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GA 235

V. The Single Factor of Karma

1 March 1924, Dornach

If we speak in detail about karma, we naturally must distinguish, in the first place, between those karmic events of life which come to a human being from outside and those which arise, as it were, within his inner being. A human being's destiny is composed of many and diverse factors. His destiny is dependent on his physical and etheric constitution. It is dependent on what the human being, according to his astral and ego constitution, can bring of sympathy and antipathy toward the outer world, what others, again, according to his constitution can bring to him as sympathy and antipathy. Moreover, the destiny of the human being depends on the most manifold complications and entanglements in which he finds himself involved on the path of life. All of this determines the human being's karmic situation for any given moment of time or as a totality for his whole life.

I shall now try to put together the total destiny of man out of these various factors. For that purpose we intend today to take our point of departure from certain inner factors in the human being; we intend to look at that factor which, in many respects, is really of cardinal and decisive importance,—that is to say, his inherent tendency toward health and illness, and that which then becomes effective as the basis for this tendency in his strength of body and soul with which he is able to fulfill his tasks.

If we wish, however, to judge these factors correctly, we must be able to see beyond many a prejudice that is contained in modern civilization. We must be able to enter more into the original nature of the human being; we must gain real insight into what it signifies that the human being, as far as his deeper nature is concerned, descends from spiritual worlds into physical earth existence.

Now, you know that what is summed up in the concept of heredity has today found its way, for example, even into the realm of art, of poetry. If anyone appears in the world with certain qualities, people inquire first about heredity. Or if, for example, someone appears with a pre-disposition to illness, they ask: “What about the hereditary relationships?”

This question is, indeed, at the outset quite justifiable, but in their whole attitude toward these things, people today ignore the real human being; they completely ignore him. They do not observe what his true being is, how his true being unfolds. Naturally, they say in the first place that he is the child of his parents, the descendant of his forebears. Certainly, this can be seen. Even in his outer physiognomy; and still more, perhaps, in his gestures do we see the likeness to his ancestors emerging. But not only this; we see also how the human being has his whole physical organism as a product of what is given to him by his forebears. He carries this physical organism about with him, a fact which is pointed out very forcefully today.

People fail, however, to observe the following: When he is born, the human being has most assuredly, at the outset, his physical organism from his parents. But what is this physical organism which he receives from his parents? In that regard the man of modern civilization thinks fundamentally quite falsely.

When the human being has reached the time of change of teeth, he not only exchanges his first teeth for others, but this is also the moment in life when the entire human being—as an organization—is renewed for the first time. There is a thorough-going difference between what the human being becomes in his eighth and ninth year of life, and what he was in his third or fourth year. It is a decisive difference. What he was—as an organism—in his third or fourth year, he received through heredity. His parents gave him that. What comes into being in his eighth or ninth year is the result, in the highest degree, of what he himself has brought down from the spiritual world.

If we wish to indicate in outline the really fundamental facts, we must do it in the following way—shocking though it may be to modern mankind. We must say, the human being receives as he is being born something like a model of his human form. He receives this model from his forbears; they bestow upon him a model. Then, aided by this model, he develops what he becomes later. What he then develops, however, is the result of what he brings down with him from the spiritual worlds.

Shocking as it may be to human beings of today, if they are completely immersed in modern culture, we must, nevertheless, make the following assertion: The first teeth which the human being receives are entirely inherited; they are the products of heredity. They serve him as a model according to which he fashions his second teeth in conformity to the forces he brings with him from the spiritual world. These he elaborates.

And as it is with the teeth, so is it with the body as a whole. Only, this question might arise: Why do we human beings need a model? Why can we not do just what we did in earlier phases of earth evolution? Why is it not possible as we descend and draw toward ourselves our ether body—which we do, as you know, with our own forces brought with us from the spiritual world,—why is it not possible likewise simply to gather to ourselves physical matter, and without the help of physical forbears form our own physical body?

To the modern human being's way of thinking, this question is obviously an example of monumental stupidity, an example of insanity. But then, we must indeed say that with respect to the insanity of the above statement, the Theory of Relativity holds good, although it is applied today only to movement, postulating, as it does, that we cannot tell from observation whether we are moving together with the body on which we find ourselves or whether it is the nearby body which is moving. (This fact became clearly evident in the exchange of the ancient cosmic theory for the Copernican.) But, although at present the Theory of Relativity is applied only to movement, it holds good—for it has a certain sphere of validity—it holds good also in regard to the aforesaid insanity: namely, here are two people who differ greatly; each one thinks the other crazy; the only question is,—which of the two is actually crazy.

Well, in relation to the facts of the spiritual world this question must, nevertheless, be raised: Why does the human being need a model? Older world conceptions have given the answer in their own way. Only in modern times, when morality is no longer included in the cosmic order, but is admitted solely as a human convention, are such questions no longer asked. More ancient world conceptions have not only asked these questions; they have even answered them. Originally, they said, the human being was so constituted that he was able to establish himself on the earth in the following manner: Just as he now draws to himself his ether body out of the general cosmic ether substance, so did he draw to himself the substances of the earth to form his physical body. But he fell a prey to the Luciferic and Ahrimanic influences, and as a result, he lost the faculty of building his physical body out of his own essential being. He must now receive it through heredity.

This way of obtaining the physical body is, for the human being, the result of “original sin,” hereditary sin. This is what ancient world conceptions said. This is the fundamental meaning of “original sin,” hereditary in the necessity of inserting oneself into the relationships of heredity.

In our age, the concepts must be provided again in order, first, to take such questions seriously, and secondly, in order to find the answers. It is a fact that the human being in his earthly evolution has not remained is strong as was his predisposition before the Luciferic and Ahrimanic influences were present. Therefore, he cannot form his physical body through his own capacities as soon as he enters the earthly conditions, but he needs a model, that model which grows during the first seven years of human life. Since he conforms to this model, it is but natural that something of the model, more or less, remains with him in his later life. The human being who, working on himself, is completely dependent on the model will forget—if I may put it so—what he actually brought down with him and will entirely conform to the model. Another human being who has acquired stronger inner force through his former earth lives will conform less to the model, and it will be possible to see how significantly he changes in the second phase of life, between the change of teeth and puberty.

The school will even have the task, if it is a true school, to bring about in the human being the unfoldment of what he has brought into physical earth existence out of the spiritual worlds. Hence, what the human being carries further with him in life contains the inherited characteristics in greater or lesser degree, according as he is able or is not able to overcome them.

Now, just remember, my dear friends, that all things have their spiritual aspect. What the human being possesses as his body in the first seven years of life is simply a model to which he conforms. Either his spiritual forces are to some extent submerged in what is forced upon him by the model and he remains quite dependent on the model, or he works into the model during the first seven years of life that which will transform the model. This work, this elaboration, finds expression outwardly. For it is not merely a question that work is done and that this here (see Figure VI) is the original model; but the original model gradually detaches itself, peels off, so to speak, falls away, just as the first teeth fall out. Everything falls away. The matter is as follows: From one side, the forms and forces press upon the model; on the other, the human being wills to express what he has brought down to the earth. That causes a battle during the first seven years of life. Seen from the spiritual standpoint, this battle signifies what comes to outward symptomatic expression in the illnesses of childhood. The diseases of childhood arc the expression of this inward struggle.

Diagram 6

Figure VI

Needless to say, similar forms of illness occur in human beings later in life. That is the case if, for example, someone did not succeed very well in overcoming the model during the first seven years of life. Then the impulse may emerge later in life to get rid of what has thus karmically remained in him. Thus, in his twenty-eighth or twenty-ninth year of life, the human being may suddenly feel inwardly aroused against the model; he will only then collide with it and, as a result, fall prey to some illness of childhood.

If one has an eye for it, one can observe how strongly the following appears in many children: they change essentially in physiognomy and gesture after the seventh or eighth year of life. No one knows whence certain things come. Today, when the prevailing view of civilization adheres so strongly to heredity, this has even passed over into our way of speaking. If, in the eighth or ninth year, some feature suddenly emerges in a child which is deeply rooted in the organism, the father may say: “Anyhow, he did not get that from me,” while the mother may say: “Well, most certainly not from me.” All this is due to the common belief which has found its way into the parental consciousness that the children must have inherited everything from their parents.

On the other hand, it may often be observed how children grow even more like their parents in this second phase of life than they were previously. Here we must take in full seriousness the way the human being descends into the physical world.

Please note that Psycho-Analysis has, indeed, produced many really horrible swamp flowers; among them, for example, is the following—this may be read today everywhere—namely, that in the hidden, subconscious mind, every son is in love with his mother and every daughter with her father, and that this condition causes life conflicts in the subconscious provinces of the soul. [Cf. Rudolf Steiner: Psycho-Analysis in the Light of Anthroposophy (in preparation). {It's prepared! - e.Ed}]

All these are amateurish interpretations of life. The truth, however, is that the human being is in love with his parents already before he descends into earthly existence, that he descends because they please him. Only, we must naturally distinguish the judgment which people have here on earth about life from the judgment they have about it outside the earthly life between death and a new birth.

On one occasion, in the early stages of our anthroposophical activity, a lady appeared among us who had heard of reincarnation. She liked other things in Anthroposophy very much indeed, but in repeated earth lives she would not participate; one earth life was quite enough for her—with others she would have nothing to do. Now, at that time there were already very well-meaning adherents among us who tried in every possible way to convince the good lady that the idea was, after all, a correct one, and that every human being must participate in repeated earth lives. One friend belabored her from the left, and another from the right. She then departed, but two days later she wrote me a post card to the effect that, after all, she did not intend to be born again on earth!

In such a case, the one who wishes simply to tell the truth out of spiritual knowledge must say to people: “Certainly, it may be that, while you are here on earth, it is not at all to your liking that you should come down again to earth in some future life. But that is by no means decisive. Here on earth, you go through the gate of death into the spiritual world. You are willing to do this. Whether or not you wish to descend again depends on the judgment which will be yours when you no longer carry your body about with you. Then you will form quite a different judgment.” The judgments a human being has in physical life on earth are different in every way from those he has between death and a new birth. For there every point of view changes.

These are the facts. If you tell a human being here on earth—a young human being, perhaps—that he has chosen his father, he might object under certain circumstances and say: “Do you mean that I chose the father who has beaten me so badly?” Yes, certainly, he chose him; for the youth had quite another point of view before he came down to earth. He then had the point of view that the thrashings would do him much good ... This is, indeed, no laughing matter, it is meant in the deepest earnestness. In the same way a man also chooses his parents according to their form and figure. He has a picture of himself before him—the picture that he will resemble his parents. He does not become like them through heredity, but through his own inner soul and spirit forces, the forces he brings down with him from the spirit world. The moment, therefore, that we come to an all-inclusive opinion out of spiritual science as well as physical science, such wholesale statements are without exception no longer valid, for instance, the assertion: “I have seen children who became more like their parents only in the second phase of their life.” Certainly, that is then just the other case, where these children intended to take on for this earth life the form of their parents.

Now it is a fact that the human being, during the whole time between death and a new birth, works in union with other departed souls and with the beings of the higher worlds upon that which makes it possible for him to build his body.

You see, we generally underestimate greatly the importance of what a man carries in his subconscious nature. As earth men, we are far wiser in the subconscious than in the conscious nature. It is, indeed, out of a far-reaching, universal, cosmic wisdom that we elaborate that which becomes within the model during the second phase of life the form that we then bear as our own human nature, the one that belongs to us. If, at some future time, we become aware of how little we really absorb, as far as the substance of the body is concerned, from the food we eat, how we take in far more from all that we absorb in a very finely diluted condition from the air and light, then we shall more readily be able to believe that the human being builds up his second body for the second life period quite independently of all hereditary conditions; he builds it entirely out of his environment. The first body is, actually, only a model. That which comes from the parents—as substance as well as the outer bodily forces—is no longer there in the second phase of life.

In the second life period the child's relationship to his parents becomes an ethical, a soul relationship. Only in the first period of life, that is, up to the seventh year, is it a physical, hereditary relationship.

Now, there are human beings in this earthly life who take a keen interest in all that surrounds them in the visible cosmos. There are men who observe the plants, observe the animal world; they enter with interest into this or that thing in the visible world around them. They take an interest in the majesty of the star-studded heavens. They take part, so to speak, with their souls in the entire physical cosmos. The inner life of a human being who has this warm interest in the physical cosmos differs from the inner life of one who passes the world by with a certain indifference, with a phlegmatic attitude of soul.

In this respect, we have a whole scale of human characters. On the one side, for example, there is a man who has taken a very short journey. When we talk to him afterwards, he describes with infinite love the city in which he has been, down to the minutest detail. Through his keen interest we may thus gain a complete picture of the city he had visited. Prom this extreme we can pass to the opposite,—to such as the instance, when I encountered two elderly ladies who had just travelled from Vienna to Pressburg. Pressburg is a beautiful city. They had returned, and I asked them what it was like in Pressburg, how they had liked it. They could tell me nothing except that they had seen two pretty little dachshunds down by the riverside. These they could have seen just as well in Vienna, they need not have gone to Pressburg for that purpose. But they had seen nothing else. Thus do many people go through the world.

Between these two extremes of the scale, there lies, indeed, every kind and degree of interest which the human being can have for what is in the physically visible world. Let us suppose someone has little interest for the surrounding physical world. It may be that he just manages to interest himself in the things that immediately concern his bodily life—whether, for instance, one can eat more or less well in this or that district. Beyond that his interests do not go. His soul remains poor. He does not imprint the world on himself. And he carries in his inner life very little of what has radiated toward him from the phenomena of the world through the gate of death over into the spiritual realms. Because of this he finds the work with the spiritual beings, with whom he now comes into contact, very difficult. And, in consequence, he brings back in his soul not strength, not energy, but feebleness, a kind of powerlessness for the upbuilding of his physical body. The model, to be sure, works strongly upon him. The fight with the model finds expression in the manifold illnesses of childhood; but the weakness persists. He forms, so to speak, a frail or sickly body, subject to all manner of illnesses. Thus, our soul-spirit interest from one earth life is transformed karmically into the state of health in the next life. Human beings who are “bursting with health” had a keen interest in the visible world in a former incarnation. And in this regard, the details of life act very powerfully.

It is certainly more or less risky nowadays to speak of these things. But we shall understand the relationships of karma only if we are ready to occupy ourselves with the details about it. The art of painting, for example, already existed at a time when human souls, now living, were living in a former earth life; and there were human beings who had no interest at all in painting. Even today there are people who are quite indifferent whether they have some atrocity hanging on the walls of their room, or a well-painted picture. And there were also such people at the time when the souls who are living today were present in former earth lives. Indeed, my dear friends, I have never found a human being with a pleasing face, a sympathetic expression, who did not take delight in the art of painting in a former earth life. The people with an unpleasing expression (which, after all, also plays its part in karma and has its significance for destiny) were always those who had passed by the works of the art of painting with obtuse and phlegmatic indifference.

But these things go much farther. There are human beings (and there were also such in former epochs of the earth) who never look up at the stars, who do not know where Leo is, or Aries, or Taurus, who have no interest in anything in this connection. Such people will be born, in a subsequent earth life, with a body that is somehow indolent; or, if through the vigor of their parents they receive a model which carries them beyond this, they become flabby, lacking in energy and vigor in the body which they then build for themselves.

And thus, it is possible to trace back the state of health which the human being bears with him in a given earth life to the interest he had taken in the visible world to the widest extent during his former earth life.

People, for instance, who in our time take absolutely no interest in music—people to whom music is a matter of indifference—will certainly be born again in a next earth life with asthmatic trouble, or with some disease of the lungs; or, they will be born with a susceptibility to asthma or lung disease. It is an actual fact that the quality of soul which develops in one earth life through the interest we take in the visible world comes to expression in our next earth life in our general bodily disposition in regard to health or illness.

Perhaps, someone might now say: “To know of such things may well take away one's taste for the next earth life.” That, again, is a judgment pronounced from the earthly standpoint, my dear friends, which is certainly not the only one; for the life between death and a new birth lasts longer than the earth life. If a man is obtuse to something visible in his environment, he remains incapable of working in certain realms between death and a new birth, and he has passed, let us say, through the gate of death with the consequences of this lack of interest. After death, he proceeds on his way. He cannot get near certain beings; certain beings hold themselves apart from him, for he cannot approach them. Other human souls with whom he was associated on earth remain strangers to him. This would go on forever; there would be something like a punishment in Hell for eternity, if this could not be modified. The only cure, the only compensation, lies in his resolving—between death and a new birth—to come down again into earthly life and feel in a sick body that which is an incapacity in the spiritual world. Between death and new birth he desires this cure, for he lives with awareness of but one thing, namely, that there is something he cannot do; but he feels this in such a way that in the further course of events, when he dies again, and again passes through the time between death and a new birth, that which was earthly pain becomes the impulse to enter into what he missed the last time. Thus, we may say that in all essentials, we carry with our karma health and disease out of the spiritual world down into the physical.

And if we bear in mind in this connection that it is not always a karma in course of fulfillment, but also a karma in process of becoming, so that certain things may also appear for the first time, then we shall naturally not relate to the former earth lives of a human being everything he experiences in his physical life as regards health and illness. That which, with its roots in the inner nature, appears in regard to the conditions of health and illness, is, we shall know, karmically determined in the roundabout way I have just characterized. The world becomes explicable only when we are able to look beyond this earthly life. Without this the world is inexplicable; it cannot be explained by means of the earth life.

If from the inner conditions of karma, which ensue from the organism, we now pass on to what is external, toward the outer, we may once more—only in order, at the outset, to come in contact with karma, as it were—we may once more proceed from a realm of facts which touches the human being closely. Let us take, for example, that which can be very strongly connected with the general mood of soul health and illness in our relationship with other human beings.

I should like to offer the following case: Some one finds a friend in his youth. An intimate friendship of youth is formed; the two friends are very devoted to one another. Life separates them, so that both of them, perhaps—or, perhaps, one especially—look back with a certain sadness to this youthful friendship. But it does not permit of renewal. However often they meet in life, their friendship of youth is not again renewed. If you consider how much in destiny can sometimes depend on such a broken friendship of youth, then you will admit that this sort of thing can profoundly affect a person's karma.

We should speak as little as possible about such things out of mere theory. To speak out of theory has very little value. In truth, we should speak of such things only from direct perception or else on the basis of that which we have heard or read in the communications of those who are able to have direct perception, and which appears plausible to us and is comprehensible. There is no value in theorizing about these things. Therefore I say, when you endeavor with spiritual perception to get behind such an event as a broken friendship of youth, the following results: If we go back into a former earth life, we usually find that both individuals who in one life had a friendship in their youth which was afterwards broken, were in an earlier incarnation friends in the later part of their life.

Let us assume, for instance, two young people—boys or girls—are friends until their twentieth year. Then the friendship of their youth breaks. If we go back with spiritual cognition into a former earth life, we find there that a friendship also existed, but it had begun around the twentieth year and continued on into later life. That is a very interesting case, which we often find when we follow up things with spiritual science.

In the first place, when we examine the case more exactly, it appears that the urge to know a person also as he was in youth with whom we had a friendship in our mature years leads us in the next life to a youthful friendship with him. In a former life we knew him as a mature human being. That brought into our soul the urge to become acquainted with him also in youth. This we could no longer do in that life, so we carry it out in the next life.

But that has a great influence if in one or both of these individuals this urge arises, passes through death, and then lives itself out in the spiritual world between death and a new birth. For there is then something present in the spiritual world like a fixed staring at the period of youth. We have this quite special longing to fix our gaze on the time of youth, and we do not develop the urge to become acquainted with our friend once more in his maturity. Thus, the youthful friendship is broken which was predetermined between us by the life we had lived through before we came down to earth.

This is decidedly a case which I recount to you out of real life, for what I am now relating is absolutely real. The question, however, arises here: What was the mature friendship really like in the former life, so that it caused this urge to arise to have the human being as a friend again in youth in a new earth life?

Now, in order that the impulse to experience this youthful friendship does not, however, increase into a wish to have the friend also in later life, something else must occur. In all the instances of which I am aware, the following has invariably been the case: If these two human beings had remained united in their later life, if their youthful friendship had not been broken, they would have grown tired of each other, bored with one another, because their friendship which occurred in maturity in a former life developed too egotistically. The egotism of friendships in one earth life avenges itself karmically by the loss of these friendships in other earth lives.

Diagram 7

Figure VII

Thus, things are complicated; but we can always find a guiding line if we see the following: It is a fact in many cases that two human beings in one earth life—let us say—go each his own way until their twentieth year, and thenceforward continue on together in friendship (see Figure VII, No. I). In a subsequent earth life, this picture (I) corresponds to another (Figure VII, No. II), the picture of the youthful friendship after which their lives separate. This is very frequently the case. Indeed, it will generally be found that the various earth lives—seen, as it were, according to their configuration—mutually supplement each other. Especially is the following frequently found to be true. If we encounter a human being who has a strong effect upon our destiny—this applies, naturally, only as a general rule; it is not applicable in all cases—but if we meet an individual in the middle period of life in one incarnation, we have had him beside us perhaps at the beginning and at the end of life in a prior incarnation in accordance with destiny. The picture is then as follows: We live through the beginning and the end of one incarnation together with the other human being, and in another incarnation, we live with him neither at the beginning nor at the end, but we only encounter him in the middle period of life.

Diagram 8

Figure VIII

Or again, it may be that as a child we are bound by destiny to another human being; in a former life we were linked to the same individual just before we experienced death. Such reflections occur with extreme frequency in karmic relationships.