall not easily develop that inner mobility of soul which is necessary for a deeper penetration into karmic connections.

It is indeed a fact that when specially significant karmic events enter a man's life, they are connected with inner events in his life which may date from several years previously. We have to acquire in this way an expanded view of life.

For think of the following: — When you look at the thinking element in man, as it exists in ordinary consciousness, you find it related only to the past. When, however, you look at human feeling, with the many shades and nuances it receives from emotional and temperamental depths, then you come upon very strange secrets of life. The course of a man's life can be very little gauged by the way he thinks; but very much by the way he feels. And when you observe such a life, let us say, as Goethe's, and ask yourself: How did Goethe feel in the year 1790? — then, through the peculiar stamp and character of Goethe's feeling in the year 1790 you get the entire later colouring of his life; it is all present as a nucleus in the feeling of 1790. As soon as we descend into the depths of the human soul we really perceive the peculiar colouring — not of course the details — of the subsequent life. A man might gain a great deal of illumination on his own life if he paid more attention to the inexplicable shades of feeling which are not caused from without but from the depths within.

Men will accustom themselves to taking this kind of thing specially into account if they pay attention to the points I have mentioned to-day. I shall have more to say about them: they are important for a consideration of life that intends to take note of karmic connections. And this holds good, whether one is dealing with karmic connections in one's own life, or with karmic connections of those who are dear to one. For you must understand that if one desires to consider karma, it is a question really of looking through a human being in a certain way. When no more than the ordinary physical human being stands in your field of vision, he stands there before you non-transparent. You look at his face, at the way he moves about and behaves, at the way he speaks, or perhaps even also at the way he thinks, — the latter being, on the whole, generally only a conventional reflection of his upbringing and experience. But so long as you look no further than this, the karma of this human being does not stand objectively before you.

When, however, a man becomes transparent for you, then at first you really have the feeling that he is hovering in the air. Gradually it comes about that you no longer think of him as walking or moving his arms and hands. You lose all sense of this. Understand me aright, my dear friends. In ordinary life what a man does with his arms and legs is extremely important. But this loses its importance when one wishes to observe the deeper elements in man. You must take what I am saying in its fullest meaning. Can you look right away from what a man achieves by means of his arms and hands, and see him hovering, as it were, not so much in respect of space as in respect of life? I mean, take no account of journeys he has made, of all his goings and comings, in short, of all he does with his legs; and attach equally little importance to the work he does with his hands. Watch rather his mood, his temperament; watch everything in him in which arms and legs take no part. Then you have, so to speak, the first transparency to which you can attain. And what will this first transparency show? Picture to yourselves, you have here an object. At first you see nothing but the object. Well and good. But then something is drawn upon the object. And now it is again erased. This is how it is with man when you arrive at the first transparency, when you look away from the man of ordinary life and completely disregard his arms and legs. You have to tear him right out of the connections into which he has come through the activity of his arms and legs. If you now observe him, something in him becomes transparent, and you look through to what was previously covered up by the activity of arms and legs.

And what is it you see? You begin to understand that behind the man the Moon appears. I will draw here diagrammatically the threefold man. Now suppose, this (i.e. the lower part) first becomes transparent; we disregard the arms and legs. Then the man no longer appears to us detached from the universe as he otherwise does; he begins to reveal behind him the Moon, with all the impulses which work in man from the Moon. We begin to say: “Yes, man has a certain power of phantasy, — whether it be developed or no, he has this power in him. He cannot help it. Moon forces are behind this. They are hidden from us only by the activity of arms and legs. But now all that has vanished, and in the background appears before us the creative Moon.”

We go on. We try to make man still more transparent. By a kind of suggestion, we think away all that makes man emotional, all that endows him with a certain temperament — in short, those features — of his every-day life in which his soul-nature is chiefly expressed. Still more disappears; he becomes still more transparent. And we can go farther. We can disregard all that exists in man, because he has senses. First, you disregard everything that is in man by virtue of his having arms and legs. Now you ask yourself: what remains over from man, when I ignore the fact that he has ever perceived anything by means of his senses? There remains a certain direction of thought, a certain impulsive force of his thought, a tendency of life. At this point, however, the whole rhythmic system, the breast of man, becomes transparent. It vanishes, and in the background appears before you all that exists there as Sun-impulse (see diagram). You look through man and behold in reality the Sun, when you ignore all that man has perceived by means of his senses. You can try this on yourself. You can ask yourself: what do I owe to my senses? And then, when you look away from all this, you see through yourself and behold yourself as a Sun-being.

And when further you disregard man's thoughts, the direction of his thinking, then the head too disappears. Now the whole man is gone. You look through, and finally behold Saturn in the background. But in this moment, the man's karma, or your own karma, lies open before you. For in the moment when you observe the working of Saturn in a man, when a man has become entirely transparent to you, and you observe him so extensively that you behold him on the background of the whole planetary system — on the background of Moon, Sun and Saturn — in that moment the karma of the man lies open before you. And if one is going to speak of practical karma-exercises — I told you already that I wanted to do it at the beginning of the foundation of the Anthroposophical Society, but did not succeed at that time — then one must really begin in this way. One must say: It is a matter first of all of disregarding — in ourselves or in others — all that we are in life, inasmuch as we are beings endowed with arms and legs. Cut this right out of your thought. All you have ever attained through the fact that you are a being endowed with arms and legs — this you must ignore.

Then you will say: “Yes, but we fulfil our karma just because we have arms and legs!” So you do. So long, however, as you look at your arms and legs, you are not aware of what it is you fulfil through having arms and legs. This you see only when you no longer look at your arms and legs any more, but find in the activity of arms and legs the impulses of the Moon. Then it is a matter of going a step further, and disregarding all that man absorbs by means of his senses, what he has in his soul by means of his senses — whether you are practising the exercise with yourself or with others. You behold man then as Sun-being, you see the Sun-impulse in him. And again, you must disregard the fact that he has a certain tendency of thought, a certain tendency of soul — then you realise him to be a Saturn-being.

Should you arrive thus far, then you have man once more before you, but now — as a spirit. Now the legs move and the arms work, but spiritually, and they show us what they do. But they show us this according to the forces which work and rule in them. This is what we have to learn and experience.

When I do the most trifling thing, when I pick up the chalk here — as long as I merely see this fact, the picking-up of the chalk, then I know nothing of karma. I must do away with all this. I must bring it about that all this can reproduce itself in a picture, can appear again in a picture. Not in the strength that is contained in my muscles — this can explain nothing at all — but in the picture that takes the place of the act, appears the force that induces the hand to move, in order to pick up the chalk. And it appears as something coming from previous incarnations.

This is how it is, when I gradually do away with visible man in the above manner and see behind him his Moon-impulses, his Sun-impulses, and his Saturn-impulses. Then the image or picture of the man comes to meet me again from the cosmos. But it is not the man in his present incarnation; it is the man in one of his preceding incarnations or in several previous incarnations. I must first bring it about that the man who is walking here at my side, becomes transparent for me, ever more and more transparent, in that I put away from my vision his whole life. Then there comes to the same spot, but now proceeding from cosmic distances, the man as he was in his previous earthly lives.

Perhaps what has been placed before you to-day about these connections is not at once altogether clear and comprehensible. But I wanted to point the way prospectively, as it were, and in the coming lectures we shall enter into more and more detailed considerations of the nature of karma as it flows in human life from one incarnation to another.