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Manifestations of Karma
GA 120

4. The Curability and Incurability of Diseases in Relation to Karma

19 May 1910, Hamburg

It may be presumed, in regard to the two ideas which are to form the subject of our present lecture, namely, the curability and incurability of diseases, that there will be clearer conceptions and—one might say—concepts more acceptable to humanity, when the ideas of karma and karmic connections in life have gained ground in wider circles. One may indeed say that in regard to the ideas of the curability and incurability of diseases there have been various opinions in different centuries, and one need not go so very far back to find how greatly these have changed.

We find a time at the turning point between the Middle Ages and modern times, about the sixteenth to the seventeenth century, when the idea gradually gained ground that forms of disease could be strictly limited, and that for every disease there was some sort of herb or mixture by which the disease in question could be cured. This belief lasted for a long time, even into the nineteenth century, and when we as laymen, or as those who have accepted the ideas of the present day, read of the treatment of disease from the end of the eighteenth or the beginning of the nineteenth centuries and for some time later, we are astonished at the remedies and recipes which were largely used at that time: teas, mixtures, more dangerous medicines, blood-letting, etc.

In the nineteenth century this view was reversed into the exact opposite in medical circles, and indeed in distinguished medical circles. I may say that during the earlier years of my life many of these opposing views came before me in various forms. The opportunity for this came to all who followed the progress of the ‘nihilistic school of medicine’ which was started in Vienna about the middle of the nineteenth century and which won more and more favour. The commencement of a radical change in the views on the curability and incurability of diseases was due to what the renowned physician Dietel brought to light in regard to pneumonia and similar diseases. From all kinds of observations he came to the conclusion that fundamentally there is absolutely no real effect to be noticed from the use of various remedies on the course of this or that disease. Under the influence of the school of Dietel, the young doctors of that day learned to think of the healing value of the remedies which had been used for centuries in such a way that they almost outdid what is conveyed in the well-known saying:—‘When the cock crows on the dung-heap the weather will change—or it will remain as it is!’ They were of the opinion that it made little difference to the course of this or that disease whether one administered a certain remedy or not. Now Dietel was one who, for that period, collected very convincing statistics showing that in his so-called ‘wait and see’ treatment, approximately as many people who were suffering from pneumonia were cured or died as was the case in the earlier treatment with time-honoured remedies. The waiting treatment founded by Dietel, and continued by Skoda consisted in bringing the patient into a condition in which he was best able to stimulate the self-healing powers and to draw them forth from his organism. The doctor had little more to do than watch the course of the disease and to be at hand if anything happened, so that he could give practical help with human needs. For the rest, he confined himself to watching the disease come, so to speak, and waiting to see how the self-healing forces came out of the organism, until after a time the fever subsided and self-healing came about.

This school of medicine was called, and is still called, ‘The Nihilistic School,’ because it rested on a statement by Professor Skoda who said approximately:—‘We may perhaps learn to diagnose diseases, to describe them, perhaps even explain them, but we cannot heal them!’ I give you these details of developments in the course of the nineteenth century so that you may realise how ideas have changed on this subject. But because this or that is related in purely narrative form it is not implied that you should take sides in any way, for obviously the statement of the celebrated Professor Skoda was a kind of radicalism, the limits of which are quite easy to define. There was, however, one point or aspect which was repeatedly emphasised by this particular school of medicine. Although they had no means of proving it and had not even the words to describe exactly the content of their conception they repeatedly affirmed that there must be in man some element which determines the appearance and the course of his illness, and which is fundamentally beyond the reach of any human intervention.

Thus a reference was made to something beyond human aid; and if one really goes to the bottom of these things, this indication cannot relate to anything other than the law of karma and its activity in human life. If we follow the course of a disease in human life, how it develops, and how the healing powers spring forth from the organism itself; if we follow the process of healing impartially—particularly if we reflect how in one case a cure takes place, while in another it fails—we shall then be driven to search for a deeper law determining this. Can this deeper law be sought for in the previous earth-life of man? That is a question for us. Can we say that a person brings with him certain predispositions which in one particular case called forth the healing powers from his organism, but which in another case, in spite of every effort, held these forces back?

It will be remembered from the last lecture that in the events which take place between death and a new birth, particular forces are taken into the human individuality. During the period in kamaloca the events of a person's last life, the good and evil deeds he has done, the qualities of his character, etc., come before his soul, and through the vision of his own life he acquires the tendency to bring about the remedy and compensation for all that is imperfect in him and which has manifested as wrong action. He is moved to acquire those qualities which will bring him nearer to perfection in various directions. He forms intentions and tendencies during the time up to a new birth, and goes into existence again with these intentions. Further, he himself works upon the new body which he acquires for his new life, and he builds in conformity with the forces he has brought from previous earthly lives, and from the time between death and re-birth. He is furnished with these forces, and builds them into his new body. From this it may be seen that this new body will be weak or strong according as the person is in the position to build weak or strong forces into it.

Now it must be clearly understood that a certain consequence will come when, for example, during the life in kamaloca, a person sees that in the last life, he did many actions under the influence of the emotions of anger, fear, aversion, etc. These actions now stand vividly before his soul in kamaloca, and in his soul is formed the thought (the expressions which we have to use for these forces are of course coined from the physical life): ‘You must do something to yourself, so that you will become more perfect in this respect, so that in the future you will no longer be inclined to commit such actions under the dominance of your emotions.’ This thought becomes an integral part of the human-soul individuality, and during the passage through to a new birth, it is imprinted still further as a force in the new body. Thus this new body is penetrated with the tendency so to act on the whole organisation of the physical body, the etheric body and astral body, that it will be prevented from performing certain actions resulting from the emotions of anger, hate, envy, etc. He will be impelled to fresh actions which will compensate for previous ones. Thus from a reason which extends far beyond his ordinary rationality, the person is imbued with a strong desire for a higher perfection in certain directions, and with the desire also to compensate for certain deeds. If we consider how manifold life is, and how day by day we perform actions which require compensation of this sort, we shall understand that when the soul enters into a next existence on earth, it contains many such thoughts waiting to be balanced, and that these manifold thoughts and tendencies cross one another, making the human physical body and etheric body receive a complex warp and woof of such tendencies and desires. To illustrate this, let us take a striking case, and I must again repeat that I avoid speaking from any sort of theory or hypothesis, and that when I give examples I give only those that have been tested by Spiritual Science.

Let us suppose that in his previous life a person acted from an Ego-feeling which was much too weak, and which allowed of too much influence from the outer world—so much so that it gave to his actions a lack of independence, a lack of character which no longer fits the present state of humanity. Thus it was this lack of feeling of self which led him in one incarnation to perform certain actions. During the kamaloca period, he had before him the actions which have proceeded from this atrophy of his Ego and from this he acquires the tendency: ‘You must develop within you forces which increase your feeling of personality; in your next incarnation you must seek for opportunities to strengthen this feeling, to train it, as it were, against the opposition of your body, against the forces which will come to you in your next incarnation from your physical body, etheric body and astral body. You must make a body which will show you the consequences of a weak personality.’

The effect of this in the next incarnation will not be able fully to enter into the consciousness; it will run its course more or less in a sub-conscious region. The person in question will strive for an incarnation in which he will encounter the greatest opposition to his Ego-consciousness, so that he has to exert these feelings to the highest degree. This striving draws him, as if magnetically, to places and circumstances where he meets with great hindrances, so that his Ego is stimulated into action in opposition to the organisation of the three bodies. Strange as it may sound, the individualities who have this karma, coming into existence by birth in the way we have described, seek opportunities where, for instance, they will be exposed to an epidemic such as cholera, for this gives them the opportunity of meeting with the opposition we have described above. The activity which is thus experienced in the inner being of the person who is ill owing to the opposition of the three bodies, can then so work that in the next incarnation his feeling of self will be much stronger.

Let us take another striking instance, and so that we may perceive the connection, we will purposely take exactly the opposite case. During the kamaloca period, a person sees that he has acted from too strong a feeling of self. He sees that he must be more temperate as regards this feeling and that he must subdue it. So he will seek an opportunity whereby in the next incarnation his threefold organism will so condition him that his Ego-consciousness, however much it strives, will find no limitations, and he will be led to the unfathomable and to absurdity. These opportunities come to him when karma brings him malaria.

Here you have a case of disease brought about by karma which explains that fundamentally man is led by a higher kind of reason than he perceives with his ordinary consciousness to circumstances which in the course of his karma are favourable to his development. If we bear in mind what has just been said, we shall find it much easier to understand the epidemic nature of diseases. We could bring forward many different examples showing how, because of his experience in the kamaloca period, a man actually seeks for the opportunity to get a certain illness, in order that by overcoming it and by developing the self-healing forces, he may gain strength and power which will lead him upward on the path of evolution.

I said previously that if a person has done many things under the influence of his passions, he will in the kamaloca period live through actions which have also come about under such an influence. This will arouse in him the tendency in his next incarnation to experience some obstacle in his own body and by overcoming this, he will be in the position to compensate for certain actions in his previous life. Especially is this the case in the form of illness which in these modern times we call diptheric, which in many cases appears when there is a karmic complication due to previous acts which were dominated by the emotions and passions.

In the course of these lectures, we shall have to speak on the causes of various illnesses, but we must now go still more deeply if we wish to answer the question: ‘If a person enters into existence in such a way that, through his karma, he brings with him the tendency whereby he overcomes suffering to gain some other thing, how, then, does it come about that one succeeds in overcoming the disease and acquiring forces which bring him higher, while another succumbs, and the disease is the victor?’ Here we have to go back to the spiritual principles which allow disease to be possible in human life.

If a man can fall ill, and can through karma even seek illness—this is due to a certain principle that has come already before us in our studies of Spiritual Science. We know that at a certain point in the Earth's evolution there penetrated into the development of humanity the forces we call luciferic, which belong to beings who remained behind during the ancient Moon evolution, and who did not advance far enough to reach, as it were, the normal point of their development. Thereby was implanted into the astral body of man, before his Ego could work in the proper manner, a principle which streamed from these luciferic beings. So the influence of these beings was once exercised on man's astral body, and he has retained it throughout his evolution. This influence plays a great part in human evolution; but for our present task it is important to point out that as a result of these forces, he had within him that which led him to be less perfect than he would otherwise have been if such influence had not come. It also gave him the tendency to act and judge more from his emotions, passions and desires, than he would have done if the luciferic influence had not entered. This influence produced a change in the real individuality of man who became more subject to what we may call ‘World of Desire’ than would otherwise have been the case, and it is because of this influence that man has become much more identified with the physical earthly world than he would otherwise have been. Through the luciferic influence man has entered more into his body and has identified himself more with it, for if the influence of the luciferic beings had not been there, many of the things that allure man to desire this or that would not have come. Man would have been quite indifferent to these allurements. But allurements of the external world of the senses came through this influence of Lucifer, and man yielded to them. The individuality which was given by the Ego was permeated with the activities proceeding from the luciferic principle, and so it came about that in his first incarnation on earth man succumbed to the allurements of the luciferic principle, and carried these enticements with him into later lives. We can say that the way in which he succumbed to the allurements of the luciferic principle, became an integral part of his karma.

Now, if man had taken only this principle into himself he would have succumbed more and more to the allurements of the physical earth world; he would gradually have been obliged to resign the prospect of breaking loose again from this world. We know that the Christ influence which came later opposed the luciferic principle and balanced it again, as it were, so that in the course of evolution man again received the means by which to rid himself of the luciferic influence. But with this influence something else was given at the same time. The fact that this influence had penetrated into his astral body made the whole of the external world into which he entered appear different to him. Lucifer entered into the inner being of man, who then saw the world around him through Lucifer. His vision of the earthly world was thereby clouded and his external impressions were mingled with what we call the ahrimanic influence. Ahriman could only insinuate himself and make the external world into illusion because we had previously created from within the tendency towards illusion and maya. Thus the ahrimanic influence which came into the external world was a consequence of the luciferic influence. We may say that when once the luciferic forces were there, man enmeshed himself more in the sense-world than he would have done without this influence; but thereby he absorbed the ahrimanic influence with every external perception. Thus in the human individuality which goes through incarnations on the earth, there is a luciferic influence, and, as a result of this, the ahrimanic influence. These two powers are continually fighting in the human individuality which has become their field of battle.

Man in his ordinary consciousness is still exposed to the allurements of Lucifer which work from the passions and emotions of his astral body; also he is subject to the enticements of Ahriman which come to him from outside in the way of error, deception, etc., in regard to the outer world. As long as a person is incarnated on the earth his ideas put an obstacle in the way, so that what comes from Lucifer and Ahriman cannot penetrate deeper, but finds a hindrance in his concepts, his acts being subservient to his moral or intellectual judgement. But when a person between birth and death sins against morality in following Lucifer, or against logic or sound thinking in following Ahriman, that concerns only his ordinary conscious soul life. When, on the other hand, he passes through the portal of death, the life of idea which is bound to the instrument of the brain ceases, and a different form of consciousness begins; then, all the things which in the life between birth and death were submitted to the moral or rational judgement, penetrate down into the foundation of the human being, into that which, after kamaloca, organises the next existence and imprints itself into the plastic forces, which then construct a threefold human body. Errors resulting from devotion to Ahriman develop into forces of disease which affect man through his etheric body. Faults which were the object of a moral judgement between birth and death develop into causes of disease which work more from the astral body.

From this we see how, in fact, our errors from the ahrimanic forces within us, including such voluntary errors as lies, etc., develop into causes of disease, if we do not merely consider the one incarnation, but observe the effect of one incarnation on the next. We see also how the luciferic influences in the same way become the causes of disease, and we may in fact say, ‘our errors do not go unpunished. We bear the stamp of our errors in our next incarnation.’ But we do this from a higher reason than that of our ordinary consciousness—from a consciousness which during the period between death and a new birth directs us to make ourselves so strong that we shall no longer be exposed to these temptations. Thus in our life, disease even plays the part of a great teacher. If we study illnesses in this way we shall see unmistakably that an illness is a manifestation of either luciferic or ahrimanic influences. When these things are understood by those who under the guidance of Spiritual Science wish to become physicians, the influence of these healers on the human organism will be infinitely more profound than it can be today.

We can examine certain forms of disease from this standpoint. Let us take pneumonia for example; it is a karmic effect which follows when during his life in kamaloca the person in question looks back to a character which had within it the tendency towards sexual excess, and a desire to live a sensual life. Do not confuse what is now ascribed to a previous consciousness with what appears in the consciousness in the following incarnation. This is quite a different matter. Indeed, that which a person sees during his life in kamaloca will so transform itself that forces are imprinted in him by means of which he will overcome pneumonia. For it is exactly in the overcoming of this disease, in the self-healing which is then striven for that the human individuality acts in opposition to the luciferic powers and wages a pitched battle against them. Therefore in the overcoming of pneumonia is given the opportunity to lay aside that which was a defect in the character in a previous incarnation. In this complaint we see unmistakably the war of man against the luciferic powers.

Now the case is different in the so-called ‘tuberculosis of the lungs,’ when we see the singular phenomenon whereby the self-healing forces become active, and the injurious influences are surrounded and framed in by a calcareous matter with a tissue which is then filled in and which forms solid concretions. A person may have these concretions in his lungs, and many more people have such things than is usually supposed, for these are the persons in whom a tuberculous lung has been healed. Where such a thing has taken place, a war has been waged by the human inner being against what the ahrimanic forces have produced. It is a defensive process from within against what has been brought about by external materiality, in order to lead to the independence of the human being in this special sense.

We have shown how, in fact, the two principles—the ahrimanic and the luciferic—are at work at the very foundation of a disease. And in many ways it can be pointed out that in the various forms of disease one distinguishes essentially two types, the ahrimanic and the luciferic. If this were considered, the true principles would be discovered by which to find a suitable remedy for the patient; for luciferic diseases will require entirely different remedies from the ahrimanic. To-day external forces are used for the purposes of healing in a way which betrays a certain want of judgement—forces such as electro-therapy, the cold water treatment, etc. Much light could be thrown by Spiritual Science on the suitability of one method or another, if it were first decided whether a luciferic or ahrimanic illness is being treated. For example, electro-therapeutics ought not to be used in illnesses which originate from luciferic causes, but only in ahrimanic forms of illness. For electricity, which has no connection whatever with the activities of Lucifer, is useless in treating luciferic forms of disease; it belongs to the sphere of the ahrimanic beings, although, of course, other beings beside the ahrimanic make use of the forces of electricity. On the other hand, warmth and cold belong to the sphere of Lucifer. Everything which has to do with making the human body warmer or colder, or that which makes it warmer or colder through external influences, belongs to the sphere of Lucifer; and in all the cases in which we have to deal with warmth or cold we have a type of luciferic form of disease.

From this we see how karma works in illness and how it works to overcome illness. It will now no longer seem incomprehensible that in karma there also lies the curability or incurability of a disease. If we clearly understand that the aim—the karmic aim of illness is the progress and the improvement of man, we must presume that if a man in accordance with the wisdom which he brings with him into this existence from the kamaloca period contracts a disease, he then develops the healing forces which involve a strengthening of his inner forces and the possibility of rising higher. Let us suppose that man in the life before him, owing to his other organism and his remaining karma were, to have the force of progressing during this life itself by means of that which he has acquired through illness. Then the healing has an object. The person comes forth healed from the illness, having gained what he was to gain. Through the conquest of the illness he has acquired perfect forces where previously he had imperfect forces. If through his karma he is equipped with such powers, and if through the favourable circumstances of his former fate he is so placed in the world that he can use the new forces, and can work so as to be of use to himself and others, then healing comes about and he recovers.

Now let us suppose a case in which a person overcomes a disease, develops the healing forces, and then is confronted with a life which exacts from him a degree of perfection he has not yet gained. He would, indeed, gain something through the conquered disease, but it is, however, impossible—because the rest of his karma does not admit it—with the little he has gained to assist others. Then it comes about that his deeper subconsciousness says:—‘Here you have no opportunity of receiving the full force of what you really ought to have. You had to go into this incarnation to gain the degree of perfection which you can only attain in the physical body by overcoming the disease. That you had to acquire; but you cannot develop it further. You have now to go into conditions in which your physical body and the other forces do not disturb you, where you can freely work out what you have gained through the illness.’ Such an individual seeks for death so as to use further, between death and another birth, what he cannot use in life. Such a soul goes through the phase between death and re-birth in order to construct an organisation with the stronger forces it has gained by overcoming disease. In this way through the presence of an illness, a payment on account, as it were, may be made, and the payment is completed after passing through death.

When we consider the matter in this way we shall say: It undoubtedly seems to be founded on karma that one illness ends in being cured and another terminates in death. If we see illnesses terminated in this way, we shall obtain through karma, from a higher standpoint a kind of reconciliation, a profound reconciliation with life; for we shall know that it lies within the law of karma that—even if an illness terminates in death—man progresses, and that even in such a case the illness has the object of bringing the person higher. Now no one must draw from this the conclusion that we ought to wish that death should take place in certain cases of illness. No one may say this, because the decision regarding what ought to happen, whether healing or otherwise, belongs to a higher power of judgement than the one included in our ordinary consciousness. In the world which lies between birth and death, and with our ordinary consciousness, we must humbly let such questions stand over. With our higher consciousness we may, however, even take the standpoint that death is the gift of the higher spiritual powers. But that consciousness which is to help and set to work in life must not presume to place itself along with this higher consciousness, for we might then easily err and we should interfere unjustifiably in something which must never be interfered with, namely, the sphere of human freedom. If we can help a person to develop the self-healing forces, or assist him to aid nature, so that a cure may come about, we must do it. And if the question should arise as to whether the patient ought to live on further, or whether he would be more helped if he died, our assistance must nevertheless always be given towards healing. If this is done we help the human individuality to use its own powers, and the medical assistance only supports him in this. It does not work into the human individuality. It would be quite different if we were to help on an incurable disease in a person in order that he should seek his further progress in another world. We should then interfere with his individuality, and deliver this up to another sphere of action. We should be imposing our will upon the other and we must leave this to the other individual himself. In other words, we must do everything possible for him to be cured; for all the deliberation which leads to a cure comes from the consciousness which is ripe for our Earth, and all other measures would reach beyond our Earth sphere. Other forces than those which belong to our ordinary consciousness would then have to work.

Thus we see that a true karmic understanding concerning the curability and incurability of disease leads to our doing everything possible to help the person who is ill, and, on the other hand, it also leads to our being comforted if a different decision comes from another sphere. We do not require anything else as regards this other decision. It is necessary for us to find a point of view from which the incurability of a disease does not depress us, as though the world contained only what is imperfect and evil. The conception of karma does not paralyse our activities in regard to healing. On the contrary, it will again bring us into harmony with regard to the hardest fate, with regard to the incurability of a certain illness.

Thus we have seen today how the understanding of karma alone makes it possible for us to comprehend the course of an illness in the right way, and to understand that in our present life we see the karmic effects of our previous life. Detailed examples will be given later when we discuss the other subject. We have now to distinguish between illnesses which come from the inner being of man, which appear as the result of karma, and those illnesses which come to us apparently by chance, through our being exposed to some accident or other. In brief, we shall now see how we may arrive at a karmic understanding of accidents, as, for example, when one falls under the wheels of a railway train. How are we to understand so-called accidents in connection with karma?