Karmic Relationships. Lecture 54 of 82
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, July 6, 1924:
We have seen how the study of karma, wherein the destiny of man is contained, leads us from the affairs of the farthest universe — from the worlds of the stars — down to the tenderest experiences of the human heart, inasmuch as the heart is an expression of all that man feels working upon him during life, — of all that happens to him in the whole nexus of earth-existence. When we try to arrive at our judgments through a deeper understanding of the karmic connections, we are driven again and again to look into these two domains of world-existence which lie so far removed from one another. Indeed we must say: Whatever else we may be studying, — be it Nature, or the more natural configuration of human evolution in history or in the life of nations — none of these leads us so high up into cosmic realms as the study of karma. The study of karma makes us altogether aware of the connections between human life here upon earth and that which goes on in the wide universe. We see this human life taking its course on earth, unfolding till about the 70th year of life, when in a certain connection it attains its limit. Whatever lies beyond this is in reality a life given by grace. What lies below this limit stands under karmic influences, and these we shall now have to study.
It is possible, as I have often mentioned from varied points of view, to put the length of human life on earth at about 72 years. Now 72 years, seen in relation to the secrets of the cosmos, is a remarkable number, the true significance of which only begins to dawn upon us when we consider what I may call the cosmic secret of human earthly life. We have already described what the world of the stars is from a spiritual point of view. When we enter on a new earthly life, we return, so to speak, from the world of stars to this life on earth.
At this point once more it is astonishing how the ancient ideas — even if we do not take our start from tradition — simply emerge again of their own accord when we approach these domains of life with the help of modern spiritual science. We have seen how the various planetary stars and fixed stars take part in human life and in all that permeates this human life on earth. If we have before us an earthly life that has taken its full course, — one that does not come to an end all too soon, but that has passed through half at least of the allotted earthly time, — then in the last resort we find this truth once more: The human being, inasmuch as he comes down from cosmic spiritual spaces into an earthly life, comes always from a certain star. We can trace the very direction of it, and it is not unreal — on the contrary, it is most exact, to say: — ‘The human being has his star.’ If we take what is experienced beyond all space and time between death and a new birth, and translate this into its spatial image, we can say: Every man has his star, which determines what he has attained between death and a new birth.
He comes from the direction of a certain star. We may indeed receive into our minds this conception. The whole human race inhabiting the earth is to be found on the one hand by looking round about us upon earth, passing through these many continents, finding them peopled by the human beings who are now incarnated. And the others who are not on the earth, where in the universe shall we find them? Whither must we look in the great universe if we would turn our soul's gaze to them, — assuming that a certain time has elapsed since they went through the gate of death? The answer is: We look in the true direction when we look out upon the starry heavens. There are the souls — or at least the directions which will enable us to find the souls — -who are spending their life between death and a new birth. We see and comprehend the entire human race that inhabits the earth, when we look upward and downward.
Those alone who are now on the way thither or returning thence, we find in the planetary region. But we can certainly not speak of the midnight hour of existence between death and a new birth, without thinking of some star which the human being as it were indwells between death and a new birth (albeit we must always bear in mind what I have said about the beings of the stars).
Then, my dear friends, we shall approach the cosmos with this knowledge. Away there are the stars, the cosmic signs from which there shines and lightens down upon us the soul-life of those who are between death and a new birth. And then we become aware that we can look also at the constellations of stars, saying to ourselves: ‘How is all this, that we behold in cosmic spaces, connected with the life of man?’ We look up with a new fulness of heart and mind to the silvery moon, the dazzling blaze of the sun, the twinkling stars at night-time, and we feel ourselves united even humanly with all of these. This is what Anthroposophy is to attain at last for the souls of men: they shall feel themselves united even in a human way with the whole cosmos. It is at this point that certain secrets of cosmic existence first begin to dawn upon us.
The sun rises and sets; the stars rise and set. We can trace how the sun sets, for example in the region where there are certain groups of stars. We can trace what is now called the apparent course of the stars, circling round the earth. We can trace the course of the sun. In 24 hours, the sun circles around the earth — ‘apparently’ as we say nowadays, — and the stars too circle around the earth. So we say: but it is not quite correct. For if again and again we attentively observe the course of stars and sun, we perceive at length that the sun does not always rise at the same time in relation to the stars. It grows ever a little later. Day after day it arrives a little later at the place where it was on the previous day in relation to the stars. These spaces of time, by which the sun remains behind the stars in their course, add up till they become an hour, two hours, three hours, and at length a day. Thus at length the time approaches when we can say: The sun has remained behind the star by a whole day.
Now let us assume: Someone was born on the 1st of March in a particular year. And, let us say, he lived till the end of his 72nd year. He always celebrates his birthday on the 1st of March, for the sun says: His birthday is on the 1st of March. And he can celebrate it so, for throughout the 72 years of his life (though it progresses in relation to the stars) the sun shines forth ever and again in the neighbourhood of the star that shone when he came down to earth. But when he has lived for 72 years, a full day has elapsed. He has arrived at an age in life when the sun leaves the star into which it entered when he began his life. At his birthday now he is beyond the 1st of March. The star no longer says the same as the sun; the stars say it is the 2nd of March; the sun says it is the 1st. The human being has lost a cosmic day, for it takes just 72 years for the sun to remain behind a star.
During this time which the sun can spend in the region of his star, a man can live on earth. Then (under normal conditions) when the sun is no longer there to comfort his star for his life on earth, when the sun no longer says to his star: ‘He is down there, and I from myself am giving thee what he — this human being — has to give to thee; and for the time being, as I cover thee, I am doing for him what thou dost for him between death and a new birth,’ when the sun can no longer speak thus to the star, the star summons the man back again.
Thus you perceive the processes in the heavens immediately connected with human existence upon earth. In the mysteries of the heavens we see the age of man's life expressed. Man can live 72 years, because in this time the sun remains a day behind. After that time the sun can no longer comfort the star which it could comfort while it stood before and covered it. The star has become free again for the soul-spiritual work of man within the cosmos.
These things cannot be understood in any other way than with reverence, — with that deep reverence which was called in the ancient Mysteries ‘the reverence for that which is above.’ For this reverence leads us ever and again to see what happens here on earth in connection with what is unfolded in the sublime, majestic writing of the stars. It is indeed a limited life men lead today, compared to what was still existing at the beginning of the 3rd Post-Atlantean epoch. They did not merely base their reckoning, their understanding of man, on that which describes his steps upon the earth; they reckoned with what the stars of the great universe are saying about the life of man.
Once we are attentive to such connections and able to receive them with reverence into our souls, then too we know: ‘Whatever happens here on earth has its corresponding counterpart in the spiritual worlds.’ In the writing of the stars is expressed the kind of connection that exists between what happens here, and what happened (to speak from the earthly point of view) ‘some time ago’ in the spiritual world. In truth our every reflection upon karma should be accompanied by holy reverence and awe before the secrets of the universe.
In such a mood of reverence, let us approach the studies of karma which we are to make here during the near future. To begin with let us take this fact: Here are sitting a number of human beings, a section of what we call the Anthroposophical Society; and though one of us may be united with this Anthroposophical Society by stronger links, and another by less strong, it is in all cases part of a man's destiny — and the destiny that underlies these things is powerful — it is a part of his destiny that he has found his way into the Anthroposophical Society. Moreover, it lies inherent in the spiritualisation which must come over the Anthroposophical Society since the Christmas Foundation Meeting: — We must become ever more conscious of the spiritual, cosmic realities that underlie such a community as this Society. For out of such a consciousness the individual will then be able to take his true stand in the Society. Hence you will understand — along with all the other responsibilities resulting from the Christmas Foundation Meeting — that we must now begin to say something too about the karma of the Anthroposophical Society. It is very complicated, for it is a karma of community, — a karma that arises from the karmic coming-together of many single human beings. Take in its true and deep meaning all that has been said in these lectures and all that results from the many relationships that have been unfolded here; then, my dear friends, you will yourselves perceive that what is taking place here in our midst — where a number of human beings are led by their karma into the Anthroposophical Society — has been preceded by many and important events which happened to these very human beings before they came down into this present earthly life — events moreover which were themselves the after-effects of what had taken place in former lives on earth.
Let your thought dwell for a moment on the great vistas that are opened up by such an idea as this. Then you will realise how this thought may by and by be deepened till there emerges the spiritual history that stands behind the Anthroposophical Society. But this cannot be accomplished all at once. It can only enter our consciousness slowly and gradually; then only will it be possible to build even the conduct and action of the Anthroposophical Society on the foundations which are actually there for anthroposophists.
It is of course Anthroposophy as such which holds the Society together. In one way or another, everyone who finds his way into the Society must be seeking for Anthroposophy. And the preceding causes are to be sought for in the experiences which were undergone, by the souls who now become anthroposophists, before they came down into this earthly life.
At the same time, if we look out into the world with a clear perception of what has happened hitherto, we are also bound to admit: There are many human beings whom we find here or there in the world today, and of whom — looking at their connection with their pre-earthly life — we must say that they were truly pre-destined by their pre-natal life for the Anthroposophical Society; and yet, owing to certain other things, they are unable to find their way into it. There are far more of them than we generally think.
This must bring still nearer to our hearts the question: What is the pre-destination that leads a soul to Anthroposophy?
I will take my start from extreme examples, which are all the more instructive in showing how the karmic forces work. In the Anthroposophical Society the question of karma does indeed arise before the individual in a more intensive way than in other realms of life. I need only say the following: The souls who are incarnated in a human body now, — to begin with we cannot possibly follow them back far enough to assume that they experienced directly in their past earthly lives anything that could lead them, for example, to Eurhythmy (to take this radical instance from within the Anthroposophical Movement). For Eurhythmy did not exist in the times when the souls who now seek for it were incarnated. Thus the burning question arises: How comes it that a soul finds its way into Eurhythmy out of the working of the karmic forces?
But so it is in all the domains of life. Souls are there today, seeking the way to that which Anthroposophy can give them. How do they come to unfold all the pre-dispositions of their karma from past earthly lives, precisely in this direction which leads them to Anthroposophy?
In the first place there are some souls who are driven to Anthroposophy with strong inner intensity. The intensity of these forces is not the same in all. Some souls are driven to Anthroposophy with such inward intensity that it seems as though they were steering straight towards it without any by-ways at all, finding their way directly into one domain or another of the anthroposophical life.
There are a number of souls who steer their cosmic way in this sense for the following reason: In past centuries, when they had their former life on earth, they felt with peculiar intensity that Christianity had reached a definite turning-point. They lived in an age when the main effect of Christianity was to pass over into a more or less instinctive human feeling. It was an age when Christianity was practised in a perfectly natural and simple way but quite instinctively; so that the question did not really occur to the souls of men: Why am I a Christian? Such souls we find especially if we turn our gaze to the 13th, 12th, 11th, 10th, 9th, and 8th centuries after Christ. There we find Christ-permeated souls, who were growing and evolving towards the age of Consciousness (the age of the Spiritual Soul), but who, since this age had not yet begun, were still receiving Christianity into the pure Mind-Soul. On the other hand, with respect to the worldly affairs of life, they already experienced the dawn of what the Spiritual Soul is destined to bring.
Thus their Christianity lived in a way unconsciously. It was in many respects a deeply pious Christianity, but it lived, if I may say so, leaving the head on one side and entering straight into the functions of the organism. Now that which is unconscious in one life becomes a degree more conscious in the next life on earth: and so this Christianity which had not become fully clear or self-conscious, became at length a challenge and a question for these human souls: ‘Why are we Christians?’
The outcome was (I am speaking in an introductory way today, hinting at matters which will be spoken of more fully afterwards) the outcome was that in the life between death and a new birth these souls had a certain connection once more in the spiritual world, especially in the first half of the 19th century. In the first half of the 19th century there were gatherings of souls in the spiritual world, — souls who took the consequences of the Christianity they had experienced on earth, finding it again in the radiance, in the all embracing glory of the spiritual world. Above all in the first half of the 19th century, there were souls in the life between death and a new birth who strove to translate into cosmic Imaginations what they had felt in a preceding Christian life on earth. The very thing that I once described here as a great cult or act of ritual was there enacted in the Supersensible. A large number of souls were gathered in these mutually-woven cosmic Imaginations, in these mighty pictures of a future existence, which they were to seek again in an altered form during their next life on earth.
But in all this was also interwoven all that had taken place between the 7th and 13th or 14th centuries A.D. by way of dire and painful inner conflicts, which were indeed more painful than is generally thought. For the souls to whom I now refer had undergone very much during that time; and all that they had thus undergone, they wove it into the mighty cosmic Imaginations which were woven together by a large number of souls in common, during the first half of the 19th century.
The great cosmic Imaginations that were thus woven were shot through on the one hand by something that I cannot otherwise describe than as a kind of longing and expectant feeling. Working out these mighty Imaginations, the souls experienced within them a concentrated feeling, gathered from manifold experiences, a concentrated feeling within their disembodied souls. It was a feeling which I can describe somewhat as follows: ‘In our last life on earth we inclined towards the living experience of Christianity. Deeply we felt the Mysteries which tradition had preserved for all Christians, telling of the sacred and solemn happenings in Palestine at the beginning of the Christian era. But did He really stand before us in all His glory, in His full radiance?’ The question arose out of their hearts. ‘Was it not only after our death that we learned how Christ had descended from cosmic heights, as a Being of the Sun, to the earth? Did we really experience Him as the Being of the Sun? He is here no longer, He is united with the earth. Here we can only find what is like a great cosmic memory of Him. We must find our way back again to the earth, in order to have the Christ before our souls.’
A longing for Christ accompanied these souls from that time forth, when with the Spirit-Beings of the Hierarchies they wove the mighty and sublime cosmic Imaginations. This longing went with them from their pre-earthly life into the present life on earth.
This can be experienced with overwhelming intensity by spiritual vision when it observes what was taking place in mankind, incarnate and discarnate, in the course of the 19th and 20th centuries. And as I said, all manner of things were mingled into these impressions. For we must remember that in their Christian experience the souls who are now returning had shared in all that was taking place as between those who were striving for Christianity and those who still stood within the old Pagan consciousness, — which was frequently the case during the centuries to which I just now referred. In these souls therefore, many of those influences are present which make it possible for man to fall a victim to the temptations of Lucifer on the one hand and Ahriman on the other. For in karma, Lucifer and Ahriman are weaving, no less than the good gods: this we have already seen.
All that was thus interwoven, and that works itself out karmically today, must be followed out in detail, if we would really penetrate the spiritual foundations of anthroposophical striving. If the Christmas Foundation Meeting is to be taken in real earnest, the time has now come when we must draw aside the veil from certain things. Only they must be taken with the necessary earnestness.
Let us begin, as I said, with a radical instance; and while we discuss the following, let there hold sway in the background, for the rest of this hour, all that has now been said.
From the pre-earthly into this earthly existence, through their education, through all that they experience on earth, human souls find their way. They seek and find their way into the Anthroposophical Society, and remain in it for a time. But there are isolated cases among them, where, having shown themselves zealous, nay over-zealous members of the Anthroposophical Society for a while, they become the most violent opponents. Let us observe the working of karma in an extreme case of this kind.
A person comes into the Anthroposophical Society. He proves a very zealous member, yet after a time he somehow manages to become not only an opponent but a maligner among opponents. We must admit, it is a very strange karma.
We will consider a single case. There is a soul. We look back into a past life on earth, into a time when old memories from the ages of Paganism still lingered on, enticingly for many people. It was a time when men were finding their way on the one hand into a Christianity that spread out with a certain warmth and fire, and yet, for many of them, with a certain superficiality.
When such things are spoken of, we must always remember that we have to begin somewhere or other, at some particular earthly life. Every such earthly life leads back to earlier ones in turn; therefore there will always be some things that remain unexplained — things to which we simply refer as matters of fact. They are of course the karmic consequences of still earlier events, but we have to begin somewhere.
In the period to which I have just referred we find a certain soul. We find him, indeed, in a way that very nearly concerned myself and other present members of this Society. We find him as a would-be maker of gold, in possession of writings, manuscripts which he is hardly able to understand but interprets in his own way and then makes experiments in accordance with the instructions, though he has no real notion what he is doing. For it is by no means a simple matter to look into the spiritually chemical relationships, if we may call them so. Thus we see him as an experimenter, with a little library containing the most varied instructions and recipes going far back into Moorish and Arabian sources. We see him unfolding this activity in an almost out-of-the-way place, though visited by many inquisitive persons. At length, under the influence of the practices in which he engages without understanding, he gets a strange physical debility, — a disease attacking especially the larynx, — and (this being a masculine incarnation) his voice becomes hoarser and hoarser till it has almost vanished.
Meanwhile the Christian teachings are spread abroad; they are taking hold of men on all hands. This man is filled on the one hand with the greedy longing to make gold, and, with the making of gold, to attain many other things attainable at that time if one had been successful in making gold. On the other hand Christianity comes near to him, in a way that is full of reproaches. There arises in him what I may perhaps describe as a kind of Faustian feeling, though not altogether pure. Strong becomes the feeling in him: ‘Have I not really done an awful wrong?’ By-and-by under the influence of such reflections the conclusion grows upon him, living with scepticism in his soul: ‘Your having lost your voice is the divine punishment, the just punishment, for meddling with unrighteous things.’
In this situation of his inner life, he sought out the advice of human beings who have also become united at this present time with the Anthroposophical Society, and who were able at that time really to play a helpful part in his destiny. For they were able to save his soul from deep and anxious doubt. We can really speak of a certain ‘salvation of the soul’ in this case. But all this took place under such conditions that he experienced it with feelings which remained to some extent external, no matter how intense they were. He was overwhelmed on the one hand with a sense of gratitude toward those who had saved his inner life. But on the other hand — unclear as it all was — an appalling Ahrimanic impulse became mingled with it. After the strong inclination towards unrighteous magic practices, and with his present feeling — which was not quite genuine — of having entered into Christian righteousness, an Ahrimanic trait became mixed up in all these things. For in effect the soul was brought into confusion; things were not really clear, and the result was that he brought an Ahrimanic trait into his gratitude. His thankfulness was transformed into something that found an unworthy expression in his soul, and that appeared to him in this light, during his life between death and new birth. It came before him especially when he had reached that point which I described, in the first half of the 19th century. There he had to live through it again; and he experienced the deep unworthiness of what his soul had evolved in that former life, by way of gratitude which was superficial, external, nay even cringing.
We see this picture of Ahrimanised gratitude mixed up in the cosmic Imaginations of which I spoke. And we see the soul descend from that pre-earthly existence into a new earthly life. We see him descend on the one hand with all those impulses that entered into him from the time when he was seeking to make gold, — the materialistic corruption of a spiritual striving. On the other hand we see evolving in him under the Ahrimanic influence something which is distinctly to be perceived as a sense of shame, — shame at his gratitude improperly expressed and superficial.
These two currents live in his soul as he descends to earth. And they express themselves in this way: The soul of whom I am speaking, having become a person again in earthly life, finds his way to those others who were also with him in the first half of the 19th century.
To begin with, a kind of memory arises in him of what he lived through in the Imaginative picture of the unworthy external gratitude. All these things become unfolded now, almost automatically. Then there awakens what is living there within him, — what I described as a sense of shame at his own attitude which had been unworthy of a man. This takes hold of his soul, but, influenced as it is by Ahriman (through the karma of former epochs too, of course), it finds vent as an appalling hatred against all that he had at first espoused. The sense of shame against himself becomes transformed into a wild and angry opposition. And this again is united with dreadful disappointment that all his old subconscious cravings have been so little satisfied. For they would have been satisfied if anything had arisen now, similar to what was contained in the old, improper art of making gold.
You see, my dear friends, here we have a radical example showing how such things turn inward. We have traced the strange mysterious by-ways of such a thing as this: the connection of a sense of shame with hatred. Such things must also be discovered in the connections of human life if we would understand a present life from its preceding conditions.
When we consider such things as these, a certain measure of understanding is indeed poured out over all that takes place through human beings in the world. Then indeed great difficulties of life begin, when we take the thought of karma in real earnest. But these difficulties are meant to come, for they are founded in the real essence of human life. Such a Movement as the Anthroposophical must indeed be exposed to many things, for only so can it evolve the strong forces which it needs.
I gave you this example first, so that you might see how we must seek — even for negative things — the karmic relationships with the whole stream of destiny which is causing the Anthroposophical Movement to arise out of the preceding incarnations of those who are joined together in this Society.
So, my dear friends, we may hope that there will awaken in us by-and-by an entirely new understanding of the essence of this Anthroposophical Society. We may hope to discover, as it were, the very soul of the Anthroposophical Society with all its many difficulties. For in this case too, we must not remain within the limits of the single human life, but trace it back to what is now being — I cannot say re-incarnated — but re-experienced in life. In this direction I wanted to begin today.