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Vital Questions in the Light of Reincarnation and Karma
GA 125

26 November 1910, Bremen

Translated by Catherine E. Creeger

Today in this branch meeting we will begin with several of life’s crucial issues that touch each of us daily. After that, we will rise to higher spiritual viewpoints for a while. I would like to start with two human qualities, two human errors or failings that are experienced as negative, as decreasing a person’s worth. We will speak about what we call envy and lying.

If you look around in life, you will easily notice that as a rule, there is a very natural antipathy to these two human qualities. Also, when we look up to other people as leaders among human beings, we see that they value the absence of these two failings. Goethe, for instance, was very concerned with self-knowledge and thinking about his own mistakes, and mentioned that while he had certain faults and certain assets, what seemed most important to him was that he could not count envy among his fadings. And the famous Benvenuto Cellini said that he was glad he didn’t need to accuse himself of lying. So we see that these great personalities sensed the importance of struggling against these two human qualities. And even the simplest, most unsophisticated individuals agree with leaders of humanity in their negative assessment of these failings.

If we ask ourselves why these two qualities are so instinctively condemned, we realize that almost nothing else is less compatible with one of the most important earthly qualities; envy and lying are incompatible with what we call empathy for other people. When we envy someone, we tend not to yield to the particular virtue devoted to the deepest, inmost kernel of that person’s being, to the divine in the other person. Actually, to empathize with someone is of value only when you are also able to appreciate the other person’s essence, his or her spiritual being. However, as a basis for empathy, appreciation for others includes recognition of their assets and the ability to take pleasure in their successes and level of development. All of this precludes envy. Envy shows itself to be a quality that is very closely related to an individual’s greatest egotism.

Something similar can be said about lying. If we tell an untruth, we break the law that applies to the truth—to create a bond that includes all individuals. What is true is the truth for all human beings. More than anything else, truth allows us to practice the development of a consciousness that includes all human beings. If we tell an untruth, we commit a heinous act against the bond meant to connect one human heart with another.

This is how things look when we consider them from the viewpoint of human beings. When we consider them from the viewpoint of spiritual science, we know that the effects of our earlier incarnations are being worked out in this lifetime, and that we are subject to many different influences. There are two great influences in particular that have to be worked through again and again—specifically, what we call the luciferic and the ahrimanic influences. We will not attempt to cover these from the cosmological point of view today, but will restrict ourselves to the life of human individuals. We will imagine that we have passed through many incarnations and that the power of Lucifer was already working on our astral body when we were going through our very first incarnation. Since then, this luciferic power has always been the power that tempts our astral body. Forces are present that proceed from Lucifer and exert an influence on our astral body. Basically, Lucifer’s efforts are directed toward gaining influence over the human astral body on Earth. We can find him in everything that pulls the astral body down, in all the qualities that live in our astral body as egotistical passions, desires, urges, and wishes. Thus, it must be clear that envy is one of Lucifer’s worst effects on us. Everything living in our soul that can be counted as envy falls into his territory, and each time we have an attack of envy, Lucifer takes hold of the urges in our astral body.

Ahriman, on the other hand, influences our ether body. Everything to do with disturbances of judgment derives from him—both the unintentional disturbance of arriving at a false judgment, and the deliberate one of lying. When we succumb to lying, Ahriman is at work in our ether body.

It is interesting that we feel these influences strongly enough to experience such great antipathy when they appear, and that people will do everything to combat these two qualities of envy and lying. You will not easily find people who consciously admit that they want to be envious. To be sure, “I envy you” has crept into our language as an idiom, but what it means is not so very bad; we do not mean actual envy when we say it. In any case, as soon as we notice envy or lying in ourselves, we do everything we can to combat it, and in doing so we take up the struggle against Lucifer and Ahriman in this particular area.

Often, however, something then happens that we should notice when applying ourselves to spiritual science. We can combat individual attacks of envy and lying, but when these qualities are stuck in our soul—when we have acquired them in earlier incarnations and are now combating them—they then appear as different qualities. When we try to combat a tendency to envy stemming from earlier incarnations, this envy puts on a mask. Lucifer says, “This person has noticed feelings of envy and is fighting me; I’ll turn this person over to my brother Ahriman.” And then a different influence takes effect, one that is a consequence of combating envy. Qualities that we are struggling against appear in disguise. Often the envy that we are fighting takes the form of an urge to seek out other people’s mistakes and to make them aware of them with a great deal of reproach. We encounter many people in our life who always discover the mistakes and negative aspects of others, as if with a certain clairvoyant strength. If we search for the basis of this phenomenon, we find that envy has been transformed into a compulsion to reproach, which the people in question take to be a very desirable quality. It is a good thing, so they say, to make people aware of the presence of their bad qualities. However, there is nothing more behind this compulsion to reproach than transformed envy in disguise. We should learn to recognize whether such qualities are the original ones or whether they are transformations of something else. In the process, we must consider whether such individuals were envious as children—perhaps we drove the envy out of them, and they have now become compulsive reproachers.

Lying also often transforms itself in our lifetime and shows itself in disguise. Lying can make us feel ashamed, but it’s not easily uprooted, and very often it metamorphoses into a certain superficiality with regard to the truth. It’s important for us to know these things so we can observe what we encounter in another person in life. People like this are satisfied with answers that make us ask, “How can they possibly be satisfied with an answer Eke that?” It is easy for them to say, “Yes, yes, of course, that’s the way it is.” Very often, this is the end product of the transformation of a personal tendency toward lying. We need to test the law of karma, particularly with regard to such qualities. People don’t pay attention to them, for among all the various beings at work on different planes, human beings are the most forgetful.

For instance, if we are acquainted with a person and remain close over the years, we can observe how some things in this person change. If we are still close after thirty years, we might find noteworthy connections within that person’s life when we look back over a lifetime together, while the person in question knows nothing about it, and has forgotten it all. We really should observe such things in life, however. Important connections become evident. For example, a certain person is envious as a child. Later, the envy is no longer evident, but at a later age it appears transformed as a lack of independence in the person in question, of wanting to be dependent on others. It appears in the form of ideas of being unable to stand on one’s own two feet, of always needing other people around to advise and help. A specific moral weaknesS appears as a consequence of the transformation of envy. When someone has this moral weakness, we will always find that this is the karmic consequence of transformed envy.

When transformed, lying creates a shyness later in life. In later life, someone who tended to lie as a child doesn’t dare to look people in the eye. Out in the country, people have an instinctive elemental knowledge of this, although it doesn’t function on the level of concepts. They say that you shouldn’t trust a person who can’t look you in the eye. Shyness and reserve that stem not from modesty but from fear of meeting other people are the karmic consequences of lying during the same incarnation.

What appears in this way as a moral weakness within an incarnation has an organizing influence on the next incarnation. The soul’s weakness resulting from envy cannot significantly destroy the body during this present incarnation, when the body has already been built up. But when we die and return in a new incarnation, the effect of these forces is such that they become organic weaknesses in building up the new body. We find that people who have possessed transformed envy in a previous incarnation form a weak body. We say without prejudice that a person is weak simply because people need to know what is weak and what is strong. When a person is easily susceptible to different influences and puts up no resistance, then we know that the person s body is weak, and that this weakness is the result of envy that was transformed earlier.

Now we must realize, however, that when a child is born into a particular environment as a weak child, we should not imagine that only this inner karma is active, but also that people are brought together in their surroundings for a reason, and not by chance. This aspect of karma—our adaptation to our environment—is extremely easy to see. A flower such as an edelweiss, for example, can only thrive in the environment to which it is adapted, and a human being also thrives only in the environment to which he or she is adapted. The simplest possible logic necessarily tells us this, for we can only understand life when we take this into account. Each being conforms to its environment; nothing is by chance. Therefore, we are born into the group of people we have envied or reproached; we find ourselves with our weak body among the people we have envied for their accomplishments in a previous incarnation, or something like this. It is infinitely important to know these things, because we understand fife only when we include them in our considerations. When a child with a weak body is born into our surroundings, we should ask ourselves how we are meant to relate to this. The right way to relate to it must be the most morally meaningful way—that is, to forgive. This will lead most surely to the goal in this case, and is also the best education for such a person. It has an incredibly educational effect when we can lovingly forgive a weak child who is born into our surroundings. The person through whom forgiveness occurs in a truly forceful way will see that the child becomes stronger and stronger because of it. Loving forgiveness must even affect thinking, because that makes it possible for the child to gather the forces needed to turn old karma around and get it moving in the right direction. Through this the child will also become physically strong. A child such as this often demonstrates unpleasant qualities. The healing effect is strongest when we love the child in the depths of our heart, and we soon find out just how effective the healing is.

Something comparable applies when we look at the other quality: lying. Within a single incarnation, the person who lies becomes shy in later life. This is a soul quality. But in the next incarnation, this quality takes effect as the body’s architect. In this case, the child appears not merely weak, but unable to acquire a proper relationship to its surroundings—that is, the child is mentally handicapped. In this case, we must think that we are the people to whom this person often lied, and we must repay the bad that happened to us with the best we can offer. We must try to communicate a great deal of the truths of spiritual life to such a person, and then we see how that person begins to blossom. We must always keep in mind that this individual lied to us a lot in earlier incarnations, and do everything possible to bring about a right relationship between this child and his or her surroundings.

When we consider these things, we find that as human beings we are always called upon to help other people come to terms with their karma in the right way. People understand nothing of karma if they think others must be left to their own karma. If we were to meet individuals who had lied to us, and we were to believe these people must come to grips with their karma by themselves, this would show that we do not have a correct understanding of karma. The right idea would be to provide help wherever possible. When it is said that we should leave people to their karma, this could only apply in the esoteric realm, but never in actual life.

Let’s imagine that we would make an effort to help other people according to their individual karma. Take a person with a shy nature. We concern ourselves lovingly with that person, creating a connection between that person and ourselves. We will then see in later life that something comes back to us from this person. We must leave this to karma, however; we are not allowed to hope for it. We must regard it as our obligation to help the other person. At this point we come upon a subtle law: Everything we do to help another person bear and overcome karma not only helps that person, it also does something for us. As a rule, however, what we do for the sake of our own quick progress will not help much. The only thing that can bear fruit for an individual is what he or she does for others. We cannot send good things in our own direction. The best effects come from helping another person overcome his or her karma, since what we do for others is a gain for humanity. We can do nothing for ourselves; that must be done in turn by others. That’s why we must understand empathy for other people in the highest sense of the word. If we develop this empathy in the highest sense, then we also feel an obligation to empathize with another person with regard to envy and lying. In this way we develop a feeling of solidarity that extends to all human souls.

In fact, humanity possesses the potential for each human being to always feel a connection to humanity as a whole, and this feeling, in all its different manifestations in life, should also be present and active in the individual’s struggles against Lucifer and Ahriman. By helping people whose physical bodies have become weak through the influence of envy that has been overcome, by coming to understand how we should behave toward these people, it can become clear to us that the world is filled with the impulses of Lucifer and Ahriman. How they can be overcome in the course of the Earth’s evolution also becomes clear. Anyone who traces such connections in his or her feelings necessarily comes to an ever deepening feeling for all of humanity. The possibility exists, so to speak, for each of us to feel what connects him or her to all human beings. However, this feeling has changed greatly in the course of human evolution. If we go back three or four thousand years, the feeling of what human beings have in common was very pronounced in everyone.

If we go back still further—back through the post-Atlantean cultures, back to old Atlantis, and still further back—we come to an incarnation in which we came down into a physical body for the first time. Before that, we existed in a spiritual state—or so it was still said three or four thousand years ago. At that time, wisdom-filled feelings such as this were to be found in all people. The human soul asked, “What does it mean to be a human being?” And it answered itself, “Before I came down into my body for the first time, I existed in a sea of divine-spiritual interweaving life. I was within it, and all other human souls were within it. That was our common point of origin.” This basic feeling in the souls of human beings made it possible for them to feel kinship, to feel that they had something in common with all human beings, because they felt that all human souls had a common origin. And if we recall how all the ancient mystery schools worked on people to make them good people who would be receptive to the most profound, intimate, and moving feelings, we can see that this was always done by pointing to their common origin, to the fact that all human beings proceed from a common divine source. It was easy to sound this note in their souls then, but it became more and more difficult. For example, if this note had been sounded then in the number of people now sitting here, it would have made an overwhelming impression.

But human feeling for our common origin became ever colder. This was necessary because humanity had to pass through a certain point in evolution. And if I describe that point, we will also have to look toward our human future, toward the goal of Earth’s evolution.

Just as our origin is common to all of us, just as all human souls sprang from a common source, so too all human souls will come together in a common goal. And how can we reach this goal so that we can continue to evolve once Earth has achieved its own goal and the material sphere beneath us is dissipating and falling away? How can we have a common understanding of this goal so that we proceed into our future together? The awareness of what we have in common will need to extend into the deepest sinews of our soul. This is only possible if we develop a feeling for our future, similar to the feeling people in ancient times had for their human origin, a feeling that is growing ever colder among humanity. Now, the feeling and the certainty of a common goal held by all human beings must come to life more and more in our souls. Regardless of our individual degree of development or where we stand in life, the very fact that we are human beings must make possible a soul experience that allows us to say we are all striving for a single goal. In looking toward this goal, we must also be able to realize that this is something that can concern each and every human being.

In our most profound inner depths, we must be able to find something in which we can all come together in a single point. Esoteric teaching calls this “something” the Christ. People thousands of years ago felt, sensed, and knew that our souls are all born out of a common divine source. Similarly, we will increasingly learn that just as we can be united and come together in something we think in common, something that can live in all human heads, there is also something that can live as a common element in all human hearts, something that can flow through all human hearts like the blood of life. If this pervades us more and more warmly in incarnations to come, these incarnations will then run their course in such a way that Earth, having achieved its goal, will be able to proceed to the next planetary stage—the Jupiter state—and human souls will come together as one in the common element of the Christ.

For this to be a possibility, the Mystery of Golgotha had to take place. In Jesus, the Christ became human so that this common stream of warmth could flow from human heart to human heart. The feeling for our common human goal has its origin in the cross on Golgotha, which connects past and future. This is the goal of future human evolution. It is not important whether we retain the name “Christ” for what we have in common. What is important is that all human beings learn to grasp that the feeling people originally had for their common origin is being transformed into a feeling for our common earthly future.

Earth’s evolution is divided into halves—one lasting until the time of the cross on Golgotha, and the other from that time until the end of Earth. We human beings have a great deal to do to grasp the Christ and his evolution. Once these things have been grasped, we as human beings will come together in a common goal for the Jupiter evolution. All the knowledge we have as individuals culminates in finding this principle of the Christ-like.

Today we tried to recognize how karma works from one incarnation to another to shape the body. Having done so, we understand how human beings can become more and more perfect as they go through incarnation after incarnation. We are still speaking of the Christ, though without using that name, because we are turning away from the personal element. When we are confronted with a child who lies to us, we ask ourselves how we can help this child transform his or her karma. We do not ask whether being lied to hurts us. We turn to the very center of the child’s being, and in doing so we help karma move on. In this way, deep human compassion will increasingly take effect in the world.

Thus, what we call spiritual science—if we also include in it a real grasp of life’s processes related to reincarnation and karma—prepares us to truly grasp the Christ impulse in the world. How people formulate this in words is not important. Those who really understand this evolutionary law cannot help but be Christians, whether they are Hindus or Muslims or belong to some other religious tradition. What’s important is that they take this impulse into their souls, the impulse for a common goal for humanity, as in ancient times the impulse to look toward our common human origin was alive in people.

Thus, spiritual science always leads to the Christ impulse. It cannot do otherwise. It would also be possible to summarize spiritual science as it appears today by saying, “Even if those who meet spiritual science want to know nothing of Christianity, in truth they are already being led to the Christ.” In reality, that is where they are being led, even if they resist this in words.

Today we have shown our souls something that has a direct connection to life. We have seen how we should act when a child lies or is envious. It must be clear to us that the thread of karma runs through all of the incarnations of a human soul, that its karma is spun according to its destiny. Having looked back to our origin in God, we look to God again when we look ahead to our human goal.

When we look back on the culture of the ancient rishis, we see that they pointed to the human origins, to the world in which human beings existed before descending into incarnation. This teaching persisted for hundreds and thousands of years. The great Buddha taught it when he spoke of how everything that created a connection to the world of our origin has been lost to people because they cling to embodiment. He challenged people to leave the world of embodiment so that their souls could once again live in the spiritual worlds of their origin. The prophets, in announcing the coming of the Christ, also pointed to a future in which human beings would once again discover their proper earthly goal. And then there was the Christ himself, and the act of the Mystery of Golgotha. Through this Mystery of Golgotha, the individual human being can now be led toward our Earth s divine-spiritual future.

Perhaps there is nothing quite as shattering as two similar statements of the Buddha and the Christ, which present to our souls the contrast between the old times and the new. As the Buddha stands among his pupils, he draws their attention to the body and says, “I look back from incarnation to incarnation and see how I have again and again entered a human body such as the one I now wear. Again and again, the temple of this body has been built up for me by the gods. Again and again the soul attempts to enter this bodily temple in new incarnations. Now, however, I know that I no longer need to return to a bodily temple. I know its beams are broken, its pillars collapsed. Through my knowledge, I have freed my soul from this body. The wish and desire to return to such a body has been killed.” This was a great and powerful result of the old time of looking back on our human origin. The Buddha, with his pupils and successors, strove to become free of the body. How powerfully different this is from the Christ standing before his intimate pupils and saying, “Tear down the temple of My body, and I will build it up again in three days.” These are the words of the Christ, taken at face value, regardless of how we interpret them. The Christ does not long to be free of the temple of the body. He wants to build it up again.

It is not as if the Christ himself would be there again in such a physical body in future incarnations. But what he teaches his pupils and all human beings is to return into this earthly temple again and again in order to make the Christ impulse greater and more intense in each successive incarnation, so that we human beings are able to take up more and more of earthly existence. In the end, we will be able to say that we spent these incarnations working to become more like the Christ. We become more like him by taking into this bodily temple what the Christ permitted to stream forth from his own being from the cross on Golgotha. We allow this to stream from human soul to human soul, for only through this can we understand each other now. This is what all human souls will have in common in our earthly future. And then the time will come when Earth as a planet will cease to exist, will fall into dust, and human beings in a spiritualized state will proceed to their next incarnation on a different planet.

The words of the great Buddha—“I feel how the columns of my bodily temple no longer bear weight, how its beams are breaking apart”—can stand before our souls as the endpoint of our common human origin. And when we turn to what the Christ says to his disciples—“I will build up the temple of this body in three days”—this can be for us like the beginning of the time that points to our earthly goal. We can expand upon this statement, saying: “In death, this temple falls apart, but we know that the best forces we have acquired in this incarnation are used for our next incarnation. We have received these forces by devoting our souls to the knowledge of Christ. In this way, we will always make progress from incarnation to incarnation.” When we human beings build up this bodily temple for the last time, we will have arrived at an understanding of our common earthly goal for the future.

It is the Mystery of Golgotha alone that can be the common impulse for humanity as a whole, for human and Earth evolution.