Volume II, Lecture V
Dornach, April 27, 1924
We have now studied a number of examples showing how destiny unfolds, examples which can explain and illumine the life and history of mankind. The purpose of these studies has been to show that individuals themselves carry into later epochs of earthly existence what they have experienced and assimilated in earlier times. Connections have come to light which enable us to understand how certain decisive actions of men have their roots in moral causes created by themselves in the course of the ages.
It is not this kind of causal connection only that the study of karma can disclose to us. Many other things, too, become intelligible, which to external observation seem at first obscure and incomprehensible. But if we are to participate in the great change in thinking and perception that is essential in the near future if civilisation is to progress and not fall into decline, it is incumbent upon us to develop, in the first place, a sense for what in ordinary circumstances is beyond our grasp and the understanding of which requires insight into the deeper relationships of existence. A person who finds everything comprehensible may, of course, see no need to know anything of more deeply lying causes. But to find everything in the world comprehensible is a sign of illusion and merely indicates superficiality. In point of fact the vast majority of things in the world are incomprehensible to normal consciousness. To be able to stand in wonder before so much that is incomprehensible in everyday life — that is really the beginning of a striving for true knowledge.
A call that has so often gone out from this platform is that anthroposophists shall have enthusiasm in their seeking, enthusiasm for what is implicit in Anthroposophy. And this enthusiasm must take its start from a realisation of the wonders confronting us in everyday life. Only then shall we be led to reach out to the causes, to the deeper forces underlying existence around us.
This attitude of wonder towards the surrounding world can spring both from contemplation of history and from observation of what is immediately present. How often our attention is arrested by events in history which seem to indicate that human life here and there has lost all rhyme and reason. And human life does indeed lose meaning if we focus our attention upon a single event in history and omit to ask: How do certain types of character emerge from this event? What form will they take in a later incarnation? ... If such questions remain unasked, certain events in history seem to be entirely meaningless, irrelevant, pointless. They lose meaning if they cannot become impulses of soul in a subsequent life on earth, find their balance and then work on into the future.
Now there is certainly something that really does not make sense in the phenomenon of a personality such as the Roman Emperor Nero. No reference has yet been made to Nero in lectures in the Anthroposophical Movement.
Think of all that history recounts of Nero. In face of such a personality it seems as if life could be mocked and scorned with impunity, as if the utterly flippant disregard for life displayed by one in a position of great power and authority, brought no consequences. Anyone hearing of Nero's deeds must be dull-witted if he is not driven to ask: What becomes of a soul such as this, who scorns the whole world, who regards the life of other people, nay even the existence of a whole city, as something he can play with? “What an artist is lost in me!” is a saying attributed to Nero, and it seems to be in line with his whole attitude and tenor of mind. Utmost flippancy, an intense desire and urge for destruction, acknowledged even by himself — and the soul actually taking pleasure in it all!
One can only be repelled by the story, for here is a personality who literally radiates destruction. And the question forces itself upon us: What becomes of such a soul?
Now we must be quite clear on this point: Whatever is discharged, as it were, upon the world, is reflected in the life between death and a new birth, and discharged in turn upon the soul who has been responsible for the destruction. A few centuries later, that is to say, a comparatively short time afterwards, Nero appeared again in the world in an unimportant form of existence. During this incarnation a certain balance was brought about in respect of the mania for destruction, the enthusiasm for destruction in which he had indulged as a ruler, simply out of an inner urge. In that next life on earth something of this was balanced out, for the same individuality was now in a position where he was obliged to destroy; he was in a subordinate position, acting under orders. The soul had now to realise what it is like when such acts are not committed out of free will while in a position of supreme power.
Matters of this kind must be studied quite objectively and all emotion avoided — that is absolutely essential. In a certain respect, such a destiny calls for pity — for to be as cruel as Nero, to have a mania for destruction as great as his, is, after all, a destiny. There is no need for hatred or censure; moreover such an attitude would prevent one from experiencing all that is required in order to understand the further developments. Insight into the things that have been spoken of here is possible only when they are looked at objectively, when no hostile judgment is passed but when human destiny is really understood. Things disclose themselves quite clearly, provided one has the faculty for understanding them ... That this Nero-destiny came vividly before me on one occasion was attributable to what seemed to be chance — but it was only seemingly chance.
One day, when a terrible event had occurred, an event of which I shall speak in a moment and which had a shattering effect throughout the region concerned, I happened to be visiting a person frequently mentioned in my autobiography: Karl Julius Schröer. When I arrived I found him profoundly shocked, as many were, by what had happened. And the word “Nero” fell from his lips — apparently without reason — as though it burst from dark depths of the spirit. To all appearances the word came entirely out of the blue. But later on it became quite clear that in reality the Akashic Record was here being voiced through human lips. The event referred to was the following.
The Austrian Crown Prince had always been acclaimed as a brilliant personality, and great hopes were entertained for the time when he would ascend the Throne. Although all kinds of things were known about the behaviour of the Crown Prince Rudolf, they were accepted as almost inevitable in the case of one of such high rank; nobody dreamt for a moment that the things told about him might lead to any serious, tragic conflicts. It was therefore an overwhelming shock when it became known in Vienna that the Crown Prince Rudolf had met his death in mysterious circumstances near the Convent of the Holy Cross, outside Baden, near Vienna. Details gradually came to light and at first there was talk of a “fatal accident” — indeed this was officially announced. Then, after the official announcement, it became known that the Crown Prince had gone to his hunting lodge accompanied by the Baroness Vetsera and that there they had both met their death.
The details are so well-known that there is no need to recount them here. All that followed made it impossible for anyone acquainted with the circumstances to doubt that this was a case of suicide. For what happened first of all was that after the issue of the official announcement of the fatal accident, the Prime Minister of Hungary, Koloman Tisza, took exception to this version, and obtained from the then Emperor of Austria the promise that this incorrect statement should not be allowed to stand. The Hungarian Prime Minister refused to be responsible for making this announcement to his people, and he was very emphatic in his refusal. Besides this, there was a man on the medical staff who was one of the most courageous doctors in Vienna at the time and who was to assist at the post-mortem examination; and this man said that he would sign nothing that was not corroborated by the objective facts.
Well, the objective facts were a clear indication of suicide; this was officially admitted and the earlier announcement corrected. And if there were no other circumstances than the admission of suicide by a family as fervently Catholic as that of the Austrian Emperor, that alone would have precluded the slightest shadow of doubt.
Nobody who can judge the facts objectively will think of doubting it, but there is one very obvious question: How was it possible that anyone with such a brilliant future should turn to suicide when faced with circumstances which, in his position, could easily have remained concealed? Obviously, there was no objective reason why a Crown Prince should commit suicide on account of a love affair — I mean that there was no objective reason attributable to external circumstances.
There was no objective reason for such an action, but the fact was that this heir to a Throne found life utterly worthless — a state of mind which had, of course, a psychopathological basis. This itself needs to be understood, for a pathological condition of the soul is also connected with destiny. And the fundamental fact here is that one to whom a brilliant future was beckoning, found life utterly worthless.
This, my dear friends, is one of those phenomena in life which seem to be wholly inexplicable. And in spite of all that has been written or said about the whole affair, a true judgment can be formed only by one who says to himself: This single human life, this life of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria, gives no clue to the suicide or to the causes of the preceding pathological state of mind; something else must be at the bottom of it all.
And now, if you picture to yourself the Nero soul, having subsequently experienced what I described and passing at length into that heir to a Throne who does away with himself, who forces the consequences by means of suicide ... then the whole setting is altered. Within the soul there is a tendency which originates in preceding earthly lives; in the time between death and rebirth the soul perceives in direct vision that nothing but forces of destruction have issued from it — and now the ‘grand reversal’, as I will call it, has to be experienced.
And how is it experienced? — A life abounding in things of external value reflects itself inwardly in such a way that its bearer considers it utterly worthless, and commits suicide. The soul becomes sick, half demented, seeking an external entanglement in the love affair, and so forth. But these things are merely the consequences of the soul's endeavour to direct against itself all the arrows which in the past had been directed to the world. And then, when we have insight into these relationships, we perceive the unfolding of an overwhelming tragedy, but for all that a righteous, just tragedy. The two pictures are co-ordinated.
As I have said so often, it is the underlying details that make real investigation possible in such domains. Many factors in life must work together here.
I told you that when this shattering event had just occurred, I was on my way to Schröer. The event itself was not the reason for my visit — I happened to be on the way to him and he was the first person to whom I spoke about the matter. He said: “Nero! ...” — quite out of the blue, and I could not help asking myself: Why does he think of Nero just at this moment? He actually introduced the conversation with the mention of Nero. This amazed me at the time. But the shattering effect was all the greater in view of the particular circumstances in which the word “Nero” was uttered. Two days previously — all this was public knowledge — a Soirée had been held at the house of Prince Reuss, then German Ambassador in Vienna. The Austrian Crown Prince was present, and Schröer too, and the latter saw how the Crown Prince was behaving on that occasion — two days before the catastrophe. The strange behaviour at the Soirée, the suicide two days later, all of it described so dramatically by Schröer — this, in connection with the utterance of the name “Nero”, made one realise that there was good reason for further investigation.
Now why did I often follow up things that happened to fall from Schröer's lips? It was not that I simply took anything he said as a pointer, for he, of course, knew nothing of such matters. But many things he said, especially those which seemed to shoot out of the blue, were significant for me because of something that once came to light in a curious way.
A conversation I had with Schröer on one occasion led to the subject of phrenology. Not humorously, but with the seriousness with which he was wont to speak — of such things, employing a certain solemnity of language even in everyday matters, Schröer said to me: “I too was once examined by a phrenologist. He felt my head all over and discovered up there the bump of which he said: ‘There's the theosophist in you’.” — Remember that this was in the eighties of last century when there was as yet no talk of Anthroposophy. It was Schröer, not I, who was examined by the phrenologist who said: “There's the theosophist in you.” Now Schröer, outwardly, was far from being a theosophist — my autobiography makes that abundantly clear. But it was just when he spoke of things without apparent motive that his utterances were sometimes profoundly significant. And so there seemed to be a certain connection between the utterance of the word ‘Nero’ and the outer confirmation of his theosophical trend. This was what made him a personality to whose spontaneous utterances one paid heed.
And so investigation into the Nero destiny shed light on the subsequent Meyerling destiny and it was found that in the personality of the Austrian Crown Prince Rudolf one actually had to do with the Nero soul.
This investigation — which has taken a long time, for in matters of this kind one must be extremely cautious — presented special difficulties to me because I was continually being diverted by the fact that all kinds of people — you may believe it or not — were claiming with fanatical insistence that they themselves had been Nero! So it was a matter, first of all, of combating the subjective force emanating from these alleged reborn Neroes. One had to get through a kind of thicket.
But what I am telling you now, my dear friends, is much more important because it has to do with an historical phenomenon, namely, Nero himself. And to understand the further development is much more important than to understand, let us say, the actual catastrophe at Meyerling. For now we see how things which, to begin with, arouse horror and indignation — as does the life of Nero — live themselves out according to a perfect world-justice; we see how this world-justice is fulfilled and how the wrong returns, but in such a way that the individuality is himself involved in creating the balance. — That is what is so wonderful about karma.
Still more can become clear when such wrong is balanced out in the course of particular earthly lives. In this case the balance will be almost complete, for you will realise how closely the fulfilment is bound up with the compensatory deed. Just think of it ... a life which considers itself worthless, so worthless that a whole Empire (Austria was then a great Empire) and the rulership of it are abandoned! The suicide in such circumstances bears the consequence that after death it all has to be lived through in direct spiritual vision. This is the fulfilment, albeit the terrible fulfilment, of what may be called the righteous justice of destiny, the balancing out of the wrong.
But on the other hand, leaving all this aside, there was a tremendous force in Nero — a force which must not be lost for humanity. This force must of course be purified and we have spoken of the purification. If this has been accomplished, such a soul will carry its forces into later epochs of the earth's existence with salutary effects. When we apprehend karma as righteous compensation, we shall never fail to see how it tests the human being, puts him to the test even when he takes his place in life in a way that horrifies us. The just compensation is brought about, but the human forces are not lost. What has been committed in one life may, under certain circumstances, and provided the righteous justice has taken effect, even be transformed into a power for good. That is why a destiny such as the one described to-day is so profoundly moving.
This brings us to the consideration of good and evil, viewed in the light of karma: good and evil, fortune and misfortune, happiness and sorrow — as man experiences them breaking into, shining into, his individual life.
In regard to perception of a man's moral situation there was far greater sensitivity in earlier epochs of history than is to be found in modern humanity. People of the present age are not really sensitive at all to the problem of destiny. Now and again, of course, one comes across someone who has an inkling of the onset of destiny; but real understanding of its problems is shrouded in darkness and bewilderment in our modern civilisation, which regards the single earthly life as something complete in itself. Things happen — and that is that. A disaster that befalls a person is commented on but not really pursued in thought. This is pre-eminently the case when through something that seems to be pure chance, a person who to all appearances is thoroughly good and who has committed no wrong, either perishes, or perhaps does not actually perish but has to endure terrible suffering on account of some injury, or other cause. No thought is given to why such a fate should cut in this way into a so-called innocent life.
Humanity was not always so obtuse and insensitive with regard to the problem of destiny. We need not go very far back in time to find that blows of destiny were felt to strike in from other worlds — even the destiny a person has brought upon himself.
What is the explanation of this? The explanation is that in earlier times men were not only endowed with instinctive clairvoyance but even when this had faded, its fruits were still preserved in traditions; moreover external conditions and customs did not conduce to such a superficial, commonplace view of the world as prevails to-day, in the age of materialism. There is much talk nowadays of the harmfulness of purely materialistic-naturalistic thinking which has become so universal and has even crept into the various creeds — for the religions too have become materialistic. In no single domain is outer civilisation sincerely desirous of knowing anything about the spiritual world and although people talk in theory of the need to fight this trend, a theoretical battle against materialistic ideas achieves very little. The point of salient importance is that by reason of the world-conception which has led people to freedom, which will do so still more, and which constitutes a transitional period in the history of human evolution — by reason of this world-conception, a certain means of healing that was available in earlier epochs for outer sense-observation has been lost.
In the early centuries of Greek civilisation — in fact it was so for a considerable time — people saw in nature around them the outer, phenomenal world. The Greek, as well as modern man, looked out at nature. True, the Greek saw nature in a rather different aspect, for the senses themselves have evolved — but that is not the point here. The Greek had a remedy wherewith to counteract the organic harm that is caused in man when he merely gazes out into nature.
We do not only become physiologically long-sighted with age as the result of having gazed constantly at nature, but this gives our soul a certain configuration. As it gazes at nature, the soul realises inwardly that not all the demands of vision are being satisfied. Unsatisfied demands of vision remain. And this holds good for the process of perception in general — hearing, feeling, and so forth. Certain elements in the perceptive process remain unsatisfied when we gaze out at nature. It is more or less the same as if a person in physical existence wished to spend his whole life without taking adequate food. Such a person deteriorates physically. But when he merely gazes at nature, the perceptive faculty in his life of soul deteriorates. He gets a kind of ‘consumption’ of soul in his sense-world. This was known in the old Mystery-wisdom.
But it was also known how this ‘consumption’ in the life of soul can be counteracted. It was known that the Temple Architecture, where men beheld the equipose between downbearing weight and upbearing support, or when, as in the East, they beheld forms that were really plastic representations of moral forces, when they looked at the architectural forms confronting the eye and the whole of the perceptive process, or experienced music in these forms — it was known that here was the remedy against the consumption which befalls the senses when they merely gaze out at nature. And when the Greek was led into his temple where he beheld the pillars, above them the architrave, the inner composition and dynamic of it all, then his gaze was bounded and completed. When a person looks at nature his gaze is really no more than a stare, going on into infinity, never reaching an end. In natural science too, every problem leads on and on in this way without coming to finality. But the gaze is bounded and completed when one faces a work of great architecture created with the aim of intercepting the vision, rescuing it from the pull of nature. There you have one feature of life in olden times: this capturing of the outward gaze.
And again, when a person turns his gaze inwards today, it does not penetrate to the innermost core of his being. If he practises self-knowledge, what he perceives is a surging medley of all kinds of emotions and outer impressions, without clarity or definition. He cannot grasp himself inwardly; he lacks the strength to grasp this inner reality in imaginations, in pictures — as he must do before he can make any real approach to the inmost kernel of his being.
It is here that rituals enacted reverently take effect. Everything of the nature of ritual, not the external rites only but comprehension of the world expressed in imagery and pictures, leads man towards his innermost being. As long as he strives for self-knowledge with abstract ideas and concepts, nothing is achieved. But when he penetrates into his inmost being with images that give concrete definition to experiences of soul, then he achieves his aim. The inmost kernel of his being comes within his grasp.
How often have I not said that man must meditate in pictures, in images. This has been dealt with at ample length, even in public lectures.
And so, looking at man in the past, we find on the one side that his gaze and perception, when directed outwards, are bounded, intercepted, by architectonic forms; on the other side, his inward-turned gaze is bounded and held firm by picturing his soul-life; and this can also be presented to him through the imagery of ritual.
On the one side, therefore, there is the descent into the inmost being; on the other, the outward gaze lights upon the forms displayed in sacred architecture. A certain union is thereby achieved. Between what comes alive within and that upon which the gaze falls, there is an intermediate domain, imperceptible to man in his everyday consciousness because his outward gaze is not captured by forms of architecture born of deep, inner knowledge, nor is his inward gaze given definition by pictures and imaginations. But there is this intermediate domain ... if you let that work in your life, if you go about with inner self-knowledge deepened through imagination, and with sense-perceptions made whole and complete through forms created and inspired by a real understanding of man's nature ... then your feeling in regard to strokes of destiny will be the same as it was in olden times. By cultivating the domain that lies between the experience of true architectonic form and the experience of true, symbolic imagery along the path inwards, a man becomes sensitive to the strokes of destiny. He feels that what befalls him comes from earlier lives on earth.
This again is an introduction to the studies which we shall be pursuing and which will include consideration of the good and the evil in connection with karma.
But what is of salient importance is that within the anthroposophical movement there shall be right thinking. The architecture that would have fulfilled the needs of modern man, that would have been able to capture his gaze in the right way and to have led naturalistic perception, which veils and obscures the vision of karma, gradually into real vision — this architecture did once exist, in a certain form. And the fact that anthroposophical thoughts were uttered in the setting of those forms, kindled the inner vision. Among its other aspects the Goetheanum* building, together with the way in which Anthroposophy would have been cultivated in it, was in itself an education for the vision of karma. And that is what must be introduced into modern civilisation: education for the vision of karma.
But needless to say, it was in the interests of those who are opposed to what ought now to enter civilisation, that such a building should fall a prey to the flames ... There, too, it is possible to look into the deeper connections. But let us hope that, before very long, forms that awaken a vision of karma will again stand before us in the same place.
* The Goetheanum building referred to here was almost entirely made of wood and burned down on New Years Eve 1923. The second Goetheanum, which still stands, is made of poured concrete. [Ed.]