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Karmic Relationships I
GA 235

Lecture IV

24 February 1924, Dornach

Today I wish to bring before you certain broader aspects concerning the development of karma, for we shall presently enter more and more into those matters which can only be illustrated—shall we say—by particular assumptions.

To gain a true insight into the progress of karma we must be able to imagine how man gathers his whole organisation together when he descends out of the spiritual world into the physical. You will understand that in the language of today there are no suitable forms of expression for these events which are practically unknown to our present civilisation. Therefore the terms we employ cannot but be inexact. When we descend out of the spiritual into the physical world, for a new life on earth, we have our physical body prepared for us, to begin with, by the stream of inheritance. This physical body is none the less connected in a certain sense, as we shall see, with the experiences we undergo between death and a new birth. Today, however, it will suffice us to bear in mind that the physical body is given to us from the earthly side, whereas those members which we may describe as the higher members of the human being—the ether-body, astral body and Ego—come down out of the spiritual world.

Take first the ether-body. Man draws it together from the whole universal ether, before he unites himself with the physical body which is given to him by heredity. The union of the soul-spiritual man as Ego, astral body, and ether-body, with the physical human embryo, can only take place inasmuch as the ether-body of the mother-organism gradually withdraws itself from the physical embryo.

Man therefore unites himself with the physical germ after having drawn together his ether-body from the universal ether. The more precise description of these events will occupy us at a later stage. For the moment we are mainly interested in the general question, whence come the several members which the human being has in earthly life between birth and death? The physical organism comes, as we have seen, from the stream of inheritance, and the ether-organism from the universal ether from which it is first drawn together. As to the astral organism, we may truly say that the human being remains in all respects unconscious of it, or only subconsciously aware of it, during his earthly life. This astral body contains all the results of his life between death and a new birth. For between death and a new birth—according to what he has become through his preceding lives on earth, man enters into manifold relations with other human souls who are in the life between death and a new birth, and also with the spiritual Beings of a higher cosmic order who do not descend to earth in a human body, but have their being in the spiritual world.

All that a man brings over from his former lives on earth—precisely according to how he was and what he did—meets with the sympathy or antipathy of the beings whom he learns to know during his passage through the world between death and a new birth.

Not only is it of great significance for karma, what sympathies and antipathies he meets among the higher Beings according to the things he did in his preceding earthly life. Not only so; it is also of deep significance that he now comes into relation to those human souls to whom he was related on the earth, and there takes place a wonderful “reflection” as between his being and the being of the souls to whom on earth he was related. Let us assume he had a good relation to a soul whom he now meets again between death and a new birth. All that the good relationship implies, was living in him during his former life, or lives on earth; and this good relationship will now be mirrored in the other soul when he encounters him between death and a new birth.

Yes, it is really so. As he goes through the life between death and a new birth, man sees himself reflected everywhere in the souls with whom he is now living, because in effect he was living with them on the earth. If he did good to another human being, something is mirrored to him from the other's soul. If he did evil, something is mirrored likewise ... And he now has the feeling—if I may use the word “feeling” with the reservations I made at the beginning—he has the feeling: “This human soul, you helped. All you experienced in helping him, all that you felt for this soul, the feelings that led you on to act thus helpfully towards him, your own inner experiences during the deed that helped him, are coming back to you now from his soul.” Yes, they are actually mirrored to you from the other's soul.

Or again, you did harm to a human soul. That which was living in you while you did him harm, is mirrored back. And so you have your former earthly lives (and notably your last life) before you as though in a far and wide-spread reflector, mirrored by the souls with whom you were together.

Especially with respect to your life of action, you have the impression that it is receding from you. Between death and a new birth you lose the Ego-feeling—the sense of “I” which was yours when in the body on earth. Indeed, you have lost it long ago. But you now get the feeling of “I” from this far-spread reflection. You come to life in the mirroring of your deeds, in the souls with whom you were during your earthly life.

On earth, your “I,” your Ego, was in the body—as it were, a point. Between death and a new birth, it is mirrored to you from the surrounding circumference. This life is an intimate being-together with the other human souls—according to the relations you have entered into with them.

And this is a reality in the spiritual world. When we go through a room hung with many mirrors, we see ourselves reflected in each one. But—in ordinary human parlance—we know that the reflections are “not there.” They do not remain when we go away; we are reflected no longer. But that which is reflected here in human souls remains; stays in existence. And there comes a time in the last third of the life between death and a new birth when we form our astral body out of these mirrored pictures. We draw all this into our astral body. In deed and truth, when we descend from the spiritual world into the physical, we carry in our astral body what we have re-absorbed into ourselves, according to the way our actions of the former life on earth were mirrored in other souls between death and a new birth. This gives us the impulses which impel us towards or away from the human souls with whom we are born again in the physical body.

In this way the impulse to karma in a new earthly life is formed between death and a new birth—though I shall have to describe it more in detail in the near future; for we must take the Ego also into account.

Now we can trace how an impulse from one life works on into other lives. Take, for example, the impulse of love. We can do our deeds, in relation to other men, out of the impulse which we call love. It makes a great difference whether we do them out of a mere sense of duty, convention, respectability and so on, or whether we do them out of a greater or lesser degree of love.

Assume that in one earthly life a man is able to perform actions sustained by love, warmed through and through by love. It remains as a real force in his soul. What he takes with him as an outcome of his deeds, what is now mirrored in the other souls, comes back to him as a reflected image. And as he forms from this his astral body, with which he descends on to the earth, the love of the former earthly life, the love which he poured out and which was now returned to him from other souls, is changed to joy and gladness.

Such is the metamorphosis—if so we may describe it. A man does something for his fellow-men, something sustained by love. Love pouring out from him accompanies the actions which help his fellow-men. In the passage through life between death and a new birth, this outpouring love of the one life on earth is transmuted, metamorphosed, into joy that streams in towards him.

If you experience joy through a human being in one earthly life, you may be sure it is the outcome of the love you unfolded towards him in a former life. This joy flows back again into your soul during your life on earth. You know the inner warmth which comes with joy, you know what joy can mean to one in life—especially that joy which comes from other human beings. It warms life and sustains it—as it were, gives it wings. It is the karmic result of love that has been expended.

But in our joy we again experience a relation to the human being who gives us joy. Thus, in our former life on earth, we had something within us that made the love flow out from us. In our succeeding life, already we have the outcome of it, the warmth of joy, which we experience inwardly once more. And this again flows out from us. A man who can experience joy in life, is again something for his fellow-men—something that warms them. He who has cause to go through life without joy is different to his fellow-men from one to whom it is granted to go through life with joyfulness.

Then, in the life between death and a new birth once more, what we thus experienced in joy between birth and death is reflected again in the many souls with whom we were on earth and with whom we are again in yonder life. And the manifold reflected image which thus comes back to us from the souls of those we knew on earth, works back again once more. We carry it into our astral body when we come down again into the next life on earth—that is the third in succession. Once more it is instilled, imprinted into our astral body. What is it in its outcome now? Now it becomes the underlying basis, the impulse for a quick and ready understanding of man and the world. It becomes the basis for that attunement of the soul which bears us along inasmuch as we have understanding of the world. If we find interest and take delight in the conduct of other men, if we understand their conduct and find it interesting in a given earthly life, it is a sure indication of the joy in our last incarnation and of the love in our incarnation before that. Men who go through the world with a free mind and an open sense, letting the world flow into them, so that they understand it well—they have attained through love and joy this relation to the world.

What we do in our deeds out of love is altogether different from what we do out of a dry and rigid sense of duty. You will remember that I have always emphasised in my books: it is the deeds that spring from love which we must recognise as truly ethical; they are the truly moral deeds. How often have I indicated the great contrast in this regard, as between Kant and Schiller. Kant, both in life and in knowledge, “kantified” everything (“Kante,” in German, means a hard edge or angle.—Note by translator.) In science, through Kant, all became hard and angular; and so it is in human action. “Duty, thou great and sublime name, thou who containest nothing of comfort or ease ... ”—this passage I quoted in my Philosophy of Spiritual Activity to the pretended anger (not the sincere, but the pretended, hypocritical anger) of many opponents, while over against it I set what I must establish as my view: “Love, thou who speakest with warmth to the soul ...”

Over against the dry and rigid Kantian concept of duty Schiller himself found the words: “Gern dien' ich dem Freunde, doch tue ich es leider mit Neigung, drum wurmt es mich oft, dass ich nicht tugenhaft bin.” (Gladly I serve my friends, yet alas, I do it with pleasure, wherefore it oftentimes gnaws me, I am not virtuous.) For in the Kantian ethic, that is not virtuous which we do out of real inclination, but only that which we do out of the rigid concept of duty.

Well, there are human beings who, to begin with, do not attain to love. Because they cannot tell their fellow-man the truth out of love (for if you love a man, you will tell him the truth, and not lies), because they cannot love, they tell the truth out of a sense of duty. Because they cannot love, out of a sense of duty they refrain from thrashing their fellow-man or from boxing his ears or otherwise offending him, the moment he does a thing they do not like. There is indeed a difference between acting out of a rigid sense of duty—necessary as it is in social life, necessary for many things—there is all the difference between this and the deeds of love.

Now the deeds that are done out of a rigid concept of duty, or by convention or propriety, do not call forth joy in the next life on earth. They too undergo that mirroring in other souls of which I spoke before; and, having done so, in the next life on earth they call forth what we may thus describe: “You feel that people are more or less indifferent to you.” How many a person carries this through life. He is a matter of indifference to others, and he suffers from it. Rightly he suffers from it, for men are there for one another; man is dependent on not being a matter of indifference to his fellows. What he thus suffers is simply the outcome of a lack of love in a former life on earth, when he behaved as a decent man because of rigid duty hanging over him like a sword of Damocles. I will not say a sword of steel; that would be disquieting, no doubt, for most dutiful people; so let us say, a wooden sword of Damocles.

Now then, we are in the second earthly life.

That which proceeds as joy from love, in the third life becomes as we have seen, a free and open heart, bringing the world near to us, giving us open-minded insight into all things beautiful and good and true. While as to that which comes to us as the indifference of other men—what we experience in this way in one earthly life, will make us in the next life (that is, in the third) a person who does not know what to do with himself. Such a person, already in school, has no particular use for the things the teachers are doing with him. Then, when he grows a little older, he does not know what to become—mechanic or Privy Councilor, or whatever it may be. He does not know what to do with his life; he drifts through life without direction. In observation of the outer world, he is not exactly dull. Music, for instance—he understands it well enough, but it gives him no pleasure. After all, it is a matter of indifference whether the music is more or less good, or bad. He feels the beauty of a painting or other work of art; but there is always something in his soul that vexes: “What is the good of it anyhow? What's it all for?” Such are the things that emerge in the third earthly life in karmic sequence.

Now let us assume, on the other hand, that a man does positive harm to another, out of hatred or antipathy. We can imagine every conceivable degree. A man may harm his fellows out of a positively criminal sense of hatred. Or—to omit the intermediate stages—he may merely be a critic. To be a critic, you must always hate a little—unless you are one who praises; and such critics are few nowadays. It is uninteresting to show recognition of other people's work; it only becomes interesting when you can be witty at their expense.

Now there are all manner of intermediate stages. But it is a matter here of all those human deeds which proceed from a cold antipathy—antipathy of which people are often not at all clearly aware—or, at the other extreme, from positive hatred. All that is thus brought about by men against their fellows, or against sub-human creatures—all this finds vent in conditions of soul which in their turn are mirrored in the life between death and a new birth. Then, in the next earthly life, out of the hatred is born what comes to us from the outer world as pain, distress, unhappiness caused from outside—in a word, the opposite of joy.

You will reply: we experience so much of suffering and pain; is it all really due to hatred—greater or lesser hatred—in our preceding life? “I cannot possibly imagine,” man will be prone to say, “that I was such a bad lot, that I must experience so much sorrow because I hated so much.” Well, if you want to think open-mindedly of these things, you must be aware how great is the illusion which lulls you to sleep (and to which you therefore readily give yourself up) at this point. You suggest-away from your conscious mind the antipathies you are feeling against others. People go through the world with far more hatred than they think—far more antipathy, at least. It is a fact of life: hatred gives satisfaction to the soul, and for this reason, as a rule, it is not at first experienced in consciousness. It is eclipsed by the satisfaction it gives. But when it returns as pain and suffering that comes to us from outside, it is no longer so; we notice the suffering quickly enough.

Well, my dear friends, to picture, if I may, in homely and familiar fashion, the possibilities there are in this respect, think of an afternoon-tea, a real, genuine, gossiping party where half-a-dozen (half-a-dozen is quite enough) aunts or uncles—yes, uncles, too—are sitting together expatiating on their fellows. Think of it. How many antipathies are given vent to, what volumes of antipathy are poured out over other men and women, say in the course of an hour and a half—sometimes it lasts longer. In pouring out the antipathy they do not notice it; but when it comes back in the next earthly life, they notice it soon enough. And it does come back, inexorably.

Thus, in effect, a portion (not all, for we shall still learn to know other karmic connections) of what we experience as suffering that comes to us from outside in one earthly life, may very well be due to our own feelings of antipathy in former lives on earth.

But with all this, we must never forget that karma—whatsoever karmic stream it may be—must always begin somewhere. If these are a succession of earthly lives:

a b c (d) e f g h

and this one, (d), is the present life, it does not follow that all pain which comes to us from without, is due to our former life on earth. It may also be an original sorrow, the karma of which will work itself out only in the next life on earth. Therefore I say, a part—even a considerable part—of the suffering that comes to us from outside is a result of the hatred we conceived in former lives.

And now, as we go on again into the third life, the outcome of the suffering which came to us (though only of that suffering which came, as it were, out of our own stored-up hatred), the outcome of the pain which was thus spent in our soul is a kind of mental dullness—dullness as compared with quick, open-minded insight into the world.

There may be a man who meets the world with a phlegmatic indifference. He does not confront the things of the world, or other men with an open heart. The fact is, very often, that he acquired this obtuseness of spirit by his sufferings in a former life on earth, the cause of which lay in his own karma. For the suffering which subsequently finds expression in this way, in dullness of soul, is sure to have been the result of feelings of hatred, at least in the last earthly life but one. You can be absolutely sure of it: stupidity in any one life is always the outcome of hatred in this or that preceding life. Yet, my dear friends, the true concept of karma must not only be based on this; it is not only to enable us to understand life. No, we must also conceive it as an impulse in life. We must be conscious that there is not only an a b c d, but an e f g h. That is to say, there are the coming earthly lives and what we develop as the content of our soul in this life will have its outcome and effect in the next life. If anyone wants to be extra stupid in his next earthly life but one, he need only hate very much in this life. But the converse is also true: if he wants to have free and open insight in the next earthly life but one, he need only love extra much in this life.

The insight into and knowledge of karma only gains real value when it flows into our will for the future, plays its part in our will for the future. And the moment has now come in human evolution when the unconscious cannot go on working as it did when our souls were passing through their former lives on earth. Men are becoming increasingly free and conscious. Since the first third of the 15th century we are in the age when men are becoming ever more free and conscious. And so for those men who are men of the present time, a next earthly life will already contain a dim feeling of preceding lives on earth. A man of today, if it occurs to him that he is not very bright, does not ascribe it to himself, but to his native limitations; following the current theories of materialism, he will generally ascribe it to his physical nature. Not so the men who return as the reincarnation of those of today. They will already possess at least a dim, disquieting feeling: if they are not very bright, somewhere or other there must have been something connected with feelings of antipathy or hatred.

And, if we now speak of a Waldorf School educational method, naturally for the present we must take account of the prevailing earthly civilisation. We cannot yet educate frankly towards a consciousness of life in terms of reincarnation, so to speak. For the people of today have not yet a feeling—not even a dim feeling—of their repeated earthly lives. Nevertheless, the beginnings that have been made with the Waldorf School method will go on developing, if they are truly received. They will develop in the coming centuries, in this direction. This principle will be consciously applied in moral education. If a child has little talent, if a child is dull, It is somehow due to former lives in which he developed much hatred. With the help of spiritual science, you will try to find against whom the hatred may have been directed. For the men and women who were hated then, against whom the deeds inspired by hatred were done, must be there again somewhere or other in the child's environment. Education in coming centuries will have to be placed far more definitely into life. When you see what is coming to expression in such a child, in the metamorphosis of unintelligence in this life, you will then have to recognise from what quarters it is mirrored or rather was mirrored in the life between death and new birth. Then you will do something as educator so that this child will develop an especial love towards those for whom he felt specific hatred in former lives on earth. You will soon see the beneficial result of a love thus specifically roused and directed. The child's intelligence, nay, the whole life of his soul, will brighten.

It is not the general theories about karma which will help us in education, but this concrete way of looking into life, to see where the karmic connections lie. You will soon notice it; after all, the fact that destiny has brought these children together in one class is not a mere matter of indifference. People will get beyond the hideous carelessness that prevails in these things nowadays, when the “human material”—for so they often call it—which is thrown together in a class, is actually conceived as though it were bundled together by mere chance; not as though destiny had brought these human beings together. People will get beyond this appalling indifference. Then they will gain a new outlook as educators; they will be able to perceive the wonderful karmic threads that are woven between the one child and the other, as a result of their former lives.

Then they will bring consciously into the children's development that which can create a balance. For karma is, in a certain sense, inexorable. Out of an iron necessity we may write down the unquestioned sequence:

Love—Joy—an open heart.
Antipathy or Hatred—Suffering—Stupidity.

These are necessary connections. Nevertheless, we also stand face to face with a necessity when we see a river run its course; yet rivers have been regulated, their, course has been known to be altered.

So likewise it is possible, as it were, to regulate the karmic stream, to work into it, to affect its course. Yes, it is possible.

If therefore in childhood you notice there is a tendency to dullness and stupidity and you perceive the connections, if now you guide the child to develop love in its heart, if you discover (which would be possible already today for people with a delicate observation of life), if you discover which are the other children to whom the child is karmically related, and you now bring the child to love them especially, to do deeds of love towards these other children—then you will give, to the antipathy that was, a counter-weight in the love: and in a next earthly life the dullness will have been improved.

There are educators, trained, as it were, by their own instinct who often do these things instinctively. Instinctively they will bring dull-witted children to the point where they develop love, thus educating them by degrees into more intelligent and perceptive beings.

It is only when we come to these things that our insight into the karmic connections becomes of real service to life.

Before we go on to pursue the detailed questions of karma, one other general question will naturally come before our souls. What sort of person is it—generally speaking—whom you may confront so as to know that you are karmically related to one another? I must reply with a word which is sometimes used in a rather off-hand way nowadays: such a person is a “contemporary”; he is with us simultaneously on the earth.

Bearing this in mind, you will say to yourself: If you are with certain human beings in a life on earth, then you were with them in a former life (generally speaking, at least; there may of course, be displacements). And you were with them again in a life before it.

Now what of those who live fifty years later than you? They again were with other human beings in their former lives on earth. As a general rule, according to this line of thought, the human beings of the B series—shall I call it—will not come together with human beings of the A series.

It is an oppressive thought, but it is true. I shall afterwards speak of other doubts and questions, such as arise, for instance, when people say—as they so often do—“Humanity goes on increasing and increasing on the earth,” and other things of that kind. Today, however, I want to put this thought before you; perhaps it is an oppressive thought, but it is none the less true. It is a fact that the continued life of mankind on earth takes place in rhythms. One shift of human beings—if I may put it so—goes on, as a general rule, from one life to the next; so does another shift, and they are in a certain sense separated from one another. They do not find their way together in the earthly life, but only in the long intervening life between death and a new birth. There, indeed, they find their way together, but not in the earthly life. We come down again and again with a limited circle of people. Precisely from the point of view of reincarnation, to be contemporaries is a thing of inner importance, inner significance.

Why is it so? I can assure you, on the basis of spiritual science, this question, which may well occupy one intellectually to begin with, has caused me the greatest imaginable pain. For it is necessary to bring out the truth, the inner nature of the fact. Thus you may ask: Why was I not a contemporary of Goethe's? Not having been a contemporary of Goethe's in this life, generally speaking—according to these truths—you can more or less conclude that you have never lived with him on earth. Goethe belongs to another shift.

What lies behind this? You must reverse the question; but to do so, you must have a real feeling, a perception of what the life of men together really is. You must be able to ask yourself a question on which I shall have very much to say in the near future: What is it really to be another man's contemporary? What is it, on the other hand, only to be able to know of him from history, as far as earthly life is concerned? What is it like?

We must indeed have a free mind, a sensitive heart, to answer these intimate questions: What is it like—with all the accompanying inner experiences of the soul—when a contemporary man is speaking to you, or doing any actions that come near you? What is it like? And having gained the necessary perception of this, you must then be able to compare it with what it would be like if you encountered a person who is not your contemporary, and probably has never been so in any life on earth, whom you may none the less revere—more, perhaps, than any of your contemporaries. What would it be like if you met him as a contemporary? In a word—forgive the personal note—what would it be like if I were a contemporary of Goethe? If you are not an insensitive, indifferent kind of person ... Needless to say, if you are insensitive and have no feeling for what a contemporary can be, you are scarcely in a position to answer such a question. What would it be like if I, walking down the Schillergasse, let us say, towards the Frauenplan in Weimar, had suddenly encountered “the fat Privy Councilor,” say in the year 1826 or 1827? One knows quite well, one could not have borne it. You can stand your contemporary; you cannot bear a man who, in the nature of the case, cannot be your contemporary. In a sense, he acts like a poison on your inner life. You can only bear him inasmuch as he is not your contemporary, but your predecessor or successor.

Of course, if you have no feeling for such things, they remain in the unconscious; but you can well imagine a man who has an intimate feeling for spiritual things ... if he knew that as he went down the Schillergasse towards the Frauenplan in Weimar, he would encounter the “fat Privy Councilor”—Goethe, with the double chin—he would feel himself inwardly impossible. A man who has no feeling for such things—he no doubt would just have taken off his hat!

These things are not to be explained out of the earthly life. The reasons why we cannot be contemporary with a man are in fact, not contained within the earthly life. To see them, we must penetrate into the spiritual facts. Therefore, for earthly life, such things appear paradoxical. Nevertheless, they are as I have said.

I can assure you, with genuine love I wrote the introduction to Jean Paul's works, published in the Cotta'sche Bibliothek der Weltliteratur. Yet, if I had ever had to sit side by side with Jean Paul at Bayreuth, it would have given me a stomach-ache, without doubt! That does not hinder one's having the highest reverence. And it is so for every human being—only with most people it remains in the sub-conscious, in the astral or in the ether-body; it does not affect the physical. The experience of the soul which affects the physical body must also become conscious.

You must be well aware of this, my dear friends. If you want to gain knowledge of the spiritual world, you cannot escape hearing of things which will seem grotesque and paradoxical. The spiritual world is different from the physical. Of course, it is easy enough for anyone to turn to ridicule the statement that if I had been a contemporary of Jean Paul's, it would have given me a stomach-ache to have to sit beside him. That is quite true—it goes without saying for the everyday, banal, Philistine world of earthly life. But the laws of the banal and Philistine world do not determine the spiritual facts. You must accustom yourselves to think in other forms of thought, if you wish to understand the spiritual world; you must be prepared to experience many surprising things. When the everyday consciousness reads about Goethe, it may naturally feel impelled to say: “How I should like to have known him personally, to have shaken him by the hand!” and so on. It is a piece of thoughtlessness; for there are laws according to which we are predestined for a given epoch of the earth. In this epoch we can live. It is just as in our physical body we are predestined for a certain pressure of air; we cannot rise above the earth to a height where the pressure no longer suits us. Nor can a man who is destined for the 20th century live in the time of Goethe.

These were the things I wanted to bring forward about karma, to begin with.