Manifestations of Karma

Rudolf Steiner

Lecture 2,  May 17, 1910, Hamburg 


BEFORE we come to the question of human karma, a number of preliminary considerations are necessary. Yesterday we gave a kind of description of the conception of karma, and today we shall have to say something about karma and the animal kingdom.

What might be called external evidence of the reality of karmic law will be found in the course of these lectures in places where there will be occasion specially to point out this external evidence. On these occasions also we can acquire the ability to speak about the foundations of the idea of karma to those outside who may raise questions about one thing or another, or who may question the whole idea of karma. But for all this a few preliminary observations are necessary.

What is more natural than to ask how animal life and animal fate are related to what we call the course of human karma? In this we shall find included what are, to mankind, the most important and profound questions of destiny.

The relation of man on the earth to the animal kingdom differs with the various epochs and also with the various peoples. It is certainly not without interest to see that in the case of the peoples who have preserved the best parts of the ancient sacred wisdom of humanity there is a deeply sympathetic and loving treatment of animals. For example, in the Buddhistic world which has preserved important parts of the old conceptions of the world held by mankind in ancient times, we find a very sympathetic treatment of animals, a treatment and a feeling towards the animal kingdom which many people in Europe cannot understand.

You will find it among other peoples too, especially where a nation has preserved some of the old conceptions which came to them as heirlooms in one place or another, you will find a kind of friendship, something approaching a human treatment of animals. An instance is the Arab and his treatment of his horse. On the other hand one may say that in those countries in which there is being prepared the future conception of the world, that is, in the west, there is little understanding of such sympathy with the animal kingdom. It is characteristic too that in the Middle Ages and on into our own times, precisely in those countries where Christianity has spread, the idea has arisen that animals cannot be considered as beings having their own special soul life, but rather as something like automata. It has also been pointed out, perhaps not unjustly, although not always with great understanding, that the idea often advanced by western philosophy that the animals are automata and do not really possess a soul, may have been taken up by the common people who have no sympathy for the animals and often know no bounds in their cruel treatment of them. Indeed, the matter has gone so far that the thoughts of a great philosopher of modern times, Descartes, regarding the animal kingdom, have been thoroughly misunderstood.

Of course, we must clearly understand that the idea of animals as mere automata has never been put forward by the really eminent souls of recent culture; neither did Descartes hold this view, although in many books on philosophy you may read that he did so. It is true he does not ascribe to the animals a soul which is able to develop to where it can prove, for instance, the existence of God out of its own self-consciousness; nevertheless he does say that the animal is permeated and animated by the so-called Spirits of Life, which, though they do not present such a complete individuality as the Ego of man, do nevertheless work as soul in the animal organisation.

It is indeed characteristic that one should have been able to misunderstand Descartes so completely, for this shows us that in past centuries there has been the tendency in our western development to ascribe to the animal something merely automatic. We should not have misunderstood this had we gone to work conscientiously, but we have read it into Descartes. It is the peculiarity of western civilisation that it had to be developed out of the elements of materialism; one may even say that the dawn of Christianity took place in such a way that this important impulse in human evolution was first exercised in a materialistic western spirit. The materialism of modern times is only a consequence of this materialistic conception of Christianity, the most spiritual religion in the west. It is the fate of the peoples of the west — if we may say so — that they have to work up from materialistic foundations, and in the conquering of these materialistic views and tendencies they will develop the forces which will lead to the highest spiritual life.

It is a consequence of this destiny, this karma, that the peoples of the West have a tendency to consider the animals only as automata. He who cannot penetrate into the working of spiritual life and can only judge by what surrounds him in the external world of the senses would, from the impressions of that world, easily arrive at an idea about the animal kingdom which places the animals at the lowest scale. On the other hand, conceptions of the world which contain elements of the primordial spiritual truths, the ancient wisdom of humanity, preserved a kind of knowledge of what exists spiritually in the animal kingdom; and in spite of all this misunderstanding, in spite of all that has crept into their views of the world and destroyed their purity, they have not been able to forget that spiritual activities and spiritual laws are active in the life and development of the animal kingdom. Thus, if, on the one hand, because of our lack of spiritual conceptions we are compelled to admit ignorance concerning the animal soul nature, we must not on the other hand deceive ourselves by applying directly to the animal kingdom that idea of karma which helps to understand human fate and human karma; for this would be the result of a purely materialistic conception This must not be done.

We have already pointed out that it is necessary to consider the idea of karma with exactitude, and we should go astray if we sought in the animal kingdom for instances of the effect of an action on the being from which the cause has proceeded. Now we can only comprehend the vast ramifications of karmic law if we go beyond a single human life between birth and death, and follow man through his consecutive reincarnations; then we shall find that the effect of a cause which we have set in motion in one life can only come into action in a later one. The regular law of karma stretches from life to life, and the effects of causes need not operate — indeed, when we consider karma on the whole, quite certainly do not operate — in the same life between birth and death.

Now from the more elementary teaching of Spiritual Science we already know that in the case of animals we cannot speak of a reincarnation such as takes place with man. In the animal kingdom we find nothing resembling that human individuality which is preserved when a person passes through the gate of death and lives a particular life in the spiritual world during the period from death to re-birth in order then to enter existence again by a new birth. We cannot conceive of animal death in the same way as we conceive of human death, for all that we describe as the fate of the human individuality after a person has passed through the gate of death is not the same in the animal kingdom. And if we were to believe that in an individual animal which we have before us we could look for the reincarnated being of an animal which had previously existed on the earth — as we can do in the case of man — we should be entirely wrong. At the present time, when one is inclined to consider all one finds in the world solely from its external side and not from the inner, the great contrasts and most important differences between man and animal remain unperceived. From a purely materialistic point of view the outward phenomenon of death seems to be the same in man as in the animal. So one may easily believe, when observing the life of an animal between its birth and death, that the several phenomena in the individual life of the animal are comparable with those in the personal life of a man between birth and death. But this would be quite wrong. Therefore to begin with we should show by individual examples the essential differences between animal and man.

These differences between man and animal can only be apprehended by one who makes use of the facts which are revealed to him both by his external senses and by his speculative thought. We find a phenomenon to which attention is also drawn by natural investigators but of which those of the present day can make nothing, namely, the phenomenon that man has really to learn the simplest things. In the course of his history man has had to learn the use of the most primitive instruments, and our children have still to learn the simplest things, and have to spend a certain time in order to learn them. Man has to make efforts to produce even the simplest things, or to manufacture his instruments and tools. When, on the other hand, we observe the animals we are obliged to admit how much easier it is for them in this respect. Think how the beaver builds its complicated dwelling. It does not need to learn; it knows how to do it, because it brings the knowledge with it as an indwelling law, just as we human beings bring with us the power of changing our teeth at about seven years of age. No one needs to learn that. In the same way, such animals as the beavers bring with them the capability to build their houses. If you observe the animal kingdom you will find that the animals bring with them definite capacities by which they can achieve things which human art, great as it is, is far from achieving.

The question may now arise: How does it come about that when a human being is born he is more incapable than, for example, a hen, or a beaver; and that he has first, with much pain, to acquire what these creatures already bring with them? For it is much more important for our world-conception that we should be able to put the right question than that we should acquire masses of knowledge. Facts may be right, but they need not always be essential to our conception of the world. Now, although we shall today go into the causes of these phenomena from the standpoint of Spiritual Science, it would carry us too far if we were to show in detail why this is so. But we may, to begin with, refer to it in a few words.

If with the aid of Spiritual Science we go back into human evolution in the primeval past we shall find that the forces which are at the disposal of the beaver or of any other animal, in order that they should bring such artistic powers into the world, were at one time at the disposal of man. It is not that man in a primordial past missed this endowment of capabilities while the animals took them all to themselves; he also received these powers, indeed in a far greater degree than the animals. For although the latter bring a certain great artistic skill into the world with them, this is, however, limited in extent. Fundamentally at birth man can do nothing at all, and he has first to learn everything which concerns the outer world. This is somewhat strongly expressed, but you will understand what I mean. Now, when a man learns, it is soon shown that he can become many-sided, and that as regards the development of certain artistic capacities, etc., this can be far richer than that of an animal. So man originally brought with him more abundant powers, which he does not bring today. The strange phenomenon arises that originally man and animal were similarly endowed; and if we were to go back to the Old Saturn evolution¹, we should find that there was absolutely no difference between human and animal development. All these capabilities were common to both. What then has happened in the meantime that the animal now brings with it into existence all sorts of capacities, while man is really a clumsy being when he comes into the world? How has man behaved in the meantime that he now no longer possesses all he once brought with him? Has he foolishly wasted it in the course of evolution, while the animals have preserved it like thrifty housekeepers? These are questions that may be raised on the basis of actual facts.

Man has not wasted these powers which today the animal manifests as external capacities; he has only transformed them, but into something which differs from what the animals possess. They have applied them to external works; beavers build their homes and wasps their nests, but man has transformed and incorporated within himself the same forces which the animals manifest outwardly, and by this means he has brought into being what we call his higher human organisation. In order that man should be able to walk upright, in order that he should have a more perfect brain, and, in general, a more perfect inner organisation, certain forces were necessary, and these are the same forces with which the beaver constructs his dwelling. The beaver builds his home, but man has turned the forces inwards upon himself, to his brain, and so he has nothing justify over with which to work outwardly. So if we, at the present time move among the animals with a more perfect constitution, it is due to the fact that we have applied inwardly all the forces that the beaver expends in an outward way. We have our beaver-building within us, and therefore we are no longer able to manifest these forces outwardly in the same way. When we take a comprehensive view of the world, we understand the origin of the various capacities which exist in creation, and how they appear to us today.

Why had man to turn towards an inner organisation the special forces which we see manifested in the external achievements of animals? Because only by acquiring this inner organisation could man become the vehicle of what at the present day is the "I" which progresses from incarnation to incarnation. No other organisation could have become this bearer of the I, because it depends altogether upon the external shrine whether an I individuality is able to be active in the earthly existence or not. It could not do so if the external organisation were not suited to the I-individuality. Everything contributed to making this organisation suitable, and to this end a particular arrangement had to be made, the essentials of which we already know.

We know that the Moon evolution¹ preceded the Earth evolution. Before that again was the Sun evolution which was preceded by a Saturn evolution. When the ancient Moon evolution came to an end, man was at a stage of development — as regards his external life — which may be described as animal-humanity. At that time this external human organisation had not progressed far enough for it to become the vehicle of an I-individuality. It was the Earth evolution of man which had the task of embodying the I in this organisation. But this could only come about by regulating our Earth evolution in a very special way. When the old Moon development came to an end, everything dissolved, so to speak, into chaos. Up to a certain time of cosmic dawn, the new cosmos of our Earth evolution came forth. In it was contained everything which, as our solar system, is connected with us and the Earth. From this whole, from this cosmic unity there split off all the other planetary bodies belonging to our special Earth existence. We need not go into the manner in which the other planets, Jupiter, Mars, etc., split off. We have only to point out that at a certain period in our Earth-phase of evolution, our Earth and our Sun separated. While the Sun had already separated and was sending down its activities to the Earth from outside, our Earth was still united with the present Moon, so that the substances and spiritual forces which at the present day belong to the Moon, at that time were still united with the Earth.

Now we have often touched upon the question as to what would have happened if the Sun had not split away from the Earth, and passed over into that condition in which it works on the Earth from outside as it does now. In the beginning when the Earth was still united to the Sun, the conditions were quite different and the whole cosmic system included the ancestors of the human organisation making one unity. It is absurd to look at modern conditions and say: ‘What nonsense those Anthroposophists talk! If that had been so, all beings would have been burnt up!’ But these beings were so organised that at that time they could exist under conditions quite different from those of this epoch. Now if the Sun had remained in union with the Earth, forces very different and much more violent would have remained with the Earth; and the consequence would have been that the whole evolution of the Earth would have progressed with such violence and speed that it would have been impossible for the human organisation to develop as it should. Therefore it was necessary that the Earth should be given a slower tempo, and denser forces placed at its disposal. This could only be brought about by the withdrawal of the violent and stormy forces from the Earth. The forces of the Sun worked less violently when acting from outside after withdrawal from the Earth. Through this, however, something else took place. The Earth was now in a condition in which mankind could again not progress in the right way. The state of the Earth was now too dense, and it exercised a drying and petrifying action on all life. If conditions had remained so, man would have again been unable to develop. This was remedied by a special arrangement. Some time after the exit of the Sun the present Moon justify the Earth, and took away the retarding forces which would have brought all life to a slow death. Thus the Earth remained behind between Sun and Moon, selecting exactly the right tempo for the human organisation, and enabling it to take up an I, and to be the bearer of the individuality which goes on from incarnation to incarnation. The human organisation as it exists today was produced from the cosmos under no other conditions than through this process — first the separation of the Sun and then that of the Moon.

Someone might perhaps say: ‘If I had been the Almighty I would have done it differently; I would very soon have produced such a combination that the human organisation would have been able to progress in the manner it had to progress! Why was it necessary that the Sun had first to go out and then after a time the Moon?’

The person who thinks in this way thinks much too abstractly. He does not reflect that when in the universal order so complex a thing as the human organisation is to be produced, a special arrangement is necessary for each single part. One cannot convert into reality what human thought invents and imagines. Abstractly one can think anything, but in true Spiritual Science one has to learn to think concretely so that one says: The human organisation is not a simple thing; it consists of a physical body, an etheric body and an astral body. These three parts had first to be brought into a particular equilibrium, so that the several parts should be correctly related to one another. This could only take place through this threefold process: First, the formation of the unitary cosmos — the entire cosmic unity of Earth, Sun and Moon together. Then something had to be done that would work in a retarding way on the human etheric body which would otherwise have consumed all evolution too fiercely — this was accomplished by the withdrawal of the Sun. Then again the Moon had to be withdrawn, because otherwise through the astral body the human organisation would have died. These three processes had to take place because of man's threefold organisation.

Thus we see that man owes his existence and his present qualities to a complicated arrangement in the cosmos. But we also know that the evolutions of all the kingdoms of nature do not by any means proceed at the same rate as the general evolution. From various lectures given in preceding years, we know that on each of the planetary incarnations of the earth, certain beings have always remained behind the general evolution. Then, as evolution proceeds, they live in conditions which do not fully correspond to this evolution. We also know that fundamentally all evolution can only proceed in the right way through the remaining behind of these entities.

During the old Moon evolution certain beings remained behind as the luciferic beings, and through them much that is evil has resulted; but to them we also owe what makes human existence possible, namely, the possibility of freedom, of the free development of our inner being. Indeed, we may say that in a certain sense the remaining behind of the luciferic beings was a sacrifice. They remained behind so that during the Earth existence they could exercise certain activities; they could bestow on man the qualities which pertain to his dignity and the ordaining of his destiny. We must accustom ourselves to entirely different ideas from those which are customary; for according to the usual ideas one might perhaps say that the luciferic spirits failed to progress and had to remain behind; and we could not excuse their negligence. But it was not a question of the negligence of the luciferic beings; in a certain sense their remaining behind was a sacrifice, in order that they might be able to work on our earthly humanity through what they acquired by this sacrifice.

From the last lecture you already know that not only beings but also substances remained behind and preserved laws which in previous planetary conditions were the right ones, and then carried those laws into the later evolution. Thus phases of evolution belonging to ancient times mingle and interpenetrate with those of modern times. And it is this which brings about such great complexities in life, which offers us degrees of existence [that are] the most diverse. The animal kingdom could never have developed alongside the human kingdom to-day if certain beings had not remained behind at the end of the Saturn period in order, while mankind on the Sun was already developing a stage higher, to form a second kingdom and come forward as the first ancestors of our present animal kingdom. Thus this remaining behind was absolutely necessary as a basis for later formations.

Now a comparison may explain why beings and substances had to remain behind. The development of man had to progress by degrees, and it could only do this in the same degree to which man refined himself. Had he always worked with the same forces with which he had worked with during the Saturn phase, he would not have progressed, but would have remained behind. For this reason he had to refine his forces. As an illustration, let us suppose we have a glass of water in which some substance is dissolved. Everything in this glass from top to bottom will be of the same colour, the same density, etc. Now let us suppose that the grosser substances settle to the bottom; then the purer water and the finer substances remain above. The water could only be refined by separation of the grosser parts. Something like this was also necessary after the Saturn evolution had run its course, so that such a sediment appeared, and the whole of humanity separated from something, retaining all the finer parts. That which was justify formed later the animal kingdom. By means of this separation man was able to refine himself, and rise a stage higher. At each step certain beings have to be separated, in order that man may rise higher and higher.

Thus we have a humanity which has only become possible through man's freeing himself from the beings which live around him in the lower kingdoms. At one time we were bound up with these beings, with all their forces, in the stress of evolution like the denser constituents in the water. We have uplifted ourselves from them and in this way our development has been made possible. Thus we look down upon the three kingdoms of nature around us, and see in them something which had to become a basis for our development. These beings sank in order that we might be able to rise. In this manner we look upon the subordinate kingdoms of nature from the proper angle.

The study of the Earth development will help us to understand the details of this process still more clearly. We must quite understand that all the facts in our earthly development have certain relationships and connections. We have seen that the separation of the Sun and Moon from the Earth really came about in order that during the Earth evolution the human organisation might be able to develop to the extent of becoming an individuality; and in conjunction with this the human organisation was made pure. But through this separation in the universe for man's sake, through this great change in our solar system, the other three kingdoms of nature were also affected — especially the animal kingdom. If we wish to understand the influence exercised upon the animal kingdom through the processes of the separation of the Sun and Moon, this is what we arrive at as a result of spiritual investigation: 

Man was at a certain stage of evolution when the Sun separated. Now had he been obliged to keep to this stage at which he was during the period when the Moon was still united to the Earth, he would not have been able to attain his present organisation; he would have been confronted with a certain wasting and drying up. The Moon forces had to separate out first. The possibility of this human organisation we owe to the circumstance that during the period when the Moon was still part of the Earth, man had preserved an organisation which could still be pliable; for it might have been possible for his organisation to become so fixed that the separation of the Moon would no longer have been of any use. But the ancestors of humanity were at that pliable stage at which the organisation was still possible. Therefore the Moon had to separate at a particular time. Now what took place up to the time of the exit of the Moon?

The human organisation became grosser and grosser. Man did not, indeed, look like wood — that would be too gross a conception. The organisation at that time, in spite of its grossness, was still much finer than is our present organisation; but for that period between the exit of the Sun and that of the Moon, the organisation of man was so gross that the more spiritual part of him, which in a certain sense lived alternately within and without the physical body, came at length to the crisis that when it wanted to re-enter its physical body it found this to be so dense, owing to events that had taken place on the earth, that it could no longer enter into it as its dwelling. Hence it also came about that the spirit-soul part of many of our human ancestors departed altogether from the earth, and for a certain time took refuge on other planets belonging to our solar system. Only a small number of the physical bodies could be used and maintain themselves over this time. As I have said, by far the greater number of human souls went out into space, but the onward stream of human evolution was maintained by a small number of those who were more robust and who were able to struggle and conquer. These robust souls carried evolution through that critical period.

During the whole of this process the human individuality was still not evolved. There was still more of the character of the species soul, and when some souls withdrew they went into the soul groups.

Then came the exit of the Moon which made it possible for the human organisation to be further refined. It could then take up the souls which had previously soared away, and these souls gradually — up to and during the Atlantean Epoch — came down again and entered into the human bodies below. But certain organisms had reproduced themselves during this critical time and they could not become the vehicles of the human soul as they were too gross. Through this it came about that side by side with those organisations which were able to be refined and to become the vehicles of human individuality, there were also organisms which could not, and these were the successors of the organisms which had been abandoned by the human soul during the time when the Sun had already withdrawn and the Moon was still united with the earth.

Thus side by side with man we see a kingdom of organisms actually developing which, by preserving the Moon character, had become incapable of being the vehicles of human individuality.

These organisms are essentially those which have become our present animal kingdom. It may seem curious that the grosser organisms of the present animals have certain capacities whereby they are able to act wisely, as is demonstrated in the work of the beaver, etc.; but this can be fully explained if we do not think too superficially. It is precisely the organisation of these beings which have not been entered into by human souls, which has developed the external arrangements of the animal structure — a nervous system, etc., that has made it possible for them to place themselves entirely in harmony with the laws of  Earth existence. For those beings which did not evolve the capacity for taking up human souls, remained united with the earth the whole time. The other organisations which later refined themselves, so that they could take in human individualities, certainly were also with them on the earth, but because they had to undergo certain changes later on when the Moon was outside, they lost these capacities, or rather transmuted them in refining themselves, and in having to go through other changes.

Thus we notice that when the Moon separated, there were upon the earth certain organisations which had simply reproduced in themselves the old conditions such as existed when the Moon was formerly united with the Earth. These organisations had remained gross, had preserved the laws which they had before, and had become so set that when the Moon detached itself, no change took place in them. They simply propagated themselves rigidly further. The other organisations which were to become the vehicles of human individualities could not perpetuate themselves rigidly as the grosser organisations did. They had to change themselves in such a way that those beings which meanwhile had not been united with the Earth, and must now return to it, could work into them. Here we have the difference between the beings which have preserved the old rigid Moon character and those which have changed themselves. Now, in what did the change consist?

When those souls which had gone away from the earth returned, and once more took possession of bodies, they began to make alterations in the nervous system, the brain, etc. They applied their forces, as it were, to inward development. There could be no change now in the other beings which had hardened. Different beings now took possession of these latter organisms, beings which had remained behind at a previous stage and which were not sufficiently evolved to operate on the organism from within. They worked rather from the outside as the Group-Souls of the elemental beings. Thus the human soul came into possession of the physical organisations which were suited to them after the exit of the Moon, and these beings then developed the organisation into what led to a perfect human structure. Those organisations which remained rigid during the Moon period could no longer be changed, certain souls then took possession of these, such souls as had not on the whole developed far enough to set to develop into an individuality, but had remained behind at the Moon stage, developing as far as was then possible. They therefore now took possession of these lower organisations as ‘Group-Souls.’

Thus the difference between man and animal is explained by cosmic events. Through cosmic processes in the Earth's evolution two kinds of organisations have been produced. Had we been obliged to remain with a structure such as that of the beings immediately below humanity, we should now be obliged to hover around the earth because our organisation would have been too rigid. We could not, therefore, have come down into them, and although we woujld have become more perfect beings, we would have had to remain where the organisation of the group-souls of the animals are. As, however, our organisations were able to refine themselves, we could enter into them and use them as our dwelling place; that is, we could descend into bodily incarnations. The group-souls did not need to do this; they act on these beings from the spiritual world.

Thus in the animal kingdom surrounding us we see something that we also would have been today if our present organisation had not been transformed. Let us now ask how the animals with their more rigid organisations have appeared on the earth. They came down through us. They are the descendants of the bodies which we no longer wished to occupy after the exit of the Moon. We justify those bodies behind in order to find others later, and we would not have been able to find others later if we had not forsaken those at that precise time. For only after the exit of the Sun could we continue our progress on the Earth. We justify behind us certain beings in order that we ourselves might find the possibility of rising higher. In order to rise higher we had to go to other planets and leave the bodies below to deteriorate, and in a certain sense we owe what we are to what remains below. Indeed, what we owe may be described still more minutely. We may ask how it was possible for us to leave the Earth during the critical period, for a being cannot go just where it likes.

During the Earth evolution there came for the first time something we owe to the luciferic spirits. They were our leaders and took us away from the Earth evolution at the critical period. It was as though they said to us: ‘Down below a critical time is now coming and you must leave the Earth.’ We justify the Earth under the guidance of the Luciferic spirits, the same beings who brought into our astral body of that time the luciferic principle, the tendency in us to all that we call the possibility of evil; but with it also at the same time came the possibility of freedom. Had they not taken us away from the Earth at that time we should always have been chained to the form that we had then created, and we should now, at the most, only be able to float above that form without ever being able to enter it. So they took us away and united their own being with our being.

If we bear this in mind we shall understand that during the time we went away we absorbed the luciferic influences. Those other organisations which did not share in this destiny whereby we were led to certain regions of the world, remained down below without the luciferic influence. They had to share our earthly fate, but they could not share our heavenly fate. And when we came back to the earth we had the luciferic influence in us — but those other beings did not. Thereby it became possible for us to lead a life in a physical body and yet a life independent of it, so that we might become more and more independent of the physical body. But these other beings which had not the luciferic influence represent what our astral bodies were in the interval between the exit of the Sun and that of the Moon, namely that from which we liberated ourselves. We look upon the animals and say: ‘All that the animals manifest in the way of cruelty, voracity, and all animal vices, even the skills which they have, we should have had within us if we had not been able to eject them. We owe this liberation of our astral bodies to the circumstance that all the grosser astral bodies have remained behind in the animal kingdom and the earth.’ We may, indeed, say that it is well for us that we no longer have the cruelty of the lion, the slyness of the fox, etc., but that these are withdrawn from us and lead an independent existence outside us.

Thus the animals have the astral body in common with us, and are therefore able to feel pain. But from what has now been said we see that they do not possess the power to evolve through pain and through the conquest of pain, for they have no individuality. For this reason, the animals are much more to be pitied than us. We have to bear pain, but each pain is for us a means to perfection; through overcoming it we rise higher. We have justify behind us the animal as something that has the capacity to feel pain but does not yet possess the power to raise itself above pain, and to triumph by means of it. That is the fate of the animals. They manifest to us our own former organisation when we were capable of feeling pain, but could not yet, through overcoming the pain, transform it into something beneficial for humanity. Thus in the course of our earthly evolution we have justify  our worst to the animals, and they stand around us as tokens of how we ourselves came to our perfection. We must learn to consider such facts, not as theories, but rather with a cosmic world feeling. When we look upon the animals we should feel: ‘You animals are outside. When you suffer, you suffer something of which we reap the benefit. We humans, however, have the power to overcome suffering while you must endure it. Having received suffering we have passed it on to you, and are taking to ourselves the power to overcome it.’

If we develop this cosmic feeling out of the theory, we then experience a great and all-embracing feeling of sympathy for the animal kingdom. Hence when this universal feeling sprang from the primeval wisdom of humanity, when mankind still possessed the remembrance of the original knowledge which told each one by a dim clairvoyant vision how things once were, there was preserved with it sympathy for the animal kingdom also, and this to a high degree. This sympathy will come again when people accustom themselves to take up Spiritual Science, and when they again see how the karma of humanity is bound up with the world karma. In the so-called dark ages when materialistic thought held sway, one could not have the right perception of this connection. At that time one observed only what was side by side in space, without taking into consideration the fact that whatever is side by side in space has a common origin, and has only separated in the course of evolution. It was natural that one should cease to feel the connection between man and animal; and in those parts of the earth where it has been the mission to hide the spiritual knowledge of this connection, replacing it by a conscious concern with outward physical space, man has paid in a strange fashion his debt to the animals. He has eaten them.

These things show us how world conceptions are connected with the human world of perception and feeling. The latter are the consequences of the former and as the conceptions and ideas change, the perceptions and feelings of humanity also change. Man could not do otherwise than evolve. It is due to this that he had to push other beings into the abyss so that he could rise higher himself. He could not give them an individuality which compensates karmically for what the animals have to suffer; he could only give them pain, without being able to give them the karmic compensation. But what he could not give them before, he will give them when he has come to the freedom and selflessness of his individuality. Then he will consciously apprehend the karmic law in this realm and will say ‘It is to the animals that I owe what I have now become. As the animals have fallen from an individual existence to a shadow existence I cannot repay to them what they have sacrificed for me, but I must make this good, so far as is possible, by the treatment I extend to them.’ Therefore with the progress of evolution there will come again through the consciousness of karma a better relationship between man and the animal kingdom than there is now, especially in the west. There will come a treatment of the animals whereby man will again uplift those he has pushed down.

Thus we see that there is a certain relationship, between karma and the animal kingdom, although we cannot, if we wish to avoid the confusion of thought, compare what the animal experiences as its fate, with human karma. But if we consider the whole Earth evolution, we shall see that we can indeed speak of a relation between the karma of humanity and the animal kingdom.

¹ According the Rudolf Steiner, before the present Earth stage of evolution there were three previous stages, named: 1. Old Saturn, 2. Old Sun and 3. Old Moon, and there will be three subsequent stages. This is explained in detail in his book "Outline of Esoteric Science", Anthroposophic Press, New York. The electronic version of an older translation with the title "An Outline of Occult Science" is availale on-line at These lectures were given for members of the Anthropsophical Society, and it was therefore assumed that they were already familiar with Steiner's indications concerning the evolution of the Earth. [Ed.]

The third lecture of this cycle will appear in the next issue of Southern Cross Review.
Lecture 1 may be found in Back Issues.