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Reincarnation and Karma
Their Significance in Modern Culture
GA 135

2. Need for the development of a ‘feeling-memory’ before direct experience of reincarnation is possible

30 January 1912, Berlin

The thoughts contained in the last lecture will in that form have seemed to many incomprehensible, perhaps even matters of doubt; but if we go further into the subject to-day they will become clearer.

What was it that was presented to us in the last lecture? For the whole being of man it was somewhat similar to what a man accomplishes when he is in some position in life where he has to reflect upon earlier occurrences and experiences, and call them back into his memory. Memory and remembrance are experiences of the human soul which, in ordinary consciousness, are really connected only with the course of the soul's life between birth and death—or more exactly, with the period of time which begins in the later years of childhood and lasts until death.

We know that in ordinary consciousness our memory goes back only to a definite point of time in our childhood, and we have to be told about earlier events by our parents, elder relations or friends. When we consider this stretch of time, we speak of it in relation to the soul-life as “remembered.” It is not, of course, possible here to go more deeply into the meaning of the words “power of remembering”or “memory,” nor is it necessary for our purpose. We need only bring clearly before our souls that everything designated by these words is bound up with reflecting on past events or experiences. What we spoke of in the last lecture is akin to this reflecting, but it must not be equated with ordinary memory; it should be regarded rather as a higher, wider power of memory which leads us beyond this present incarnation to a sense of certainty that we have had previous earth-lives.

If we picture a man who needs to recall something he learnt at an early period of his life, and attunes his soul to bring out of the depths what he then learnt in order to follow it through in the present—if we form a living conception of this process of recollection, we see in it a function which belongs to our ordinary faculty of remembrance. In the last lecture we were speaking of functions of the soul, but those functions ought to lead to something that arises in our inner being in relation to our earlier earth-life, similar to that which arises in our souls in this life when we feel a past experience springing up in memory. Therefore you must not regard what was said in the last lecture as though this were all that is needed to lead us to an earlier earth-life, nor as though it were able immediately to evoke a right conception of the kind of people we were in an earlier incarnation. It is only an aid, just as self-recollection is an aid, helping us to draw forth what has disappeared into the background of the soul's life. Let us briefly sum up what we have grasped concerning such a recollection in reference to a former earth-life. This can best be done in the following way:

A little self-knowledge will render many of life's happenings comprehensible to us. If something disagreeable happens and we do not fully see the reason for it, we may say to ourselves: “I really am a careless person, and it is no wonder this happened to me.” This shows at least some understanding of what has happened. There are, however, countless experiences in life of which we simply cannot conceive that they are connected with the forces and faculties of our soul. In ordinary life we usually speak of them as accidental. We speak of accidents when we do not perceive how the things that befall us as strokes of fate are connected with the inner leanings of our soul, and so forth. In the last lecture attention was drawn also to events of another kind—experiences through which in a sense we extricate ourselves, by means of what we generally call our Ego, from some situation we are in. For example: a man may be destined by his parents or near relations to a certain calling or position in life, and he feels he must at all costs leave it and do something else. When in later life we look back on something like this, we say to ourselves: “We were put into a certain position in life, but by our own impulse of will, by our personal sympathy or antipathy, we have extricated ourselves from it.”

The point is not to pay attention to all manner of things, but to confine ourselves in our retrospective memory to something that vitally affected our life. If, for instance, a man has never felt any desire, nor had any motive to become a sailor, a will-impulse such as was referred to in the last lecture does not come into consideration at all, but only one whereby he actually brought about a change of fate, a reversal of some situation in life. But when in later life we remember something of this kind and realise that we extricated ourselves, we should not cultivate any rueful feelings about it, as though we ought to have stayed where we were. The essential point is not the practical outcome of the decision, but the recollection of when such turning points occurred. Then with regard to events of which we say, “This happened by chance,” or “We were in such and such a position but have extricated ourselves from it,” we must evoke with utmost energy the following inner experience.

We say to ourselves: “I will imagine that the position from which I extricated myself was one in which I deliberately placed myself with the strongest impulse of will.” We bring before our own souls the very thing that was repugnant to us and from which we extricated ourselves. We do this in such a way that we say: “As an experiment I will give myself up to the idea that I willed this with all my might; I will bring before my soul the picture of a man who willed something like this with all his might.”

And let us imagine that we ourselves brought about the events called “accidents.” Suppose it has come back to our memory that at some place a stone fell from a building on to our shoulders and hurt us badly. Then let us imagine that we had climbed on to the roof and placed the stone so that it was bound to fall, and that then we ran quickly under it so that it had to fall on us. It is of no consequence that such ideas are grotesque; the point is what we want to acquire through them.

Let us now put ourselves right into the soul of a man of whom we have built up such a picture, a man who has actually willed everything that has happened to us “by accident,” who has desired everything from which we have extricated ourselves. There will be no result in the soul if we practise such an exercise two or three or four times only, but a great deal will result if we practise it in connection with the innumerable experiences which we shall find if we look for them. If we do this over and over again, forming a living conception of a man who has willed everything that we have not willed we shall find that the picture never leaves us again, that it makes a very remarkable impression on us, as though it really had something to do with us. If we then acquire a certain delicate perception in this kind of self-probation, we shall soon discover how such a mood and such a picture, built up by ourselves, resemble an image we have called up from memory. The difference is only this, that when we call up such an image from memory in the ordinary way, it generally remains simply an image, but when we practise the exercises of which we have been speaking, what comes to life in the soul has in it an element of feeling, an element connected more with the moods of the soul, and less with images. We feel a particular relationship to this picture. The picture itself is not of much account, but the feelings we have make an impression similar to that made by memory-images. If we repeat this process over and over again, we arrive through an inner clarification at the ‘knowledge,’ one might say, that the picture we have built up is becoming clearer and clearer, just as a memory-image does when one starts to recall it out of dark depths of the soul.

Thus it is not a question of what we imagine, for this changes and becomes something different. It goes through a process similar to that which occurs when we want to remember a particular name and it nearly comes and then goes; we have a partial recollection of it and then say, for instance, Nuszbaumer, yet we have a feeling that this is not quite right, and then, without our being able to say why, the right name comes to us—Nuszdorfer, perhaps. Just as here the names Nüszbaumer, Nüszdorfer, build each other up, so the picture rights itself and changes. This is what causes the feeling to arise: “Here I have attained something which exists within me, and by the way it exists within me and is related to the rest of my soul-life, it plainly shows me that it cannot have existed within me in this form in my present incarnation!” So we perceive with the greatest inner clarity that what exists within us in this form, lies further back. Only we must realise that we are here dealing with a kind of faculty of remembrance which can be developed in the human soul, a faculty which, in contradistinction to the ordinary faculty of remembrance, must be designated by a different name. We must designate the ordinary faculty of remembrance as “image-memory,” but the faculty of remembrance now in question must really be described as a kind of “feeling and experience memory.” That this has a certain foundation can be proved by the following reflections.

We must bear in mind that our ordinary faculty of remembrance is really a kind of image-memory. Think how a specially painful event that perhaps happened to you twenty years ago, reappears in memory. The event may come up before you in all its details, but the pain which you suffered is no longer felt to the same extent; it is in a sense blotted out of the memory-image. There are, of course different degrees, and it may well happen that something has struck a man such a blow that again and again a fresh and more intense sorrow is felt when he remembers the experience. The general principle, however, holds good: so far as our present incarnation is concerned our faculty of remembrance is an image-memory, whereas the feelings that were experienced, or the will-impulses themselves, do not arise again in the soul with anything like the same intensity.

We need only take a characteristic example and we shall see how great the difference is between the image that arises in the memory, and what has remained of feelings and will-impulses. Let us think of a man who writes his Memoirs. Suppose, for example, that Bismarck, in writing his Memoirs, has come to the point when he prepared for the German-Austrian War of 1866, and imagine what may have taken place in his soul at that highly critical point, when he led and guided events against a host of condemnations and will-impulses. Do not conceive how all this lived in his soul at that time, but imagine that all he then experienced under the immediate impression of the events, sank down into the depths of his soul; then imagine how faded the feelings and will-impulses must have become by the time he wrote his Memoirs compared with what they were when he was actually carrying out the project. Nobody can fail to realise what a difference there is between the memory-image and the original feelings and will-impulses involved.

Those who have gone a little way into Anthroposophy will understand what has often been said: that our conceptual activity—including the conceptual activity related to memory—is something which, when roused by the external world in which we live in our physical bodies, has meaning only for this single incarnation. The fundamental principles of Anthroposophy have always taught us the great truth that all the concepts and ideas we make our own when we perceive anything through the senses, when we fear or hope for anything in life—(this does not relate to impulses of the soul, but to concepts)—all that makes up our conceptual life disappears very soon after we have passed through the Gate of Death. For concepts belong to the things that pass away with physical life, to the things that are least enduring. Anyone, however, who has given any study to the laws of reincarnation and karma can readily understand that our concepts, as we acquire them in the life that flows on in relation to the outer world or to the things of the physical plane, come to expression in speech, and that we can therefore in a sense connect the conceptual life with speech. Now everyone knows that he has to learn to speak some particular language in a given incarnation; for while it is obvious that many modern schoolboys incarnated in ancient Greece, none of them find it easier to learn Greek by being able to remember how they spoke Greek in a previous incarnation! Speech is entirely an expression of our conceptual life, and their fates are similar; so that concepts drawn from the physical world, and even the concepts we must acquire about the higher worlds, are in a sense always coloured by subjective pictures of the external world. Only when we have insight do we realise what concepts are able to tell about the higher worlds. What we learn directly from concepts is also in a sense, bound up with life between birth and death. After death we do not form concepts as we form them here; after death we see them, they are objects of perception; they exist just as colours and tones exist in the physical world. In the physical world what we picture to ourselves by means of conceptions carries an impress of physical matter, but in the disembodied state we have concepts before us in the same way as here we have colours and tones. A man cannot, of course, see red or blue as he sees them here with his physical eyes, but what he does not see here, and about which he forms concepts, is the same for him after death as red, green or any other colour or sound is here. What we learn to know in the physical world purely through concepts, or rather ideas (in the sense of Philosophy of Spiritual Activity) can be seen only through the veil of the conceptual life, but in the disembodied state it stands there in the way that the physical world stands before our consciousness. In the physical world there are people who really think that sense-impressions yield everything. That which man can make clear to himself by means of a concept—as for instance the concept ‘lamb’ or wolf—embraces everything the senses give us; but that which transcends matter can actually be denied by those who admit the existence of the sense-impression only. A man can make a mental picture of all he sees as lamb or wolf. Now the ordinary outlook tries to suggest that what can here be built up in a conceptual sense, is nothing more than a “mere idea.” But if we were to shut up a wolf and for a long time feed him on nothing else but lamb, so that he is filled with nothing but lamb-substance—nobody could possibly persuade himself that the ‘wolf’ has thereby become ‘lamb.’ Therefore we must say: obviously, here, what transcends a sense-impression is a concept. Certainly, there is no denying that what bodes forth the concept, dies; but what lives in ‘wolf,’ what lives in ‘lamb’—what is within them and cannot be seen by the physical eyes—this is ‘seen,’ perceived, in the life between death and rebirth.

Thus when it is said that conceptions are bound up with the physical body, we must not infer that man will be without conceptions, or rather without the content of the conceptions in the life between death and rebirth. Only that which has worked out the conceptions, disappears. Our conceptual life, as we experience it here in the physical world, has significance only for the life of this incarnation. In this connection I have already mentioned the case of Friedrich Hebbel, who once sketched out in his diary an ingenious plan for a drama. He had the idea of the reincarnated Plato in a school class, making the worst possible impression on the teacher and being severely reprimanded because he could not understand Plato! Here, too, is a suggestion that Plato's thought-structure—all that lived in him as thought—does not survive in the same form in his next incarnation.

In order to obtain a reasonable view of these things, we must consider the soul-life of man from a certain point of view. We must ask ourselves: What do we carry about as the content of our soul-life? First, we have our concepts. The fact that these concepts, permeated with feeling, can lead to impulses of will, does not prevent us from speaking of a specific life of concepts in the soul. For although there are people who can hardly confine themselves to a pure concept but immediately they conceive anything flare up in sympathy or antipathy, thus passing over into other impulses, this does not mean that the life of concepts cannot be separated from other contents of the soul.

Secondly, we have in our soul-life experiences of feeling. These appear in a great diversity of forms. There are the well-known antitheses in the life of feeling which can be spoken of as the sympathy and the antipathy we feel for things, or, if we want to describe them more emphatically, as love and hate. We can say that these feelings produce a kind of stimulus, and again there are feelings which bring about a certain tension and release. They cannot be classed with sympathy and antipathy. For a soul-impulse which can be described as a tension, a stimulus, or as a release, is different from what comes to expression in mere sympathy or antipathy. We should have to talk for a long time if it were a question of describing all the different kinds of feelings. To these also belong what may be described as the sense for beauty and for ugliness, which is a specific soul-content and does not resemble feelings of sympathy and antipathy. At all events it cannot be classed with them. We could also describe the specific feelings we have for good or evil. This is not the time to enlarge upon the difference between our inner experiences regarding a good or evil action, and the feelings of sympathy or antipathy for such actions—our love of a good action and hatred of an evil one. Thus we meet with feelings in the most diverse forms and we can distinguish them from our concepts.

A third kind of soul-experiences are the impulses of will, the life of will. This again must not be classed with what may be called experiences of feeling, which can or must remain enclosed within our soul-life, according to the way in which we experience them. An impulse of will says: " You shall do this, you shall do that." For we must distinguish between the mere feeling we have of what seems good or evil to ourselves or to others, and what arises in the soul as more than a feeling, when we are impelled to do good and to refrain from evil. Judgment can remain rooted in feeling but the impulses of will are a different matter. Although there are transitions between the life of feeling and the impulses of will, we ought not on the basis of ordinary observation to class them together without further consideration. In human life there are transitions everywhere. Just as there are people who never arrive at pure conceptions but always express simultaneously their love or hatred, who are thrown hither and thither because they cannot separate their feelings from their conceptions, so there are others who, when they see something, cannot refrain from going on, through an impulse of will, to an action, even if the action is unjustifiable. This leads to no good. It takes the form of kleptomania and so forth. Here there is no ordered relationship between the feelings and the impulses of the will, although in reality a sharp distinction should be drawn between them.

Thus in our life of soul we live in ideas, in feelings and in impulses of will. We have seen that the life of ideas is connected with a single incarnation between birth and death; we have seen how we enter life and build up our own life of ideas. This is not the case with the life of feeling, or with the life of will. Of those who insist that it is, one can only think that they can never have observed intelligently the development of a child. Consider a child in relation to the life of ideas before it can speak; it relates itself to the surrounding world through its conceptions or ideas. But it has very decided sympathies and antipathies, and active impulses of will for or against something. The decisiveness of these early will-impulses has actually misled a philosopher—Schopenhauer—into the belief that a man's character cannot be altered at all during life. This is not correct; the character can be altered. We must realise that when we enter physical life the position as regards the feelings and the impulses of will is in no way the same as it is regarding the life of concepts, for we enter an incarnation with a very definite equipment of feeling experiences and impulses of will. Correct observation might indeed make us surmise that in the feelings and will-impulses we have something that we have brought with us from earlier incarnations. And all this must be brought together as a ‘feeling-memory’ in contradistinction to the ‘concept-memory’ which belongs to one life only. We can arrive at no practical result if we take into account only a concept-memory. All that we develop in the life of concepts cannot call forth an impression which, if rightly understood, says to us: You have within you something which entered this incarnation with you at birth. For this we must go beyond the life of concepts; recollection must become something different, and we have shown what recollection can indeed become. How do we practise self-recollection? We do not merely picture to ourselves: “This was accidental in our life, such and such a thing befell us, there we were in a position of life which we abandoned,” and so forth. We must not stop at the concepts; we must make them living, active, as if there stood before us the picture of a personality who had desired and willed all this. We must experience ourselves in this willing. This is a very different experience from that of merely recalling concepts; it is an experience of living oneself into other soul-forces, if I may put it in that way.

This practice of drawing on will and desire in order to fill the soul with a certain content—a practice that has always been known and cultivated in all occult schools—is confirmed by what we know from anthroposophical or similar knowledge of the life of thinking, feeling and willing, and can be understood and explained thereby. Let us be quite clear that in giving a specific content to the life of feeling and will we must develop something which resembles memory-concepts, but does not stop there. It is something which enables us to develop another kind of memory—one that gradually leads us beyond the life enclosed in one incarnation between birth and death.

It must be strongly emphasised that the path here indicated is absolutely good and sure—but full of renunciation. It is easier to imagine on all sorts of external grounds that one has been Marie Antoinette or Mary Magdalene, or somebody like that in a former incarnation. It is more difficult by the methods described to construct out of what actually exists in the soul a picture of what one really was. For this reason we have to renounce a good deal, for we can readily be deceived. If someone says: “But we may be simply imagining it all,” then we must answer: “Yes, and it is also quite possible to imagine something in relation to our memories that never existed.” All these things are no real objections. Life itself can provide a criterion for distinguishing real imagination from fancy.

Somebody once said to me in a town in South Germany that everything in my book Occult Science might be based on simple suggestion. He said suggestion could be so vivid that one could even imagine lemonade so strongly that the taste of it would be in the mouth; and if such a thing is possible, why should it not be possible for what is present in Occult Science to be based on suggestions—Theoretically such an objection may be raised, but life brings the reflection that if anyone wishes to show by the example of lemonade how strongly suggestion can work, we must add that he has not understood how to carry the idea to its logical conclusion. He ought to try not only to imagine lemonade, but to quench his thirst with purely imaginary lemonade! Then he would see that it cannot be done. It is always necessary to carry our experiences to their conclusion, and this cannot be done theoretically but only by direct experience. With the same certainty by which we know that what arises from our memory-concepts is something we have experienced, so do the impulses of will we have called forth with regard to the accidents and undesired happenings arise from the depths of the soul as a picture of earlier experiences. We cannot disprove the statement of anyone who says: “That may be imagination,” any more than we can disprove theoretically what numerous people imagine they have experienced and quite certainly have not, nor prove to them what it is they really experienced. No theoretical proof is possible in either case.

We have shown in this way how earlier experience shines into present experiences, and how through careful soul-development we really can create for ourselves the conviction—not only a theoretical conviction but a practical conviction—that our soul reincarnates; we come to know that it has existed before. There are, however, experiences of a very different kind in our lives—experiences of which, when we recall them in memory, we must say: “In the form in which they appear, they do not explain an earlier life to us.” To-day I shall give an example of only one kind of such experiences, although the same thing may happen in a hundred, in a thousand, different ways.

A man may be walking in a wood, and being lost in thought may forget that the woodland path ends within a few steps at a precipice. Absorbed in his problem, he walks on at such a pace that in two or three steps more it will be impossible for him to stop, and he will fall over to his death. But just as he is on the verge, he hears a voice say, “Stop!” The voice makes such an impression upon him that he stops as though nailed to the spot. He thinks there must be someone who has saved him. He realises that his life would have been at an end if he had not been pulled up in this way. He looks round—and sees nobody.

The materialistic thinker will say that owing to some circumstance or other an auditory hallucination had come from the depths of the man's soul, and it was a happy chance that he was saved in this way. But there may be other ways of looking at the event; that at least should be admitted. I only mention this to-day, for these ‘other ways’ can only be told, not proved. We may say: ”Processes in the spiritual world have brought it about that at the moment when you reached your karmic crisis, your life was bestowed on you as a gift. If things had gone further without this occurrence, your life would have been at an end; it is now as though a gift to you, and you owe this new life to the Powers who stand behind the voice.”

Many people of the present time might have such experiences if they would only practise real self-knowledge. Such occurrences happen in the lives of many, many people in the present age. It is not that they do not happen, but that people do not pay attention to them, for such things do not always happen so decisively as in the example given; with their habitual lack of attention, people overlook them. The following is a characteristic example of how unobservant people are of what happens around them.

I knew a school inspector, in a country where a law was passed to the effect that the older teachers, who had not obtained certain certificates, were to be examined. Now this school inspector was an extremely human person, and he said to himself: " The young teachers fresh from college can be asked any question, but it would be cruel to ask the older men who have been in office for twenty or thirty years the same questions. I had better question them about the contents of the books from which they have taught the children year after year," And lo!—most of the teachers knew nothing of what they themselves had been teaching to their pupils. Yet this man was an examiner who understood how to draw out of people what they knew.

This is only one example of how unobservant people are of what takes place around them, even when it concerns their own affairs. We need not then be surprised that things of this kind happen to many people in life, for only by a true, deliberate self-perception do they come to light. If we bring the proper devout attitude to bear on such an event we may experience a very definite feeling—the feeling that from the day our life was given to us as a gift, its course from then onwards must assume a special direction. That is a good feeling, and works like a memory-process when we say to ourselves: “I had reached a karmic crisis; there my life ended.” If a man steeps himself in this devout feeling, he may experience something that makes him realise: “This is not a memory-concept such as I have often experienced in life—it is something of a very special nature.”

In the next lecture I shall be able to speak more fully of what can only be indicated to-day; for this is how a great Initiate of modern times tests those whom he thinks fit to be his followers. For the events which are to take us into the spiritual world proceed from spiritual facts which happen around us, or from a right understanding of them. And such a voice, calling as it does to many people, is not to be regarded as a hallucination; for through such a voice the leader whom we call by the name of Christian Rosenkreuz speaks to those whom he chooses from among the multitude to be his followers. The call proceeds from that Individuality who lived in a special incarnation in the 13th century. So that a man who has an experience of this kind has a sign, a token of recognition, through which he can enter the spiritual world.1See the volume entitled Christian Rosenkreuz. Notes of lectures given during the years 1911 and 1912.

There may not be many as yet able to recognise this call, but Anthroposophy will work in such a way that, if not in this incarnation, later on men will give heed to it. With most people who have such an experience to-day it is not completed in the sense that one can say of them in this incarnation: “They have met the Initiate who has appointed them his own.” One could say it rather of their life between their last death and their present birth. This is an indication that something happens in the life between death and rebirth; that we experience there important events—perhaps more important than in our life here between birth and death. It may happen, and in individual cases it does, that certain persons now belonging to Christian Rosenkreuz came to him in a former incarnation, but for most people the destiny that is reflected in such an event occurred in their last life between death and rebirth.

I am not saying this to recount something sensational, nor even for the sake of relating this particular occurrence, but for a special reason; and I should like to add something else in this connection, from an experience I have often had in our Movement. I have often found that things I have said are easily forgotten, or retained in a different form from that in which they were said. For this reason I sometimes emphasise important and essential things several times over, not in order to repeat myself. Therefore to-day I repeat that there are many people at the present time who have passed through an experience such as has been described. The point is not that the experience is not there, but that it is not remembered, because proper attention has not been paid to it. Therefore this should be a consolation to those who say to themselves: “I find nothing of the kind, so I do not belong to those who have been chosen in this way.” They can have the assurance that there are countless people at the present time who have experienced something of the kind—I reaffirm this only in order that the real reason for saying these things may be understood.

Such things are told in order to draw our attention again and again to the fact that in a concrete sense, and not through abstract theories, we must find the relation of our soul-life to the spiritual worlds. Anthroposophical Spiritual Science should be for us not merely a theoretical conception of the world, but an inner life-force; we should not merely know, “There is a spiritual world to which man belongs,” but as we go through life we should not only take account of things which stimulate our thinking through the senses, but should grasp with comprehension the connections which show us: “I have my place in the spiritual world, a definite place.” The real, concrete place of the individual in the spiritual world—that is the essential point to which we are calling attention.

In a theoretical sense men try to establish that the world may have a spiritual element, and that man is not to be considered in a materialistic sense, but may have a spiritual element within him. Our particular conception of the world differs from this, for it says to the individual: “This is your special connection with the spiritual world.” More and more we shall be able to ascend to those things which can show us how we must view the world in order to perceive our connection with the Spirit of the Great World, the Macrocosm.