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Karmic Relationships VII
GA 239

Lecture VI

12 June 1924, Breslau

We will turn our attention to-day to manifestations of the life of soul able to lead us to a kind of self-observation in which a vista of our personal karma, our personal destiny, flashes into life like lightning. When we reflect upon the nature of the life of soul even with more or less superficial self-knowledge, we realise that sense-impressions and the thoughts we form about them are the only clear and definite experiences in the life of soul in which, with ordinary consciousness, we are completely awake. As well as these thoughts, sense-impressions, sense-perceptions, we also have, of course, the life of feeling. But just think how indeterminately our feelings surge through us, how little we can speak of inner, wide-awake clarity in connection with our life of feeling. Anyone who faces these facts with an open mind will certainly admit that as compared with thoughts, his feelings are indeterminate, lacking in definition. True, the life of feeling concerns us in a more intimate, personal way than does the life of thought, but for all that there is something undefined in it and also in the way it functions. We shall not so readily allow our thoughts to deviate from those of other people when it is a question of reflecting about something that is alleged to be true. We shall feel that our thoughts, our sense-impressions must somehow tally with those of others. With our feelings it is different. We allow ourselves the right to feel in a more intimate, more personal way. And if we compare feelings with dreams, we shall say: dreams arise from the night-life, feelings from the depths of soul into the light of day-consciousness. But again, in respect of their pictures, feelings are as indeterminate as dreams. Anyone who makes the comparison, even with such dreams as enter quite distinctly into his consciousness, will realise that their lack of definition is just as great as that of feelings. Therefore we can say: it is only in our sense-impressions and thoughts that we are really awake; in our feelings we dream—even during waking life. In ordinary waking life, too, our feelings make us into dreamers.

And still more so the will! When we say: ‘Now I am going to do this, or that’—how much of the subsequent process is actually in our consciousness? Suppose I want to take hold of something. The mental picture comes first, then this picture completely fades away and in my ordinary consciousness I know nothing of how the impulse contained in the ‘I want’ finds its way into my nerves, into my muscles, into my bones. When I conceive the idea, ‘I want to get hold of the clock,’ does my ordinary consciousness know anything at all of how this impulse penetrates into my arm which then reaches out for the clock? It is only through another sense-impression, another mental picture, that I perceive what has actually happened. With my ordinary consciousness I sleep through what has happened intermediately, just as in the night I sleep through what I experience in the spiritual world. I am as unconscious of the one as of the other. In waking life, therefore, there are three different and distinct states of consciousness. In the activity of thinking we are awake, completely awake; in the activity of feeling we dream; in the activity of willing we are asleep. We are in a state of perpetual sleep as far as the essential core of the will is concerned, for it lies deep, deep down in the region of the subconscious.

Now there is something that in waking life too, is always rising up from the depths of the soul, namely, remembrance, memory. When we contact immediate reality, we have thoughts. This immediate reality makes a definite impression upon us. But the past of this earthly life plays all the time into present reality in the form of thoughts and memories, of recollected thoughts. As you know, these recollected thoughts are much dimmer, much less distinct than the impressions of present reality. Nevertheless they do well up and make their way into ordinary waking life. And when we give memory free play, letting it recall all that we have passed through in life, we realise: here is our own life of soul, rising up once again. We feel that in this earthly life we are that which we can remember. Think only what becomes of a man who cannot remember some period of his life, whose memory of that period is completely obliterated. We may come across such cases and I will give just one example.—There was a man in a respectable position who while his life was pursuing its normal course, remembered his past, what he had done in childhood and during his education, what he had experienced as a student, and then in his profession. But one day his memory was suddenly blotted out. He no longer knew who he was.—I am telling you of an actual case.—Strangely enough it was not the reasoning faculty, not the mental grasp of immediate reality that failed; the memory was completely blotted out. The man no longer knew who he was as a boy, as a youth, as a grown-up; his mind could grasp only what was making an impression upon him at the moment. And because he no longer knew who he was in boyhood, youth or maturity, he could not link his present with his past life; this was impossible from the moment his memory faded.

A case like this makes it easy for us to realise just why we do one thing or another at a particular time; it is not because of the pressure of immediate circumstances but because of certain experiences we have had in the past—primarily in the past of our earthly life. Just think of all that you might do or leave undone if memory played no part in your actions! Man is dependent upon memory to a far greater extent than he imagines. The misfortune that befell the man of whom I told you, was that after the sudden obliteration of his memory he was guided only by the impulses of the present moment, not by any promptings of memory. He put on his outdoor clothes and left his home and family. He was tied to them only through memory—and now this memory was blotted out. Impulses worked in him that had nothing whatever to do with memories of his family. His reason and intelligence remained; and so—because it would have been senseless to do these things while other people were there—he waited until they happened to be absent. He had lived with his family as a sensible, rational individual, but his memory had gone. He went to the railway station and took a ticket for a place a long way off. His mind was absolutely clear in a matter where reason came into play. He got into the train and went off; but the memory of what had happened, even the memory of having taken the ticket was blotted out. He was aware only of the immediate present. The extinction of memory was a pathological condition. But he was so intensely engrossed with the present that he knew when he had arrived at his destination; he could compare this with the timetable. The ability to read—something that had already become habit and was therefore no longer a matter of memory—that too had remained. He alighted and took another ticket to a distant destination. And so he went on, travelling about the world without knowing who he was. One day his memory returned, but he knew nothing of what he had been doing since buying the first railway ticket. When his memory returned and he was himself again, he found himself in a Casual Ward in Berlin. It was only the things that had happened in the trains and the places where he had been that were blotted out, for they did not belong to the present. Just think what a state of confusion! How utterly uncertain of himself such a man must be! You will realise from this how closely our ‘I,’ our Ego, is bound up with our store of memories. We know nothing of the self within us if we are bereft of the store of memories.

What is the nature of these memories? Memories are of the nature of soul. But in the whole range of man's life and being they are present in another form as well. They work purely as soul-forces only in a human being who has reached the age of twenty one or twenty two, and continues living. Before then the memories do not work purely as forces of soul. We must be very conscious of what I have said in these lectures, namely that during the first seven years of earthly existence our physical corporality is an inheritance from our parents. At the change of teeth it is not only the first, milk teeth that are expelled—that is only the final act; the whole of the first body is discarded. We build up the second body—the body we bear until the onset of puberty—out of the soul-and-spirit we brought with us when we came down from the spiritual world to physical existence on the Earth. But from birth until the change of teeth we have received a host of impressions from the environment; Our being was absorbed in what flowed into us through having learnt to speak. Think of all the wonders that stream into us together with the power of speech! Any unprejudiced observer will agree in this respect with the statement made by Jean Paul to the effect that he had learnt more in the first three years of his life than in the three academic years. The meaning of this is clear. For even if the academic years are extended to five or six—not, presumably, because one learns too much but because one learns too little—even if this period is considerably extended we learn only the merest trifle in comparison with what we assimilate during the first three years of life, and thereafter through the years following the first three until the change of teeth. After a certain time all this remains in the form of hazy, indefinite memory. But just think how pale and indistinct are these memories of our first seven years compared with the events of later life. Just try to make the comparison. The memories often seem to loom up like erratic boulders without any obvious connection. And why? What we take in during the first seven years of life and what we take in later on have entirely different tasks to fulfil. What we take in during the first seven years works with intense activity at the plastic moulding of the brain, passes into the very organism. There is a great difference between the relatively undeveloped brain we possess when we come into earthly existence and the beautifully developed brain that is ours by the time of the change of teeth. And the result of this work penetrates from the brain into the whole of the rest of the body. This inner artist we bring with us from pre-earthly existence works in a most wonderful way upon our physical body during the first seven years of life. It is miraculous to see the facial expression, the look, the mobility of the features, the purposeful movements of arms and limbs beginning to appear in a child after the lack of definition characterising early babyhood. We see how spirit begins to permeate the child's being and the impressions he absorbs. The way in which spirit permeates the child during the first seven years of life is one of the most wonderful sights imaginable. When we observe how the physiognomy and gestures of the child develop from birth until the change of teeth, when we read and decipher it all just as we decipher something in a book from the single letters, when we know how to connect the forms of the gestures and the facial expressions appearing in succession just as we can connect the letters of a word and so read the word—then we are gazing at the workings of the brain which has been kindled into activity by the impressions received; these can form themselves only into sparse and scattered memories, because the plastic development of the brain and therewith of the physiognomy has primarily to be provided for.

As life continues its course from the time of the change of teeth to the onset of puberty, the forces working in this way are more or less lost to sight. As I said, until the beginning of the twenty-first year, work continues upon the shaping and elaboration of the organism; but from the seventh year onwards this work is less concerned with the bodily nature—and still less from puberty until the beginning of the twenties. But something else comes to our help. If we have any aptitude for this kind of observation and mellow it by contemplating the marvellous phenomenon of the child's physiognomy which reveals itself month by month, year by year in greater clarity, above all if we can perceive what the child's gestures reveal, how the awkward, unskilful movements of the limbs turn in a most wonderful way into movements filled with intelligence and purpose—this sensitive perception can be deepened and finer organs of sense will develop. Then, when we have before us a child between the ages of seven and fourteen, that is to say between the second dentition and puberty, when the changes in the physiognomy and the gestures are less marked and the development less obvious, it is possible through inner feeling which has all the certainty of an eye of soul to perceive how the child's development is proceeding in a more hidden way. And from this delicate, intimate observation of the bodily development of a child between the seventh and fourteenth years, there can arise the faculty to gaze into the life preceding the descent to earthly existence, the life between death and a new birth.

These things must again be within our reach, enabling us to affirm of a child between the ages of seven and fourteen: around you there is not only the sense-world of nature; in everything that is revealed in sense-perceptions, in colours, in forms, lives the spirit! It is truly wonderful to see the spirit becoming articulate in all things and then, as it were in a mirror-image, to perceive a reflection of this in the way in which spirituality reveals itself more and more distinctly in the physiognomy of a child. If we feel this deeply and inwardly and with a certain reverence make the experience a living power in the soul, then, as we observe the child between the ages of seven and fourteen, this reverence will lead to an understanding of how the pre-earthly existence of a human being between death and a new birth works into him here on Earth. And we shall feel that this bodily development is governed, not by the forces of the earthly environment but by the second physical organism which we ourselves mould according to the model provided by the first.

This can be of great importance in life. Humanity will have to learn to perceive the essential nature of Man. Life will then undergo the deepening without which the further progress of civilisation is simply no longer possible. Our civilisation has become totally abstract! In our ordinary consciousness we are no longer able to think in the real sense; we can only think what has been inculcated into us. We are no longer capable of perceptions as delicate as those of which I have been speaking. Hence men to-day pass each other by in ignorance. They learn a great deal about animals, plants, minerals, but nothing whatever about the subtle, impalpable processes of the development of the human being. The whole life of soul must become more intimate, more delicate, purer, and then we shall again perceive something of the real nature of human development itself; and this will lead us eventually to a vista of pre-earthly existence.

Next comes the period immediately following puberty, the period between the onset of puberty and the twenty-first or twenty-second year. Just think of all that a human being reveals to us in this phase of his life! Even with our ordinary consciousness we see evidence of a complete change in his life, but it takes a crude form. We speak of the hobbledehoy years, of the ‘awkward’ years and this in itself indicates our awareness that a change is taking place. What is actually happening is that the inner being is now emerging more clearly. But if we can acquire sensitive perception of the first two life-periods, what emerges after puberty will appear as a ‘second man,’ actually as a second man, who becomes visible through the physical man standing there before us. And what expresses itself in the awkwardness, but also in very much that is admirable, appears like a second, cloudlike man within the physical man. It is important to detect this second, shadowy being, for questions on the subject are being asked on all sides to-day. But our civilisation gives no answer.

The turn of the nineteenth/twentieth century was accompanied by momentous changes in the spiritual and physical evolution of the Earth. Men of the ancient East had divined this and said that Kali Yuga, the Age of Darkness, would come to an end at the close of the nineteenth century when an Age of Light would begin. This Age of Light has begun in very truth but men are still unaware of it because in their minds they are still living in the nineteenth century and their ideas flow on lethargically. Nevertheless around us there is clear, radiant light and if we pay heed to what will reveal itself from the spiritual world, we can become aware of this light. And because youth is peculiarly sensitive, with the turn of the century an undefined longing arose in the hearts of the young for a more intimate knowledge, a much more intimate perception of Man. Human beings born about this time—at the turn of the nineteenth century—have the instinctive feeling: we need to know a great deal more about Man than people are able to tell us. Nobody tells us what we long to know! There was this striving, this urgent, insistent striving for an understanding of Man. Children and young people were ill at ease with their elders for they longed to hear from them something about Man, and these elders knew nothing. Modern civilisation can say nothing, knows nothing about the spirit of Man. But in earlier epochs people were able, speaking with real warmth of heart, to tell the young very much about Man. When thoughts were still quick with life, the old had a very great deal to say—but now they knew nothing. And so there came an urge to run, run no matter where, in order to learn something about Man. The young became wanderers, path-finders; they ran away from people who had nothing to tell them, seeking here, there and everywhere for something that could tell them something about Man.

There you have the real origin of the Youth Movement of the twentieth century. What is this Youth Movement really seeking? It is seeking to find the reality of this second, cloudlike man who comes into evidence after puberty and who is actually there within the human being. The Youth Movement wants to be educated in a way that will enable it to apprehend this second man.—But who is this second man? What does he actually represent? What is it that emerges as it were from this human body in which one has observed the gradual maturing of physiognomy and gesture, in connection with which one is also able to feel how in the second period of life from the change of teeth to puberty, pre-earthly existence is coming to definite expression? What is making its appearance here, like a stranger? What is it that now comes forth when, after puberty, the human being begins to be conscious of his own freedom, when he turns to other individuals, seeking to form bonds with them out of an inner impulse which neither he nor the others can explain but which underlies this very definite urge. Who is this ‘second man?’ He is the being who lived in the earlier incarnation and is now making his way like a shadow, into this present earthly life. From what breaks in upon human life so mysteriously at about the age of puberty, mankind will gradually learn to take account of karma. At the time of life when a human being becomes capable of propagating his kind, impulses to which he gave expression in earlier earthly lives also make their appearance in him. But a great deal must happen in human hearts and feelings before there can be any clear recognition, any clear perception of what I have just been describing to you.

Think of the great difference there is in the ordinary consciousness between self-love and love of others. People know well what self-love is, for every individual holds himself in high esteem—of that there is no doubt! Self-love is present even in those who imagine that they are entirely free from it. There are very few indeed—and a close investigation of karma would be called for in such cases—who would dream of saying that they have no self-love in them. Love of others is rather more difficult to fathom. Such love may of course be absolutely genuine, but it is very often coloured by an element of self-love. We may love another human being because he does something for us, because he is by our side; we love him for many reasons closely connected with self-love. Nevertheless there is such a thing as selfless love and it is within our reach. We can learn little by little to expel from love every vestige of self-interest, and then we come to know what it means to give ourselves to others in the true and real sense. It is from this self-giving, this giving of ourselves to others, this selfless love, that we can kindle the feeling that must arise if we are to glimpse earlier earthly lives. Suppose you are a person who was born, let us say, in the year 1881; you are alive now; once upon a time, in an earlier earthly life, you were born, say, in the year 737 and died in 799. The man, personality B, is living, now, in the nineteenth/twentieth century; formerly this personality—you yourself—lived in the eighth century. The two personalities are linked by the life stretching between death and the new birth. But before even so much as an inkling can come to you of the personality who lived in the eighth century, you must be capable of loving your own self exactly as if you were loving another human being. For although the being who lived in the eighth century is there within you, he is really a stranger, exactly as another person may be a stranger to you now. You must be able to relate yourself to your preceding incarnation in the way you relate yourself now to some other human being; otherwise no inkling of the earlier incarnation is possible. Neither will you be able to form an objective conception of what appears in a human being after puberty as a second, shadowy man. But love that is truly selfless becomes a power of knowledge, and when love of self becomes so completely objective that a man can observe himself exactly as he observes other human beings, this is the means whereby a vista of earlier earthly lives will disclose itself—at first as a kind of dim inkling. This experience must be combined with the kind of observation I have been describing, whereby we become aware of the essential, fundamental nature of man. The urge to apprehend the truth of repeated earthly lives has been present in humanity since the end of Kali Yuga and is already unmistakably evident. The only reason why people do not speak about it is because it is not sufficiently clear or defined. But let us suppose that a thoroughly sincere member of the modern Youth Movement were to wake up one morning and for a quarter of an hour be vividly conscious of what he had experienced during sleep—and suppose one were to ask him during this quarter of an hour: what is it that you are really seeking?—he would answer: ‘I am striving to apprehend the whole man, the being who has passed through many earthly lives. I am striving to know what it is within me that has come from earlier stages of existence. But you know nothing about it; you have nothing to tell me!’

In human hearts to-day there is a longing to understand karma. Therefore this is the time when the impulse must be given to study history in the way I have illustrated by certain examples; it is this kind of study which, if earnestly and actively pursued, will lead human beings to an understanding of their own lives in the light of reincarnation and karma. That is why in these lectures I am combining studies of historical personages with indications that will gradually lead to perception of man's own individual karma. By the time we come to the last lecture we shall have gained a clear idea of how man can begin to glimpse his own karma. But the only way to achieve this is to observe things first of all in the great setting and structure of world-history. The primary aim of this lecture was to shed light on the inner nature and being of man and it has also been possible to elucidate the inner aspect of the strivings of a promising Movement of the times.—And now let me conclude with a picture drawn from world-history.

Study of history in the future must be concerned with the whole man, must realise that man himself carries over from one epoch into the next the impulses that work in history, in the development of world-history. Let us think of the days when Charlemagne was reigning in Europe—it was from 768 to 814 A.D.. Just recall for a moment everything you know about Charlemagne and what he accomplished. As so much about him is taught in school, I am sure that countless details will come into the minds of my listeners! At the same time as Charlemagne, a very important personage was living in the East, namely, Haroun al Raschid. He was a product of the scholarship associated in those days with Mohammedanism and he was fired with the will to foster and promote this oriental scholarship at a centre of learning and culture. Extraordinary results were achieved at his Court, for the highest attainments of the physical sciences, of astronomy, alchemy, chemistry, geography, as they were in those days, converged, so to speak, in him. Art, literature, history, pedagogy—all these branches of culture flourished at the Court of Haroun al Raschid. When one can perceive what was actually accomplished at this Court, the spectacle is far grander, far more impressive than that of the achievements of Charlemagne's Court, above all in respect of spiritual culture. Moreover there is a great deal in the campaigns of Charlemagne that the modern mind will not exactly admire! Living at the Court of Haroun al Raschid was another personality, one who in those days was simply a very wise man, but who in a much earlier incarnation, a long time previously, had been an Initiate. I have told you that the results of Initiation in an earlier incarnation may recede into the background in a later epoch. A most wonderful academy was established over in the East at that time and this other personality of whom I am speaking possessed real genius as an organiser. Scholarship, art, poetry, architecture, sculpture, the sciences—all were organised and brought together by this man at the Court of Haroun al Raschid. Both Haroun al Raschid and his wise Counsellor passed in due course through the gate of death and their evolution proceeded. This was the time when Arabism was spreading over Europe. The spread of Arabism came to a halt, but Haroun al Raschid himself, as well as his Counsellor, continued to be associated with its influence. Whereas the gaze of Haroun al Raschid in his life between death and rebirth was directed to Arabism as it swept through the North of Africa, across to Spain and further upwards to Western Europe, the attention of the other, the wise Counsellor, was directed from the East across the regions North of the Black Sea and from thence towards Middle Europe. It is strange that in following the life of a man between death and a new birth, one can also follow those things upon which his gaze is directed as he looks downwards. As I have told you, what he is actually beholding are the deeds of the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones whose workings are connected with what is happening on the Earth. In the life between death and a new birth we look downwards to the Earth, just as on the Earth we look upwards to the Heavens. The work of these two souls continued long after the close of their physical lives. Outwardly, they were reborn as men of very different characters. Haroun al Raschid appeared again as Lord Bacon of Verulam, the originator of the modern scientific mentality. Those who are capable of unprejudiced observation can see in everything that was forced upon the world by Bacon, a new edition of what was once cultivated over in the East. In the East men had turned away from Christianity. Bacon was outwardly a Christian, but inwardly, in his real aims, unchristian. The other man, the one who had once been the wise Counsellor, followed the path which led across to Middle Europe via the regions North of the Black Sea. It was he who as Amos Comenius brought Arabism over in a quite different form—a much deeper, more inward form than that in which it was introduced by Bacon—but who did, nevertheless, bear Arabism into the modern age.

And so at the dawn of modern spiritual life, two streams intermingled. We can perceive this development of history quite clearly—it is a phase when Christianity is temporarily forgotten, when on the one side scientific culture is externalised, but on the other becomes all the more inward. In his incarnation which had its roots in the East and then ran its course amid the deeper spiritual life of Middle Europe, much of the Eastern element persisted. It is not by casually opening some book ... in a certain dialect there is an expression ‘ochsen’ (to ‘swot’) and I can think of no other word at the moment ... and then swotting up Bacon and Amos Comenius, that we can discern the inner evolution of the human race; we must rather begin to perceive how the development of the several epochs is brought about by men themselves, how the impulses are carried over from earlier into later times. Try for a moment to picture quite clearly what happened here. Christianity has spread, has taken a certain hold in the regions of Middle and Northern Europe. But through men like Bacon of Verulam, the reincarnated Haroun al Raschid, and Amos Comenius, the reincarnated Counsellor, something creeps in that is not genuine Christianity, but merges nevertheless with all that is working like so many spiritual streams in world-evolution. Only in this way is it possible to grasp what is really happening and to understand the great world-processes in which man is rooted.

If we go back to the time preceding Haroun al Raschid, to a man who was an immediate disciple of Mohammed, we must be quite clear about what it was that had been indoctrinated into oriental spiritual life through Mohammedanism. Study of original Christianity reveals the deep significance of the fact that it has the Trinity. When we think of the Spiritual in nature, the Spiritual Power which places us in the world as physical human beings and operates in the laws of nature, namely, the Father Being, we may ask ourselves: What should we be if the Father Being alone worked in us? Through the whole of life from birth till death, we should be under the same sway of necessity as prevails in the world around us. But in point of fact, at a certain age in life we become free beings, not in any way losing our manhood but awakening to a higher form of it. The principle that is working in us when we attain our freedom, when we release ourselves altogether from the sway of nature, this principle is the Son Being, the Christ—the Second Form of the Godhead. But it is the Power of the Holy Spirit that quickens within us the recognition that we live not in the body alone but having been associated with the body through its phases of development, we awaken, we are awakened as beings of Spirit. Man in the fullness of his being can be understood only through the Trinity; it is there that we perceive the concrete reality. But over against the Trinity, Mohammedanism proclaims an abstraction: There is no other Divine Being save the Father God, the one and only God. The Father is all; it is not lawful to speak of a threefold Godhead. In Mohammed himself, and in his followers, this doctrine of the one Father God was personified.

In an epoch when the highest human faculty capable of development was that of thinking in cold, barren abstractions, when men knew only the one, abstract God, they began more and more to identify this God with thinking, to deify the life of thought and the human intellect—forgetting that real thinking has an essentially altruistic tendency. In Mohammed's followers, this talent for thinking about the world in pure abstractions was expressed with a certain originality and grandeur. One of these followers was Muawija. I wish you could look him up in history. You would find there a strange mental configuration, the prototype, as it were, of men who think in pure abstractions, who want to shape the world according to tenets contained in a few simple paragraphs. Muawija, one of Mohammed's followers, appeared again in our time as Woodrow Wilson. A revival of the abstract thinking of Mohammedanism gave rise to the view that it is possible to shape a whole world by applying the principles set forth in fourteen prosaic, abstract paragraphs, void of any real substance. Truth to tell, there has been no greater illusion than this in all world-history; no other illusion has proved such a pitfall for well-nigh the whole of mankind. Before the war, when I spoke in the Helsingfors Lecture Course1The Occult Foundations of the Bhagavad Gita. 28th May–5th June, 1913. of Woodrow Wilson's shortcomings—his fame was then just beginning—people were unwilling to understand when over and over again, wherever I had the opportunity of speaking, I indicated that the calamity looming ahead was by no means unconnected with the idolisation of Woodrow Wilson then going on in the world. Now, since the impulse of our Christmas Foundation, the time has come when such things will be spoken of openly and without reserve, when our studies of history will also be connected with matters that are potent impulses at this very time. Esotericism must permeate the whole Anthroposophical Movement in order that what lies hidden beneath the shroud of external history may be brought into the light of day. Men will not be equal to the task of coping with world-events nor of doing what needs to be done until they begin to study karma and until individuals learn to observe their own being, as well as world-history, in the light of karma.