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Karmic Relationships VII
GA 239

Lecture VII

13 June 1924, Breslau

We are all the time coming nearer to an understanding of those elements in the lives of individuals that can give us an inkling of the place of karma in their personal existence. In order to reach this goal in the course of these lectures it will be my task to-day to indicate how karma can be investigated by Initiation-science, to begin with through actual experience of karma, and how man—at first without Initiation-science but with a certain intimate capacity for observing life—can develop insight into the potency of karma. Let us remember here what I have said about memory and thoughts which stream up in their multitudes from the depths of the world of soul, some summoned by our own activity, some rising up freely. They are thoughts which give us a picture, shadowy and more or less abstract it is true, but for all that a picture of our earthly life since birth. Attention has recently been drawn to what a man loses if he loses his memory. He is then still able to act quite sensibly and reasonably, but he does not act out of the context of his whole life; he acts as if at the point of time when his action begins he remembers nothing of his life hitherto; he acts, in fact, as if he had come into the world as a skilful, intelligent, rational individual but as if his life hitherto had simply not been spent on this Earth. From this we see how for the ordinary-level consciousness of to-day, the Ego is anchored, grounded, in the memory but in the case referred to can no longer find its bearings along the path of memory leading through this earthly life.

But what does this memory amount to? Let us compare it with the actual experience of the reality from which the memory comes to us. We have our place in life, we go through life with its joys and sorrows, find ourselves interwoven in our experiences with the whole of our being. But just compare the intensity of feeling that accompanies an actual experience with the shadowy remembrance preserved in the soul. We need only take an especially significant event in life, for instance, the death of a friend who was particularly dear to us, or the death of father or mother, at a time when such a happening would be an exceptionally deep experience. Let us compare the full intensity of the event and the moment when it was experienced, with the shadowy memories that come to us ten years later! And yet we must have these shadowy memories in order to be aware of the continuity, the intrinsic value and reality of our Ego in earthly life. But is it not evident from this how the Ego, which can find no bearings in earthly life without memory, really experiences itself in a shadowy way, how it is anchored in what actually sinks down every night into unconsciousness? As a matter of fact we do not experience our ‘I,’ our Ego, with very great intensity in ordinary-level consciousness on Earth. The real Ego of life that is not immediately present grows more and more akin to thought, although we know that it is connected with the Ego of to-day. Experience of the present has intensity but this intensity is absent from experiences that have become remembrance. So that we can say: (a drawing was made) if this is our perceptive soul, our spirit, which are in living intercourse with all that streams in upon us from the outside world, behind this Ego we experience in shadowy recollection what remains to us of it. The characteristic feature of this memory is that feeling and also impulses of will are more and more sifted out of it. However intense our feelings may have been on the occasions referred to, the death of someone extraordinarily dear to us, for instance, yet the memory picture which remains has become dim, more and more devoid of feeling. And even less is there any continuance of what we then undertook out of our will-impulses under the impression of the moment! Feeling and will fade away; the calm memory-picture, a mere shadow of what we actually experience, is all that remains as a rule. And we can exist in the land of Earth only if this shadow of an experience remains with us. Our relation to memory is one thing, to present experience quite another.

But we can approach direct experience in another way, not as we usually do; we can ask new questions about our experiences. It must be admitted that if we look back on life it assumes a remarkable aspect. Let us ask ourselves what we really are at the present moment with our knowledge, with the quality of our feeling, the energy of our will. And if we return to our experiences with these newly asked questions, we shall discover how poor we should be, after having reached a certain age in life, if our previous experiences had not been there! If we look back, more particularly to many experiences of youth and relate the remembrance of them to the present day—how happy they were! If we often look back over our life we can say to ourselves something highly significant for the present moment. We can say: we owe the facility with which we adapt our soul, perhaps even our physical constitution with more or less dexterity to life, to the circumstances that in youth we were able to live happily, not suffering from depression, that we were led to much that gave us joy. These impressions of joy in the soul endow us in later life with a certain happiness, although it is drawn down into deeper regions of our being. Let us now ask how much of what life brings us in the way of inner deepening, how much of this is to be attributed to our sorrows, our sufferings? And let us also ask: what can arise in the soul if we look at our life with these questions in mind? We must give the answer to these questions not with the intellect, but with feeling. And feeling answers: I must be thankful to all that has come into my life because only thereby have I become the being I am and with whom I more or less identify myself. I cannot know whether otherwise I might have been of even less account. I can only be thankful to life, because I have become what I am through its joys and sorrows.

This question must be answered with a feeling of thankfulness to life. And it means a great deal if this thankfulness for earthly existence finds its way into the human soul. If certain deepenings of the soul are achieved and life is judged not out of emotion but out of the soul in its purity, then this thankfulness always arises. Though much of what life has brought us may be deplored, yet in many respects the regret is the expression of a complete error. For if what is regretted had not taken place we should not be what we actually are. The feeling that we can have about life amounts ultimately to this thankfulness. Thankfulness may also be felt even when we are not entirely in agreement with life, when we would like to have had more from our existence. We can also be thankful if we are given a small cake by someone from whom we might have expected the present of a large one. The fact that we had expected a large cake must certainly not weaken our thankfulness. And so it can truly be said that whatever, in our opinion, life has denied us—and this opinion may after all be erroneous—it has at all events brought us something. For what it has brought us we must develop the feeling of thankfulness. But when in all earnestness we develop the feeling of thankfulness—we need only reflect on this and it will be readily understood—there must be thankfulness for something else. Anyone who has developed thankfulness to life will be led, through this thankfulness itself, to recognition of the invisible spiritual Bestowers of life and to the transformation of memory in loving devotion to them.

The most beautiful way for one's personality to be led to the super-sensible is when the path leads through thankfulness to life. Thankfulness is also a way into the super-sensible and finally it becomes veneration and love for the life-bestowing spirit of man. Thankfulness gives birth to love and when love is born from thankfulness to life it opens the heart to the spiritual Powers permeating all existence. And as life began with our birth and we cannot possibly begin to be thankful to life merely from our birth as we then already obviously possessed certain qualities, it is therefore quite certain that thankfulness to life leads out of this life into pre-natal existence. In order to be fully aware of what I am now saying it must in any case be proved in actual life. If thankfulness develops out of unprejudiced observation of life, let us test whether love that quickens insight into the spirit is not actually born from this thankfulness, and we shall find that it is so. The question arising here can indeed only be answered through life itself, but life answers as I have indicated. When, however, through actual experiences we develop thankfulness and love to the life-bestowing spiritual Powers our feeling is quite different from anything associated with memory. We experience vividly, with intensity; in memory our experiences become pale shadows. Memory owes its existence to our experiences; but we now come to something that is mightier than our ordinary Ego.

When we consider the experiences that have come to us we are not concerned merely with our shadowy memories; we are concerned with something mighty, not with the shadow of our Ego flowing through time, but with the creator of this earthly Ego. Outside on every hand are the events to which we owe our existence, and when we consider these events we must acknowledge them to be powerful creators of our earthly Ego. We stand in the middle of them with our momentary, present Ego; behind us, if we look into our soul, are shadowy after-images of our experiences; before us, there is weaving destiny, the successive experiences of destiny which have formed and moulded our Ego. The transition from thinking to feeling belongs in fact to this vivid feeling of the shaping of destiny, for thankfulness and love can be experienced only in the realm of feeling. It is to this thankfulness and love that there comes a presentiment of an irrevocable destiny. When we have divined the existence of this ruling destiny, having experienced thankfulness and love, we begin to feel the power of the events that have made us what we are. Think of someone of forty years of age: he has made his mark. In order to take an extreme example, let us say that he has become a great poet—after all there have been such people! ... I might also say, not to go far afield, a noted physiologist, or physicist, but I will take an imaginary example. This man looks back to his eighteenth year; he goes through the events from his fortieth back to his eighteenth year and finds that at the age of eighteen he failed in his leaving examination. At that time it had been a great grief to him. But he had been obliged to arrange his life differently, for he had not enough money to repeat the year, or to go through the wide world as a student who had failed in his examination. Everything was already prepared! Had he passed the examination he would have become an excellent financial inspector, have done an immense amount of work, but have had no time to develop the facilities and powers lying in the underground of his soul. Of course it can be said that if these powers of phantasy exist they are so strong that in any case they would break through the financial activities! This can be said in the abstract, and is invariably said, but it is not true. Many a poet owes his special temperament and what he has become to the circumstance that something of the nature I have indicated happened to him. He will be grateful—if he sets any value on having become a famous poet—to the examiners who ‘failed’ him and did not hinder the course of his life by giving him ‘excellent’ in each subject. Whatever life has been, when we take it in its reality and not sentimentally we can certainly develop this thankfulness and acknowledge that we have been forged by the destiny that goes with us or against us. But at all events we must undergo this feeling in order to see destiny as it were weaving as living reality before us.

Here I should like to interpolate how the same experiences come to one who possesses Initiation-knowledge, one who can therefore see into the spiritual world. He directs his gaze—which has already been sharpened by the Imaginative and Inspired knowledge he possesses and about which you can read in the book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds—he directs his gaze to some particular experience. One who has intensified and strengthened his knowledge can direct his gaze with particular intensity to any experience he is undergoing at the present moment. If a man has Initiation-knowledge he is affected by the experience not less but more strongly than if he has no such knowledge. From the fact that he apparently undergoes experiences with much greater composure than a man who has not this knowledge it must not be concluded that he is less deeply moved by them. He is much more strongly affected than the other. It is only that he has acquired the power to look with composure and objectively at the hard experiences of life; deep down in his being he feels them more significantly than does the other. So when a man endowed with Imagination and Inspiration has experiences they are intense and strong; and because he has practised the relevant exercises in this and in the preceding life he can transform the experiences into pictures full of content, into actual Imaginations.

In what does this transformation consist? It consists in the fact that not only does what the eyes see of the events and experiences, stand there, but that the deeper spiritual connections become evident and a picture which is also carried about with one when the experience has passed, arises; the experience has passed but the picture is immediately present. The experience is intense and through Imagination the spiritual connections play into it. The soul is strongly stirred and it is then possible to look into the spiritual reality and to retain the experience. If a night goes by, the experience, which has become more intense because the astral body and the Ego go out of the physical body, is carried into the spiritual world. What has been experienced in the physical world with the physical and etheric bodies together can be experienced in the spiritual world only with the Ego and astral body; but then, on waking, it is driven back again into the physical body. But it is not brought back as if by the ordinary consciousness which is restricted to memory which gradually fades away. It is carried back in such a way that one's whole being is permeated as with a phantom; it is carried with one in full objectivity, in all intensity, and it resounds with the reality of another human being standing bodily before one.

And then again two or three days or nights pass. Then, after these two or three days or nights the following happens: what was first carried into the spiritual world by the Ego and astral body and has been brought back so that it is quickened and vibrates in the physical body, yes, even becomes articulate and stands behind the experiences as the ruling destiny. The experiences are not alone; they are now coloured by what produced them in former earthly lives, by the forecast of how they will go on working in the earthly lives to come. Just as we put memory as a shadowy image behind us, one who has Initiation-knowledge puts experiences in front of him so that they are clearly there before him. But they become as transparent as glass and behind them, like a mighty cosmic memory, stands the evolving karma, the objectivised memory. And one becomes aware that man not only has within him the shadowy memories of earthly life but that his karma is engraved around him in the cosmic ether, the Akashic Chronicle. Within is shadowy memory, without is the cosmic memory of our destiny through the lives on Earth even although it remains unknown to the ordinary-level consciousness.

Our passage through the world may be sketched like this (a sketch was made). We walk over the ground of the Earth bearing within us shadowy memories. If we were to picture to ourselves a human being with these shadowy memories in him we should have to picture them as a little cloud in the region of his head—where the head passes over into the body—gradually becoming more and more shadowy towards the body. As a human being moves through the world he is surrounded by an etheric aura in which all his experiences are inscribed but also everything that is inscribed in him from the previous earthly life. We have an inner memory and we have the world's memory outside us. Every human being is surrounded by this aura. Not only is the present life engraved in us by way of memory, but round about us the earthly lives of man are engraved. It is not always easy to decipher this memory, but it is there. The deciphering is difficult and in the instances of which I have spoken to you during the last few days, the deciphering was not easy to convert into knowledge. But everything is there. Man has not only a memory within him but an auric memory around him. It is not possible in a single moment to call up a remembrance of what one has passed through in life. The remembering always requires several days. Here, waking up and going to sleep must also come into play, as I have described. It can never be said that as some experience has been undergone one should necessarily remember how it was affected by earlier lives on Earth. It must be fixed in the mind clearly and imaginatively, permeated with inspiration; and then one must wait until it reveals itself. One must never speculate about the spiritual world in research, never invent anything, but only make the preparations for enabling something to reveal itself from the spiritual world. Anyone who believes he can force the spiritual world to reveal this or that to him will be very greatly mistaken; nothing but errors will come of it. Preparation must be made for what one may hope to receive out of the spiritual world more or less by grace.

Such is the path of knowledge which with Initiation-science can reveal karma. It reveals that each human being bears karma as a kind of aura around him. But through the path of thankfulness in life I have described it is possible to have an inkling of the karma a man carries around him in this way. This inkling of being enclosed in a karmic-auric mantle can come to one. It will take more than a period of a few days as would be possible with Initiation-knowledge, but it will come about gradually in the course of more intimate self-observation—often with respect to experiences lying in the far past, to which we turn our gaze. But if a certain event of our past life is mature enough for us to recognise that the forces of preparation in earlier earthly lives are playing into it, then we certainly have an inkling of the truth. Unfortunately, however, it is rare to-day for a man to penetrate so deeply into his own soul that he achieves this grasp of his own experiences or even comes near to developing the feeling of thankfulness. People to-day take life far too externally. They rush through life without pausing quietly to realise the nature of their various experiences. If one has grown up with a certain perception of the cosmic significance of human life, it may sometimes seem quite remarkable how far individuals are from being what they imagine themselves to be, how often they are simply borne along by life without making any strong individual impression.

Here too I should like to speak of concrete cases. I once came across a history teacher, who was a very clever man and also gave his pupils this impression. It might be said that when he chose to do so he lectured with a certain inner enthusiasm which lent emphasis to his words and when the right moment came, enthusiasm for him as a teacher was aroused in his pupils. There was something remarkable about him. I saw him at the time when he could arouse real enthusiasm among his pupils. But then life got the better of him; he became slack, and the enthusiasm that formerly permeated his lectures was no longer there. He read aloud from books, supposing that the pupils did not know them and would not come across them. But one day a pupil went up to the rostrum and saw the book from which he had been reading, whereupon all the pupils bought it, learnt its contents thoroughly and became excellent scholars. At last he became so superficial that he no longer knew what he was telling the pupils in his class. This transformation came about in a relatively short time, and one could not help being amazed to see how ineffectual he was after having quite recently been able to generate such enthusiasm. A few more years went by and the same teacher of whom I once heard a number of pupils say with the characteristic enthusiasm of youth: ‘There's a man for you! He is really enthusiastic about history ... one can learn something from him!’—this man ended quite remarkably, in a life of stagnation and triviality. In a few years he had degenerated to such an extent that he was obliged to live outside the town where he had been a teacher; he was so little respected that it was impossible for him to live in the town.

Such a change for the worse in destiny seems a great riddle and if life is taken earnestly enough it is through such cases that one begins to ask questions about karma. For very many other human beings seem to jog along in the same old groove, undergoing no such radical changes. To genuine spiritual knowledge such destinies as the one of which I have told you become great problems. Through spiritual knowledge we are led on the one hand to the great problems which in the lecture yesterday, at the end of a series of incarnations, brought us to Woodrow Wilson, but on the other hand, in the life immediately surrounding us we are led in thought to the great questions of human destiny. If we observe an example of this kind quite without prejudice we make the discovery that surely it cannot have its origin in the present life! And there will be countless other, quite different cases, where no such twists of destiny take place. We must therefore set to work with the strong desire to understand such questions of destiny. And other cases arise. I will give another example. These examples always seem to me to have been placed in my own path in order to give my conception of karma the right colouring.

I also came to know another man personally—also a teacher. He was even more revered than the one of whom I have spoken, quite extraordinarily revered by his pupils. They believed him to be the greatest sage at present existing in the world. This was the impression made upon his numerous pupils—not upon all, not, for instance, upon myself, but that is a personal matter and is not characteristic. And now a most remarkable thing happened. One could have believed from the relation of this man to his pupils—he had thrown himself into his teaching with all enthusiasm, with every fibre of his soul—that it apparently satisfied him. Yet one suddenly discovered that he was extremely glad not to be obliged to teach any longer; he had been appointed Director of a much less important school than the one in which he had formerly taught. He was delighted to be able to carry out the business of Director which was much more trivial work than actual teaching. And the most striking and surprising thing of all was that this same man, who could speak inspiringly about Homer and Aeschylus, who presented geography in a wonderful way to his pupils, that this same man ended in trivial party-political circles. It was absolutely incomprehensible!

I am bringing this forward only as an example for I could add any number more to the two cases of which I have spoken. They would be personalities about whom one has the feeling that their Ego has been little affected by life. They stand there as personalities upon whom life has little effect; it has touched them externally only. If it touched them when they were still near their training-college examination or during their University training when they listened with enthusiasm, then they were full of zest. If life has led them to trivialities, then they accommodate themselves to the trivial, and are contented too; nothing touches their souls at all deeply. If it were a matter of cleverness, of intelligence ... well, how many people would be Anthroposophists to-day! Millions of individuals to-day are clever enough to grasp Anthroposophy. What hinders them in our time from coming to Anthroposophy is that in their souls they take life superficially, letting life flow past in its depths, its superficialities, its banalities. They can be unimportant school-reformers for a time and after that sit all day in cafes and play billiards, without a single pause from morning until night. Such things do indeed go on in our modern life.

Here the great question arises as to why this happens. In the case of many souls it becomes apparent in what a remarkable way such circumstances have come about. A whole number of personalities such as those described through the two examples, lead one back into the early Christian centuries, when they had their most important previous incarnations. One is led to those centuries when in the South and also already to some extent in Middle Europe, Christianity had assumed the form which later on it has still in many ways retained. It was a time when, as I have shown in the book Christianity as Mystical Fact, the Mystery-wisdom out of which Christianity had grown, had faded away. The Mystery-wisdom had contained the experience of the Cosmic Christ, the knowledge that the Christ had proceeded from the Sun, which is a spiritual reality in the Cosmos, and had come to the Earth in order to be for the Earth that which He has indeed become. This knowledge which extends from the Earth into realms of cosmic spirituality existed among influential Christians in the first century and faded away in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh centuries A.D. Then it faded away so thoroughly that to-day it has come to the point—but it began at that time—when the strongest rebuke levelled against the conception of Christ held by Anthroposophy is that Anthroposophy regards Christ as a Cosmic Being, as a Sun Being. Everywhere among our opponents it is accounted to be Anthroposophy's greatest crime that it has a cosmological conception of Christ. It is said that this is a warming-up of what once existed as Gnostic Christianity.—Now people have no idea whatever of what Gnostic Christianity is. For with the exception of a few fragments such as the Pistis Sophia, from which little can be learnt, the Gnosis has become known to posterity only through the writings of its opponents. Hence nothing is really known about it. And now think about this question: if nothing were to remain known of Anthroposophy except the writings of my present opponents, if everything were destroyed except their writings—what would be said about Anthroposophy in times to come? Many critics endeavour to treat the numerous anthroposophical books in existence as the Gnostic writings were treated. If these critics were to succeed, nothing would remain except the writings of opponents. It would be to them that people would turn in the first place—to purely antagonistic literature! That would be extremely interesting! External research into the Gnosis had nothing to go on except the writings of opponents! So it is simply nonsense to talk about the ancient Gnosis having been raked up, for nobody could do such a thing without knowledge of the Gnosis derived from its authentic writings, but these have been lost! It cannot be understood from works mostly written by opponents and nothing else has come down to posterity. But even so, to connect the Christ with the Spirit of the Cosmos is accounted to be the greatest sin. In any real conception of the Gospels, every page, every sentence points to the cosmic nature of Christ. But that conception has gradually been rooted out. And it was at the time when the Gnosis had been most thoroughly exterminated that those individuals who when they come again to-day do not get to grips with life, were for the most part incarnated. In that previous incarnation, when they were already clever and intelligent the culture of the age prevented them from knowing anything about the Earth's connection with the spiritual life in the Cosmos. It was because they stumbled, as it were, through life, thinking of the Earth as enclosed in itself with nothing but physical stars to be seen outside that in the next incarnation they can only turn to meet the impacts of real life with stumbling steps.

And so we look into the destiny of men. We discover that the culture of the age exercised this influence upon a very large number of human beings, that it made them superficial and they come to the present incarnation already with the tendency to superficiality as I have described to you. For that is how you experience these men, who once, in an earlier incarnation lost connection with the spirit-powers in the Cosmos; in the incarnation following the decisive one referred to, they cannot find the connection with earthly life. But thoughts about karma must do more than introduce mere reflections into our life, they must bring will, activity. We must therefore bear constantly in mind: How will it be in the future, if to the inability to grasp the Spirit in the Cosmos is added the inability to grasp earthly life, if men's attitude to the trivialities of life is no different from their attitude to the deep realities of life? Then indeed the study of karma becomes a serious matter. It can thrive among us only if pursued with the greatest earnestness.

My wish to-day was to consider karma more from the aspect of feeling.