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The Foundations of Esotericism
GA 93a

Lecture XVI

Berlin, 11th October 1905

If we wish to understand the whole way in which Karma works, a subject we are now going to approach, we must be able to form a conception of what is called Nirvana. Very much is involved in a complete understanding of the significance of Nirvana, but we will try to gain an introductory idea of it.

In any action carried out by man there is in fact very little present of anything that might be called freedom, for man is actually the result of his deeds in the past. This is the case in the widest sense of the word. So that he should become what he is, all the kingdoms of Nature had first to be created. The mineral, plant and animal kingdoms, which he once had within him, he gradually put out from himself. To this must be added what he acquired in the time following the first third of the Lemurian race. All that he carried out in the way of deeds, all that he experienced in his soul as thoughts and feelings, belong also to his past, become his Karma. We look into a past which at the same time shows its results in the forms around us. The whole of our surrounding world is nothing other than the result of past deeds. In this same way man is now making preparation for what will happen in the future.

We are nevertheless continually faced with things which are not altogether the results of past deeds, but which bring something new into the world. A certain man, let us say Mr. Kiem, is the result of past deeds. The Theosophical Society too is the result of past deeds and that he is brought into connection with it is also such a result. Something new arises however through Mr. Kiem's relationship to the Theosophical Society: this again is the cause of future deeds. When light shines against a stick, a shadow arises behind it. That is actually something new. When we observe this effect we say to ourselves, something has taken place that is new. The relationship of one thing to another is something new; the forming of the shadow.

Everything which a person usually thinks, he thinks about things, about what has come into being already. He can however turn his thoughts towards relationships of a kind that have not been brought about as the result of earlier causes, but that appear in the present. This happens very seldom, for people hang on to the old, to what has formed like strata around them. Relationships which make their appearance as something altogether new form very little of the content of human thoughts. Anyone wishing to work for the future must however have those thoughts which will produce new connections between one thing and another. Only thoughts dealing with such connections can yield something new. One sees this best in art. What the artist creates is not there in reality. The mere form worked upon by the sculptor is not in fact there; it is no product of Nature. In Nature there is only the form pulsed through with life. A mere form would contradict natural laws. The artist builds something new out of relationships. The painter paints what arises out of relationships: light and shade; he does not paint what is actually there. He does not paint the tree, but an impression which is called up by all he experiences with regard to the tree.

In practical actions also man usually produces nothing new. The majority of people only do what has already been done. Only a few people create out of moral intuition, in that they bring new duties, new deeds into the world. What is new comes into the world through relationships. This is why it is often said that the very nature of simple moral action lies in relationships. Such moral action consists for example in deeds brought about by a relationship based on goodwill. One finds with most actions that they are rooted in the old: even in the case of actions and events where something new makes its appearance, these too are generally rooted in the old.

With more exact investigation this usually become apparent. Only those actions are free which are in no way based on the foundation of the past, but where man only carries out actions in the world which are combined with the productive activity of his reason. Such actions are called in occultism: Creation out of Nothing.51This spiritual-scientific concept of Rudolf Steiner is also to be found in the lecture Evolution, Involution and Creation out of Nothing 17.6.1909 (also contained in The Being of Man and his Future Evolution). See also lecture 15.9.1907 in Occult Signs and Symbols All other actions are produced out of Karma. Here we have two opposites: Karma and its opposite, Nothingness, an activity that is not rooted in Karma.

And now let us imagine a person whose actions, thoughts and feelings are conditioned by Karma; through deeds, thoughts ... feelings rising out of the past. One may then think of him having advanced so far that all Karma is eliminated and he is therefore faced with Nothingness. When he then does something one says in occultism: He acts out of Nirvana. For example, it was out of Nirvana that the actions of a Buddha or a Christ arose, at least in part. In the ordinary way a person approaches this only when he is inspired by art, religion or world-history.

Action arising out of intuition comes out of Nothingness. Whoever would attain to this must become completely free from Karma. He can then no longer draw his impulses from the usual sources. The mood which then comes over him is that of divine bliss, a state which is also called Nirvana.

How does the human being ascend to Nirvana? We must look back into Lemurian times. There we find man, as he is on the earth, at first going on all fours. These beings, in which at that time man, ‘pure man’, (as Monad) incarnated, went on all fours. Through the fact that the Monads incarnated in them, these beings gradually raised their front limbs and attained an upright position. Now for the first time Karma begins. Karma, as human Karma, first became possible when human beings made use of their hands for work. Before this man made no individual Karma. It was a very important stage of human development when man, from a horizontal, became a vertical being, thereby freeing his hands. In this way his development led over into the Atlantean epoch.

At the next stage man learned to make use of speech. To begin with he learned the use of his hands, later on, the use of language. Through his hands he filled the surrounding world with deeds; through speech he filled it with words. When a man dies there lives on all that he accomplished through deeds and words in the surrounding world. Everything that he accomplished in the way of deeds remains present as human Karma. What however he produced in the way of words not only remains as his individual Karma, but as something else essentially different.

We can look back at the time when man did not as yet speak, but only performed actions. Then actions were something which only came from the single personality. They ceased however to be only personal when speech began. For now human beings established understanding with one another. This is an extraordinarily important moment in Atlantean development. The moment when the first sound was pronounced, the Karma of humanity began in the world. As soon as human beings speak with one another something common to all flows out from the whole of mankind. Then the purely personal, individual Karma passes over into the general Karma of humanity. With the words which emanate from us we actually spread around us more than just ourselves. In what we speak the whole of humanity is living. Only when the deeds of our hands become selfless will they too become something for the whole of humanity. In his speaking however a man cannot be entirely selfish, for then what he says would have to belong to himself alone. A language can never be entirely selfish, whereas the deeds performed by the hands are mostly so. The occultist says: What I do with my hands can be simply my own concern; what I speak, I speak as member of a nation or a tribe.

Thus our life creates around us remains—personal, rudimentary remains, brought about by the deeds of our hands and general human rudimentary remains brought about by words. These must be clearly differentiated. Everything that surrounds us in Nature—in the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms—is there as the result of earlier deeds. What is now being built up around us by our deeds is actually something new coming into the world. Each single human being brings something new into the world, something new strikes in, and new impulses also strike in coming from mankind as a whole.

If therefore we must say: Man appeared on the earth in the middle of the Lemurian Age and for the first time created his own Karma, before this he had created no individual Karma; we must ask ourselves: Where then can this Karma come from, since its action played in as something new? It can only come from Nirvana. At that time something had to become active in the world that came forth from Nirvana, from that which is ‘created out of nothing’. The beings who at that time fructified the earth had to reach up into Nirvana. Those who fructified the four-footed creatures so that they became human, were beings who descended from the Nirvana plane. They are called Monads. This is why at that time beings of this nature had to come down from the Nirvana plane. The being from the Nirvana plane who is in us, in the human being, is the Monad. Here something new enters into the world and embodies itself in what is already there and which, for its part, is entirely the result of earlier deeds.

We thus differentiate three stages. The first consists in external deeds brought about through the hands; the second is what is brought about through the spoken word, and the third by what is brought about through thought. And thought is something far more comprehensive than the spoken word. Thought is no longer, as with language, different among the different peoples, but belongs to the whole of humanity.

So man ascends from actions, through words to thoughts, and in this way he becomes an ever more universal being. There is no general norm for action, no logic for deeds. Everyone must act for himself. But there is no purely personal speech. Speech belongs to a group. Thought on the other hand belongs to the whole of humanity. Here we have a progression from the particular to the universal in these three human stages: deeds, words, thoughts.

In so far as he expresses himself in the outer world, man leaves behind him traces of the spirit of the whole of humanity as thought; the traces of a human group soul as word; traces of his separate human being as actions. This is most clearly expressed by pointing out the effects of what is brought about through these three stages. An individuality is like a thread which goes through all forms of personal manifestation in the different incarnations. An individuality creates for further incarnations. A people as a speech-community creates for new peoples. Humanity creates for a new humanity, for a new planet. What a man does for himself personally has significance for his next incarnation; what a nation speaks has significance for the next sub-race, for the next incarnation of a people. And when a world will be there in which our entire thinking no longer lives purely as thinking, but makes its appearance in the results of this, thinking, then a new humanity, that is to say, a new planet, comes into being. Without these great perspectives we cannot understand Karma.

What we think, has significance for the next planetary cycles. Let us now enter into the following thoughts: Will the humanity, i.e., what remains of us, which will inhabit a future planet, will this humanity still think? Just as little as a new race will speak the same language as the previous one, just as little will the future humanity still think. It is laughable to ask in our thoughts what Divinity is. On the next planet man will not think, but will comprehend the surrounding world by means of another activity having a form quite different from thought on this planet. Thinking is something connected with us. When we explain the world by means of thought, this world-explanation is for ourselves alone. This is of immensely wide import because the individual sees how as a member of humanity he is also spun into the threads of karma and how he lives and weaves into the whole karmic web.

When the Eastern occultist expounds such things he says: Our whole life is of such a nature that we seem to be surrounded by the boundaries of speaking and thinking. If we do away with these, for the ordinary man hardly anything is left. That something is still left to him when he has gone beyond all this, is the result of esotericism. What then remains is the experience of Nirvana.

The Planetary Spirit who represents the Being of the World is now incarnated in thinking, but in the future will be incarnated in something else.