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Karmic Relationships VII
GA 239

Lecture IX

15 June 1924, Breslau

Let us compare what we learn through direct experiences about our relation to life between birth and death with what we must feel inwardly about the connection between our moral behaviour, thoughts and acts and the consequences of this behaviour. We began these evening lectures with just such studies and we will conclude with the same theme.

When on the one hand we consider how our moral deeds proceed from our purposes, from our whole attitude of soul, we realise that if we observe ourselves without prejudice, one category of our actions must be described as morally good, fit to become part of the world-order; the other category is of actions that must be described as morally bad, morally imperfect, unworthy to become part of the world-order. But whatever comes to pass through men cannot have a momentary significance only—this is admitted by everybody. And the same applies to the world of Nature. Everything has its effects, its consequences, becomes the cause of something or is itself the effect of something. Human life would certainly not be in keeping with the course of world events if what it embraces were not also cause and effect. But whereas we can be completely satisfied when we observe Nature and clearly perceive cause and effect, we certainly cannot be satisfied about the connection between our moral experiences and the course taken by the world-order. There appears to be no direct connection in the physical happenings between what ought to be the result of the moral disposition of our soul and what actually comes to pass in the course of physical life. And if we consider happenings in wider circles of people we see that a man who in respect of his soul-life seems to be morally good, encounters misfortune and evil in the world, while a man who seems inwardly weak and immoral may encounter external events that are in no way a requital for what is harboured in his soul. In short, we find no connection between what a man experiences as his destiny and the essential quality of his will. It could be called an irresponsible illusion if anyone were to deceive himself that in the one life on Earth the destiny he encounters is in any way the effect of his moral will. The bad can be fortunate, the good unfortunate. These two statements really summarise that characteristic of earthly life which makes it incomprehensible, to begin with, to human faculties. And we shall see from this that man, as he is now placed in the world, is himself not in a position to bring about the consequences answering to his deeds. In the single life on Earth morality remains an inner disposition, an inner attunement of the soul; it cannot become directly manifest in outer physical reality. Admittedly, the inner disposition of the soul can be a direct result of the moral attitude. We can be inwardly contented with our good conduct, in spite of being hit by misfortune that is in crass contrast to what we have actually done; but the experience brought about in this way remains in the realm of the soul. Man must acknowledge that in physical life he is not in a position to bring to outward manifestation in the world the inner, moral content of his soul.

When we study karma as we have been doing during the last few days, seeing how earlier lives work over into later incarnations, we realise that in the moral sphere of the life of soul the earlier is inwardly connected with the later. Put briefly, however, this means that here, in physical life on Earth, man has a constitution which forces back his moral conduct into the realm of soul, does not allow it to take effect in one earthly life. In a single earthly life man is powerless to give effect to the moral content he bears in his soul. His physical corporality, his etheric substantiality, make him powerless. In the life between death and a new birth, however, he becomes as powerful as here in physical life he is powerless. But if in his physical life the physical and etheric bodies render him powerless, there must be something in the life between death and a new birth that enables him to give effect to this soul-content, to make it a reality there, and physical reality too in later lives on Earth. On Earth we live in our physical and etheric bodies amid the kingdoms of Nature and it is what we have to take from Nature for these bodies that renders us powerless. With our own being of soul-and-spirit which passes through the gate of death we become powerful after death because we are then united with the Beings of the higher Hierarchies, just as on Earth we are united with the kingdoms of Nature. The Beings of the Hierarchies belong, as we know, to three realms: to the lowest realm belong the Archai, Archangeloi, Angeloi; to the middle realm belong Exousiai, Dynamis, Kyriotetes; to the highest realm belong Thrones, Cherubim, Seraphim. In the course of these lectures we have learnt how man lives between death and a new birth with the inmost essence of the stars and hence with these higher Hierarchies. But in order that the moral content of the soul may come to expression in life on Earth, the following must take place.

It is true that, to begin with, we have to retain in our soul the effects of our moral attitude of thought, feeling and will; we have to wait until in the life between death and a new birth we are vouchsafed the help of the Beings of the higher Hierarchies. What lies in our soul is first carried through the spiritual world, emerges again in a new earthly life and appears then in the form in which it is right to appear. For what should we be if in earthly life we could bring to direct fulfilment the moral content of our soul? We should not be typical men of terrestrial life! Just imagine that you bore within your soul a moral content that quite justifiably you considered could be capable of creating a favourable world-situation and that you could actually bring it about. What would you be then? You would be magicians, not typical men of the Earth! For when a power of spirit-and-soul is brought to direct expression, that is an essentially magical achievement. In our present cycle of existence man is no magician in the single life between birth and death. But he is a magician when, together with the Beings of the Hierarchies, he is active between death and a new birth and is able to continue these activities when he again descends into life on Earth. The karmic development through these two entirely different modes of existence is in fact the process where the human being works magically. The physical human being standing before us in external life is membered—as I have shown at the end of the book Von Seelenratseln (Riddles of the Soul)1See The Case for Anthroposophy. Steiner/Barfield, (Rudolf Steiner Press).—into the nerves-senses man, the rhythmic man and the metabolic-limb man. Metabolism and limbs are connected; when we use our limbs, metabolism is activated and must continue; forces in man must be used up. Metabolism must continue in inner experience too. But both are related. When we observe the human metabolic system as it operates in the physical body, we may be tempted at first to regard it as man's lowest system. There are people who claim to be idealists because they have accustomed themselves to look down with a certain superciliousness upon the metabolic-limb system. It is the lowest system, the system that the respectable idealist would prefer to be without. But without it earthly life would be impossible; it is the system that represents man in his imperfection in earthly life.

Now the facts of the matter are these. In the physical human form the metabolic-limb system is the lowest and therefore has little to do for what is essentially human in earthly life, but it is connected in this earthly life with the Beings of the highest Hierarchy, the Thrones, the Cherubim, the Seraphim. As we move about the world or work with our hands, in this mysterious activity the activity of the Thrones, Cherubim and Seraphim is present. These Beings remain helpers when man's life continues between death and a new birth. They remain helpers. Now it is quite erroneous to believe that the moral content of the soul proceeds from the head. In reality, regarded from a higher point of view, man's head is by no means such a tremendously important organ. The head is really more or less a mirror of the external world, and if we had the head alone we should know about nothing except the external world. The head simply reflects the external world. The experiences of the head are mirrorings, reflections of the external world. Our inner, moral impulses do not proceed from the head but from the region of the metabolic-limb system, not, however, from the physical system but from its constitution of soul-and spirit wherein Thrones and Cherubim and Seraphim are living.

And so to acquire a right view of man we must picture the following.—(a drawing was made). This third member of man's constitution, the metabolic-limb system, seems at first to be imperfect, indeed it might be said that in respect of its physical and etheric organisation it is unworthy of the human being. But something else lies within it, or rather this system lies within something else; the Thrones live within it, the Cherubim weave within it, the Seraphim flame within it. When man passes through the gate of death, everything that underlies the physical metabolic-limb system falls away from him and with his ego he remains in the realm wherein he previously existed, namely in the realm of the Thrones, Cherubim and Seraphim. He then separates from them but they continue to develop the moral quality of the soul. Here on Earth man looks upwards, to the Heavens, in order to divine a higher reality, a spiritual-super-sensible reality. He does this as long as he is on the Earth. If he is living between death and a new birth he looks downwards and beholds what the moral content of his soul becomes as a result of the deeds of the Cherubim, Seraphim and Thrones. There below, when he descends again to the Earth, the consequences are fulfilled; there the Cherubim, Seraphim and Thrones are working to bring about the fulfilment of the spiritual reality.

And so, after we have become attentive to it, we see how in a magical way man sends the consequences of his deeds of the present into the next earthly life.

Now that we have considered the metabolic-limb system, let us turn our attention to its polar opposite, the nerves-and-senses system. This, of course, extends through the whole organism but is established primarily in the head. We will therefore consider the human head. It is a fact that through the head man experiences only a reflection of the existing external world. His thoughts, his mental conceptions in which alone, as I have said, he is really awake, are actually only reflections from outside by way of the head. But when a man masters Initiation Science, at first through Imaginative knowledge, then, as you know, through its metamorphosis into knowledge through Inspiration and then through Intuition, he is able to look into his earlier lives on Earth—but he sees them then in their spiritual form. In the spiritual world, knowledge itself is reality. And the experience of a man who with genuine Initiation-knowledge is able to look into earlier earthly lives is that he is living not only, say, on June 15th, 1924, but is himself present through the course of the earlier lives; he not only looks into those earlier lives but he looks back upon his whole being. It is not abstract, theoretical observation but direct identification with his own former existence. His inner life is greatly stirred when he begins to experience his earlier earthly lives. But this experience makes it possible to change the focus of his world-outlook. What is the usual focus of a world-outlook? The usual focus is the head. This head with its physical organisation as the foundation, this head which was yours in previous earthly lives and in the immediately preceding life, cannot be made the focus of your world-outlook when you have once experienced earlier incarnations, for it has long since passed away. Only the spiritual principle that was present in the head can be made the focal starting-point of a world-outlook. Initiation therefore consists in this: through going back into his former existence on Earth, man spiritualises himself. All clairvoyance in the best sense of the word actually means going back into earlier earthly lives. To be initiated means not to remain within the limits of the present life but to look at the things of the world with the faculties that were ours in earlier earthly existence. Whereas in the ordinary course we are such imperfect beings in earthly life that we see only the external physical world, the beings we were in earlier existences had already become clairvoyant. And as a rule when we experience the immediately preceding incarnation we make the discovery that the person we were then was already much nearer perfection.

How does it come about that what we could have become after the earlier life has not been achieved? Why is this? You see, if as human beings having nothing but a head we were to pass from one earthly life to another, we should be as perfect in the later life as in the former, but we have the other systems as well as the head. And since the magical principle in man lies in the metabolic-limb system which in turn works in karma, karma brings the head across from one earthly life to another. Thus karma is directly active in the formation of the head. And if we begin to develop an unprejudiced view of man in this field, we shall gradually learn to read a great deal about his karma from the physiognomy of his head. To look at the human head with the ordinary consciousness of today is just the same as taking Goethe's Faust and beginning “I—h-a-v-e—s-t-u-d-i-e-d—a-l-a-s...” because then one knows only the letters and cannot read. When we have learnt to read we shall understand what these strange signs mean. As I said once before, this trivial fact brings it about that whereas we should otherwise see only about thirty different shapes of letters in books, we have Goethe's Faust, Hegel's Logic, the Bible, and so on, simply because we have learnt to read. In the same way we can learn to read the living things around us. The progress from merely spelling the form of the human head and reading it leads into the secrets of the karma of that particular person. As regards the outwardly perceptible form of the head we may say that every human being has his own particular head; no single individual has exactly the same shaped head as another. Although individuals often look alike, they are not alike in respect of their karma. In the head-formation the karma of a man's past is revealed to physical sense-perception. In the metabolic-limb system lies future karma; spiritually concealed, invisibly it is there. So that if we speak of man in the spiritual sense we can say: Man is so constituted that on the one hand he makes his past karma visible and on the other hand he bears his future karma invisibly within him.

In this way we can eventually acquire an inwardly spiritual view of the human being. Man's metabolic-limb system is inferior in respect of its physical and etheric nature only, for in that system live the Beings of the highest Hierarchy. When we consider the physical-material aspect of the head it is undoubtedly the most perfect system because it bears within it, externally and visibly, what works over spiritually from earlier earthly lives. The head is generally the most highly valued, but it is not the most perfect in a spiritual respect. For whereas Thrones, Cherubim and Seraphim live in the metabolic-limb system, in the head-system live Archai, Archangeloi, Angeloi. It is they who stand behind everything we experience with our head in the physical world of sense. They live in us, in our head-system, and are active behind our consciousness; they encounter the effects of the physical world and mirror them back, and we become conscious only of the reflections. What we are aware of in our head-system is only the semblance of the activities of the Archai, Archangeloi and Angeloi. (A drawing was made). If I am to continue this diagram I must say: the Archai, Archangeloi and Angeloi are working, at the other pole, in the head-system.—I always use the nomenclature of the earlier Christian world-conception in which the spiritual connection was still intact, although the spiritual Beings may just as well be given other names.

Between the nerves-and-senses system which is based primarily in the head and the metabolic-limb system, man has the rhythmic system in which everything that is active between the lungs and the heart is contained. In all this activity live the Beings of the Hierarchy of the Exousiai. Dynamis, Kyriotetes.

In concluding our studies of karma we are led again to the realisation that while man faces the three kingdoms of Nature here on Earth, behind him are the spiritual kingdoms of the Hierarchies, one above the other. And as here on the Earth his physical body encompasses him and prevents him from bringing to fulfilment by magic the moral forces of his soul, after death the world of the Hierarchies receives him and enables him to make effective magically for the next incarnation what he cannot achieve in one earthly life. When a man passes over from one earthly life to the next he would in all circumstances, if his further evolution were to proceed consistently, develop clairvoyance with the head-system yielded by the former life; Archai, Archangeloi and Angeloi would lead him to clairvoyance. Hence if a man is to have insight into spiritual reality—insight that without an iota of superstition or charlatanry can be called clairvoyance—he must be able to project himself with a certain cosmic consciousness into his previous life on Earth, although in the external world he has progressed to his present incarnation.

Thus, if someone is living, let us say, in the twentieth century, he uses the body which this century can provide and for knowledge he must avail himself of the head. He cannot be clairvoyant. But let us suppose he were transported into a previous earthly life, say in the tenth or eleventh century, as the result of his meditative exercises now, in this twentieth century. He is not the same person as he was at that earlier time, but through his own forces he has brought it about spiritually that now, in the twentieth century, he is the man he was in that earlier epoch—a clairvoyant personality. Clairvoyance can reveal this clearly to Initiation-knowledge during life in the physical world. When we look closely into human life, however, it is revealed to clairvoyant consciousness that in the deeper impulses of a man's nature, in the deeper foundations of his soul, what was present in a former incarnation rises up again in a different form. It is therefore essential, if we wish to approach in earnest such matters as the working of karma, that earthly experience must be of a more spiritual character than is usual.

I will elaborate what I have been saying by means of an example. You know from the way in which I have given such examples that they are the findings of spiritual investigation undertaken with a deep sense of responsibility.

A certain individual lived in the European-Asiatic Orient, somewhat earlier than the founding of Christianity, with a task that was far from his liking. It was in an epoch when slavery was still prevalent and his task was to supervise a number of slaves belonging to a certain owner. Supersensible vision leads us to a situation where a human soul, incarnated at that time in the body of a slave-overseer, was obliged to carry out whatever the cruel owner of these slaves decreed. The slaves were in the care of the overseer and relationships of an ethical nature developed between them. But there was deep conflict in the soul of this overseer. It went against the grain to carry out the often cruel, disciplinary punishments ordered by his master. Nevertheless he obeyed, because he was accustomed to these circumstances and because it was natural at that time to act in such a way. Now just consider for a moment: are people to-day always what they would like to be? They do not often think about this; they deceive themselves about the disharmony between what they are and what they would like to be. This individual too was not what he would have liked to be, but intrinsically he had deep sympathy, deep love, for all the unhappy slaves upon whom he was obliged to inflict these cruelties. Social customs, so to say, caused him to hurt the slaves in many ways. He therefore shared the responsibility, although the master and owner of the slaves was primarily the culprit.

Both individualities were born again in the middle of the Middle Ages, and now as a married couple. The former slave-owner came again in a male incarnation, the overseer came as a woman. In the middle of the Middle Ages the reincarnated slave-owner held a position in a certain village commune, a position that was by no means pleasant, for he was a kind of police jailer and was held responsible for whatever happened in the commune; he felt that life was full of hardships. If we look for an explanation we find that these villagers were for the most part reincarnations of the slaves whom he had formerly owned and whom he had caused to be ill-treated by his overseer. The karmic result turned out to be that the former slave-owner, although he had become a fairly high official, was nevertheless the village jailer, who together with his wife was held responsible for whatever happened in the commune. But at the same time, because the wife shared in all the suffering that the one-time slaves caused her husband, the karma was fulfilled between her—the former overseer—and the slave-owner. The bond between these two was dissolved but not the tie between the one-time overseer, now incarnated as a woman, and the members of the commune. They came together again in the nineteenth century. The earlier overseer, who in a certain way had adjusted his relation to the former master, came again as the great educational reformer Pestalozzi, and those who had been the slaves under him were the children who received such infinite benefit from his educational principles.

These things must be viewed not merely with the prosaic intellect, but with soul, with feeling and with love which must become as clear and brilliant as the intellect and be able to develop genuine knowledge. The intellect can develop only pictures of outer Nature, and anyone who thinks that he gets something more than pictures deceives himself. It is possible to get more only if soul, feeling and love become forces of knowledge, and it is only by going back to earlier karma that we are gradually able to realise how karma works. But the whole soul must participate, and the content of these explanations of karma must be grasped by the whole being of man.

It really amounts to this: the soul must penetrate into the very essence of the Anthroposophical Movement. A short time ago I was deeply moved by a certain incident. What I have told you about Pestalozzi I had also said in a lecture in Dornach, and later on had occasion to visit an official in Basle, accompanied by another member of the Dornach Executive. The well-known picture of Pestalozzi among the children was hanging on the wall in the waiting-room. It was known to the member of the Vorstand who was with me. He was deeply moved by it and he said: When one looks at this faithful portrayal of Pestalozzi, one realises that such a situation can only have come about in the way that is revealed through Anthroposophy. This kind of thing is just what ought to occur more often, this realisation in direct experience of what has been discovered by anthroposophical investigations.

These indications of karma which I have now been able, to my great satisfaction, to give you, cannot make demands merely upon your intellect. What has been presented during these eight days calls not merely upon intellect but upon heart, upon the whole soul. And only when you have gathered together all that I have said about the reincarnation of historical personalities, about observation of individual karma, about the influences of sleeping and waking life in the development of karma and let it all work in your hearts and souls, will a comprehensive grasp of the working of karma in individual personalities result from these studies.

Our civilisation will be rescued from the grip of its present decline only if what is so readily taken to-day merely in an intellectualistic sense penetrates into the whole being of man. What does an Oriental say nowadays about Western man? The spirituality of an Oriental at the present time is not of a kind that we can adopt forthwith, but it is a spirituality which in the ancient past was able to gaze deeply into the super-sensible worlds. To-day only traces have remained but in his soul an Oriental still has the feeling of what was once experienced in the East, namely, living communion with the spirit inherent in all things. Such is the experience of those who are not entirely steeped in materialism. One Oriental who had a feeling for the spirituality in Eastern wisdom said the following as he contemplated Western civilisation: ‘Its essential characteristic is that it is only façade and has no foundations. The façade stands on the ground without any solid foundations.’—And this Oriental went on to say: ‘Yes, in nearly everything that belongs to his civilisation, Western man actually starts from the standpoint of his ego, the ego that is enclosed within a single life and therefore has no reality. It has reality only when it emerges from its bounds and leads into the successive earthly lives.’ Realisation of existence in successive earthly lives is regarded by the Oriental as the foundation-structure and remaining with the ego that is enclosed between birth and death he regards as the façade. Have we not heard to-day that when a man looks into spiritual reality he will look back into the past? If he contemplates karmic development with its magical processes he must have accepted the principle of successive incarnations. Then the ego widens out and will no longer be egotistic. The Oriental says that the European can recognise the ego only within the limits of birth and death and this he calls the egotism of the European. So he says that European, indeed Western civilisation as a whole, is only façade and has no foundation-structure; moreover that if this state of things continues and Western civilisation persists in recognising only the ego living between birth and death, the separate stones of the façade might one day fall apart as the façade has no foundation. This picture of the single stones crumbling away from the façade has actually arisen in many oriental souls, living as they do, largely in Imaginations. It is insight into such matters as have been studied here during these last few days that can add the foundation-structure and supplement the mere façade. Contemplation of the karma which reaches from earthly life to earthly life leads man beyond the restricted activity that is limited to a single life on Earth.

In what must be our final lecture, I should now like to place before your souls a vista into the cultural task of Anthroposophy. If it works on within you, revealing many things, you will become co-workers in the task of creating the foundation-structure for a true and genuine façade of Western civilisation. I have nothing to add to what has often been said by men of the East. What they really mean is this: the West has departed too far from the spirit, it can no longer find the foundation-structure; the East must contribute what it still possesses from ancient times in order that civilisation on Earth may not perish.

Whether this terrible fate that is prophesied for Western civilisation by all clear-sighted Orientals can be avoided, depends upon endeavours such as those of Anthroposophy. Resolute will is needed to penetrate into the spiritual world, in order that its forces may again be received into the hearts of men. Hence a community of human beings who have come together, as you have done, for spiritual activity, has grasped what this truly means only if the resolution is taken to apply all the forces of the will to the task of furthering, for the sake of humanity, experience of the spirit. My purpose in these lectures was to point the way to experience of spiritual reality and thus to the moral principle that is everywhere implicit in it. For this reason I wanted in these hours when we could be together again, to give you just what I have given. But in Anthroposophy spiritual things should be taken in earnest at all times, during every moment, not only during every lecture-hour. In Anthroposophy, therefore, it is true to say that when we are beside one another in space, we are together physically, but because we recognise spiritual reality we know that we are also together even when physically apart. And as I know that some of you here must travel back after the lecture, I will add this.—As we make our farewells let us say to ourselves that we will be true anthroposophists by remaining together in our souls through the spirit which becomes alive in us through our view of life. Let those of us who are now going away again say to our friends of the Breslau Group: we too will think about what we have been able to acquire for our own souls and those of others while working together with you. We will feel that we are with you even when we have gone away from this room and we hope that the Breslau friends too will think of those who were so glad to have been among them at this time.