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Karmic Relationships IV
GA 238

Lecture I

5 September 1924, Dornach

Many friends have come here to-day for the first time since the Christmas Foundation Meeting and I must therefore speak of it, even if only briefly, by way of introduction. Through this Christmas Foundation the Anthroposophical Society was to be given a new impulse, the impulse that is essential if it is to be a worthy channel for the life which, through Anthroposophy, must find embodiment in human civilisation. Since the Christmas Foundation an esoteric impulse has indeed come into the Anthroposophical Society. Hitherto this society was as it were the administrative centre for Anthroposophy. From its beginning onwards, Anthroposophy was the channel for the spiritual life that has been accessible to mankind since the last third of the 19th century. Our conception of the Anthroposophical Movement, however, must be that what takes its course on earth is only the outer manifestation of something that is accomplished in the spiritual world for the furtherance of the evolution of humanity. And those who wish to be worthily connected with the Anthroposophical Movement must also realise that the spiritual impulses are also at work in the sphere of the Anthroposophical Society itself.

What does it really amount to when a man has a general, theoretical belief in a spiritual world? To believe in theory in a spiritual world means to receive it into one's thoughts. But although in their own original nature thoughts represent the most spiritual element in modern man, the thoughts themselves are such that in their development as inner spirit during the last four to five centuries, they are adapted only to receive truths relating to material existence. And so people to-day have a spiritual life in thoughts, but as members of contemporary civilisation they fill it with a material content only. Theoretical knowledge of Anthroposophy also remains a material content until there is added to it the inner, conscious power of conviction that the spiritual is concrete reality; that wherever matter exists for the outer eyes of men, not only does spirit permeate this matter, but everything material finally vanishes before man's true perception, when this is able to penetrate through the material to the spiritual.

But such perception must then extend also to everything that is our own close concern. Our membership of the Anthroposophical Society is such a concern; it is a fact in the outer world. And we must be able to recognise the spiritual reality corresponding to it, the spiritual movement which in the modern age unfolded in the spiritual world and will go forward in earthly life if men do but keep faith with it. Otherwise it will go forward apart from earthly life; its link with earthly life will be maintained if men find in their hearts the strength to keep faith with it.

It is not enough to acknowledge theoretically that spiritual reality hovers behind mineral, plant, animal and man himself; what must penetrate as deep conviction into the heart of every professed Anthroposophist is that behind the Anthroposophical Society too—which in its outward aspect belongs to the world of maya, of illusion—there hovers the spiritual archetype of the Anthroposophical Movement. This conviction must take real effect in the work and activity of the Anthroposophical Society. Such a conception will in the future contribute in many ways to the provision of the right soil for that spiritual Foundation Stone which was laid for the Anthroposophical Society at the time of the Christmas Meeting.

And this brings me to speak of what I shall have to say to you in the coming days, for which this introductory lecture is intended to provide guiding lines. I want to show how at this serious point in its existence the Anthroposophical Movement is actually returning to its own germinal impulse. When at the beginning of the century the Anthroposophical Society came into being out of the framework of the Theosophical Society, something very characteristic was foreshadowed. While the Anthroposophical Society—then the German Section of the Theosophical Society—was in process of formation, I gave lectures in Berlin on Anthroposophy. Therewith, at the very outset, my work was given the hallmark of the impulse which later became an integral part of the Anthroposophical Movement.

Apart from this, I can remind you to-day of something else.—The first few lectures I was to give at that time to a very small circle were to have the title, “Practical Exercises for the Understanding of Karma.” I became aware of intense opposition to this proposal. And perhaps Herr Guenther Wagner, now the oldest member of the Anthroposophical Society, who to our great joy is here to-day and whom I want to welcome most cordially as an Elder of the society, will remember how strong was the opposition at that time to much that from the beginning onwards I was to incorporate in the Anthroposophical Movement.

Those lectures were not given. In face of the other currents emanating from the Theosophical Movement it was not possible to proceed with the cultivation of the esotericism which speaks unreservedly of the reality of what was always there in the form of theory.

Since the Christmas Foundation, the concrete working of karma in historical happenings and in individual human beings has been spoken of without reserve in this hall [The temporary lecture-hall in the “Schreinerei” (workshop) at the Goetheanum.] and in the various places I have been able to visit. And a number of Anthroposophists have already heard how the different earthly lives of significant personalities have run their course, how the karma of the Anthroposophical Society itself and of the individuals connected with it has taken shape. Since the Christmas Foundation these things have been spoken of in a fully esoteric sense; but since the Christmas Foundation, also, our printed Lecture-Courses have been accessible to everyone interested in them. We have thus become an esoteric and at the same time a completely open society.

Thus we return in a certain sense to the starting-point. What must now be reality was then intention. As many friends are here for the first time since the Christmas Foundation, I shall be speaking to you in the coming lectures on questions of karma, giving a kind of introduction to-day by speaking of things which are also indicated, briefly, in the current News Sheet for members of the society.

As is clear from our anthroposophical literature, the development of human consciousness is bound up with the attainment of those data of knowledge which point to facts and beings of the spiritual world and with penetration into these facts. We shall hear how this spiritual world, the penetration into which has become possible through the development of human consciousness, can then be intelligible to the healthy, unprejudiced human intellect. It must always be remembered that although actual penetration into the spiritual world requires the development of other states of consciousness, the understanding of what the spiritual investigator brings to light requires only the healthy human intellect, the healthy human reason that endeavours to put prejudice aside.

In saying this, one immediately meets stubborn obstacles in the modern life of thought. When I once said the same thing in Berlin, a well-meaning article appeared on the subject of the public lecture I had given before a large audience. This article was to the following effect: Steiner maintains that the healthy human intellect can understand what is investigated in the spiritual world. But the whole trend of modern times has taught us that the healthy human intellect can know nothing of the super-sensible world, and that if it does, it is certainly not healthy!

It must be admitted that in a certain sense this is the general opinion of cultured people at the present time. What it means, translated into bald language, is this: If a man is not mad, he understands nothing of the super-sensible world; if he does, then he is certainly mad! That is the same way of speaking about the subject, only put rather more plainly.

We must try to comprehend, therefore, how far the healthy human intellect can gain insight into the results of spiritual investigation achieved through the development of states of consciousness other than those we are familiar with in ordinary life. For centuries now we have been arming our senses with laboratory apparatus, with telescopes, microscopes and the like. The spiritual investigator arms his outer senses with what he himself develops in his own soul. Investigation of nature has gone outwards, has made use of outer instruments. Spiritual investigation goes inwards, makes use of the inner instruments evolved by the soul in steadfast activity of the inner life.

By way of introduction to-day I want to help you to understand the evolution of other states of consciousness, first of all simply by comparing those that are normal in present-day man with those that were once present in earlier, primitive—not historic but prehistoric—conditions of human evolution.

Man lives to-day in three states of consciousness, only one of which, really, he recognises as a source of knowledge. They are:

Ordinary waking consciousness;

Dream consciousness;

Dreamless sleep consciousness.

In ordinary waking consciousness we confront the outer world in such a way that we accept as reality what can be grasped through the senses, and allow it to work upon us; we grasp this outer, material world with the intellect that is bound to the brain, or at any rate to the human organism, and we form ideas, concepts, emotions and feelings, too, about what has been taken in through the senses. Then in this waking consciousness we grasp the reality of our own inner life—within certain limits. And through all kinds of reflection, through the development of ideas, we come to acknowledge the existence of a super-sensible element above material things. I need not further describe this state of consciousness; it is known to everyone as the state he recognises as pertaining to his life of knowledge and of will here on earth.

For the man of the present time, dream consciousness is indistinct and dim. In dream consciousness he sees things of the outer world in symbolic transformations which he does not always recognise as such. A man lying in bed in the morning, still in the process of waking, does not look out at the rising sun with fully opened eyes; to his still veiled gaze the sunlight reveals itself by shining in through the window. He is still separated as by a thin veil from what at other times he grasps in sharply outlined sense-experiences and perceptions. Inwardly, his soul is filled with the picture of a great fire; the heat of the fire in his dream symbolises the shining in of the rising sun upon eyes not yet fully opened.

Or again, someone may dream that he is passing through lines of white stones placed along each side of a roadway. He comes to one of the stones and finds that it has been demolished by some force of nature or by the hand of man. He wakes up; the toothache he feels makes him aware of the decayed state of a tooth. The two rows of teeth have been symbolised in his dream-picture; the decayed tooth, in the image of the demolished stone.

Or we become aware of being, apparently, in an overheated room where we feel discomfort. We wake up: the heart is thumping vigorously and the pulse beating rapidly. The feverish movement of the heart and pulse is symbolised in the overheated room. Inner and outer conditions are symbolised in dream; reminiscences of the life of day, transformed and elaborated in manifold ways into whole dream-dramas, absorb the sleeper's attention. Nor does he by any means always know to what extent things are elaborated in the miraculous arena of his life of soul. And concerning this dream-life, which may play over into waking life when consciousness is dimmed in any way, he often labours under slight illusions.

A scientist is passing a bookshop in a street. He sees a book about the lower animal species—a book which in view of his profession has always greatly interested him. But now, although the title indicates a content of vital importance to a scientist, he feels not the faintest interest: and then, suddenly, as he is merely staring at what otherwise he would have seen with keen excitement, he hears a barrel-organ in the distance playing a melody which at first entirely escapes his memory ... and he becomes all attention.—Just think of it: the man is looking at the title of a scientific treatise; he pays no attention to it but is gripped by the playing of a distant barrel-organ which in other circumstances he would not have listened to for a moment. What is the explanation? Forty years ago, while still quite young, he had danced for the first time in his life, with his first partner, to the same tune; he is reminded of this by the tune which he has not heard for forty years, played on the barrel-organ! Because he has remained very matter-of-fact, the scientist remembers the occasion pretty accurately.

The mystic often comes to the stage of inwardly transforming a happening of this kind to such an extent that it becomes something entirely different. One who with deep and sincere conscientiousness embarks upon the task of penetrating into the spiritual life must also keep strictly in mind all the deception and illusion that may arise in the life of the soul. In deepening his life of soul a man can very easily believe that an inner path has been discovered to some spiritual reality, whereas in fact it is no more than the transformed reminiscence of a barrel-organ melody! This dream-life is full of wonder and splendour, but can be rightly understood only by one who is able to bring spiritual insight to bear upon the appearances of human life.

Of the life of deep, dreamless sleep, man has in his ordinary consciousness nothing more than the remembrance that time continues to flow between the moment of falling asleep and the moment of waking. Everything else he has to experience again with the help of his waking consciousness. A dim, general feeling of having been present between the moments of falling asleep and waking is all that remains from dreamless sleep.

Thus we have to-day these three states of consciousness: waking consciousness, dream consciousness, dreamless sleep consciousness. If we go back into very early ages of human evolution—not, as I said, in historic times but prehistoric times accessible only to those means of spiritual investigation of which we shall be speaking here in the coming days—then we also find three states of consciousness, but essentially different in character. What we experience to-day in our waking hours was not experienced by the men of those primeval times; instead of material objects and beings with clear shapes and sharp edges, they saw all the physical boundaries blurred.

In those times a man who might have looked at you all sitting here would not have seen the sharp outlines demarcating you as human beings to-day; he would not, like a man to-day, have seen these contours bound by so many lines, but for his ordinary waking consciousness the forms would have been blurred; they would have lacked definition. Everything would have been seen with less precision, would have been pervaded by an aura, by a spiritual radiance, a glimmering, glistening iridescence extending far beyond the circumference that is perceived to-day. The onlooker would have seen how the auras of all of you sitting here are interwoven. He would have gazed into these glimmering, sparkling, iridescent auras of the soul-life of those in front of him. It was still possible in those days to gaze into the life of soul because the human being was bathed in an atmosphere of soul-and-spirit.

To use an analogy: if in the evening of a bright, dry day we are walking through the streets, we see the lights of the street-lamps in definite outlines. But if the evening is misty, we see these same lights haloed by all sorts of colours—colours which modern physics interprets quite wrongly, regarding them as subjective phenomena, whereas in truth they give us an experience of the inmost nature of these lights, connected with the fact that we are moving through the watery element of the fog. The men of ancient times moved through the element of soul-and-spirit; when they looked at other men they saw their auras—which were not subjective phenomena but a real and objective part of the human being. Such was one state of consciousness in these men of old.

Then they had a state of consciousness which linked on to this, just as with us the sleep that is invaded by dreams links on to the waking state; again it was not the same as our present dream condition, but everything that was material around it disappeared, vanished away. For us, sense-impressions become symbols in the state of dream consciousness: sunshine becomes fiery heat, the rows of teeth become two lines of stones, dream-memories become earthly or also spiritual dramas. The sense-world is always there; the world of memories remains. It was different for the consciousness of one who lived in primeval times of human evolution—and we shall realise by and by that this applies to all of us, for those sitting here were present then in earlier earthly lives. In those times, when the sun's light by day grew weaker, man did not see symbols of physical things, but the physical things vanished before his eyes. A tree standing before him vanished; it was transformed into the spiritual and the spirit-being belonging to the tree took its place.—The legends of tree-spirits were not the inventions of folk-fantasy; the interpretation of these legends, however, is an invention of the fantasy of scholars who are groping in a morass of fallacy.—And it was these spirits—the tree-spirit, the mountain-spirit, the spirit of the rocks—who in turn directed the eyes of the human soul into that world where man is between death and a new birth, where he is among spiritual realities just as here on earth he is among physical realities, where he is among spiritual beings as on earth he is among physical beings.—This was the second state of consciousness. We shall presently see how our ordinary dream consciousness can also be transformed into this other consciousness in a man of modern time who is a seeker for spiritual knowledge.

And there was a third state of consciousness. Naturally, the men of ancient times also slept; but when they awoke they had not merely a dim remembrance of having lived through time, or a dim feeling of continuous life, but a clear remembrance of what they had experienced in sleep. And it was precisely out of this sleep that there came the impressions of past earthly lives with their connections of destiny, together with the knowledge, the vision, of karma.

Modern man has waking consciousness, dream consciousness, dreamless sleep consciousness. Early humanity had also three states or conditions of consciousness: the state of consciousness in which he perceived reality pervaded by spirit; the state in which he had insight into the spiritual world; and the state in which he had the vision of karma. In primeval humanity, consciousness was essentially in a condition of evening twilight.

This evening twilight consciousness has passed away, has died out in the course of the evolution of mankind. A morning dawn consciousness must arise—into which modern spiritual investigation has already found its way. And by strengthening his own soul-forces man must learn to look at every tree or rock, every spring or mountain, or at the stars, in such a way that the spiritual fact or spiritual being behind every physical thing is revealed to him.

It can become an exact science, a source of exact knowledge (although people scoff at it to-day as if it were craziness or sheer delusion) so that when a genuine knower looks at a tree, the tree, although it represents a physical reality, becomes a void, as it were leaving the space free before his gaze, and the spirit-being of the tree comes to meet him. Just as the sun's light is reflected to our physical eyes from all outer, physical objects, so will humanity come to perceive that the spiritual essence of the sun, pervading the world with its life, is also a living reality in all physical beings. As the physical light is reflected back to our physical eyes, so from every earthly being there can be reflected back as a reality to our eyes of soul, the divine-spiritual, all-pervading essence of the sun. And as man now says: “The rose is red” ... the underlying truth being that the rose is giving back to him the gift he himself receives from the physical-etheric sun-nature ... he will then be able to say that the rose gives back to him what it receives from the soul-and-spiritual essence of the sun which streams through the world with its quickening life.

Man will again find his way into a spiritual atmosphere, will know that his own being is rooted in this spiritual atmosphere. He will come to realise that within the dream consciousness, which to begin with can yield only chaotic symbolisations of the outer life of the senses, there lie the revelations of a world of spirit through which we pass between death and a new birth; furthermore, that in the consciousness of deep sleep there weaves and lives in us as an actual and real nexus of forces that which, after waking, leads us into connection with the working out of our destiny, of our karma. What we live through in our waking hours as destiny, notwithstanding all freedom, is spun during our life of sleep, when with the soul and spirit, which have left the physical and etheric, we lead a life together with divine Spirits; with those divine Spirits, too, who carry over the fruits of earlier lives into this present life. And one who through the development of the corresponding forces of soul succeeds in penetrating with vision into the life of dreamless sleep, discovers therein the connections of karma. Moreover it is only in this way that the historical life of humanity acquires meaning, for it is woven out of what men carry over from earlier epochs, through the life between death and rebirth, into new life, into new epochs. When we look at some personality of the present or some other age, we understand him rightly only when we include his past earthly lives.

During the coming days, then, we shall be speaking of that spiritual investigation which, while concerning itself first with personalities in history but then also with everyday life, leads from the present life, or a life in some other age to earlier earthly lives.