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The Problem of Destiny
GA 168

This is the 5th of 8 lectures given by Rudolf Steiner at various cities, from February through December of 1916. The title these lectures were published under is: The Relation between the Living and the Dead.

24 October 1916, Zürich

Translator Unknown

What spiritual science has to say about life and the configuration of the spiritual worlds, is gained through knowledge, through a knowledge of the objective facts to which we are led through faculties enabling us to have an insight into these things. We already know this. In cases where we have to justify spiritual science as such, or to defend it against the environing world, we shall, therefore, have to base our justifications only upon the development of certain faculties to which we must draw attention and which enable us to attain to an insight into the spiritual worlds; and we shall then proceed by explaining that these faculties enable us to know the corresponding configuration of the conditions of life pertaining to the spiritual worlds. The facts which come to light in this way—many things are almost self-evident, nevertheless it is good to draw attention to them—the facts which thus come to light, as well as those of the physical world which can be observed through the senses, should never be met with objections arising from human desires, human wishes. Although this is so obvious, we nevertheless frequently hear objections raised against certain statements of spiritual science, objections based upon human desires and human wishes, for instance, objections of the following kind: If spiritual science gives this or that explanation concerning the spiritual worlds, I do not wish to make closer acquaintance with spiritual science; for, if the things in the spiritual world really correspond with these descriptions, I shall never adapt myself to such a configuration of the spiritual world. This objection is very frequent, in spite of its absurdity. It is not only advanced in this absurd and easily detectable form, but also under the mask of all kinds of negative attitudes toward spiritual science. Although, on the one hand, the knowledge gained through spiritual science could never be based upon the argument that the world has a meaning only if the things pertaining to the spiritual world present a certain definite aspect (it is, after all, possible to know the real aspect of these things), and although this hypothesis, namely, that the world only has a meaning if it presents a certain definite aspect, can never enable us to say anything concerning the configuration of the spiritual worlds, (for this can only be done upon the foundation of real knowledge,) it is, on the other hand, possible to point out the significance of spiritual science for the whole life of man, seeing that spiritual science and its results actually exist.

A fortnight ago, I have explained to you from a particular aspect the significance of a spiritual-scientific mentality for the evolution of present-day humanity, and particularly its significance in the face of the demands and requirements of our time. To-day I wish to draw attention to a few other things, which will lead us more deeply into the real significance of spiritual science for humanity, and in particular for modern man. And in order to present the other side as well, I shall also point out the objections against spiritual science, arising from our modern civilization, and what kind of opposition we must encounter. The spiritual faculties which enable the spiritual investigator to have an insight into the facts of the spiritual world develop gradually, as I have frequently described to you. They develop in such a way that, at first, we learn to know the chief facts of spiritual life, the principal things connected with the evolution of earthly life, with the repeated lives on earth, with the life between death and a new birth, and so forth. But it is quite possible to speak, not only of these great general aspects, of these general truths, but also of certain particular truths. If we grow more and more acquainted with special aspects of truth, spiritual science itself will also acquire greater value for the individual and concrete life of a human being. Seen from outside, human life is, to begin with, a riddle, for if it were not so, we would not have to pass through a course of development rendering us more and more capable. For our capabilities and faculties—this applies particularly to the soul—must be the result of victories; our strength grows if we overcome difficulties. In the spiritual sphere, too, our strength increases through the fact that the world has, to begin with, an enigmatic aspect, for the effort which we must make in order to solve these riddles gives us strength, gradually makes us more perfect also as regards the whole course of human evolution. We need not be afraid that life becomes less interesting through the fact that the riddles presented by the physical world are partly solved by gaining an insight into the spiritual world. In every sphere of life there are riddles, and when we enter the spiritual world we shall discover new riddles. But the experience which we have gained in trying to solve, from out the spiritual world, riddles of life and of man connected with the physical world, makes us, as it were, confident that also the deeper riddles of man and of the world, which only appear in the spiritual world itself, will be solved.

A special riddle is everything that we experience in the form of destiny, between birth and death—everything we experience in the form of destiny. This word contains many, many things. In our public lecture1Man's Soul and Body from the Standpoint of Spiritual Science”, delivered on the 23rd of October, 1916 we have already explained that a certain amount of light can be thrown upon the question of destiny if we consider the repeated lives on earth. But these are more general points of view. It is also possible to draw attention to more concrete connections. Let us assume, for instance, that a person has lost a dear relative. This relative was comparatively young when he died, so that the one who remained behind had to pass through a considerably long stretch of life upon the earth without him. We can see immediately that if we face a similar thought, something rises up before our spiritual eye which must constitute a problem of destiny for many people. We must now bear in mind the fact that spiritual science is really in a position to throw light upon such problems of destiny. Undoubtedly, every case has its individual aspect. But just the spiritual-scientific study of individual cases can give us a certain insight into the mysterious processes of human life.

We can, for instance, make the following experience: Someone has died in his young years, he has been torn away from his relatives. I have already explained to you that through the fact that human beings enter into relationship with one another through their physical bodies, other connections arise, which are far more encompassing than those which are dependent upon our existence within a physical body. A far greater sphere of connections arises if we live ten, twenty, thirty, or forty years with another person, a far greater sphere of forces develops than those which arise between these two human beings in the physical world. If we turn the clairvoyant gaze upon these connections, we shall discover in many cases that the other relationships which thus arise are of such a kind that through their own inner nature they necessarily demand the continuation resulting from the loss, both as regards the person who has remained behind in the physical world, and the one who has passed through the portal of death into the other world, the spiritual world. The one who has remained behind must bear the loss. In an abstract way, we might say that he has lost a beloved human being, who has vanished from his sight at a time when he never thought of losing him. Perhaps this loss may have rent asunder hopes of a future life in common, here, in the physical world; plans and hopes for the future may have been destroyed. These experiences form part of life; but they also form part of all the experiences in common which we are able to have within the physical body. The fact that grief and sorrow are added to the experiences which we have shared with a departed friend changes the relationships which could only be developed through the fact that we have both lived in a physical body. Just as our daily experiences, the experiences we have when we face one another in our physical bodies, flow into the stream of karma, into the progressive stream of evolution, so the feelings arising from our impressions of grief and sorrow are added to what we have experienced day by day. All the impressions and feelings which we experience in this way are added to the experiences which we have made during our life in a physical body. This is seen from the standpoint of the one who remains behind, in the physical world.

One who has passed over into the spiritual world, has a somewhat different standpoint. His association with those whom he has left behind will not diminish through the fact that he has gone into the spiritual world. Indeed, those who are really able to investigate the spiritual worlds in connection with such concrete cases will realize that the one who is on the other side has a more intensive connection with the souls who have remained behind, a more intimate connection than was the case during the life in a physical body. Frequently we see that this more intimate connection arises in order to complete in the right way the circle of reciprocal connections which has been formed here, in the physical world. If we investigate things in a really positive way we shall often make the following discovery: We shall see how human beings come together here, in the physical world; below the threshold of consciousness this gives rise to a certain sphere of interests connected with their reciprocal relationships. Had these people remained together in the physical world for a longer time, the connection arising from the karma-foundation of their preceding lives could not have been deepened with sufficient intensity. In many cases, the person who has passed through the portal of death brings about this deepening required by karma. He brings it about while the souls who are intimately connected with him still dwell upon the earth, and through the fact that he is united with them in thoughts, that he penetrates into them and streams through them, he can now bring about this deepening required by karma, which could not have been brought about by the life-conditions which would have arisen had he not passed through the portal of death. A true fulfilment of karma is often connected with the fact that, on the one hand, grief and sorrow must be borne on earth, while, on the other hand, more intensive connections are established with the thoughts of those who have remained behind.

If we now trace the path of the person who has remained behind, if we see him passing through the portal of death some time afterwards and if we follow his relationship with the one who has died before him, we shall discover another thing. We shall see that many things change in accordance with the difference of time between the two departed ones. When we enter the spiritual world it is not an indifferent matter to discover there, for instance, a person who has died contemporaneously with us (let us take this extreme case), or, let us say, fifteen years sooner. The fact that he has spent a certain period of time in the spiritual world and that the experiences through which he has passed are now contained in the soul we encounter, will bring about another influence, it will influence us differently and tie the karmic link in a corresponding way. Had the circumstances been different, the karmic link would have been tied in a different way. Thus, everything we experience with the souls who are closely related with us must be looked upon altogether as experiences which are based upon our karmic connection with them. And even though grief and sorrow cannot diminish through the knowledge of these facts and of the way in which they interpenetrate and interweave (I have often mentioned this), we must, nevertheless say that, seen from a certain standpoint, human life viewed in this way begins to acquire a true significance. For we must bear in mind that during our life between death and a new birth every situation into which we are placed unfolds in such a way that justice is done not only to this one life, but also to everything which we must contribute to the evolution of the earth during our succeeding lives on earth. What has begun with the sorrow we have felt in losing a relative, a friend, or some other person closely connected with us, continues, and this continuation appears in the next life on earth. In a certain respect, every result or effect is already contained in the first cause. There is no loss in human life which does not place us in a corresponding way into the stream of the successive lives on earth. This may perhaps not soothe our pain in single cases, but if we view things from this angle we shall be able to draw knowledge out of life.

Another concrete case which I should like to mention (particularly these concrete cases can teach us many things if we are able to discuss these questions in a continuous way) is that of a man whose life has ended suddenly through some accident. From the very beginning we feel that there must be a great difference between a man who loses his life through an accident, by being run over by a train, or through some other cause coming from outside, through some other form of violent death, and a man who attains a great age before he dies, or one whose life reaches its close through illness. We also surmise that there must be a difference between a life which ends very soon through illness, and a life which terminates after having attained a great age.

Of course, the details differ for every individual case, but on the whole we may observe certain important points which throw light on these things. Let us ask, above everything, what is violent death? This question can only be answered if we do not contemplate death from the standpoint of our physical life upon the earth, but from the other side, from the standpoint of one who has already passed through the portal of death. In my lectures (some of these have already been published2See “Man's Inner Being and His Life Between Death and a New Birth,” Lectures delivered in Vienna, Easter, 1914.), I have mentioned the fact, that death viewed from the other side, from the world which the dead person enters when passing through the threshold of death, is the most significant event of all, the event which continually reveals to the deceased man, who is deprived of his body, that life's victories never cease. The direct contemplation of death from the other side, this lofty, great and uninterrupted sight, also brings with it a firm Ego-consciousness during our existence between death and a new birth. Just as our memory supplies us with an Ego-consciousness in this life by leading us back to a certain definite moment of our physical life, so the contemplation of death from the other side, from the spiritual side, gives us our Ego-consciousness between death and a new birth.

How do matters stand if the contemplation of death is brought about by the circumstance that a violent and sudden end of life has caused death? Seen from the other side, a sudden and violent death is a far-reaching experience, a far-reaching perception, and, although this may sound strange, an investigation of these facts reveals the following: When we enter the spiritual worlds through the portal of death the conditions of time have a different influence upon our soul-experiences than here upon the earth, although there are many conditions here which can remind us of what takes place in a far more encompassing way between death and a new birth. When trying to explain the chief things which should be borne in mind in this connection, I shall make use of a comparison which is evident, however, only if we know the corresponding facts pertaining to the spiritual world.

Perhaps you know that in our physical life we can often make experiences in the course of a few days or hours, experiences which mean to us far more than those we otherwise make in the course of months and even of years. Many people can remember some important event of their life which they have experienced here in the physical world in a very short time, yet this event may have given them a greater amount of inner experience, greater results of inner experience, than the events of whole months or years. People often express this by saying: “I shall never forget what I have experienced in that particular case.” These plain words often contain what I have just characterized. Now it is a fact that the impression which the human being receives owing to the circumstance that an external world, a world which does not belong to him, robs him of his physical body, that the perception which he obtains through this event in a comparatively brief time—it may even be a moment—comprises, during the life between death and a new birth, a whole wealth of experiences which are otherwise gained during the slow course of an earthly life, experiences through which we would perhaps have passed during the course of many years and decades. I do not mean that it comprises everything we have experienced during an earthly life; but in the case of certain forces which we need during our life between death and a new birth it is indeed so that things which may otherwise be spread over a longer period of time are concentrated, drawn together, we may even say in the space of a single moment.

It is an entirely different experience to see, in our subconsciousness, death approaching in such a way that inner forces come to the fore which bring about death from within the human organism, or in such a way that forces which are in no way connected with the human organism have an influence upon it. This kind of death can only be explained in a true and genuine way if we consider it in connection with the whole course of human life through the repeated lives on earth. In fact, my explanations in connection with Ego-consciousness after death and the contemplation of death may easily show you that the perception of death itself has a great significance for the strength and intensity of our Ego-consciousness between death and a new birth.

Circumstances which seen from the angle of physical life appear as a coincidence are not at all a coincidence, but they form part of a world of necessary happenings. From the earthly standpoint it may seem a coincidence that someone has been run over by a train; seen from the other side, the spiritual side, this does not appear as a coincidence. If from the other side, from the spiritual side, we ask the following question (let me use this expression, which is of course only a comparison), “What is the aspect of such a violent death when viewed within the whole complex of man's lives upon the earth?”—we shall find in every case that in past epochs of the repeated lives on earth and of the intermediate lives between death and a new birth the person who has suffered a violent death has developed up to the moment of his accident in regard to the spiritual world an Ego-consciousness which needed a strengthening, an intensification. And the required strengthening is produced because this man's physical life is not brought to a close from within, but from without.

We must reckon with the fact that the connexions with the environing world which are produced in the soul through thought forces are not the only ones, for as a rule, we are only aware in very exceptional cases of the way in which our subconsciousness thinks. You have often heard me say that our thinking activity does not end with the threshold of consciousness, for the human being has an incessant thought activity in his subconsciousness, or we might also say, in his super-consciousness. But the human being cannot in any way realise what this more encompassing form of consciousness really means to him. We could ask each person: “Why have you not met with this or with that accident this morning?” For it would have been possible in the case of every person to have met with some accident. Sometimes we realise to a certain extent how matters stand, but we are very seldom able to see the whole connexion. Sometimes we may feel an aversion to do a certain thing; we may leave home, for instance, half an hour later, and afterwards we may discover that in the meantime an accident has occurred along the way, an accident we would have met with had we left half an hour sooner. In this case our subconsciousness has been active, our subconsciousness has made us loiter. These subconscious influences are always there, but generally we cannot perceive them.

Those who can observe the conditions of the world from the spiritual standpoint are fully aware that a man who is about to meet with an accident and whose good genius, I might say, does not guard him against this accident, that this man who meets with an accident is driven to it by the necessity of his karma. Had this accident not taken place, something else, too, would not have taken place, namely, what I have characterized as the required strengthening of his Ego-consciousness, which must be brought about in the described manner. During a particular life upon the earth the human being enters through birth the particular conditions into which he is placed. He enters these conditions, but during his last existence between death and a new birth he has observed that his Ego is in a certain way weak, that it lacks strength. He is filled with the impulse to strengthen his Ego, and this leads him into the circumstances which bring about his accident. This is how we must view things. And if we consider it from the standpoint of a spiritual-scientific knowledge we shall see the true connexions of life.

I have often emphasized that men do not consider sufficiently the changes which have recently taken place in the development of the human soul. Most people, particularly those who are infested with modern learning, think that many centuries ago human soul-life was exactly the same as now. This is quite wrong. The more intimate side of soul-life has undergone a change, its character and attitude have changed completely. What spiritual science must again bring to the surface from certain sources for the sake of a better understanding of life, as already explained, shows us that not so very long ago the souls of men possessed a more atavistic and clairvoyant character. The human beings were able to feel, as it were, the connexions of life. But humanity progresses and similar feelings die out. Seeing that during the course of evolution man has in part lost his former relationship with the spiritual world and that he is losing it more, and more, it will become an ever growing necessity for him to regain a knowledge of his connexion with the spiritual world through direct spiritual investigation. This is also connected with the fact that spiritual science arises just at the present time. In earlier times it was not needed, because the human soul had not reached its present stage of development. For the reasons explained above, spiritual science will be needed from now onward, and in future it will become more and more necessary.

Let us corroborate this statement with certain concrete facts. To-day there is only a small number of men who accept spiritual science during their life between birth and death. I do not say, spiritual research, but spiritual science—thoughts and ideas supplied by spiritual science. Thus they learn something about the spiritual world during their life between birth and death. This is not without a significance for the life which we enter after passing through the portal of death.

The fact which I shall explain to you now has also arisen in our present time. When we revert to earlier times we find that man still possessed an old inheritance in regard to his connexion with the spiritual world. Man passed through the portal of death and because he had a certain relationship with the spiritual world through his feelings, through an atavistic clairvoyance and similar experiences, his life in a physical body had something in common with the life which he entered through the portal of death. Because man knew something about the spiritual world (although this was only an instinctive knowledge) he possessed more than a mere sum of thoughts reminding him of his life on earth after having passed through the portal of death. From now onwards it will be characteristic of human souls to pass through the portal of death in such a way that they will be connected with the earth only through their memories. They remember as it were, their earthly life, and they are still connected with it because after death this earthly life lives in their memory. This is strictly and radically speaking the case of a modern man who cannot take up ideas concerning the spiritual world from spiritual science. If he takes up these ideas, they will form something after death enabling him, not only to remember his earthly life, but also to have an insight into it. The spiritual ideas we take up before death change into faculties after death. After death windows open, as it were, from the spiritual world into the physical world, and they reveal what exists in the physical world because here upon the earth we have acquired thoughts connected with the spiritual world. Spiritual science, therefore, enables us to take with us certain definite results when we cross [the] threshold of death.

What we acquire through spiritual science is not merely a lifeless store of knowledge, but a real treasure of life, something which continues to live when we pass through the portal of death. Indeed, spiritual science is a great life-treasure, also in the meaning which I have explained to you on various occasions and because the dead person lives in our thoughts consciously and of his own accord, we are able to do something for the dead owing to the fact that we have taken up spiritual science. This is also connected with the explanations which I have frequently given in regard to reading to the dead. The dead friend lives in our thoughts; he looks upon our thoughts. If these thoughts are of the kind resulting from a spiritual-scientific train of thoughts, or if we tell him something we know or think in connection with the spiritual worlds, the dead unites himself with the thoughts which we send out to him from the earth through spiritual science. This focusing of our thoughts upon him forms the link between here and beyond and constitutes the force of attraction. Because spiritual science is filled with life, a living force can, as it were, be sent upwards, and this is nourishment for the dead person who is connected with us.

We see, therefore, that spiritual science really overcomes death in this soul-manner and that it penetrates into life. A community of living and dead, which otherwise cannot exist at the present time in such an intensive form, is established because here upon earth we are filled with thoughts taken from spiritual science, and because we offer these thoughts, as it were, to the dead and turn toward them.

Spiritual science has, in every way, a living influence upon life, whereas the knowledge which is acquired throughout the physical world in the form of ordinary science consists of thoughts which have a real significance only during the time between birth and death. During the life after death they only have the value of memories and do not possess a living influence. This difference should be borne in mind clearly.

Something else should also be considered when reflecting on the significance of spiritual science for the present and for the future spiritual evolution of man. Not only what we acquire here as spiritual science and transmit to the dead, not only that which passes from the physical into the spiritual world, but also what we bring with us through the portal of death in the form of acquirements gained through spiritual knowledge reacts from the spiritual world on the earthly sphere The earthly sphere—we should not lose sight of this fact—is gradually impoverished through the forces coming from the earth itself, forces which men develop as they pass through their life between birth and death. Earthly life would grow poor if no other forces were to stream down upon the earth from the spiritual world except those which have so far descended upon it.

At the present time it is disheartening to see how thoughtlessly people live, without noticing the gradual impoverishment of earthly existence. This is a phenomenon which can be observed not only in regard to man's spiritual life, not only in regard to culture, but also in regard to the densest aspect of physical life upon the earth. In Eduard Suess's excellent book, The Countenance of the Earth, you can read that once upon a time the earth presented a different aspect: its physical surface was different. The earth has undergone, as it were, a slow death-process as far as its surface is concerned, for this surface of the earth, the ordinary, physical surface of the earth, no longer contains the same forces as in ages long past.

What takes place in physical life also takes place in spiritual life. As already stated, it is often disheartening to see how people confront this without being aware of it. As far as spiritual life is concerned it is so that when we describe the path which is trodden by humanity we must say: In spite of the pride pervading our present time it appears that man's thoughts grow more and more lifeless, more and more dead, and even more and more disconnected. Modern men are naturally very proud of their thinking ... indeed, many a teacher of Greek thinks that he is far greater than Plato when he explains Plato to his pupils! Hebbel, the profound poet, wrote in his notebook (but he did not carry out his plan) that he intended to write a drama, with the reincarnated Plato as chief character, and that this Plato is severely punished by his teacher because he cannot understand Plato during a Greek lesson! Man would, in a certain way, lose the continuity of his thought-system if this thought-system were not refreshed by thoughts born out of spiritual-scientific knowledge. It may sound strange to-day, nevertheless it is true: the intensive force which man needs in order to grasp his thoughts in the right way, so that they acquire reality, this force grows powerless because man must become independent, he must acquire forces of his own. For this reason (I can express it in this way), the gods and the spiritual beings who have once inspired man's thoughts, his connected train of thoughts, withdraw, and man must now independently bring into his thoughts a living element. He will do this only if he is not too proud to take up within him that life which flows out of spiritual science.

With our feelings and with the impulses of our will it is the same as with our thoughts. These human impulses of volition will, for instance, grow more and more obstinate and self-willed (we may really use this expression), they will gradually separate themselves from the common element of humanity unless the soul is inoculated with the great, encompassing impulses which can only arise out of a contemplation of the spiritual connexion of physical things. I have now expressed truths which have a great weight in the evolution of man's future, but these truths should become united with the souls of those who occupy themselves with spiritual science. For spiritual science should not only be a lifeless store of knowledge satisfying our curiosity, but spiritual science should be something which seeks to penetrate into the connexion of the things which man must face in the future. In order to attain to this it will be necessary to have an insight enabling us to see the systems of forces which are gradually becoming paralysed and those which should be substituted by others. I have said that man's earthly forces would become paralysed if no help comes from the spiritual worlds. What we acquire through a spiritual-scientific knowledge and bear with us through the portal of death, gives us, between death and a new birth, not only the power to mould our life during the time between death and a new birth, but also the power allowing spiritual forces to descend upon the earth. This will have to take place in a growing measure, so that the human beings who live upon the earth may receive the forces descending from the souls who are penetrated with the spirit, souls who have passed through the portal of death and who send back what they have taken with them from the earth, but in a changed form, according to what has taken place through the fact that their life-experiences have entered the spiritual worlds.

One way of sending influences from the physical into the spiritual world is to work for the dead by reading to them, by sending them thoughts connected with spiritual science. Similarly there is also a way of contributing something toward the physical enrichment of the earth's evolution by sending down from the Spiritual world what we have acquired during our abode in the physical world and have carried into the spiritual world by passing through the portal of death. A peculiarity to be borne in mind is that the physical world can again receive things which have acquired a changed aspect through the fact that they constitute a spiritual wealth which we have gained during our physical life and which we have carried through the portal of death. In the spiritual world it has undergone a metamorphosis and then it streams down again in this changed form.

As far as we ourselves are concerned, we always work upon our karma so that it fulfils itself between birth and death. But we also work upon the karma of mankind as a whole, and this karma consists of the life-stream flowing off from the earth and of the life-stream flowing in from the spiritual world. We also work upon this entire world-karma with the aid of forces which we develop between death and a new birth over and above our own requirement. We can therefore see how necessary spiritual science really is, how necessary it is that spiritual science should be taken up and digested by human souls, not only for the welfare of individual human souls, but also for the welfare of the entire progress of humanity here upon the earth. In my public lecture I have already explained how we work from the spiritual world upon our future life on earth. The way in which we gradually enter before birth into hereditary conditions through the stream of the generations, and how we participate not only in that which concerns us individually during a future life on earth, but also in that which concerns humanity as a whole—these thoughts which I now utter, these particularly are thoughts which should penetrate into us and live in us, thoughts which should—I might say—be meditated. For they place us into a living spirit and soul-connexion with the environing world.

As a counterpart, I wish to show you the attitude which is still being adopted by the world in regard to the things which are revealed particularly to spiritual science, and how the world adopts a standpoint which would necessarily bring about what I have characterized as a drying-out of thoughts, as a lack of continuity, a lack of connexion in human thoughts. And corresponding things would appear in other spheres. Particularly those who are now the leaders in this or in that sphere contribute in a direct way, through their arrogant rejection of every connexion with the spiritual world as transmitted by spiritual science, to the realization of this grievous situation, the approach of which can already be seen to-day, particularly in regard to the world of thoughts.