Manifestations of Karma

Lecture Nr. 3

Karma in Relation to Sickness and Health

Rudolf Steiner

(Stenographic notes of a lecture given in Hamburg in May of 1910, unrevised by the speaker.)

The observations we shall make in this and succeeding lectures may be exposed to a certain misunderstanding. We shall have to deal with various questions about sickness and health from the standpoint of karma, but owing to the contrary nature of present currents of thought on this subject, a wrong idea of the spiritually scientific basis may easily be formed when this subject is touched upon. We know that the most varied circles discuss these questions of health and sickness, and that the discussion is often carried on with considerable vehemence and passion. Sides are taken by the laity quite as much as by certain physicians against what is called scientific medicine, and it can easily be seen how the partisans of scientific medicine are perhaps provoked by many an unjustified attack, so that they not only fall into a kind of passion when they feel called upon, and rightly too, to enter the lists on behalf of what science has to say on this matter, but they also wage war against what is said contrary to their own views on the subject in question.
    Anthroposophy or Spiritual Science will be able to do justice to its high task only if it succeeds in maintaining an unprejudiced and objective judgement in this field which has been so obscured by arguments. Those who have often heard lectures from me will know how little I am disposed to join the chorus of those who wish to discredit what is described as academic medicine; in spiritual science there is no question of agreement with one particular party or another.

    As a preliminary observation we may say that the achievements of recent years in regard to health and the actual investigations into the phenomena of sickness really merit praise, recognition and admiration, just as do numerous other scientific discoveries. Concerning what has been actually accomplished in this realm, it may be said that if anyone may rejoice at all about what medicine has accomplished in recent years it is spiritual science that should do so. On the other hand, we must point out that the achievements and actual knowledge and discoveries of natural science are by no means always truly and satisfactorily interpreted and explained by present-day scientific opinion. It is indeed most patent in many fields of scientific investigation that the opinions and theories have not grown in accordance with the positive ideas and facts, which are sometimes marvelous. The light which proceeds from spiritual science will also successfully illuminate the scientific conquests of recent years.
    After this preliminary observation it will be seen that we are not concerned with any sort of an agreement in a paltry skirmish regarding what can be done at the present time in the field of scientific medicine. It may be said, however, that the most admirable facts which have so far been brought to light cannot bear fruit for the good of humanity in our day because the materialistically coloured opinions and theories prevalent to-day render them sterile. So it is much better for Anthroposophy modestly to say what it has to say than to take part in any sort of party war. In this way it will arouse much less the passions already so excited at the present time. 

    If we wish to obtain a point of view from which to consider the questions that are to occupy us, we must first realise that the cause of any phenomena has to be sought for in a variety of ways; there are nearer and more remote causes, and where Anthroposophy wishes to discover the karmic cause of health, it will have to occupy itself a little with the more remote causes not on the surface. We will give an illustration of this, which upon reflection will soon be understood.
    Let us take the standpoint of one who thinks that we are gloriously advanced at the present day in this field, and who altogether despises the opinions on health and sickness which were advanced in previous centuries. If we survey the questions of sickness and health, we gain the impression that the representatives of this view usually conclude that what has come to light in this field within the last twenty or thirty years is a kind of absolute truth which may, indeed, be supplemented, but can never be gainsaid as can the knowledge which has been acquired in past ages. For example it is often said: ‘In this field we find the grossest superstition in bygone times!’ And then truly startling examples are given of the way in which in past centuries they tried to heal one complaint or another. It is considered to be exceptionally bad when one comes across terms which for the modern consciousness have lost the meaning they possessed at that time. Thus some say: ‘There were times when every illness was ascribed to God or the devil!’ This was not so bad as these people make it out to be, because they can form no idea of what was intended by the expression ‘God’ or ‘devil.’ We can make this very clear by means of an illustration.
    Let us suppose that two persons are speaking together. One says to the other: ‘I have just seen a room full of flies. Someone said it was quite natural that the room should be full of flies, and I thought so too, for the room was very dirty and so the flies thrive.’ It is quite natural that one should accept this as a reason for the existence of the flies and it will be quite reasonable to say that if the room were thoroughly cleaned the flies would disappear. But there was another person who said that he knew a different reason for the flies in the room, and that the real cause was that for a long time a very lazy housewife had lived there. Now what boundless superstition to think that laziness was a kind of personality which needed only to beckon, and then in came the flies! Surely the explanation which attributes the presence of flies to the dirt is a better one. Almost the same thing happens when one says: ‘Someone has fallen ill through being infected by some sort of bacteria; if this is driven out, the person will be well again.’ Others talk about a spiritual cause which lies deeper down, but to effect a cure they still think it necessary only to drive out the bacteria. To talk of a spiritual cause of illness while admitting all the rest is no more superstitious than to say as in the first case that the presence of the flies was due to a lazy housewife. And there is no need to be angry if someone says that the flies would not be there if the room were clean. It is not a question of one view being in opposition to the other; rather the holder of each view should learn to understand the other and study his meaning. One must carefully take into consideration whether only the immediate causes are spoken of, or whether indirect causes are referred to. The objective Anthroposophist will never take the standpoint that laziness needs only to beckon for the flies to come into the room; he will know that other material things also come into consideration. But everything which has a material expression has its spiritual background, and for the welfare of humanity this spiritual background has to be sought. Those, however, who would like to take part in the combat should also be reminded that spiritual causes will not always be understood in the same way and also cannot be combated in the same way as ordinary material causes; and one must not always think that by fighting the spiritual causes there would be no need to combat the material causes; for then one might allow the room to remain dirty, and seek to cure the idleness of the housewife. What is necessary is that each of these two parties should understand the other's point of view and not quarrel with him about it.

    Now when we are considering karma we must speak of connections of events which came into human life in former times, and how they manifest themselves later in their after-effects on the same human being. If we speak of health and sickness from the standpoint of karma we must ask: ‘Can we connect the healthy and sicknessd condition with the former deeds and experiences of this person, and how will his present condition of health or sickness later react upon him?’

    The person of the present day would far rather believe that sickness is connected only with immediate causes. For the fundamental tendency in the modern view of life is always to seek what is most convenient. And it is certainly convenient to go no further than the immediate cause. Therefore in considering human sicknesss, only the immediate causes are taken into consideration, and this is the case most of all with the invalid himself. For it cannot be denied that the patients themselves are led to take this standpoint, and because of this there exists so much dissatisfaction. When there is the belief that the sickness must have an immediate cause which must be found by the skilled physician, and when he cannot help he is accused of having bungled somewhere. From this convenient method of judgement proceeds much of what is said on this subject. One who knows how to observe the wide-spreading effects of karma will always extend his gaze more and more from what happens now to events which lie comparatively far back. Above all, he will be convinced that a complete understanding of some circumstance in a person's life is only possible when an extended view over what lies further back can be obtained. This is especially so in the case of illness. When speaking of people who are ill, and also of those who are well, the question arises, ‘How can we form an idea of the nature of sickness?’

    When spiritual investigation is carried on directly with the aid of the spiritual organs of perception it will always — when dealing with the sicknesss of man — notice irregularities, not only in the physical body, but also in the higher principles, in the etheric and astral bodies *. The spiritual investigator must always in the case of illness consider, on the one hand the share the physical body may have in this particular case, and, on the other, the share of the etheric body and the astral body; for all three principles may be involved in the sickness. The question now arises: ‘What ideas can we form about the processes of sickness?’ The answer to this question may be found most easily by first considering how far the idea of sickness may be extended. Let us leave it to those who enjoy using such allegorical and symbolic language to talk about sicknesss of minerals or metals. Let them talk about rust as sickness of the iron. We must be quite clear that if we use purely abstract ideas we can gain no practical knowledge of life but can arrive at only a fantastic view, and not one which really penetrates into the facts. If we wish to arrive at a real idea of sickness and also a real idea of health, we shall have to guard against saying that minerals and metals can also have sicknesss.

    But matters are quite different when we come to the vegetable kingdom. We may certainly speak of the sicknesss of plants, for a real comprehension of the idea of sickness these sicknesss of plants are especially interesting and important. In the case of plants, if again one does not go to work in a fantastic way, one cannot well speak of ‘inner causes of sicknesss,’ in the same way as with animals and men. The sicknesss of plants can always be traced to outer causes, such as some detrimental influence in the ground, insufficient light, this or that effect of the wind and other elementary activities in nature. Or they may be traced to the influence of parasites which live upon the plants and injure them. In the vegetable kingdom the idea of ‘inner causes of sickness’ cannot be justified. It is, of course, impossible in the short space of time at our disposal to furnish innumerable proofs of what I have just indicated, but the deeper one goes into the pathology of plants the more it can be seen that in their case inner causes of sickness do not exist, but that we have to deal with external injuries or other external influences.

    Now a plant such as we see in the external world is a being which is made up of a physical and etheric body. At the same time it is a being which brings to our notice the fact that what we call the physical and etheric bodies are in principle healthy, and that it has to wait until it meets with an external injury before it can become sicknessd. The researches of Spiritual Science confirm that this is the true state of affairs. Whereas through spiritual scientific research into the sicknesss of animals and human beings we are able to see quite decided changes in the inner or supersensible part of the being, in the case of a sicknessd plant we are never able to say that the original etheric body itself is changed, but only that all kinds of disturbances and harmful influences from outside have penetrated into the physical body and especially into the etheric body. Spiritual Science confirms the following general conclusion: In the constituent parts of the plant, namely, physical and etheric bodies, we have before us something which is in essence healthy. But it is another thing to see how when it has suffered external damage it can safeguard its growth and development and heal the injury. Notice for instance how, if you cut a plant, it tries to grow round the injured part, and to get round what then interferes with and injures it. We can see when an external injury occurs, the clear manifestation of the healing power which the plant has in its inner organisation. In the etheric and physical bodies of the plant exist healing forces which are brought into play when some exterior injury is inflicted. This is an extremely important fact if we wish to come to a clear understanding in this realm. A being such as a plant, having a physical and an etheric body thus shows that these principles are fundamentally healthy. There is in them sufficient force not only for the development and growth of the plant, but also there is a super-abundance of these forces which manifest themselves as healing powers when injuries come from outside. Whence, then, do these healing forces come? If you wound a mere physical body the injury will remain; it is unable of itself to repair the injury. For this reason, we cannot talk of a sickness in the case of a mere physical body, and least of all can we talk of a relation between sickness and healing. This we can best see when a sickness appears in a plant. Here we have to look for the principle of the inner healing power in the etheric body. Spiritual investigation shows us this very clearly, for the activity of the etheric body of the plant is much intensified round the part where the wound has been inflicted. It brings forth from itself entirely different forms, and develops entirely different currents. It is an extremely interesting fact that we call on the etheric body of a plant to exercise increased activity when we injure its physical body.

    We have not indeed defined the concept of sickness but we have done something to arrive at its nature, and we have gained something which gives us an inkling of the inward process of healing.
    Following the clue given by inward spiritual observation let us go further and try to understand the external phenomena to which Spiritual Science leads us. Then we may pass from the consideration of the injuries we give to plants to those we give to animals which, in addition to the etheric body, have also an astral body. If we carry our observations further we shall see that the etheric body of a higher animal reacts correspondingly less to an external injury. The higher the animal is in the scale of evolution so much the less will be the action of the etheric body. If we cause a severe injury to the physical body of a lower or even a higher mammal; if, for instance, we tear a leg from a dog or some such animal, we find that the etheric body cannot answer with its healing power in the same measure as the etheric body of a plant replies to a similar injury to itself. But even in the animal kingdom this action of the etheric body can still be seen to a great extent. Let us descend to a very low order of animals — to the tritons. If we cut off certain organs from such a being they do not experience anything particularly painful. The organs quickly grow again, and the animal soon looks as it did before.

    In this case something similar has taken place to that which occurred in the case of the plant; we have called forth a certain healing power in the etheric body. But we should not deny that such provocation to develop healing powers in the etheric body of man or of higher animals would mean a considerable risk to health. The lower animal on the contrary will only be stimulated from its inner being to put forth another member by means of its etheric body.

    Now if one of the limbs of a crab is severed, the animal cannot at once renew it. But when it casts its shell the next time and arrives at the next transition stage of its life, a stump appears; the second time the stump grows larger, and if the animal were to cast its shell often enough, the limb would be replaced by a new one. These facts show us that the etheric body must make greater efforts to call forth the inner forces of healing; and in the higher animals the healing power is still less. If you mutilate a higher animal it can do nothing towards replacing the limb. Here we must allude to a fact which at the present time is the subject of an important dispute in the field of Natural Science: If you mutilate an animal, and the animal has progeny, the deformities are not transmitted to the offspring; the next generation has again the complete parts. When the etheric body carries its qualities over to the offspring it is again stimulated to form a complete organism. The etheric body of a triton still acts in the same animal; in a crab it acts only when it casts its shell; in the higher animals the same phenomenon appears only in the offspring, and there the etheric body replaces what had been mutilated in the previous generation. If we observe these phenomena rightly we shall clearly perceive that we must still speak of the healing forces in the etheric body even if these forces are manifested only in the succeeding generation when the offspring is born without the mutilation which the parent suffered. Here we have research into the why and wherefore of the healing powers of the etheric body.

    We might now ask the question: How is it, then, that the higher we rise in the animal kingdom — and this applies to the human kingdom also — we find that the healing forces of the etheric body have to make greater efforts to manifest themselves? This depends upon the fact that the etheric body may be bound to the physical body in very different ways. Between the physical body and the etheric body there may be a more intimate union or a looser one. For example, let us take the triton, in which the severed member is replaced very quickly. Here we must assume a loose connection between the physical body and the etheric body, and this applies in the vegetable kingdom to a still higher degree. This union is such that the physical body is unable to react upon the etheric body, and the latter remains untouched by what happens to the physical body and is in a certain sense independent of it. Now the nature of the etheric body is that of activity, of generation and growth. It encourages growth up to a certain point. When we cut off a part, the etheric body is immediately prepared to restore that part, and to that end unfolds all its activities. But what is the reason if it cannot develop all its activities? The reason is to be found in a closer dependence on the physical body. This is the case with the higher animals. There is here a much more intimate union between the etheric body and the physical body, and when the physical body develops its form and organises the forces of physical nature, these forces react upon the etheric body.

    To put it more clearly: In the lower animals or the plants that which is outside does not react on the etheric body but leaves it untouched, carrying on an independent existence. When we come to the higher animals, reactions of the physical body are imposed upon the etheric body which adapts itself completely to the physical body; so that if we injure the physical body, we injure the etheric body at the same time. Hence the etheric body has to exercise greater powers if it has first to heal itself and then the corresponding member in the physical body. Therefore in the case of the etheric body of a higher animal, deeper healing forces must be called forth. But what is the connection? Why is the etheric body of a higher animal so dependant upon the forms of the physical body?

    The higher we advance in the animal creation the more do we have to consider not only the activity of the etheric body and the physical body, but also that of the astral body. In the case of the lower animals the activity of the astral body comes but little into consideration. For this reason the lower animals still have so many qualities in common with the plants. The higher we ascend, the more does the astral body come into action, and this action is such that it makes the etheric body subservient to itself. A being such as a plant, which has only physical body and etheric body, has little to do with the external world; an action may be exercised upon the plant from outside, but this is not reflected as an inward experience. Where an astral body is active, external impressions are reflected into inner experiences, but a being in which the astral body is inactive is more shut off from the external world. The more the astral body is active the more does a being open itself to the external world. Thus the astral body unites the inner nature of a being with the outer world, and the increasing activity of the astral body is responsible for the fact that the etheric body has to use much stronger forces to heal injuries.

    If we now pass on from animals to man, a new element arises. Man does not simply conform to certain prescribed functions inspired by the astral body as is the case with the animals which have, as it were, a course outlined for them in advance, and which live more according to an established programme. We could scarcely say of an animal that it departs to any great extent from its instincts, or that it follows its instincts with more or less moderation. It follows its plan of life, and all its actions are submitted to a sort of general programme. But man, having risen higher on the ladder of evolution, is able to discern between right and wrong, truth and falsehood, good and evil. Through purely individual motives he comes into touch with the outer world in various ways. These contacts react and make an impression upon his astral body, and as a consequence of the interaction between his astral body and etheric body, both now suffer these reactions. Thus if a person leads a dissolute life in any respect it will make an impression on his astral body which in its turn influences the etheric body. How it will do this will depend upon what has been laid down in the astral body. Therefore we shall now be able to understand that the etheric body of man alters, according as he leads this or that life within the limits of good or evil, right or wrong, truth or falsehood, etc. All these exercise an influence on his etheric body.

    Let us now remember what takes place when a human being passes through the portal of death. We know that the physical body is laid aside and that the etheric body, now united with the astral body and the Ego, remains. When a certain length of time has passed after death, a time which is measured only by days, the etheric body is thrown aside as a second corpse; an extract, however, of the etheric body is left over and this is taken along and kept permanently. This extract of the etheric body contains all that has penetrated the etheric body, for example from a dissolute life, or from true or false thinking, feeling and action. This is contained in the etheric body and the individual takes it with him in the period up to a new birth. As an animal does not have such experiences, it cannot, of course, take anything over in the same way beyond the portal of death. When the person again comes into existence by birth, the essence of his previous etheric body is something which now impregnates his new etheric body, and permeates its structure. Therefore in his new existence the person has in his etheric body the results of what he had experienced in his previous life, and as the etheric body is the builder of an entirely new organisation at a new birth, all this now imprints itself on his physical body also. How does this come about?

    Spiritual investigation shows us that in the form of a human body which enters into existence by birth, we are able to see approximately what deeds a person did in a previous life. In the case of an animal we cannot say that at its birth it brings with it a reincarnated individuality from a previous earth life. Only the common astral body of this species of animal is active, and this will limit the healing power of the etheric body of this animal. In man we find that not only his astral body but also his etheric body is impregnated with the results of the deeds of his previous life: and as the etheric body has within itself the power to bring forth what it formerly had, we shall also understand that this etheric body will also build into the new organism that which it brings with it from previous incarnations. We shall now understand how our deeds in one life can work over into our conditions of health in the next life, and how in our state of health we have often to seek a karmic effect of deeds of a previous life.

     We may approach the matter in still another way. We may ask: Does everything that we do in the life between birth and death react in the same manner on our etheric body? Even in ordinary life we can perceive a great difference on our inner organisation between the reaction of what we experience as conscious beings, and many other experiences. A very interesting fact which can be fully explained by Spiritual Science and which can also be quite reasonably understood, is the following. In the course of his life a person has a great number of experiences which he receives consciously and unites them with his I (ego). Within him they develop into concepts which he works upon, etc. But a great many experiences and impressions do not develop into concepts, and yet they are really there in man and act upon him. If you walk along the street it often happens that someone says to you: ‘I saw you today, and you even looked at me!’ And yet you know nothing about it! This is often the case. Of course, this has made an impression; your eyes indeed saw the other person but the direct impression did not become a concept. There are innumerable cases of this sort, so that our life is really divided into two parts — into a realm of soul-life which consists of concepts, and another realm that we have never brought really into clear consciousness. There are again other differences. You will easily be able to distinguish between impressions which you have in your life and can remember, and those which you cannot remember.

    Thus our soul-life is divided into entirely different categories, and there is, indeed, a very considerable difference between these various categories if we consider the effect upon the inner being of man. Let us now consider for a few minutes the life of man between birth and death. First of all we observe this great difference between the concepts which come again and again into our consciousness, and those which have been forgotten. This difference can be most easily exemplified by the following. Think of an impression which called forth a clear idea within you. Let it be an impression which aroused joy or pain, an impression which was accompanied by a feeling.

    Let us bear in mind that most impressions, really all the impressions that are made upon us, are accompanied by feelings and these feelings express themselves not only on the conscious surface of life, but they work down into the physical body. You need only remember how one impression will cause us to become pale, and another causes us to blush. These impressions affect the circulation of the blood. And now let us pass over to what on the whole does not come to consciousness, or only fleetingly so, and is not remembered. In this case Spiritual Science shows how these impressions are none the less accompanied by emotions in the same way as are the conscious impressions. If you receive an impression from the outer world which, if received consciously, would have frightened you so much that it would have made your heart pound, that same impression is not, however, without effect, even when unconsciously received. It not only makes an impression, but it also goes down into the physical body. It is remarkable that an impression which produces a conscious idea finds a kind of resistance when working into the deeper human organisation; but if the impression simply acts upon us without our bringing it to a conscious idea, then nothing hinders it, and for this reason it is even more effective. Human life is much richer than the mere conscious human life.

    There is a period in our life when we experience a great number of impressions which act very strongly upon the human organisation and which we are unable to remember. In the whole of the period from birth up to the moment when a person can first remember, a great number of impressions are made upon him which are all there, and which have been transformed during this time. They work, just as do the conscious impressions, but there is nothing opposed to them, especially when they are forgotten. Nothing that is otherwise contained in the soul-life in the way of conscious conception can thereby form a dam, as it were, and the sub-conscious impressions are those which act most profoundly. Now in the external life one can often find proof that there are moments in human life when the second kind of inner effect is manifested. We are unable to explain many of the events in later life and we cannot discover why we have to experience one thing or another in this particular way. For example, we experience something which makes such a tremendous impression upon us that we cannot explain how such a comparatively insignificant experience could make such a great impression.
    If we investigate, we shall perhaps find that exactly in that critical time between birth and the time back to which we can remember, we had a remotely similar experience, but which we have forgotten. No idea of it has remained, but at the time we had an impression which affected us very much. This has lived on and now unites with the present impression, strengthening it so that what would otherwise have moved us much less or perhaps not at all now makes a particularly strong impression. If we perceive this clearly we shall be able to form an idea of the extreme importance of the impressions made upon a child in its earliest years and how something may throw its very significant shadow or light on later life. Here again, something from the earlier life works into the later life.

    It may happen that these impressions of childhood — particularly if they are repeated — influence the whole disposition in such a way that from a certain point of time on an inexplicable depression of spirit occurs. This can only be accounted for when one goes back and discovers the impressions received during childhood which throw their lights or shadows into the later life, and which are now expressed in a permanent depression. We may say that if emotions, particularly feelings and sensations, were connected with the impressions which were later forgotten, these emotions and overflowings of feeling are particularly effective in producing later similar experiences.

    Now remember what I have often said about the life during the kamaloca period. After the etheric body has been laid aside as a second corpse, man lives the whole of his last life backwards. He goes over all the experiences which he has had, but not in such a way that he is indifferent to them. During the period in kamaloca, as man still possesses his astral body, what he has gone through brings about the most profound experiences in feeling. For example, let us suppose that a person died at the age of seventy. He lives his life back to his fortieth year when he struck a man on the face; he then experiences the pain which he gave to the other. A kind of self reproach is thereby called forth; this then remains, so as to compensate the matter in a future life. You will understand that as in this period between death and a new birth there are all kinds of astral experiences, that which is experienced by us as an action imprints itself all the more surely and deeply into our inner being, and contributes to the construction of our new body. Thus, if even in ordinary life we are so strongly affected by certain experiences, especially if they were accompanied by feeling, that they are able to bring about later a depression of spirits, we shall understand that the much stronger impressions of kamaloca life are able to express themselves so that they work deeply into the organisation of the physical body.

    Here, then, you see a stronger form of a phenomenon which on careful observation you are able to find even in life between birth and death. The ideas which meet with no hindrance from consciousness will lead to other irregularities in the soul — to neurasthenia, to various kinds of nervous sicknesss and perhaps also to mental sicknesss. All these phenomena present themselves as causal connections between earlier and later events, and furnish us with a clear picture of them.

    If we now wish to go further with this idea we may say that our actions will, in the life after death, be transmuted into a powerful emotion. This emotion, which is not limited by ordinary consciousness — for the brain is not then necessary — is experienced by the other form of consciousness, which then works down more deeply. So it is brought about that our actions and the whole nature of our previous life appear in the constitution of our organisation in a new life. Hence we shall quite easily understand that when a person who in one incarnation has thought, felt and acted very egotistically, sees before him after death the fruits of his egotistic thoughts, feelings and action, he is filled with strong feelings against his former deeds. This is in fact the case. He develops tendencies which are directed against his own being, and these tendencies, in so far as they have proceeded from an egotistic nature in the previous life, express themselves in a weak physical organisation in the new life. Therefore we must clearly understand that a weak organisation can be traced back karmically to egotism in a previous life. Let us go further.

    Let us suppose that in one life a person manifests a particular tendency towards telling lies. This is a tendency which proceeds from a deeper organisation of the soul; for if a person only follows what is in his most conscious life he will not really lie. It is only emotions and feelings which work up out of his subconscious which lead him to this. Here again we have something deeper. If a person is untruthful, the actions which proceed from untruthfulness will again arouse the strongest feelings against himself in the life after death, and a profound tendency against lying will appear. He will then bring with him into the next life not only a weak organisation but — so Spiritual Science shows us — an organisation which is incorrectly built, so to speak, and which manifests irregularly formed inner organs in the finer organisation. Something is there which does not agree and this is due to the previous tendency to lying. And whence came this tendency to lying? — for in that tendency the person already has something which also is not in order.

    Here we shall have to go back still further. Spiritual Science shows that a fickle life which knows neither devotion nor love — a superficial life in one incarnation — expresses itself in the tendency to lying in the next incarnation; and in the third incarnation this tendency to lying manifests itself in incorrectly formed organs. Thus we can karmically trace the effects in three consecutive incarnations: superficiality and fickleness in the first incarnation, the tendency to lying in the second, and the physical disposition to sickness in the third incarnation.

    Thus we see how karma is connected with health and sickness. That which has just now been said is based upon facts revealed as the result of spiritual investigation. We are not advancing theories, but actual cases which have been observed, and which can be investigated by the methods of Spiritual Science. We commenced this lecture by referring to the most ordinary facts — the healing powers of the etheric body of the plants. We then showed how through the addition of the astral body in the animals the etheric body is less active. And we saw further how through the reception of the Ego which develops an individual life for good or evil, truth and falsehood, the astral body which, in the case of the higher animals only hinders the healing power, again adds something new to man, namely the karmic influences of sickness which flow into him out of the individual life. In the plant there are no inner causes of sickness, because sickness is still something outside, and the healing powers work without being weakened. In the lower animals we find an etheric body with healing powers that can even replace certain parts; but the further we rise the more does the astral body imprint itself into the etheric body and thereby limit its healing powers. The animals do not survive in reincarnations; therefore that which is in the etheric body is not connected with any moral, intellectual or individual qualities, but only with the common type. In man, however, that which he experiences in his Ego works down into the etheric body.
    Why then do the moral effects of events not manifest themselves in more than benign sicknesss in infancy? Because although we are often able to find in the same life the causes of neurasthenia, neurosis, hysteria, etc.,  we shall have to look for the causes of severer illnesses in the previous life, because moral and intellectual effects can only be fully implanted in the etheric body on passing over to a new birth - although exceptional cases exist, of which we will speak later. 

Such is the connection which exists between our life of good or evil, our moral and intellectual life in one incarnation, and our health or sickness in the next.

* According to Rudolf  Steiner, the human being is composed of a physical body, an etheric (or formative life forces) element, an astral (or soul, but distinguished from the spirit) element and the I (ego).

Previous lectures