the last lecture I spoke of how the forces of karma take shape, and
today I want to lay the foundations for acquiring an understanding of
karma through studying examples of individual destinies. Such
destinies can only be illustrations, but if we take our start from
particular examples we shall begin to perceive how karma works in
human life. It works, of course, in as many different ways as there
are human beings on the earth, for the configuration of karma is
entirely individual. And so whenever we turn our attention to a
particular case, it must be regarded merely as an example.
I shall bring forward examples I have myself investigated and where
the course of karma has become clear to me. It is of course a
hazardous undertaking to speak of individual karmic connections, no
matter how remote the examples may be, for in referring to karma it
has become customary to use expressions of everyday language such as:
“This is caused by so-and-so; this or that blow of destiny must
be due to such and such a cause, how the man came to deserve it”
... and so forth. But karma is by no means as simple as that, and a
great deal of utterly trivial talk goes on, particularly on this
we will consider certain examples of the working of karma, remote
though they may be from our immediate life. We will embark upon the
hazardous undertaking of speaking about the karma of individuals —
as far as my investigations make this possible. I am therefore giving
you examples which are to be taken as such.
want to speak, first, of a well-known aestheticist and philosopher,
Friedrich Theodor Vischer. I have often alluded to him in
lectures, but today I will bring into relief certain characteristic
features of his life and personality which can provide the basis for
a study of his karma.
Theodor Vischer received his education at the time when German
idealistic philosophy — particularly Hegelian thought —
was in its heyday. Friedrich Theodor Vischer, a young man pursuing
his studies among people whose minds were steeped in the Hegelian
mode of thinking, adopted it himself. The absorption in
transcendental thoughts that is characteristic of Hegel strongly
appealed to Vischer. It was clear to him that, as Hegel asserts,
thought is the Divine Essence of the universe, and that when we, as
human beings, think, when we live in thoughts, we are living in the
Theodor Vischer was steeped in Hegelian philosophy. But he was a
person who displayed in a very marked way the traits and
characteristics of the folk from which he sprang. He had all the
traits of a typical Swabian: he was obstinate, dogmatic,
disputatious, exceedingly independent; his manner was abrupt,
off-hand. He also had very striking personal peculiarities. To take
his outward appearance first, he had beautiful blue eyes and a
reddish-brown beard, which in spite of its scrubbiness he wore with a
certain aesthetic enthusiasm! I say “aesthetic enthusiasm”
because in his writings he minces no words about men who wear no
beards, calling them “beardless monkey-faces”! As you
see, his language is anything but restrained; all his remarks come
out with the abrupt, off-handed assurance of a typical Swabian.
was a man of medium height, not stout, in fact rather slight in
build, but he walked the streets holding his arms as if he were
forcing a way for himself with his elbows — which is an exact
picture of what he did in a spiritual sense! So much for his outward
had a passionately independent nature and would say just what he
pleased, without any restraint whatever. It happened one day that he
had been slandered by “friends” in the Stuttgart Council
— such things are not unusual among friends! — and he was
severely reprimanded by the Council. It chanced that on the very same
day a little son was born to him — the Robert Vischer who also
made a name for himself as an aestheticist — and the father
announced the event in the lecture-hall with the words: “Gentlemen,
today I have been given a big Wischer (wigging) and a little
was characteristic of him to speak very radically about things as he
found them. For example, he wrote an amusing article entitled: “On
the Foot Pest in Trains.” It enraged him to see people sitting
in a railway carriage with their feet up on the opposite seat. He
simply could not endure it and his article on the subject is really
he wrote in his book on fashions, [Mode und Zynismus.
Stuttgart, 1878.] about the ill-breeding and lack of adequate
clothing at dances and other entertainments, had better not be
mentioned here. To put it briefly, he was a very original and
friend of mine once paid him a visit, knocking politely at the door.
I do not know whether it is a custom in Swabia, but Vischer did not
say “Come in,” or what is usually said on such occasions.
He yelled out “Glei” — meaning that he would
be ready immediately.
still comparatively young, Vischer embarked on a weighty task, namely
that of writing a work on aesthetics according to the principles of
Hegelian philosophy. These five volumes are a truly remarkable
achievement. You will find in them the strict division into
paragraphs which was habitual with Hegel, and the characteristic
definitions. If I were to read a passage to you, you would all yawn,
for it is written in the anything but popular style of Hegel, all in
abrupt definitions, such as: The Beautiful is the appearance of the
Idea in material form. The Sublime is the appearance of the Idea in
material form, but the Idea predominates over the material form. The
Comic is the appearance of the Idea in material form, but the
material form predominates over the Idea ... and so on and so forth.
These statements are certainly not without interest, but the book
goes a great deal further. As well as the abrupt definitions, you
have what is called the “small print,” and most people
when they are reading the book leave out the large print and read
only the small — which as a matter of fact contains some of the
very cleverest writing on aesthetics that is anywhere to be found.
is no pedantry, no Hegelian dialectic here; it is Vischer, the true
Swabian, with all his meticulousness and at the same time his fine
and delicate feeling for the beautiful, the great and the sublime.
Here, too, you find Nature and her processes described in a way that
defies comparison, with an exemplary freedom of style. Vischer worked
at the book for many years, bringing it to its end with unfaltering
the time when this work appeared,. Hegelianism was still in vogue and
appreciation was widespread. Needless to say, there were opponents,
too, but on the whole the book was widely admired. In course of time,
however, a vigorous opponent appeared on the scenes, a ruthless
critic who pulled the book to pieces until not a shred of good was
left; everything was criticised in a really masterly style. And this
critic was none other than Friedrich Theodor Vischer himself in his
later years! There is an extraordinary charm about this critique of
himself in his Kritische Gangen (Paths of Criticism).
aestheticist, philosopher and man of letters, Vischer published a
wealth of material in Kritische Gangen, and subsequently in
the fine collection of essays entitled Altes und Neues (Old
and New). While still a student he wrote lyrics in an ironic vein.
In spite of the great admiration I have always had for Vischer, I
could never help being of opinion that the productions of his student
days were not even student-like, but sheer philistinism. And this
trait came out in him again in his seventies, when he wrote a
collection of poems under the pseudonym “Schartenmayer.”
Here there is philistinism par excellence!
was an out-and-out philistine in regard to Goethe's Faust.
Part One ... well, he admitted there was something good in it, but as
for Part Two — he considered it a product of senility, so many
fragments patched together. He maintained that it ought to have been
quite different, and not only did he write his Faust, der Tragodie
dritter Teil, in which he satirises Goethe's Part Two, but he
actually drew up a plan of just how Goethe ought to have written
Faust. That is philistinism and no mistake! It is almost on a
par with what du Bois-Reymond, the eminent scientist, said in his
lecture “Goethe, nothing but Goethe.” He said: “Faust
is a failure. It would have been all right if Faust had not engaged
in such tomfoolery as the invocation of spirits or the calling up of
the Earth-Spirit, but had simply and straightforwardly invented an
electrical machine or an air pump and restored to Gretchen her good
name ... ” And there is exactly the same kind of philistinism
in what Vischer says about Faust.
it would not be put like this in Wurttemburg, but in my homeland in
Austria we should say that he gave Goethe's Faust a good
“Swabian thrashing”! Such expressions differ slightly in
meaning, of course, according to the districts where they are used.
is these traits that are significant in Vischer. They really make up
his personality. One might also, of course, give details of his life,
but I do not propose to do that. My aim has been to give you a
picture of his personality and with this as a foundation we can
proceed to a study of his karma. Today I wanted simply to give you
the material for this study.
second personality of whose karma I want to speak, is Franz
Schubert, the composer. As I said, it is a daring venture to give
particular examples in this way, but it is right that they should be
given and today I shall lay the foundations.
too, I shall select the features that will be needed when we come to
speak of Schubert's karma. Practically all his life he was poor. Some
time after his death, however, many persons claiming to have been not
only his acquaintances but his “friends” were to be found
in Vienna! A whole crowd of people, according to themselves, had
wanted to lend him money, spoke of him affectionately as “little
Franz” and the like. But during his lifetime it had been a very
had, however, found one real friend. This friend, Baron von Spaun,
was an extraordinarily nobleminded man. He had cared for Schubert
with great tenderness from the latter's earliest youth, when they
were schoolfellows, and he continued to do so in later years. In
regard to karma it seems to me particularly significant — as we
shall find when we come to consider the working of karma — that
Spaun was in a profession quite alien to his character. He was a
highly cultured man, a lover of art in every form, and a close friend
not only of Schubert but also of Moritz von Schwind. He was deeply
sensitive to everything in the way of art. Many strange things happen
in Austria — as you know, Grillparzer was a clerk in the fiscal
service — and Spaun too, who had not the slightest taste for
it, spent his whole life in Treasury offices. He was an official
engaged in administering finance, dealing with figures all the time.
When he reached a certain age he was appointed Director of Lotteries!
He had charge of lotteries in Austria — a task that was most
distasteful to him. But now just think what it is that a Director of
Lotteries has to control. He has, so to speak, to deal at a high
level with the passions, the hopes, the blighted expectations, the
disappointments, the dreams and superstitions of countless human
beings. Just think of what has to be taken into account by a Director
of Lotteries — a Chief Director at that. True, you may go into
his office and come out again without noticing anything very
striking. But the reality is there nevertheless, and those who take
the world and its affairs in earnest must certainly reckon with such
man, who had no part whatever in the superstitions, the
disappointments, the longings, the hopes, with which he had to deal —
this man was the intimate friend of Schubert, deeply and intensely
concerned for his material as well as his spiritual well-being. One
can often be astounded, outwardly speaking, at what is possible in
the world! There is a biography of Schubert in which it is said that
he looked rather like a negro. There is not a grain of truth in it.
He actually had a pleasing, attractive face. What is true,
however, is that he was poor. More often than not, even his supper,
which he was in the habit of taking in Spaun's company, was paid for
with infinite tact by the latter. Schubert had not enough money even
to hire a piano for his own use. In outward demeanour — Spaun
gives a very faithful picture here — Schubert was grave and
reserved, almost phlegmatic. But an inner, volcanic fire could at
times burst from him in a most surprising way.
very interesting fact is that the most beautiful motifs in Schubert's
music were generally written down in the early morning; as soon as he
had wakened from sleep he would sit down and commit his most
beautiful motifs to paper. At such times Spaun was often with him,
for as is customary among the intellectuals of Vienna, both Schubert
and Spaun liked a good drink of an evening, and the hour was apt to
get so late that Schubert, who lived some distance away, could not be
allowed to go home but would spend the night on some makeshift bed at
his friend's house. On such occasions Spaun was often an actual
witness of how Schubert, on rising in the morning, would write down
his beautiful motifs, as though they came straight out of sleep.
rather calm and peaceful exterior did not betray the presence of the
volcanic fire lying hidden in the depths of the soul. But it was
there, and it is precisely this aspect of Schubert's personality that
I must describe to you as a basis for the study of his karma.
me tell you what happened on one occasion. Schubert had been to the
Opera. He heard Gluck's Iphigenia and was enraptured by it. He
expressed his enthusiasm to his friend Spaun during and after the
performance in impassioned words, but at the same time with
restraint. His emotions were delicate and tender, not violent. (I am
selecting the particular traits we shall need for our study.) The
moment Schubert heard Gluck's Iphigenia, he recognised it as a
masterpiece of musical art. He was enchanted with the singer Milder;
and Vogl's singing so enraptured him that he said his one wish was to
be introduced to him in order that he might pay homage at his feet.
When the performance was over, Schubert and Spaun went to the
so-called Bargerstubi (Civic Club Room) in Vienna. I think
they were accompanied by a third person whose name I have not in mind
at the moment. They sat there quietly, although every now and again
they spoke enthusiastically about their experience at the Opera.
Sitting with others at a neighbouring table was a University
professor well known in this circle. As he listened to the
expressions of enthusiasm his face began to flush and became redder
and redder. Then he began to mutter to himself, and when the
muttering had gone on for a time without being commented on by the
others, he fell into a rage and shouted across the table: “Iphigenia!
— it isn't real music at all; it's trash. As for Milder, she
hasn't an idea of how to sing, let alone bring off runs or trills!
And Vogl — why he lumbers about the stage like an elephant!”
now Schubert was simply not to be restrained! At any minute there was
danger of a serious hand-to-hand scuffle. Schubert, who at other
times was calm and composed, let loose his volcanic nature in full
force and it was as much as the others could do to quiet him.
is important for the life we are studying that here we have a man
whose closest friend is a Treasury official, actually a Director of
Lotteries, and that the two are led together by karma. Schubert's
poverty is important in connection with his karma, because in these
circumstances there was little opportunity for his anger to be roused
in this way. Poverty restricted his social intercourse, and it was by
no means often that he could have such a neighbour at table, or give
vent to his volcanic nature.
we can picture what was really happening on that occasion, and if we
remember the characteristics of the people from whom Schubert sprang,
we can ask ourselves the following question. (Negative supposition is
of course meaningless in the long run, but it does sometimes help to
make things clear.) We can ask ourselves: If the conditions had been
different (of course they couldn't have been, only, as I say, the
question can make for clarification) — if the conditions had
been different, if Schubert had had no opportunity of giving
expression to the musical talent within him, if he had not found a
devoted friend in Spaun, might he not have become a mere brawler in
some lower station in life? What expressed itself like a volcano that
evening in the club room, was it not a fundamental trait in
Schubert's character? Human life defies explanation until we can
answer the question: How does the metamorphosis come about whereby in
a certain life a man does not, so to say, live out his pugnacity but
becomes an exquisite musician, the pugnacity being transformed into
subtle and delicate musical phantasy?
sounds paradoxical and grotesque, but for all that it is a question
which, if we consider life in its wider range, must needs be asked,
for it is only when we study such things that the deeper problems of
karma really come into view.
third personality of whom I want to speak is Eugen Dühring,
a man much hated, but also — by a small circle — greatly
loved. My investigations into karma have led me to occupy myself with
this individual, too, and as before I will give you, first of all,
the biographical material.
Dühring was a man of extraordinary gifts. In his youth he
studied a whole number of subjects, particularly from the aspect of
mathematics, including branches of knowledge such as political
economy, philosophy, mechanics, physics and so on.
gained his doctorate with an interesting treatise, and then in a
book, long since out of print, followed up the same theme with great
clarity and forcefulness. I will tell you a little about it. The
subject is almost as difficult as the Theory of Relativity, but,
after all, people have been talking about the Theory of Relativity
for a long time now and, without understanding a single word, have
considered, and still do consider it, quite wonderful. Difficult as
the subject is, I want to tell you, in a way that will perhaps be
comprehensible, something about the thoughts contained in this
earliest work of Dühring.
theme is as follows. — People generally picture to themselves:
Out there is space, and it is infinite. Space is filled with matter.
Matter is composed of minute particles, infinite in number. An
infinite number of tiny particles have conglomerated into a ball in
universal space, have in some way crystallised together, and the
like. Then there is time, infinite time. The world has never had a
beginning; neither can one say that it will have an end.
vague, indefinite concepts of infinity were repellent to the young
Dühring and he spoke with great perspicacity when he said that
all this talk about infinity is devoid of real meaning, that even if
one has to speak of myriads and myriads of world-atoms, or
world-molecules, there must nevertheless be a definite, calculable
number. However vast universal space is conceived to be, its
magnitude must be capable of computation; so too, the stretch of
universal time. Dühring expounded this theme with great clarity.
is something psychological behind this. Dühring's one aim
was clarity of thought, and there is no clear thinking at all in
these notions of infinity. He went on to apply his argument in other
domains, for example to the so-called “negative quantities.”
Positive quantities (e.g. when something is possessed) are
distinguished from negative quantities by writing a minus sign before
the latter. Thus here you have 0 (zero), in one direction plus 1, and
in the other direction minus 1, and so on.
maintains that all this talk about minus quantities is absolute
nonsense. What does a “negative quantity,” a “minus
number” mean? He says: If I have 5 and take away 1, then I have
4; if I have 5 and take away 2, then I have 3; if I have 5 and take
away 4, then I have 1; and if I have 5 and take away 5, then I have
0. The advocates of negative quantities say: If I have 5 and take
away 6, then I have minus 1; if I have 5 and take away 7, then I have
maintains that there is no clarity of thinking here. What does “minus
1” mean? It means: I am supposed to take 6 from 5; but then I
have I too little. What does “minus 2” mean? I am
supposed to take 7 from 5; but then I have 2 too little. What does
“minus 3” mean? I am supposed to take 8 from 5; but then
I have 3 too little. There is no difference between the negative
numbers, as numbers, and the positive numbers. The negative
numbers mean only that when I have to subtract, I have too little by
a particular amount. And Dühring went on to apply the same
principle to mathematical concepts of many kinds.
know how deeply I was impressed by this as a young man, for Dühring
brought real clarity of thought to bear upon these things.
displayed the same astute discernment in the fields of national
economy and the history of philosophy, and became a lecturer at the
University of Berlin. His audiences were very large and he lectured
on a variety of subjects: national economy, philosophy, mathematics.
so happened that a prize was offered by the Academy of Science at
Göttingen for the best book on the history of mechanics. It is
usual in such competitions for the essays to be sent in anonymously.
The competitor chooses a motto, his name is contained inside a closed
envelope with the motto written outside, so that the adjudicators are
unaware of the author's identity.
Göttingen Academy of Science awarded the prize to Eugen
Dühring's History of Mechanics and wrote him a most
appreciative letter. Therefore Dühring was not only recognised
by his own circle of listeners as an excellent lecturer, but now
gained the recognition of a most eminently learned body.
with all the talents which will be evident to you from what I have
been saying, this same Dühring had a really malicious tongue —
one cannot call it anything else. There was something of the
malicious critic about him in regard to everything in the world. As
time went on he exercised less and less restraint in this respect;
and when such an eminently learned body as the Göttingen Academy
of Science awarded him the prize, it acted like a sting upon him. It
was quite in the natural course of things, but nevertheless it stung.
And then we see two qualities beginning to be combined in him: an
intensely strong sense of justice — which he undoubtedly
possessed — and on the other hand an extraordinary propensity
at the time when he was stung into abuse and sarcasm, Dühring
had the misfortune to lose his sight. In spite of total blindness,
however, he continued to lecture in Berlin. He went on with his work
as an author, and was always able, up to a point, of course, to look
after his affairs himself. About this time a truly tragic destiny in
the academic world during the 19th century came to his knowledge —
the destiny of Julius Robert Mayer, who was actually the discoverer
of the heat-equivalent in mechanics and who, as can be stated with
all certainty, had been shut up in an asylum through no fault of his
own, put into a strait-jacket and treated shamefully by his family,
his colleagues and his “friends.” It was at this time
that Dühring wrote his book, Julius Robert Mayer, the Galileo
of the 19th Century. And it was in truth a kind of
Galileo-destiny that befell Julius Robert Mayer.
wrote with an extraordinarily good knowledge of the facts and with a
really penetrating sense of justice, but he lashed out as with a rail
in regard to the injuries that had been inflicted. His tongue simply
ran away with him — as, for example, when he heard and, read
about the erection of the well-known statue of Mayer at Heilbronn,
and of the unveiling ceremony. “This puppet standing in the
market square at Heilbronn is a final insult offered to the Galileo
of the 19th century. The great man sits there with his legs crossed.
But to portray him truly, in the frame of mind in which he would most
probably be, he would have to be looking at the orator and at all the
good friends below who erected this memorial, not sitting with his
legs crossed but beating his breast in horror.”
suffered much at the hands of newspapers, Dühring also became a
violent anti-Semite. Here too he was ruthlessly consistent. For
example, he wrote the pamphlet entitled Die Ueberschätzung
Lessings und dessen Anwaltschaft für die Juden, in which
murderous abuse is hurled at Lessing. It is this trait in Dühring
that is responsible for his particular way of expounding literature.
you want one day to give yourselves the treat of reading something
about German literature that you will find nowhere else, that is
totally different from other treatises on the subject, then take
Dühring's two volumes entitled Literaturgrössen
(Great Men of Letters). There you will find his strictly mathematical
way of thinking and his astute perspicacity, applied to literature.
In order, presumably, to make it plain how his way of thinking
differs from that of others, he sees fit to rechristen the great
figures of the German spiritual life. He speaks, in one chapter, of
“Kothe” and “Schillerer,” meaning Goethe and
Schiller. Duhring writes “Kothe” and “Schillerer”
and adheres to this throughout. The nomenclature he invents is often
grotesque. “Intellectuaille” (connected with “canaille”)
is how he always refers to people we call intellectualistic. The
“Intellectuaille” — the Intellectuals. He uses
similar expressions all the time. But let me assure you of this: a
great deal in Dühring's writings is extraordinarily
once had the following experience. When I was still on friendly terms
with Frau Elizabeth Forster-Nietzsche and was working on unpublished
writings of Nietzsche, there came into my hands the material dealing
with the “Eternal Recurrence”, now long since printed.
[Thus Spake Zarathustra, Part III.] Nietzsche's manuscripts
are not very easy reading, but I came across a passage where I said
to myself: This “Eternal Recurrence” has some definite
source. And so I went over from the Archives, where Nietzsche's
note-books were kept, to the Library, and looked up Dühring's
Wirklichkeitsphilosophie (Philosophy of Reality), where, as I
thought, I was quickly able to find this idea of “Eternal
Recurrence”. I took the book from the shelves of the Library
and found the passage — I knew it and found it at once —
where Dühring argues that it is impossible for anyone with
genuine knowledge of the material facts of the world to speak of a
return of things, a return of constellations which once were there.
tried to disprove any such possibility. At the side of the passage in
question was a word frequently written by Nietzsche in the margin of
a book when he was using it to formulate a counter-idea. It was the
familiar epithet was written in the margin of this particular page.
In point of fact we can find in Dühring's writings a great
deal that passed over, ingeniously, into Nietzsche's ideas. In saying
this I hold nothing against Nietzsche. I am simply stating the facts
as they are.
respect of karma, the most striking thing about Dühring is that
he was really able to think only mathematically. In philosophy, in
political economy, in mathematics itself, he thinks mathematically,
with mathematical precision and clarity. In natural science, too, he
thinks with clarity but, again, in terms of mathematics. He is not a
materialist, he is a mechanistic thinker. He conceives the world as
mechanism. And moreover he had the courage to carry sincere
convictions to their ultimate conclusions. For truth to tell, anyone
who thinks as he did cannot write about Goethe and Schiller in any
other way — leaving aside the abuse and taking only the
essential substance of what is said.
much for the fundamental trend of Dühring's thought. Add
to this the blindness while he was still young, and the fact that he
suffered no little personal injustice. He lost his post as lecturer
at the University of Berlin. Well ... there were reasons! For
example, in the second edition of his History of Mechanics he
cast all restraint aside. The first edition had been quite tame in
its treatment of the great figures in the field of mechanics, so tame
that someone said he had written in a way which he thought would make
it possible for a learned body to award him a prize. But in the
second edition he no longer held himself in check; he let himself go
and fairly filled in the gaps! Someone remarked — and Dühring
often repeated it — that the Göttingen Academy had awarded
a prize to the claws without recognising the lion behind the claws!
But when the second edition appeared the lion had certainly come into
this second edition there were in truth some astounding passages, for
example in connection with Julius Robert Mayer and his
Galileo-destiny in the 19th century. On one occasion when Dühring
was in a towering rage about this, he called a man he considered to
be a plagiarist of Mayer — namely Hermann Helmholtz — so
much “academic scaffolding,” “wooden scaffolding.”
Later on he enlarged upon this theme. He edited a periodical Der
Personalist, where everything had a strongly personal colouring.
Here, for example, Dühring enlarges upon the reference to
Helmholtz. He no longer speaks about wooden scaffolding, but when the
postmortem examination had revealed the presence of water in
Helmholtz's brain, Dühring said that the empty-headedness had
been quite obvious while the man was still alive and that there was
no need to wait for confirmation until after his death! Refinement
was certainly not one of Dühring's qualities. One cannot
exactly say that he raged like a washerwoman. His way of abusing was
not commonplace; neither was there real genius in it. It was
something quite unique.
now take all these factors together: the blindness, the mechanistic
bent of mind, the persecution he certainly suffered — for the
dismissal from the University was not altogether free from injustice,
and indeed countless injustices were done to him during his life ...
All these things are connections of destiny which become really
interesting only when we study them in the light of karma.
have now given you a picture of these three personalities: Friedrich
Theodor Vischer, the composer Schubert, and Eugen Dühring.
Having outlined the biographical material today, I will speak
tomorrow of the karmic connections.