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Reincarnation and Karma

by Rudolf Steiner

Lecture 4 of 5

Stuttgart, February 21, 1912 – GA 135

The lecture yesterday dealt with questions of karma, and the endeavour was made to speak of them in such a way that they appear to us to be linked with inner processes in the soul, with something that is within our reach. It was said that certain tentative measures can be taken and that in this way a conviction of the truth of the law of karma may be awakened. If such questions are introduced again and again into our studies, this is because it is necessary to realize with increasing clarity how Anthroposophy, in the genuine sense of the word, is related to life itself and to the whole evolution of man.

There is no doubt that at least an approximately adequate idea can be formed of the change that will gradually and inevitably take place in all human life if a considerable number of people are convinced of the truths upon which studies such as those of yesterday are based. By steeping themselves in such truths, people's attitude to life will be quite different and life itself will change in consequence.

This brings us to the very important question — and it is a question of conscience for those who enter the anthroposophical movement: What is it, in reality, that makes a person of the modern age into an anthroposophist? — Misunderstanding may easily arise when endeavours are made to answer this question, for even to-day many people still confuse the anthroposophical movement with some form of external organisation. There is nothing to be said against an external organisation, which from a certain point of view must exist in order to make it possible for Anthroposophy to be cultivated on the physical plane; but it is important to realise that all human beings whose interest in questions of the spiritual life is earnest and sincere and who wish to deepen their world-view in accordance with the principles of this spiritual movement, can belong to such an organisation. From this it is obvious that no dogmatic, positive declaration of belief can be demanded from those who attach themselves to such an organisation. But it is a different matter to speak quite precisely of what makes a peerson of the present age into an anthroposophist.

The conviction that a spiritual world must be taken into account is, of course, the starting-point of anthroposophical conviction, and this must always be stressed when Anthroposophy is introduced to the public and reference made to its tasks, aims and present mission in life. But in anthroposophical circles themselves it must be realised that what makes the anthroposophist is something much more definite, much more decisive than the mere conviction of the existence of a spiritual world. After all, this conviction has always been held in circles that were not utterly materialistic. What constitutes a modern anthroposophist and, fundamentally speaking, was not contained in the theosophy of Jacob Boehme, for example, or of other earlier theosophists, is something towards which the efforts of our Western culture are strenuously directed — so much so, on the one side, that such efforts have become characteristic of the strivings of many human beings. But on the other side there is the fact that what particularly characterises the anthroposophist is still vehemently attacked by external culture and education, is still regarded as nonsense.

We do, of course, learn many things through Anthroposophy. We learn about the evolution of humanity, even about the evolution of our earth and planetary system. All these things belong to the fundamentals required by one who desires to become an anthroposophist. But what is of particular importance for the modern anthroposophist is the gaining of conviction with regard to reincarnation and karma. The way in which people gain this conviction, how they succeed in spreading the thought of reincarnation and karma — it is this that from now on will essentially transform modern life, will create new forms of life, an entirely new social life, of the kind that is necessary if human culture is not to decline but rise to a higher level. Experiences in the soul such as were described yesterday are, fundamentally speaking, within the reach of every modern person, and if only he has sufficient energy and tenacity of purpose he will certainly become inwardly convinced of the truth of reincarnation and karma. But the whole character of our present age is pitted against what must be the aim of true Anthroposophy.

Perhaps this fundamental character of our present age nowhere expresses itself so radically and typically as in the fact that considerable interest is shown in the central questions of religion, in the evolution of the world and of man, and even in karma and reincarnation. When such questions extend to the specific tenets of religions — concerning, let us say, the nature of the Buddha or of Christ — when such questions are discussed today, evidence of widespread interest will be apparent. But this interest peters out the moment we speak in concrete detail about how Anthroposophy must penetrate into every domain of external life. That interest dwindles is, after all, very understandable. People have their places in external life, they hold various positions in the world. With all its organisations and institutions the modern world appears not unlike a vast emporium with the individual human being working in it as a wheel, or something of the kind. This indeed is what he feels himself to be, with his labour, his anxieties, his occupation from morning till evening, and he knows nothing beyond the fact that he is obliged to fit into this outer world-order. Then, side by side with these conditions, arises the question that must exercise every soul who is able to look even a little beyond what everyday life offers: it is the question of the soul's destiny, of the beginning and end of the soul's life, its connection with divine-spiritual Beings and Powers holding sway in the universe. And between what everyday life with its cares and anxieties brings to man and what he receives in the domain of Anthroposophy yawns a deep abyss.

It may be said that for most people of the present age there is almost no harmony between their convictions and what they do and think in their outer, everyday life. If some concrete question is raised in public and dealt with in the light of Spiritual Science or Anthroposophy, it will at once be evident that the interest which was still there in the case of general questions of religion and the like, no longer exists when it comes to matters of a really concrete kind. It cannot of course be expected that Anthroposophy will at once make its way into life, that everyone will immediately bring it to expression in whatever he is doing. But the world must be made to realise that it is the mission of Spiritual Science to introduce into life, to incorporate in life, everything that will emanate from a soul who has become convinced of the truth of the ideas of reincarnation and karma. And so the characteristic stamp of the modern anthroposophist may be said to be that he is on the way to acquiring a firmly based, inner conviction of the validity of the idea of reincarnation and karma. All the rest will then follow of itself.

Naturally it will not do to think: Now, reinforced with the knowledge of reincarnation and karma, I shall at once be able to grapple with external life. That, of course, is not possible. The essential thing is to understand how the truths of reincarnation and karma can penetrate into external life in such a way that they become its guiding principles.

Now let us consider how karma works through the different incarnations. When a human being comes into the world, his powers and capacities must, after all, be regarded as the effects of causes he himself engendered in earlier incarnations. If this idea is led to its consistent conclusion, every human being must be treated as if he were a kind of enigma, as a being hovering in the dark foundations of his earlier incarnations. If this idea of karma is put earnestly into effect a significant change will be brought about, not in methods of education only but in the whole of life. If that were achieved, the idea of karma, instead of being merely an anthroposophical idea, would be transformed into something that takes hold of practical life itself, would become a really potent factor in life.

But all external life as it presents itself to-day is the picture of a social condition which, in its development, has excluded, has indeed refuted the idea of reincarnation and karma. External life today is organised almost as if there were a deliberate desire to quash any possibility of people being able, through their own inner development, to discover the reality of reincarnation and karma. In point of fact there is, for example, nothing more hostile to a real conviction of reincarnation and karma than the principle that a person must be remunerated, must receive wages corresponding to his actual labour. To speak like this seems utterly eccentric! Do not, however, take this example to imply that Anthroposophy would wish to throw to the winds the principles of an established practice and to introduce a new social order overnight! That cannot be. But people must become alive to the thought that no fundamental conviction of reincarnation can ever flourish in a world-order in which it is held that there must be a direct correspondence between wages and labour, in which man is obliged, through the labour he performs, to obtain the necessities of life. Naturally the prevailing conditions must remain, to begin with, for it will be clear, above all to anthroposophists, that what exists is in turn the outcome of karmic law and in this sense is justified and inevitable. But it is absolutely essential for people to realise that what can, nay must, ensue from recognition of the idea of reincarnation and karma, unfolds as a new seed in the organism of our world-order.

Above all it follows from the idea of karma that we should not feel ourselves to have been placed by chance into the world-order, into the positions in which we find ourselves in life; on the contrary, we should feel that a kind of subconscious decision of the will underlies it, that as the result of our earlier incarnations, before we passed into this earthly existence out of the spiritual world between death and a new birth, we resolved in the spiritual world—a resolve we merely forgot when we incarnated in the body — to occupy the very position in which we now find ourselves. Consequently it is the outcome of a pre-natal, pre-earthly decision of the will that we are assigned to our particular place in life and have the actual inclination to steer towards the blows of destiny that befall us. If a man then becomes convinced of the truth of the law of karma, he will inevitably begin to incline towards, even possibly to love, the position in the world in which he has placed himself — no matter what it may be.

You may say: You are telling us very strange things. They may be all very well for poets or writers, or others engaged in spiritual pursuits. To such people you do well to preach that they should love, delight in, be devoted to their particular positions in life. But what of all those human beings whose situations, in their very nature and with the labours they involve, cannot possibly be particularly welcome but will inevitably evoke the feeling of belonging to the neglected or oppressed? — Who would deny that a large proportion of the efforts made in modern civilisation aim at introducing into life continuous improvements which may help to get rid of the discontent at having been placed in such unpleasant situations? How numerous are the different institutions and sectarian endeavours to better life in all directions in order that even from the external aspect the earthly life of mankind might be bearable!

None of these endeavours reckon with the fact that the kind of discontent inevitably brought by life to many people today is connected in many respects with the whole course taken by the evolution of humanity, that the way in which people developed in past ages led to karma of this kind, and that out of the combined working of these different karmas the present state of human civilisation has proceeded. In characterising this state of civilisation we can only say that it is complex in the highest degree. It must also be said that the connection between what man does, what he carries out, and what he loves, is weakening all the time. And if we were to count those people who in their positions in external life today are obliged to engage in some activity that goes much against the grain, their number would by far exceed the number of those who affirm: I can only say that I love my external occupation, that it brings me happiness and contentment.

Only recently I heard of a strange statement made by someone to a friend. He said: ‘When I look back over my life in all its details I confess that if I had to live through it again from childhood to the present moment, I should do exactly the same things I have done up to now.’ — The friend replied: ‘Then you are one of those most rarely to be found at the present time!’ — The friend was probably right as far as most people of the modern age are concerned. Not many of our contemporaries would assert that, if it depended on them, they would without hesitation begin life all over again, together with everything it has brought in the way of happiness, sorrow, blows of fate, obstacles, and would be quite content if everything were exactly the same again.

It cannot be said that the fact just mentioned — namely that there are so few people nowadays who would be willing to recapitulate the karma of their present life together with all its details — it cannot be said that this is unconnected with what the prevailing cultural state of humanity has brought in its train. Our life has become more complex but it has been made so by the different karmas of the personalities living on the earth today. Of that there can be no doubt at all. Nor will those who have the slightest insight into the course taken by human evolution be able to speak of any possibility of a less complicated life in the future. On the contrary, the complexity of external life will steadily increase and however many activities are taken over from man in the future by machines, there can be very few lives of happiness in this present incarnation unless conditions quite different from those now prevailing are brought about. And these different conditions must be the result of the human soul being convinced of the truth of reincarnation and karma.

From this it will be realised that something quite different must run parallel with the complexity of external civilisation. What is it that will be necessary to ensure that people become more and more deeply permeated with the truth of reincarnation and karma? What will be necessary in order that the concept of reincarnation and karma may comparatively soon instil itself into our education, take hold of human beings even in childhood, in the way that children now are convinced of the truth of the Copernican theory of the universe?

What was it that enabled the Copernican theory of the universe to lay hold of men's minds? This Copernican world-system has had a peculiar destiny. I am not going to speak about the theory itself but only about its entry into the world. Remember that this world-system was thought out by a Christian dignitary and that Copernicus's own conception of it was such that he felt it permissible to dedicate to the Pope the work in which he elaborated his hypothesis. He believed that his conclusions were entirely in keeping with Christianity. [ 1 ] Was any proof of the truth of Copernicanism available at that time? Could anyone have demonstrated the truth of its conclusions? Nobody could have done so. Yet think of the rapidity with which it made its way into humanity. Since when has proof been available? To the extent to which it is correct, only since the fifties of the 19th century, only since Foucault's experiment with the pendulum. [ 2 ] Before then there was no proof that the earth rotates. It is nonsense to state that Copernicus was also able to prove what he had presented and investigated as an hypothesis; this also holds good of the statement that the earth rotates on its axis.

Only since it was discovered that a swinging pendulum has the tendency to maintain the plane of its oscillation even in opposition to the rotation of the earth and that if a long pendulum is allowed to swing, then the direction of oscillation rotates in relation to the earth's surface, could the conclusion be drawn: it is the earth beneath the pendulum which must have rotated. This experiment, which afforded the first actual proof that the earth moves, was not made until the 19th century. Earlier than that there was no wholly satisfactory possibility of regarding Copernicanism as being anything more than an hypothesis. Nevertheless its effect upon the human mind in the modern age was so great that until the year 1822 his book was on the Index [of prohibited books], in spite of the fact that Copernicus had believed it permissible to dedicate it to the Pope. Not until the year 1822 was the book on which Copernicanism was based removed from the Index—before, therefore, any real proof of its correctness was available. The power of the impulse with which the Copernican theory of the universe instilled itself into the human mind finally compelled the Church to recognise it as non-heretical.

I have always considered it deeply symptomatic that this knowledge of the earth's motion was first imparted to me as a boy at school, not by an ordinary teacher, but by a priest. [ 3 ] — Who can possibly doubt that Copernicanism has taken firm root, even in the minds of children? — I am not speaking now of its truths and its errors. If culture is not to fall into decline, the truths of reincarnation and karma must take equally firm root—but the time that humanity has at its disposal for this is not as long as it was in the case of Copernicanism. And it is incumbent upon those who call themselves anthroposophists to play their part in ensuring that the truths of reincarnation and karma shall flow even into the minds of the young. This of course does not mean that anthroposophists who have children should inculcate this into them as a dogma. Insight is what is needed.

I have not spoken of Copernicanism without reason. From the success of Copernicanism we can learn what will ensure the spread of the ideas of reincarnation and karma. What, then, were the factors responsible for the rapid spread of Copernicanism? I shall now be saying something terribly heretical, something that will seem quite atrocious to the modern mind. But what matters is that Anthroposophy shall be taken as earnestly and as profoundly as Christianity was taken by the first Christians, who also arrayed themselves against the conditions then prevailing. If Anthroposophy is not taken with equal seriousness by those who profess to be its adherents, it cannot achieve for humanity what must be achieved.

I have now to say something quite atrocious, and it is this. Copernicanism, what men learn to-day as the Copernican theory of the universe — the great merits of which and therewith its significance as a cultural factor of the very first order are truly not disputed — this theory was able to take root in the human soul because to be a believer in this world-system it is possible to be a superficial thinker. Superficiality and externality contribute to a more rapid conviction of Copernicanism. This is not to minimise its significance for humanity. But it can truly be said that a person need not be very profound, need not deepen himself inwardly, before accepting Copernicanism; he must far rather externalise his thinking. And indeed a high degree of externalisation has been responsible for trivial utterances such as those to be found in modern monistic books, where it is said, actually with a touch of fervour: Compared with other worlds, the earth, as man's habitation, is a speck of dust in the universe. [ 4 ] This is a futile statement for the simple reason that this ‘speck of dust,’ with all that belongs to it, is a vital concern of man in terrestrial existence, and the other worlds in the universe with which the earth is compared are of less importance to him. The evolution of humanity was obliged to become completely externalised to be quickly capable of accepting Copernicanism.

But what must people do in order to assimilate the teaching of reincarnation and karma? This teaching must meet with far more rapid success if humanity is not to fall into decline. What is it that is necessary to enable it to take footing, even in the minds of children? Externalisation was necessary for the acceptance of Copernicanism; inner deepening is necessary for realising the truths of reincarnation and karma, the capacity to take in earnest such things as were spoken of yesterday, to penetrate into intimate matters of the life of soul, into things that every soul must experience in the deep foundations of its own core of being. The results and consequences of Copernicanism in present-day culture are paraded everywhere nowadays, in every popular publication, and the fact that all these things can be presented in pictures, even, whenever possible, in cinematic films, is regarded as a very special triumph. This already characterises the tremendous externalisation of our cultural life.

Little can be shown in pictures, little can be actually communicated about the intimacies of the truths embraced in the words ‘reincarnation’ and ‘karma.’ To realise that the conviction of reincarnation and karma is well founded depends upon a deepened understanding of such things as were said in the lecture yesterday. And so the very opposite of what is habitual in the external culture of today is necessary if the idea of reincarnation and karma is to take root in humanity. That is why such insistence is laid upon this deepening, in the domain of Anthroposophy too. Although it cannot be denied that certain schematic presentations may be useful for an intellectual grasp of fundamental truths, it must nevertheless be realised that what is of primary importance in Anthroposophy is to turn our attention to the laws operating in the depths of the soul, to what is at work inwardly, beneath the forces of the soul, as the outer physical laws are at work in the worlds of time and space.

There is very little understanding today of the laws of karma. Is there anyone who as an enlightened man in the sense of modern culture would not maintain that humanity has outgrown the stage of childhood, the stage of faith, and has reached the stage of humanity where knowledge can take the place of faith? Such utterances are to be heard perpetually and give rise to a great deal that deludes people, but should never delude anthroposophists — utterances to the effect that faith must be replaced by knowledge.

But none of these tirades on the subject of faith and knowledge take into consideration what may be called karmic relationships in life. One who is capable of spiritual-scientific investigation and observes particularly pious, devotional natures among people of the present time, will ask himself: Why is this or that person so pious, so devout? Why is there in him the fervour of faith, the enthusiasm, a veritable genius for religious devoutness, for directing his thoughts to the super-sensible world? If the investigator asks these questions he will find a remarkable answer to them. If in the case of these devout people in whom faith did not, perhaps, become an important factor in their lives until a comparatively advanced age, we go back to earlier incarnations, the strange fact is discovered that in preceding incarnations these individuals were men of learning, men of knowledge. The scholarship, the element of intelligence in their earlier incarnations has been transformed, in the present incarnation, into the element of faith. There we have one of those strange facts of karma.

Forgive me if I now say something that nobody sitting here will take amiss but would shock many in the outside world who swear by and are willing to accept only what is presented by the senses and the intellect that is dependent on the brain. In people who because of strongly materialistic tendencies no longer desire to have faith, but knowledge only, we find — and this is a very enigmatic fact — dull-wittedness, obtuseness, in the preceding incarnation. Genuine investigation of the different incarnations, therefore, yields this strange result, that ardently devout natures, people who are not fanatic but inwardly steadfast in their devotion to the higher worlds, developed the quality of faith they now possess on the foundation of knowledge gained in earlier incarnations; whereas knowledge founded on materialism is the outcome of obtuseness to views of the world in earlier incarnations.

Think how the whole conception of life changes if the gaze is widened from the immediate present to what the human individuality experiences through the different incarnations!

Many a quality upon which man prides himself in the present incarnation assumes a strange aspect when considered in the setting of how it was acquired in the preceding incarnation. Viewed in the light of reincarnation, many things will seem less incredible. We need think only of how, with these inner forces of soul, a person develops in one incarnation; we need observe only the power of faith in the soul, the power of soul that may inhere in faith and belief in something that as super-sensible reality transcends the phenomena of ordinary sense-perception. A materialistic monist may strongly oppose this, insisting that knowledge alone is valid, that faith has no sure foundation—but against this there is another fact, namely that the power of faith in the soul has a life-giving effect upon the astral body, whereas absence of faith, scepticism, parches and dries it up. Faith works upon the astral body as nourishment works upon the physical body. And is it not important to realise what faith does for man, for his well-being, for his healthiness of soul, and — because this is also the determining factor for physical health — for his body too? Is it not strange that on the one side there should be the desire to abolish faith, while on the other side a person who is incapable of faith is bound to have a barren, withered astral body? Even by observing the one life only this can be recognised. It is not necessary to survey a series of incarnations, for it can be recognised in the one. We can therefore say: Lack of faith, scepticism, dries up our astral body; if we lack faith we impoverish ourselves and in the following incarnation our individuality is drained dry. Lack of faith makes us obtuse in the next incarnation, incapable of acquiring knowledge. To contrast knowledge with faith is the outcome of worldly, jejune logic. For those who have insight into these things, all the palaver about faith and knowledge has about as much sense as there would be in a discussion where one speaker declares that up to now human progress has depended more upon men, while the other maintains that women have played the more important part. In the stage of childhood, therefore, the one sex is held to be more important, but at the present stage, the other! For those who are cognisant of the spiritual facts it is clear that faith and knowledge are related to each other as the two sexes are related in outer, physical life. This must be borne in mind as a trenchant and significant fact — and then we shall be able to see the matter in its true light. The parallelism goes so far that it may be said: Just as the sex usually alternates in the successive incarnations, so, as a rule, an incarnation with a more intellectual trend follows one more inclined towards faith, then again towards intellectuality, and so forth. There are, of course, exceptions — there may be several consecutive male or female incarnations. But as a rule these qualities are mutually fruitful and complementary.

Other qualities in the human being are also complementary in a similar way, for example, the two qualities of soul we will call the capacity for love and inner strength.

Self-reliance, harmonious inner life, a feeling of our own sure foundations, the inner assurance that we know what we have to do in life—in this connection too the working of karma alternates in the different incarnations. The outstanding stamp of the one personality is loving devotion to his environment, forgetfulness of self, surrender to what is around him. Such an incarnation will alternate with one in which the individual feels the urge not to lose himself in the outer world but to strengthen himself inwardly, applying this strength to bring about his own progress. This latter urge must not, of course, degenerate into lack of love, any more than the former urge must not degenerate, as it might well do, into a complete loss of one's own self. These two tendencies again belong together. And it must be constantly emphasised that when anthroposophists have the desire to sacrifice themselves, such desire is not enough. Many people would like to sacrifice themselves all the time — they feel happy in so doing — but before anyone can make a sacrifice of real value to the world he must have the strength required for it. A person must first be something before he can usefully sacrifice himself; otherwise the sacrifice of self is not of much value. Moreover in a certain respect a kind of egoism — although it is repressed — a kind of laziness, is present when a person makes no effort to develop, to persevere in his strivings, so that what he can achieve is of real value.

It might seem — but please do not misunderstand this — as though we were preaching lovelessness. The outer world is very prone today to reproach anthroposophists by saying: You aim at perfecting your own souls, you strive for the progress of your own souls. You become egotists! — It must be admitted that many capricious fancies, many failings and errors may arise in endeavours towards perfection. What very often appears to be the principle of development adopted among anthroposophists does not by any means always call for admiration. Behind this striving there is often a great deal of hidden egotism.

On the other hand it must be emphasised that we are living in an epoch of civilisation when devoted willingness for sacrifice only too often goes to waste. Although lack of love is in evidence everywhere, there is also an enormous waste of love and willingness for sacrifice. This must not be misunderstood; but it should be realised that love, if it is not accompanied by wisdom in the conduct of life, by wise insight into the existing conditions, can be very misplaced and therefore harmful rather than beneficial. We are living in the age when it is necessary for something that can help the soul to progress — again something that Anthroposophy can bring — to penetrate into the souls of a large number of human beings, inwardly enriching them. For the sake of the next incarnation and also for the sake of their activity between death and a new birth, men must be capable of performing deeds that are not based merely upon old customs, but are in essence new. These things must be regarded with great earnestness for it must be established that Anthroposophy has a mission, that it is like a seed of culture that must grow and come to flower in the future. But it can best be seen how this is fulfilled in life if we bear in mind karmic connections such as those between faith and reason, love and self-reliance.

A man who in accordance with the view prevailing nowadays is convinced that when he has passed through the Gate of Death the only prospect is that of an extra-terrestrial eternity somewhere beyond this world, will never be able truly to assess the soul's progress, for he will say to himself: If indeed there is such a thing as progress you cannot achieve it, for your existence is only transitory, you are in this world for a short time only and all you can do is to prepare for that other world.

It is a fact that our greatest wisdom in life comes from our failures; we learn from our failures, gather the most wisdom from the very things where we have not been successful. Ask yourselves seriously how often you have the opportunity of repeating a mistake, in exactly the same circumstances as before—you will find that such a situation rarely occurs. And would not life be utterly without purpose if the wisdom we can acquire from our mistakes were to be lost to earthly humanity? Only if we can come back again, if in a new life we can put into effect the experiences gained in earlier lives—only then does life acquire meaning and purpose. In either case it is senseless to strive for real progress in this earthly existence if it is regarded as the only one, and also for an eternity beyond the earth.

And it is particularly senseless for those who think that all existence comes to an end when they have passed through the Gate of Death. What strength, what energy and confidence in life would be gained by people if they knew that they can turn to account in a new life whatever forces are apparently lost to them! Modern culture is as it is because so very little was gathered for it in the previous incarnations of human beings. Truly, souls have become impoverished in the course of their incarnations. — How is this to be explained?

In long past ages, before the Mystery of Golgotha, people were endowed with an ancient clairvoyance and magical forces of will. And it continued to be so on into the Christian era. But in the final stages of this ancient clairvoyance it was only the evil forces, the demonic forces, that descended from the higher worlds. There are many references in the Gospels to demonic natures around Christ Jesus. Human souls had lost their original connection with the Divine-Spiritual forces and beings. And then Christ came to mankind. Human beings who are living at the present time have had perhaps two or three incarnations since then — each according to his karma. The influence exercised by Christianity until now could only have been what it is because the souls of men were feeble, drained of force. Christianity could not unfold its whole inner power because of the feebleness of human souls. The extent to which this was so can be gauged if a different wave in human civilisation is considered—the wave which in the East led to Buddhism. Buddhism has the conviction of the truth of reincarnation and karma but in such a form that it regards the purpose and task of progress in evolution to consist in leading men away from life as quickly as possible. In the East a wave was astir in which there was no urge for existence. So we see how everything that should inspire people with determination to fulfill the mission of the earth has fallen away from those who belong to the wave of culture that is the bearer of Buddhism. And if Buddhism were to spread widely in the West, this would be a proof that souls of the weakest type are very numerous, for it is these souls who would become Buddhists. Wherever Buddhism in some form might appear in the West, this would be a proof that the souls in question want to evade the mission of the earth, to escape from it as quickly as they can, being incapable of tackling it.

When Christianity was spreading in the South of Europe and was being adopted by the peoples of the North, the force of instinct in these Northern souls was strong and powerful. They absorbed Christianity, but, at first its external aspects only could be brought into prominence, that is to say, those aspects which render it so important for people today to deepen their experience of the Christ Impulse, so that this Christ Impulse may become the inmost power of the soul itself and the soul grow inwardly richer as it lives on towards the future. Human souls have passed through incarnations of weakness, of uncertainty, and, to begin with, Christianity was an external support. But now the epoch has come when souls must become inwardly strong and vigorous. Therefore as time goes on what the individual does in outer life will be of little consequence. What will be essential is that the soul shall find its own footing, shall deepen itself, acquire insight into how the inner reality can be inculcated into the outer life, how the earth's mission can be permeated through and through with the consciousness, the strong inner realisation born from conviction of the truths of reincarnation and karma.

Even if no more than a humble beginning is made in the direction of enabling these truths to penetrate into life, this humble beginning is nevertheless of great significance. The more we learn to judge man according to his inner faculties, to deepen life inwardly, the more we help to bring about what must be the basic character of a future humanity. External life will become increasingly complicated, that cannot be prevented, but souls will find their way to one another through a deepened inner life. The individual may engage in this or that outer activity, but it is the inner richness of the soul that in anthroposophical life will unite individual souls and enable them to work to the end that this anthroposophical life shall flow more and more strongly into external culture. We know that the whole of our outer life is strengthened when the soul discovers its reality in Anthroposophy; individuals pursuing occupations and vocations of every kind in outer life find themselves united. The soul of external cultural life itself is created through what is given us in Anthroposophy: benediction of the external life. To make this benediction possible, consciousness of the great law of karma must first awaken in the soul. The more we advance into the future, the more must the individual soul be able to feel within itself the benediction of the whole of life.

Outer laws and institutions will make life so complicated that people may well lose their bearings altogether. But by realising the truth of the law of karma the knowledge will be born in the soul of what it must do in order to find, from within, its path through the world. This path will best be found when the things of the world are regulated by the inner life of soul. There are certain things which go on quite satisfactorily because everyone follows the impulse that is an unerring guide. An example is that of walking along the street. People are not yet given precise instructions to step to one side of the pavement or the other. Yet two people walking towards each other very rarely collide, because they obey an inner instinct. Otherwise everyone would need to have a policeman at his side ordering him to move to the right or left. Certain circles would really like everyone to have a policeman on one side and a doctor on the other all the time — but that is not yet in the realm of possibility! Nevertheless progress can best be made in those things where a person is guided by an inner, spontaneous impulse. In social life this must lead to respect for human beings, respect for the dignity of man. And this can be achieved only if we understand individuals as they can be understood when the law of reincarnation and karma is taken into account. This social life can be raised to a higher level only when the significance of this law takes root in the soul. This is shown most clearly of all by concrete observation such as that of the connection between ardent faith and knowledge, between love and self-reliance.

These lectures have not been given without purpose. The real importance does not lie so much in what is actually said — it could be put in a different way. But what is of prime importance is that those who profess to adhere to Anthroposophy as a cultural movement shall be so thoroughly steeped in the ideas of reincarnation and karma that they realise how life must inevitably become different if every human soul is conscious of these truths. The cultural life of the modern age has taken shape with the exclusion of consciousness of reincarnation and karma. And the all-important factor that will be introduced through Anthroposophy is that these truths will take real hold of life, that they will penetrate culture and in so doing essentially transform it.

Just as a modern person who says that reincarnation and karma are fantastic nonsense, for it can be seen how human beings are born and how they die—something passes out at death but as that cannot be seen there is no need to take account of it. Someone who speaks in this way is related to one who says: What passes away cannot be seen, but this law can be taken into account and those who do so will for the first time find all life's happenings intelligible, will be able to grasp things that are otherwise inexplicable ... so will the culture of today be related to the culture of the future in which the laws and the teachings of reincarnation and karma will be contained. And although these two laws have played no part in the development of present-day culture, they will certainly play a very leading part in all cultures of the future!

The anthroposophist must feel and be conscious of the fact that in this way he is helping to bring about the birth of a new culture. This feeling of the enormous significance in life of the ideas of reincarnation and karma can be a bond of union among a group of human beings today, no matter what their external circumstances may be. And those who are eventually held together by such a feeling can find their way to one another only through Anthroposophy.


Notes:
1.  Nicholas Copernicus (1473–1543) became a Church dignitary in Frauenburg. His celebrated astronomical work, De revolutionibus orbiurn coelestium, had been dedicated to Pope Paul III, but was not printed until 1543, in Nuremberg. Although protected at first by the dedication to the Pope, in 1615 it was put on the Index of books forbidden to Catholics, remaining there until 1822, when the ban was officially lifted by the Vatican on works dealing with the earth's motion and the fixed position of the sun.
2.  In 1851, at the Pantheon in Paris, Leon Foucault demonstrated the diurnal motion of the earth by the rotation of the plane of oscillation of a freely suspended, long and heavy pendulum, and again the following year by means of his invention the gyroscope.
3.  This was Franz Maraz, the priest at Neudorll, near Wiener Neustadt. Maraz was a Hungarian, later Canon at Oedenburg, and held high offices.

In his autobiography,
The Course of my Life, Rudolf Steiner says of him: “The image of this man was deeply engraved in my soul and throughout my life he has come again and again into my memory.”
4.  cp. Herbert Spencer (1820–1903). 66


Thanks to the Rudolf Steiner Archive


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