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Karmic Relationships: Esoteric Studies

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Karmic Relationships: Esoteric Studies

Volume III, Lecture I

Rudolf Steiner Archive Document

Lectures Section

At the end of his life Rudolf Steiner took up the task that was his special destiny; to bring to the West a knowledge of reincarnation and karma. To do this he gave over eighty lectures in 1924 in which he explicitly and concretely revealed the destinies of various individuals from one life to the next in order to show how the general laws of karma operate in individual cases. He also revealed many details of the karmic streams of the members of the Anthroposophical Society. These volumes constitute an immeasurable contribution to the understanding of reincarnation and karma, and the tasks of the Anthroposophical Society in connection with the Archangel Michael.

By Rudolf Steiner

Edited by Frank Thomas Smith
Bn 237; GA 237

At the end of his life Rudolf Steiner took up the task that was his special destiny; to bring to the West a knowledge of reincarnation and karma. To do this he gave over eighty lectures in 1924 in which he explicitly and concretely revealed the destinies of various individuals from one life to the next in order to show how the general laws of karma operate in individual cases. He also revealed many details of the karmic streams of the members of the Anthroposophical Society. These volumes constitute an immeasurable contribution to the understanding of reincarnation and karma, and the tasks of the Anthroposophical Society in connection with the Archangel Michael.

Edited by Frank Thomas Smith of Southern Cross Review fame, this lecture is presented here with the kind permission of the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland. From Bn 237/GA 237.

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The Karmic Relationships of the Anthroposophical Movement

by Rudolf Steiner

Volume Three, Lecture One

For members of the Anthroposophical Society
from stenographic notes unrevised by the author — GA 237

Dornach, July 1, 1924

For those of you who are able to be here today I wish to give a kind of interlude in the studies we have been pursuing for some time. What I shall say today will serve to illustrate and explain many questions that may emerge out of the subjects we have treated until now. At the same time it will help to throw light on the mood of soul of the civilisation of the present time.

For years past, we have had to draw attention to a certain point of time in that evolution of civilisation which is concentrated mainly in Europe. The time I mean lies in the 14th or 15th century or around the middle of the Middle Ages. It is the moment in the evolution of humanity when intellectualism began — when people began mainly to pay attention to the intellect, the life of thought, making the intellect the judge of what shall be thought and done among them.

Since the age of the intellect is with us today, we can certainly gain a good idea of what intellectualism is. We need but experience the present time to gain a notion of what came to the surface of civilisation in the 14th and 15th centuries. But as to the mood of soul which preceded this, we are no longer able to feel it in a living way. People who study history nowadays generally project what they are accustomed to see in the present time back into the historic past, and they have little idea how altogether different people were in mind and spirit before the present epoch. Even when they let the old documents speak for themselves, they largely read into them the way of thought and outlook of the present.

To spiritual-scientific study many things will appear differently. Let us turn our gaze for example to those historic personalities who were influenced on the one hand by Arabism, the civilisation of Asia — influenced by what lived and found expression in the Mohammedan religion, while on the other hand they were influenced by Aristotelianism. Let us consider these personalities, who found their way in the course of time through Africa to Spain, and deeply influenced the thinkers of Europe down to Spinoza and even beyond him. We gain no real conception of them if we imagine their mood of soul as though they had been like people of the present time with the only difference that they were ignorant of so and so many things subsequently discovered. (Roughly speaking, this is how they are generally thought of today). The whole way of thought and outlook, even of the people who lived in the above described stream of civilisation as late as the 12th century A.D., was altogether different from that of today.

Today, when man reflects upon himself, he feels himself as the possessor of thoughts, feelings, and impulses of will which lead to action. Above all, man ascribes to himself the ‘I think,’ the ‘I feel’ and the ‘I will.’

But in the personalities of whom I am now speaking, the ‘I think’ was by no means yet accompanied by the same feeling with which we today would say ‘I think.’ This could only be said of the ‘I feel’ and the ‘I will.’ In effect, those human beings ascribed to their own person only their feeling and their willing. Out of an ancient background of culture they rather lived in the sensation ‘It thinks in me’ than that they thought ‘I think.’ Doubtless they thought ‘I feel,’ ‘I will,’ but they did not think ‘I think’ in the same measure. On the other hand they said to themselves — and what I shall now describe was an absolutely real conception to them: The thoughts live in the Sublunary Sphere. The thoughts are everywhere within this sphere, which is determined when we imagine the earth at a certain point, and the moon at another, followed by Mercury, Venus, etc. They not only conceived the Earth as a dense and rigid cosmic mass, but as a second thing belonging to it they conceived the Lunar Sphere, reaching up to the moon. And as we say, ‘In the air in which we breathe is oxygen,’ so did these people say (it is only forgotten now that it ever was so): — ‘In the ether which reaches up to the Moon, there are the thoughts.’ And as we say ‘We breathe in the oxygen of the air,’ so did these people say — not ‘We breathe in the thoughts’ — but ‘We perceive the thoughts, receive them into ourselves.’ They were conscious of the fact that they received the thoughts.

Today, no doubt, a person can also familiarise himself with such an idea as a theoretical concept. He may even understand it with the help of Anthroposophy, but as soon as it becomes a question of practical life he forgets it. For then at once he has the rather strange idea that the thoughts spring forth within himself — which is just as though he were to think that the oxygen he receives in breathing were not received by him but sprang forth from within him.

For the personalities of whom I am now speaking, it was a profound feeling and an immediate experience: ‘I have not my own thoughts as my own possession. I cannot really say, I think. Thoughts exist, and I receive them unto myself.’

We know that the oxygen of the air circulates through our organism in a comparatively short time. We count these cycles by the pulse-beat. This happens quickly. The people of whom I am now speaking did indeed imagine the receiving of thoughts as a kind of breathing, but it was a very slow breathing. It consisted in this: At the beginning of his earthly life, man becomes capable of receiving the thoughts. As we hold the breath within us for a certain time — between our in-breathing and out-breathing — so did those people conceive a certain fact, as follows: They imagined that they held the thoughts within them, yet only in the sense in which we hold the oxygen which belongs to the outer air. They imagined that they held the thoughts during the time of their earthly life, and breathed them out again — out into the cosmic spaces — when they passed through the gate of death.

Thus it was a question of in-breathing — the beginning of life; holding the breath — the duration of earthly life; out-breathing — the sending forth of the thoughts into the universe.

People who had this kind of inner experience felt themselves in a common atmosphere of thought with all others who had the same experience. It was a common atmosphere of thought reaching beyond the earth, not only a few miles, but as I said, up to the orbit of the moon.

This idea was wrestling for the civilisation of Europe at that time. It was trying to spread itself ever more and more, impelled especially by those Aristotelians who came from Asia into Europe along the path I have just indicated. Let us suppose for a moment that it had really succeeded. What would then have come about?

In that case, my dear friends, that which was destined after all to find expression in the course of earthly evolution could never have come to expression in the fullest sense: I mean the Consciousness Soul. The human beings of whom I am now speaking stood in the last stage of evolution of the Intellectual or Mind-Soul. In the 14th and 15th century, the Consciousness Soul was to arise, which, if it found extreme expression, would lead all civilisation into intellectualism.

The population of Europe in its totality, in the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries, was by no means in a position merely to submit to the outpouring of a conception such as was held by the people whom I have now described. For if they had done so, the evolution of the Consciousness Soul would not have come about. Though it was determined in the councils of the Gods that the Consciousness Soul should evolve, nevertheless it could not evolve out of the mere independent activity of all European humanity. A special impulse had to be given towards the development of the Consciousness Soul itself.

And so, beginning in the time which I have now described, we witness the rise of two spiritual streams. One was represented by the quasi-Arabian philosophers who, working from Western Europe, influenced European civilisation very strongly — far more so than is commonly supposed. The other was the stream which fought against the former one with the utmost intensity and severity, representing it to Europe as the most heretical of all.

For a long time after, this conflict was felt with great intensity. You may still feel this if you consider the pictures in which Dominican Monks, or St. Thomas Aquinas alone, are represented in triumph — that is to say, in the triumph of an altogether different conception which emphasised above all things the individual and personal being of man, and worked to the end that man might acquire his thoughts as his own property. In these pictures we see the Dominicans portrayed, treading the representatives of Arabism under foot. The Arabians are there under their feet — they are being trodden underfoot.

The two streams were felt in this keen contrast for a long time after. An energy of feeling such as is contained in these pictures no longer exists in the humanity of today, which is rather apathetic. We need such energy of feeling very badly, not only for the things for which they battled, but for other things as well.

Let us consider for a moment what they imagined. The in-breathing of thoughts as the cosmic ether from the Sublunary Sphere — that is the beginning of life. The holding of the breath — that is the earthly life itself. The out-breathing — that is the going forth of the thoughts once more, but with an individually human colouring, into the cosmic ether, into the impulses of the sphere beneath the Moon, of the Sublunary Sphere.

What then is this out-breathing? It is the very same, my dear friends, of which we speak when we say: In the three days after death the etheric body of man expands. Man looks back upon his etheric body slowly increasing in magnitude. He sees how his thoughts spread out into the cosmos. It is the very same, only it was then conceived, if I may say so, from a more subjective standpoint. It was indeed quite true, how these people felt and experienced it. They felt the cycle of life more deeply than it is felt today.

Nevertheless, if their idea had become dominant in Europe, only a feeble feeling of the I would have evolved in the people of European civilisation. The Consciousness Soul would not have been able to emerge; the I would not have grasped itself in the ‘I think.’ The idea of immortality would have become vaguer and vaguer. People would increasingly have fixed their attention on that which lives and weaves in the far reaches of the Sublunary Sphere as a remnant of the human being who has lived here on this earth.

They would have felt the spirituality of the earth as its extended atmosphere. They would have felt themselves belonging to the earth, but not as individuals distinct from the earth. Through their feeling of “It thinks in me,” the people whom I described above felt themselves intimately connected with the earth. They did not feel themselves as individualities in the same degree as the people of the rest of Europe were beginning to feel themselves, however indistinctly.

We must, however, also bear in mind the following. Only the spiritual stream of which I have just spoken was aware of the fact that when a person dies the thoughts he received during his earthly life are living and weaving in the cosmic ether that surrounds the earth. This idea was violently attacked by those other personalities who arose chiefly within the Dominican Order. They declared that man is an individuality, and that we must concentrate above all on his individuality which passes through the gate of death, not on what is dissolved in the universal cosmic ether. This was emphasised, albeit not exclusively, — emphasised representatively, I would say, — by the Dominicans. They stood up vigorously for the idea of the individuality of man, as against the other stream which I characterised before. But precisely as a result of this a certain condition came about. For let us now consider these representatives of individualism.

After all, it was the individually coloured thoughts which passed into the universal ether. And those who fought against the former stream — just because they were still vividly aware that this was being said, that this idea existed, — were troubled and disquieted by what was really there.

This anxiety, notably among the greatest thinkers, — this anxiety as a result of the forces expanding and dissolving and passing on the human thoughts to the cosmic ether, — did not really come to an end until the 16th or 17th century.

We must somehow be able to transplant ourselves into the inner life of soul of these people, especially those who belonged to the Dominican Order. Only then do we gain an idea of how much they were disquieted by what was really left as an heritage from the dead, — which they, with their conception, no longer could nor dared believe in.

We must transplant ourselves into the hearts and minds of these people. No great man of the 13th or 14th century could have thought so dryly, so abstractly or in such cold and icy concepts as the people of today. When the people of today are defending ideas or theories, it seems as though it were a recognised condition for so doing that one's heart should first be torn out of one's body. At that time it was not so. At that time there was deep feeling, there was heart in all that men upheld as their ideas. But in a case such as I am now citing, this heart also involved an intense inner conflict.

That philosophy, which proceeded from the Dominican Order, evolved under the most appalling inner conflicts. I mean that philosophy which afterwards had such a strong influence on life — for life at that time was still far more dependent on the authority of individual men. There was no such popular education at that time. All culture and education — all that the people knew — eventually merged into the possession of a few. And as a consequence, these few reached up far more to a real philosophic life and striving. And in all that then flowed out into civilisation, these inner conflicts which they lived through were contained.

Today one reads the works of the Scholastics and is conscious only of the driest thoughts. But it is the readers of today who are dry. Those who wrote these works were by no means dry in heart or mind. They were filled with inner fire in relation to their thoughts. Moreover, this inner fire was due to the striving to hold at bay the objective influence of thoughts.

When a person of today thinks on philosophic questions or questions of worldview, nothing is there, so to speak, to worry him. A man of today can think the greatest nonsense — he thinks it in perfect calm and peace of mind. Humanity has already evolved for so long within the Consciousness Soul that no such disquieting occurs, as would occur, for instance, if individuals among us felt how the thoughts of men appear when they flow out after death into the ethereal environment of the earth. Today such things as could still be experienced in the 13th or 14th century are quite unknown. Then it would happen that a younger priest would come to an older priest, telling of the inner tortures which he was undergoing in remaining true to his religious faith, and expressing it in this wise: ‘I am pursued by the ghosts of the dead.’

Speaking of the ghosts of the dead, they meant precisely what I have just described. That was a time when people could still grow deeply into what they learned. In such a community — a Dominican community for instance, — they learned that man is individual and has his own individual immortality. They learned that it is a false and heretical idea to conceive, with respect to thought, a kind of universal soul comprising all the earth. They learned to attack this heresy with all their might. And yet, in certain moments when they took deep counsel with themselves, they would feel the objective and influential presence of the thoughts which were left behind as relics by the dead. Then they would say to themselves, ‘Is it quite right for me to be doing what I am doing? Here is something intangible working into my soul. I cannot rise against it — I am held fast by it.’

The intellects of that time, many of them at any rate, were still so constituted that they were generally aware of the speaking of the dead, at least for some days after death. And when one had ceased to speak another would begin. With respect to such things too, they felt themselves immersed in the all-pervading spiritual — or at the very least, ethereal — essence of the universe.

Coming into our own time, this living feeling with the Universal All has ceased. In return for it we have achieved conscious life in the Consciousness Soul, while all the spiritual reality that surrounds us (surrounds us as a reality, no less so than tables or chairs, trees or rivers) works only upon the depths of our subconscious. The inwardness of life, the spiritual inwardness, has passed away. It must first be acquired again by spiritual-scientific knowledge livingly received.

We must think livingly upon the knowledge of spiritual science, and we shall do so if we dwell upon such facts of life as lie by no means very far behind us. Imagine a Scholastic thinker or writer of the 13th century. He writes down his thoughts. Nowadays it is easy work to think, for people have grown accustomed to think intellectually. At that time it was only at the beginning, and was still difficult. Man was still conscious of a tremendous inner effort. He was conscious of fatigue in thinking even as in hewing wood, if I may use the trivial comparison. Today the thinking of many people has become quite automatic. Today we are scarcely overcome by the longing to follow up every one of our thoughts with our own human personality! We hear a person of today letting one thought arise out of another like an automaton. We cannot follow, we do not know why, for there is no inner necessity in it. And yet so long as a man is living in the body he should follow up his thoughts with his own personality. Afterwards they will soon take a different course; they will spread out and expand when he is dead.

So a person could be sitting there at that time, defending with every weapon of sharp incisive thought the doctrine of individual man in order to save the doctrine of individual immortality. He could be arguing with polemics against Averroes, or others of that stream of thought which I described at the beginning of this lecture. But there was another possibility. For especially in the case of an outstanding person like Averroes, that which proceeded from him, dissolving after his death like a kind of ghost in the Sublunary Sphere, might well be gathered up again by the Moon itself at the end of that Sphere, and remain behind. Having enlarged and expanded, it might even be reduced again, shape and form be given to it, till it was consolidated once again into an essence built, if I may say so, in the ether. That could well happen. Then the man would be sitting there, trying to lay the foundations of individualism, carrying on his polemic against Averroes; and Averroes would appear before him as a threatening figure, disturbing his mind.

The most important of the Scholastic writings which arose in the 13th century were directed against Averroes, who was long dead. They made polemics against the man long dead, against the doctrine which he had left behind. Then he arose to prove to them that his thoughts had become condensed, consolidated once again and thus were living on.

There were indeed these inner conflicts before the beginning of the new age of consciousness. And they were such that we today should see once more their full intensity and depth and inwardness. Words after all are words. The people of later times can but receive what lies behind the words with such ideas as they possess. But within the words there were often rich contents of inner life. They pointed to a life of soul such as I have now described.

These, then, are the two streams, and they have remained active, basically speaking, to this day. The one — albeit now only working from the spiritual world, yet all the stronger there, — would like to convince man that a universal life of thoughts surrounds the earth, and that in thoughts man breathes in soul and spirit. The other stream desires above all to point out that man should make himself independent of such universality. The former stream is more like a vague intangible presence in the spiritual environment of the earth, perceptible today to many people (for there are still such people) when in certain nights they lie on their beds and listen to the void, and out of the void all manner of doubts are born in them as to what they are asserting today so definitely and so surely in their own individuality.

Meanwhile in others, who always sleep soundly because they are so well satisfied with themselves, we have the unswerving emphasis on the individual principle.

This battle is smouldering still at the very foundations of European culture. It is here to this day; and in the things that are taking place outwardly on the surface of our life, we have scarcely anything other than the beating of the surface-waves from what is still present in the depths of souls — a relic of the deeper and intenser inner life of earlier times.

Many souls of that time are here again in present earthly life. In a certain way they have conquered what then disquieted them so much in their surface consciousness — disquieted them at least in certain moments of their surface consciousness.

But in the depths it smoulders all the more in many minds and hearts today. Spiritual science, once again, is here to draw attention also to such historic facts as these.

But we must not forget the following. In the same measure in which people become unconscious during earthly life of what is there none the less, namely the thoughts in the ether in the immediate environment of the earth — in the same measure, therefore, in which they acquire the ‘I think’ as their own possession — their human soul is narrowed down. Man passes through the gate of death with a contracted soul.

The narrowed soul has carried untrue, imperfect, inconsistent earthly thoughts into the cosmic ether, and these work back again upon the minds of men. Thence there arise such social movements as we see today. We must understand these too as to their inner origin. Then we shall recognise that there is no other cure, no other healing for these social ideas, destructive as they often are, than the spreading of the truth about the spiritual life and being.

Call to mind the lectures we have given here, especially the historic ones taking into account the concept of reincarnation and leading to so many definite examples. These lectures will have shown you how things work beneath the surface of external history. You will have seen how what lived in one historic age is carried over into a later one by people returning into earthly life. But everything spiritual plays its part between death and a new birth in moulding what is carried by man from one earth-life into another.

Today it would be good if many souls would attain for themselves that objectivity to which we can address ourselves, awakening an inner understanding, when we describe the people who lived in the twilight of the Intellectual or Mind-Soul age.

Some of the people who lived at that time are here again today. Deep in their souls they underwent the evening twilight of an age, and through the constant attacks they suffered from the ghosts of which I have now spoken, they have absorbed deep doubts about the validity of intellectualism.

This doubt can well be understood. For around the 13th century there were many people — men of knowledge who stood in the midst of learning, almost entirely theological as it then was — people for whom it was a deep question of conscience: What will happen now ?

Such souls had often carried with them into that time mighty contents from their former incarnations. They gave it an intellectual colouring; but they felt this all as a declining stream. While at the rising stream — pressing forward as it was to individuality — they felt the pangs of conscience. Until at length those philosophers arose who stood under an influence which has really killed all meaning. To speak radically: those who stood under the influence of Descartes! For many, even among those who had their place in the Scholasticism of an earlier time, had already fallen into the Cartesian way of thought. I do not say that they became philosophers. These things underwent many changes. When people begin to think along these lines the strangest nonsense becomes self-evident. To Descartes, as you know, is due the saying ‘I think, therefore I am.’

Countless clever thinkers have accepted this as true: ‘I think, therefore I am.’ Yet the result is this: From morning until evening I think, therefore I am. Then I fall asleep. I do not think, therefore I am not. I wake up again, I think, therefore I am. I fall asleep, and as I now do not think, I am not. This then is the consequence: A person not only falls asleep, but ceases to be when he falls asleep. There is no less fitting proof of the existence of the spirit of man than the theorem: ‘I think.’ Yet this began to be the most widely accepted statement in the age of evolution of consciousness (the age of the Consciousness Soul). When we point to such things today it is like a sacrilege, but we cannot help ourselves!

But over against all this I will now tell you of a kind of conversation. Though it is not historically recorded, by spiritual research it can be discovered among the real things that happened. It was a conversation that took place between an older and a younger Dominican, somewhat as follows:

The younger man said, ‘Thinking takes hold of men. Thought, the shadow of reality, takes hold of them. In ancient times thought was always the last revelation of the living Spirit from above. But now thought is the very thing that has forgotten that living Spirit. Now it is experienced as a mere shadow. Verily, when a man sees a shadow, he knows the shadow points to some reality. The realities are there indeed. Thinking itself is not to be attacked, but only the fact that we have lost the living Spirit from our thinking.’

The older man replied, ‘In thinking, through the very fact that man is turning his attention with loving interest to outer Nature, (while he accepts Revelation as Revelation and does not seek to approach it with his thinking), — in thinking, to compensate for the former heavenly reality, an earthly reality must be found once more.’

‘What will happen?’ said the younger man. ‘Will European humanity be strong enough to find this earthly reality of thought, or will it only be weak enough to lose the heavenly reality?’

This dialogue truly contains all that still holds good with regard to European civilisation. For after the intermediate time, with the darkening of the living quality of thought, humanity must now attain to living thinking once more. Otherwise humanity will remain weak and the reality of thought will lose its own reality. Therefore it is most necessary, since the our Christmas Conference impulse, that we in the Anthroposophical Movement speak without reserve in forms of living thought. For otherwise it will come about more and more that even the things we know from this source or from that — for instance that man has a physical body, an etheric body and an astral body — will only be grasped with the forms of dead thinking.

These things must not be grasped with the forms of dead thinking. For then they become distorted, misrepresented truth, and not the truth itself.

That is what I wanted to say today. We must attain a living, sympathetic interest, a longing to go beyond ordinary history and to attain that history which must and can be read in the living Spirit, the history which shall more and more be cultivated in the Anthroposophical Movement. Today, my dear friends, I wished to place before your souls the concrete outline of our programme in this direction.

Much has been said today in aphorism. The inner connection will dawn upon you if you attempt not so much to follow up with the intellect, but to feel with your whole being what has been said today. You must attempt to feel it knowingly, to know it feelingly, in order that not only what is said but what is heard within our circles may be sustained more and more by real spirituality.

We need education to spiritual hearing, spiritual listening. Only then shall we develop true spirituality among us. I wanted to awaken this feeling in you today; not so much to give a systematic lecture, but to speak to your hearts, albeit calling to witness, as I did, many a concrete spiritual fact.




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