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Reincarnation

Reincarnation: Reincarnation in the Light of Ethics

REINCARNATION
IN THE LIGHT OF ETHICS

 

ONE often hears from opponents of the idea of reincarnation that that idea does serious harm to ethical life. Man defers serious effort because he has still time, and no longer feels the full weight of obligation in this life. Man feels himself powerless under an inescapable law, his fate predestined in this life, and himself fettered also in a future life. A calculating morality, instead of a living in freedom, enters into his life. As evidence of such assertions, tales of missionaries are brought forward, of how life in the East is without hope under the rule of the law of karma.

Missionaries may be admirable men, yet one would not place into their hands the final decision as to the value of religions. Nor does the India of today tell us much about the India of former days, and a degenerate doctrine of the transmigration of souls tells us little about a future knowledge of reincarnation which is illuminated by Christianity.

Always, when a new view was brought forward, men prophesied the ruin of humanity. And those who prophesied have seldom been real prophets. When Luther came announcing the grace of God, the Catholic theologians painted in dark colours the coming immorality. Since then the centuries have pronounced judgment. The morality of Protestant lands can hold up its head before the morality of Catholic lands. Then the Lutherans seized their palettes and sought the darkest colours, when they heard of Calvin's doctrine of election. The world was to go under in black swathes of hopelessness and despair. The truth was otherwise. In Protestant lands under this doctrine of election, a new morality unfolded itself. Will people never learn from such experiences? Will people never allow those to speak who have for years led their lives in the light of the idea of reincarnation? Will people again of themselves decide what must be the effect of an opinion, without seeing what effect it actually has?

Let us start from personal experience. I have often had to do with people who laid bare their fate to me. They were seeking to understand what had happened to them. Old Christian thought had no place in their souls. In general, neither it, nor what Church opinion has to say about the destiny of men, had power to act upon them any longer. Should I? Should I not? Sometimes I deliberated a long time whether I could undertake the responsibility of introducing thoughts of reincarnation into a man's life, whether I myself were sure enough of its truth. Ultimately — it is already ten or twenty years ago — I said something like this, “How would it be if you were to consider whether your present fate is connected with events and acts of your past life? Might not some destiny derived from a past life be now seeking its equalisation?” — “What, do you believe that we have already been upon the earth?” — “What I believe does not matter. We shall try together to seek for a light upon the present case. Earnest men have held reincarnation to be possible, even certain. Under such a presupposition how should we have to think about life?”

When I think today about the many hours in which I have thought about destiny in a similar way along with other people—never dogmatically, always hypothetically; never fancifully, always ethically — there remains clearly in my remembrance how gently the gates opened to a higher understanding of destiny, to a higher surmise of it. Comfort came down, comfort such as flows from a living surmise of a wise governance, of whose secrets man can catch many a glimmering if he calmly reviews his own past life. The way to understanding was opened; and the man felt himself to be taken seriously as a man of today, because his wish to understand was not discouraged, but sustained and carefully guided.

I know well what objections may be raised. People who are inclined to ethically religious views will say, “One ought not in studying destiny to ask Why?” but ought to try to solve the problem by asking, to what end? The question Why? leads to uncertainty; the question to what end? leads along a definite path and shows us at least the first steps out of our need. And the question Why? is illuminated only when the question to what end? is answered. Certainly, one may thus talk. For years I myself did not know any other answer. And in many cases it will be the right answer. But some special case may reveal to one that in such an answer a compulsory resignation speaks, that through such an answer a living need of man, especially of man today, may be merely repressed.

A mother has an incurable mentally defective child. What can one say to her? The best that can be said from a religious point of view is contained in the following course of thought: If there were no destinies which were completely dark and hopeless, man could not develop the deepest trust in the divine guidance of his life. Those impressions of life by which he receives light from above, ought to strengthen him for those in which only darkness surrounds him at first. Thus man is tested and tried. Thus his union with God becomes perfect and unconditional. And again, unless there were those who could never thank us for what we did for them, because their minds were completely darkened, then our love for men could not attain to the purest unselfishness, to perfect greatness. One can speak warmly and effectively about that. Thus spoke the best of those who had the “cure of souls” in the past. But does one not feel the inhumanity, which infects such consolation? From out of her love, the mother will put the agonised question, ‘But what will become of my child? Is it just that my child should suffer this fate so that I may learn, so that I may be proved. May a man or a god permit a human being to become the means to an end for another person's sake?

Then the pastor will still have this to say “We shall try to illuminate this dark destiny from the point where we ourselves stand, by the effect which it has upon ourselves: and starting from this, we shall try to gain the conviction that it will be lit up also at the point where we do not immediately stand.” But if the pastor has a heart, he will not let all paths end in a great incomprehensibility, but he will feel himself compelled to light at least a tiny candle of hope, with some “Perhaps”!

When I was in such a case, I learned one day that Rudolf Steiner's investigations had shown that highly-gifted philanthropists have sometimes been mentally defective in their earlier lives. When such was their fate they were thrown completely upon the loving help of those around them. On the other hand, this loving help may have penetrated directly into their minds, without being intercepted and analysed by their understanding. The experiences of such a life might indeed be changed into a deep, instinctive genius for the love of humanity.

I cannot describe the impression this report made upon me. I now became conscious how much one has sought inwardly for such solutions, for such possibilities of a solution; how much one has expected to receive them from a higher world after death. It passed over my soul like a mighty foretaste of the revelations which await man after death. Certainly one must go carefully with such information. Man with his grimy hands can soil everything. And he has soiled everything that has been given him. But when afterwards, in talking with a mother, one carefully raised the curtain which hid these possibilities, then one knew why such a sight had been given to one.

That which earlier generations have said about sorrow does not lose its value. For “trust” also there remains a wide field; a new kingdom also is opened to it. But a new Friend enters man's life and one which will appeal to the man of today who will share in the events of the world more freely and more consciously, and will also live his own life more freely and consciously. It is not insolence and a prying spirit which compels him to this, but an awakened power of thinking and a strengthened consciousness of freedom. The most barrenly superficial person may say “How have I deserved this?” but this question may also be asked by an ego which would fain become one with a greater ego, which feels in its destiny that it can become one with this ego only if it has found in it a deep morality; which wills to shape its own destiny from its insight into such a higher ego.

But have we now solved the question of destiny? Is it not merely pushed further away? How came it that in earlier lives men had to bear differing fates, wrought on differing plans, had to stand differing trials? Experience teaches that, practically man in the mass does not feel the need of questioning further and further back, as those who put theoretical problems think he does. It is enough for him to see some distance along his path, both backwards and forwards, and from this stretch of his road to divine the whole. Plenty of secrets remain. Nothing is more childish than to reproach the man of discernment with destroying “secrecy.” The world around us has a wealth of secrets that we might go on “destroying” calmly for some millions of years, and then stand, still questioning before the primal secret. It is just as naive to tell him he has only “pushed the problem further back.” In the realm of physics one is thankful to anyone who can push the problem only a little way further off, and one expects no more than that from one human life. But through the knowledge of reincarnation, a highly significant step forward has been taken in solving the question of man and his destiny.

The dramas of Ibsen show how modern humanity has reached this question. And the doctrine of heredity has immensely increased the burden of it. Humanity will break down, not under the weight of the doctrine of reincarnation, but under the weight of the doctrine of heredity, unless the doctrine of reincarnation is added to it. The thought of heredity drives a man to suicide, the thought of reincarnation leads him to resurrection. It gives a man a new power of saying Yes to his destiny, and a new power of saying No to it. Yes, because he understands it, No, because he sees the possibility of release. Rudolf Steiner has shown how in many kinds of diseases the effects of perversity of soul in a former life are continuing to act, and how, also, in these diseases the bodily condition gives help against an existing lack of character. The man of the future will be able to carry on in a grander style the struggle with his destiny. He will see his destiny to be greater than life. He will be able to lift his head above the clouds which hem in his fate. Out of a higher ego, he will be able to fit this one life into the greater plan for life. He will redemptively endure a heavy fate right to its end, and lift the meaning of this fate upon a higher path across the ages. It will no longer be “Kismet” which he endures, that is his “share” of destiny allotted to him, no longer “Fate,” that is God's predestined decree which is fulfilled in him. Rather he will talk with his “angel,” and as he speaks with his angel it is his higher ego speaking within him. And as he says “yes” to destiny, his higher ego enters into him and takes up its lasting abode with him. All men feel the hand of “Kismet,” many feel the hand of “Fate.” Few look into the face of destiny and see in it the face of the divine spirit, which welds the little destinies of life into a great whole above time and space. Sometimes, indeed, when we survey our destiny with purer and freer gaze, we feel that we would ourselves have disciplined ourselves in no other way. At such moments we are looking at our lives through the eyes of our angel. We are helped to take this view of our life by the idea of reincarnation, which raises us inwardly above the individual life. As Nietzsche once, upon the memorable 1st of January, 1883, wished for himself that he might have a “love of destiny” (amor fati), and vowed: “I will some day be one who says Yes to destiny” — then his spirit looked in prescience to these heights. But his longing grasped at something which lay beyond his knowing; and so he sank down again into the everlasting “No.” Love of destiny is gained in proportion as we become united with the ego, which leads us on through one life to another life, according as we use it all the more rightly. Love of destiny is, possible, if it is at the same time love of one's own higher self. The Indian sought reconciliation with his fate; the Greek strove for freedom from his fate; the Christian endeavoured to resign himself to his fate. But such a resignation can become love which knows, and so may reach its real value. When the light of the wisdom of the spirit which guides us once begins to shine in our earthly consciousness, then we begin to feel as if we must rejoice in our destiny.

Till now we have turned our attention to understanding our fate as it acts upon the present out of the past. But the thought of reincarnation acquires — if it actively lays hold of a man's being and does not merely move him as a problem of thought — especial meaning for his future, his task, his endeavour. He will then see how trifling the impulse to personal endeavour was, which came from Christianity up till now, and how much force and will-power therefore lay fallow in humanity.

Catholicism has its striving for sanctity, but that is clothed in the garment of merit. It retains the character of a fulfilment of laws or commandments. It lacks insight into an organism of human evolution which must be perfected step by step in freedom, and extend beyond this one life. This is still more lacking in Protestantism, which has attached itself more and more to “secular ethics.” But this ethic itself is on the point of collapse because it has lost its metaphysical background; and therefore there remains only considerations of utility, of happiness, of custom. There are no sure points of view which can lead to the perfecting of humanity. Therefore in the whole cultural world of Protestantism a kind of professional morality stands in the forefront. A man must prove himself by the demands of life; and religion, where it still finds credence, gives strength for this. After death, marvellous transformations are in store for all as well as for the individual. These considerations are still active even among those who have freed themselves from the dogmas of the church, but there is no stronger motive still existing for striving towards personal perfection. By such ideas of the life beyond, this striving is crippled and the result is that all calls to “self training,” which emerge unconsciously and instinctively from the will of the age, come to men in the form of a materialistic egotism, e.g., as Coueism, or the Yogi methods of American business men.

In respect of these facts, the idea of reincarnation has a very great significance for humanity. And also all general hopes of “development after death,” which have appeared here and there are of no importance compared with the living power which lies in a clear and detailed account of human evolution — even if one cannot fully, out of one's personal conviction, agree to all its details.

The man who lives in the light of the idea of reincarnation, knows that all his endeavours, that even his most secret will, has the full value of reality, which is working itself out in the whole cosmos. He knows that this most secret endeavour is important, not only because after death “all will be laid open,” but because the meaning which such a striving has for the future, for his own as well as for the world's future, will be clearly shown forth.

We are not teaching a selfish endeavour after perfecting one's own self. Only misunderstanding, deliberate or unconscious, can thus distort our point of view. Egotism in his striving for perfection would — according to the spiritual relationship in which the doctrine of reincarnation appears in Anthroposophy — lead a man into Luciferianism, and in the most dangerous way, turn him aside from the divinely willed evolving of the world. To strive after perfection can be wholesome, and act wholesomely only when it proceeds from free insight into a divine will, when it consists in a reverent receiving of the divine power to help, and in being willing to allow that power to come to full activity when it aims at producing one who will be a fellow-worker, qualified as highly as possible; in the divine guidance of the world. Only when carried on in this sense, is the striving for perfection upon the right path to Anthroposophical ideas. Every other representation of it is a misunderstanding if not something worse, and every other method leads astray, leads to corruption. Therefore the spiritual edifice of Anthroposophy is built up, not upon directions for self-perfecting, but upon the light it throws upon one's view of the world, out of which the individual himself must draw the impulse to endeavour in insight and freedom.

One cannot describe the wholesome feeling of fitting into the whole cosmos, which a man has when he once admits such thoughts into his mind. He is not labouring for the sake of the results, nor for his own well-being, nor for personal holiness, he is building the man of the future, he is building a future world. A free will has united itself, has given itself to a higher will which is striving to the far off goal of the world. Even the smallest step we succeed in taking in our meditation is seen to be connected with great spiritual issues. And he who does anything contrary to the divine powers, or even seeks to reach his goal without them, is not damned in the mediæval sense, but shut out from the divinely willed evolution of the world. To will with them and for them is our task. If we are idle, we are only deferring that which must happen if we wish to become men of the future, and are creating new difficulties for ourselves. Not with a ceaseless and equal pace does man advance upon the way to perfection; but the divine powers always take him to their heart, as a mother takes her child, when it has made an attempt to walk. Again he is released, with new powers and tasks, and always with the same protection. That which man accomplishes, not in the full view of others, but in the most secret chambers of his heart, bears fruit in the realm of the spirit, for himself and the whole world. But the decisive help for men is the divine deed of Christ. Yet man cannot be spared the duty of changing Christ's help into his own free will. The effect of such an idea can only be felt to be wholesome. in the highest and most spiritual sense.

* * *

Let us turn the light of the thought of reincarnation upon two spheres especially, in which humanity today shows its helplessness suicide, and the question of sex.

Anyone to whom reincarnation seems probable or even only possible, will perceive that there is no greater self-deception than for a man to believe he can “make an end” of his life. Rudolf Steiner has described in detail, out of spiritual perception, how such souls suffer after death because of the want of a body which has not done its full service to them; how they suffer under the knowledge that they have made a blunder in a destiny which must now he put to rights; under the knowledge that they have only slunk away from tests which had been assigned to them, and which still remain for them to attempt. This is no external or internal condemnation of the suicide; but an agony of soul, whose necessity and reality is placed illuminatingly before us.

Karl Hauptman has seen the essential nature of suicide to lie in this, that one thing in the man destroys the other things that are in him. But of what use is it when two who are united in marriage and cannot bear one another, say to one another, “It is no use, we must go into another room together; only by doing that can everything come right again!” To commit suicide is just as clever — supposing the other agrees to go — it is just as sensible as that resolve would be. It is a changing of place; everything else remains. Yes, many things become worse through the violent change of scene.

The fact that suicide is threatening to take the upper hand, shows, as few other facts do, that the old moral ties are becoming loosened throughout humanity, that new moral forces are necessary if men are to take the place of their earthly activity, apart from its acceptability to them, in full earnestness, and not as it pleases them to take it. The old church ideas, have lost both their terrors and their power to compel. Can we see in the idea of reincarnation a help which is sent to us at the right time? It will not give a man a distaste for suicide, merely because it is forbidden by religion and objectionable to morality; but it will allow him to see how the world is fitted together in the course of the divine ordering, and so he is able himself to form his own resolve, in freedom and knowledge.

If a “league against suicide” were formed to mobilise and concentrate all the forces which are against suicide, it would avail little, if humanity did not have a new power of cormprehension. According to the doctrine of reincarnation, suicide is the most useless and unreasonable action man can do.

The other question which faces humanity in our days is the sexual problem. In the ethical commands and customs of the past, a form of authority speaks to us, which makes no appeal to modern man. What does he care what other men did, or how he himself harms or helps society? If he asks why, he wants quite other reasons in answer, The old morality has gone, humanity is finally losing Moses: even the Moses who still lives on in the Churches as a code of morals. One need be neither a canting bigot nor a Philistine when one looks with anxiety to the future of humanity. A young wife said lately: “The body and its capacity for enjoyment is the only thing we have.” Towards what are we evolving? To a “new morality” for which one lays claim to the beautiful words “truth” and “freedom?” To depravity? To a return to the old morality?

What has the doctrine of reincarnation to say to all this? It does not set up new commandments, it communicates important facts. The true path of humanity leads towards the spirit, and every step forward upon this path is bound up with self-discipline. If anyone gives himself up to the guidance of his bodily lusts, he throws himself back in his development as a spiritual being. He is placing acts within the world, which continue to work both upon himself and upon others. And for everything that has wrought harm, he must one day give compensation: he can in no wise escape from doing so. His own being and actions are always of importance for the world. May he see for what he can be responsible! “His works do follow him.”

This has nothing to do with an ascetic smothering of sexuality; although the hour will come in the course of human development when sexuality will be laid aside. We are now dealing with the training of humanity's life-forces so that they may be serviceable to the spiritual goal of humanity. The sooner man reaches this training and the higher his attainments in it, the better for him. Unmastered lusts change in the spiritual land after death into burning fire, and those, whose wandering egos have been pushed down to a lower level through our actions, also come and demand their rights from us. We may not insult the dignity of the spirit. For man, if he sees the truth, there remains only, as Plato said, a flight into the good.

The state of transition in which humanity finds itself today cannot be too clearly recognised. New spiritual laws are replacing the former moral law. Man no longer acts as he ought, but as he sees fit. He no longer listens to a divine will which he does not altogether understand; he perceives a divine world which speaks for itself clearly enough. It is no longer tables of spiritual laws, but spiritual facts which appear before him and speak to him. Can one perceive fully the entirely different nature of this new thing? Can one recognise it to be a divine work spoken to the age of insight and freedom?

Nietzsche, who felt earlier and more deeply than anyone else the inward situation of humanity in the age of culture, wrote, as is well known, that if religious faith decreased, then man would learn to realise himself to be a fugitive and unessential; but he would thereby necessarily become weak; he would no longer exercise himself in endeavour and endurance; he would desire momentary enjoyment, he would have no more ground for expectation: he would make light of life. Nietzsche's spirit sought anxiously for a “new influence” He sought it presciently almost in the right place, If he sought to set up the doctrine of the “eternal return of equality,” as a new perception of truth for humanity, so that it might give humanity new inward support, his half-clairvoyant soul had got near, very near to the truth. But the “eternal return of equality” kills hope, and lames one's strength. Reincarnation awakens hope and increases strength. If, instead of his doctrine of the “return of equality” Nietzsche had found that of reincarnation then his two doctrines of return and of the superman would not have fallen apart, but would have fitted into one another. Reincarnation leads immediately to the service of the superman, but not only to the superman who comes after us, but also to the superman in us.

There are changes, of course, but they are not those which deprive us of our development, not those in which we should lose ourselves. Just as we take ourselves with us into our development, so we take our defects with us also. We cannot cut them off, like our hair or our finger-nails. They may be changed into virtues, but only through development. The life after death is extremely different from our present life, but just because of that, we must remain ourselves, even if we wish only to recognise ourselves.

And so, when we look into the background of the world, we are looking into a noble countenance. In the inward part of the world is not natural law, but moral law. The morality of the world is the foundation upon which we all live. The world is becoming moral, and morality is becoming great. The history of the world is the tribunal which judges the world. This is the world which Kant sought, and imagined to be after death. He could not find it in the external world where it goes well with the evil and badly with the good, and therefore he demanded compensation in the world beyond, and for the sake of this compensation he demanded a world beyond. But it was not a matter of “after this”, but of “behind this.” There was certainly in his day a “beyond,” lying beyond the experience of that day; but it did not lie in a change of place, but in a deeper insight. And when, in reply to Kant, Ludwig Feuerbach asked: “But who tells us that the universe really corresponds to our demands and wishes?” a half century later the answer came out of the background of the world itself. From that time on, man when he looks into the depths of the universe, is gazing into the countenance of a holy cosmic morality.

Then we have a new Moses? Yes! today men still look at the doctrine of reincarnation too much with the eyes of Moses. For in ancient India also, there was a time of Moses, when man looked upon reincarnation as a law which made burdensome demands; and that idea is still active among us. When Moses commanded “Who so sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed,” he was indeed reading in the book of cosmic morality; he was training men to the idea of it, but he made a cosmic law into an earthly commandment, and thus he formed cosmic morality, but upon too small a pattern. It was good, but too short. He had not seen, he could not see the ultimate truth, that this cosmic morality in its deepest form is the cosmic goodness itself. For goodness is not that which makes me glad, but that which trains me — which trains me for that which is greatest, and so trains me for the greatest of all joys, for sharing in the divine life itself. “Mercy” is to be guided upwards. “Mercy” is to be allowed to make a recompense “Mercy” is to grow into unity with the morality of the world. Within the world is a heart that beats for us. This heart sympathises with the highest that is in us, with that which is seeking to evolve in us, and out of it, this that is highest flows to us. It stamps its own nature upon us, as it looks upon us from all sides, and so awakens our own best nature. Only in a world in which a greater ego lives, which man can recognise as the ultimate wish of his life, only in such a world can men feel at home. The face of Moses, is lost in the ray of light which streams from the depths: and out of the inmost place of the cosmos, the Father of the World looks at us through the face of Christ.

Up till now we have looked at man more in himself. Now we will look with him out at the community of men. How is his relationship to others changed?

In his famous star-aphorism, Friedrich Nietzsche feels that his friendship with Richard Wagner came to him out of the firmament, Two stars are drawn to one another out of the cosmic spaces, they greet one another as they pass, and hurry away out into cosmic space again. In this great example Nietzsche has realised what every meeting of two people, even their most fugitive meeting, really is. Stars greet one another in passing. According to Anthroposophical perception it is true, as old traditions say, that every man has his star in heaven, and that he is its earthly expression. Every man a star — yes, every man a heaven of stars. If one could read in a man's deepest nature and destiny, one would have a constellation of stars before one. The forces which are working in his life can be written down in the language of the stars. Astrology is thrusting itself today more and more into the spiritual life of humanity; but it comes more out of ancient experience than out of insight, and it is threatened with an inoculation of the materialism of our age. When one perceives in the greater spiritual associations of Anthroposophy, how, after death, man passes through the world of stars, and is tested there, — by the inner realities which correspond to the external stars — then astrology also, with purified face, will look down upon humanity with all the greatness of its mighty conception of the cosmos.

Is it meaningless if I can look at a man in such a way? People of finer interests feel in every conversation that they must know whether the other person is a being which has sprung up out of nothing, is fading away again, and, when it dies, is dead; or whether that person is a being whom the eternities are working upon, to build it up. In the latter case even every turn of conversation becomes different. Men's usual conversations merely tickle the soul as they pass, they are unworthy of a human being; and that men do not feel the tragedy of this inadequacy is still more deeply tragic. A general hope of immortality is no longer of use. That which once lived as a vague feeling in man, and then gradually disappeared, comes back to us now as knowledge out of the cosmic spaces. That which once comforted men as a dogma, now seeks to establish itself as a cosmic truth.

Marriage? Where this is more than a love affair made binding at a registry office, or a business transaction, there two souls have come into being in the same period of time, in order to find one another. The myth of Eros, as Plato tells it in his Symposium, is true, only it is more individually true, truer to the facts than man could realise in Plato's time. It is not that the man seeks the woman, but that this man seeks this woman. And the community of life, prepared in higher worlds, is fulfilled on earth. Marriages are made in heaven.

And divorces? Sometimes people have really lived out to the end [of] their destiny together, but woe to them if they cut too hastily the knot they ought to have unloosed. Fates not truly borne wait for them, and will find them again. Such people will seek one another, until they have met, and brought to its end that which they have broken off.

The real truth which is in a marriage will inevitably come to light through death. Suddenly two people, who have perhaps maintained to the end the lie that they are united in love, will be miles apart. Other marriages again will arise from the deep. If two pieces of electrical apparatus which are tuned to one another can find one another across the whole globe, much more can two human souls who are in harmony. Reincarnation teaches not the indissolubility of marriage, but the deep cosmic seriousness of marriage.

When after his wife's death Carlyle found in her diary the description of the sorrows of her life at his side, he cried out: “If I had only five minutes in which to tell her how dearly I loved her!” A deeper conception of the further life, and of reincarnation, could have replied: “You do not need to wish it, you have her now, and can tell her, and she can hear you. But your wish will also be fulfilled; you will have her again, and will tell her, and she will hear.” Reincarnation is mercy.

Just as humanity at the present time is seeking a new foundation for marriage, so it is also seeking to put the relationship between parents and children upon a new basis. This “children's century” has shown that one must not regard children as smaller adults. But the mood which has grown up is one which calls for deeper insight. Our children have not been thrown into our house by chance. They have sought us, as we have sought them. Perhaps they were careless in the choice of their parents when they came to live with us; but in any case they have brought with them a great load of destiny. They go back just as far as we into the past of humanity, and have, perhaps, sat at the feet of wiser teachers. They bring with them the charge laid upon them by their stars, and it has brought them to life-tasks which lie some tens of years further on than ours. The teaching we give them can only be a help to development. We cannot decide their development; we can only watch it. Their ego carries within it its own mission, and we are the friends of their destiny; all our pride as adults must be laid aside.

Luther tells us that his teacher always took off his hat when he entered his classroom. “There might be a mayor, or a councilor, or a doctor among my pupils.” By this one saying that man proved himself a true teacher. In his feeling he lived in a truth which was much truer than he could then know.

* * *

From this we turn to the sphere in which at present day there are great struggles and convulsions — to the social question. What form would these struggles take in souls which were filled with thoughts of reincarnation? Epictetus, the Roman slave, tells us in what frame of mind he endured the lot of a slave. “While we live,” he says, “one man has to play the part of a king, another that of a beggar, but after death they will ask us, as they ask the actors, not ‘What part did you play?’ but, ‘How did you play your part?’” In these words there still shines an afterglow from the wisdom of the mysteries. Yet such stories may awaken the feeling — then the, doctrine of reincarnation is only a new means of keeping the oppressed classes quiet, a new way of pointing to this “divinely ordained position of dependence.” But what is important here is the difference between the ego which is represented, and the ego which gives the representation. If the slave lives in the mood of Epictetus, he may feel himself to be the equal of a king, and, indeed, spiritual investigation shows that, for example, everyone who oppresses a class or a people will in all probability be born again as one of those very people. If I cannot put myself in the place of another, I shall be put in his place; after death, I myself shall find it to be to my own interest to put myself in his place, because in his place I can learn most, and can best atone. After death our desires are changed. The woman who unfeelingly harasses her maid-servant with every mood, increases from day to day the probability that she will wear a servant's dress in her next life. Through a greater sensitiveness we are drawn to that place where we think our life may be enriched.

In the past it was said by way of consolation that Death makes all men equal. That feeling, which died out of men's minds, now comes back to us again as a riper insight. We men wander together through our existence for thousands of years. I may probably be meeting the man who is standing before me, not for the first time, probably not for the last. That which he outwardly wears is a disguise. His true value may raise him above me, not only inwardly now, but later also outwardly. The king is king for this time, the beggar is now a beggar. Out of such insight into life, if it burns with full power and warmth in the soul, a new deep human feeling must grow. Is not our age, this very age of social study, asking that humanity of feeling shall be established anew on a more sublime foundation? It is easy to preach this humaneness; it is hard to establish it; without a new deep insight it cannot be maintained, still less brought to life again. Every time we meet anyone, we must look at the person, at the ego which is before us, which is travelling through its incarnations. The world is waiting for a thought, for a truth which will re-establish its humaneness.

* * *

Someone may object that a new basis is more necessary for our relationship to humanity and its life on earth, than for our relationship to individual men. Why has traditional Christianity failed, when faced with the social question? Why can it preach morality only? Because it has not had the greatest thoughts about the life of human beings upon earth, for their work upon earth. It spoke only about doing our duty in our calling, about thankfulness to God and about helping others. But man must see the positive meaning of his earthly work if he is to apply himself to it with his best powers. “Remain true to the earth my brothers!” was Nietzsche's saying in condemnation of the mood which turns men away from the earth. In him spoke the wish of a whole age, as it felt the failure of its religious ideas, and looked for new light upon its earthly task.

In the light of the thought of reincarnation our work on earth appears quite new. We have not been thrown by chance by the waves upon the shore of this world, to get on as best we can until the ship calls to take us home again. We are the earthly race, united to our earthly home until it becomes a ruin. Together we have to struggle to gain for the spirit from the earth that which we can gain from it alone. No god-like race can do this without man. We are working not only for our children, we are working for ourselves; we are working for the whole future of the human race, of which we ourselves are members, when we bring forth into the light of day all earth's possibilities, when we impress upon the earth her divine meaning the meaning which men alone can find. Nothing is lost which happens upon earth for the sake of the life of humanity; it happens for us, it happens also for the future of the spirit itself. Only when we have perfected the earth may we hope to take leave of it, and look for a “new earth.” Then the earth, and man too, will become spiritual; but it will become spiritual — as man will — with the results of all the work done on earth during all the thousands of years.

So our view of humanity becomes ever broader and greater. The barriers break down between peoples as well as between classes. Externally they are overthrown by the modern technique of intercourse, by telegraph and telephone, by radio and cinematograph. Inwardly they are breaking down through the idea of reincarnation. If it is we ourselves who pass on through different nations, what is left of national fanaticism?

Then our connection with our own nation is destroyed by the doctrine of reincarnation? Does not the nation require all the love of its people, which ought not to flee from it, either as capital or as ideas? Do we not much rather need a new spiritual basis for the true love of one's nation so that we may be raised above natural tribal feeling, and above false racial passions? But this thought brings again the thought of reincarnation! “My people” is the community of my destiny in this earthly life. The folk-soul is fumbling after a newer, deeper basis for such a community of destiny. Not by the blindness of natural law have I been thrown upon this place of earth. I have sought this nation, not only because I wished to learn something in it, not only because I wished to help it, but because my soul itself is related to it,—my soul, and not only my body. To disavow my nation and its destiny is to disavow myself. Certainly the destiny of my people may be to suffer need; yet the task of this people may be spiritual. I must seek not any political delusion, but the inward meaning of my connection with my nation. Here my earthly task awaits me; here must I fulfil it. Thought about one's race, is full of materialism; it makes one blind and arrogant from pride in one's inheritance, and arrogant because of one's descent; it changes peoples into beasts of prey, which tear one another. One can already hear the voices of these beasts of prey, for example, in Spengler's new book. We have dire need of a new basis for an alliance of the peoples, an alliance which at the same time leaves us free as men.

For the thoughts of humanity are now going beyond the individual nations. We disavow the essential side of our Germanic nature when we try to kill this thought in us. Isolde Kurz once described impressively in a poem how Scipio, the Conqueror of Carthage, after the great success of his life, knocks at heaven's gate. He expects that the greatness of his deeds will infallibly find recognition. But the thoughts of the powers which guide the destinies of mankind are higher. What he did was necessary and great, but he lacks one thing “Thou knowest not the feelings of an oppressed nation; be born again a Punic slave!” What if the poetess had known that the investigations of Rudolf Steiner have shown that the man who inflicts misery upon a people will, in all probability, have to live his next life among these very people? Let us imagine that a prophet had appeared among the men of Versailles and told them this, and that he had succeeded not only in convincing their minds fully of it, but also in making it part of their inmost feelings. The anxiety they would then have had for their own future, even if it had not immediately taken form as a political action, may show us the significance which the idea of reincarnation may have for the future of humanity. And that of which we are speaking would only be the first egotistic reactions, but not yet the delicate action of the spirit.

The greatest benefit humanity could receive today would be a spiritual view, which included the National — we do not say the Nationalistic and the Super-national, nor do we say the International — and which gave to both, their due rights. Unless this spiritual point of view comes to life in humanity — it need be the knowledge of the few only, and the surmise of the many — then humanity is going towards newer and more dangerous catastrophes, in spite of, nay, just because of national enthusiasms. The ancient thoughts of Christianity and Humanism are united today with new knowledge. Every folk-soul has its mission. But man on his earthly way passes through the peoples. Just as the children have sought their parents, so man has sought the nation which can help him and which he can help. By this, and not by any naturalistic unity of substance with the nation, is our love of our nation explained. It is only the unspiritual man who can fear that the ennobling of the tree will rob it of its life-force. It is not love of our nation to draw that love from any other source than from the spirit. And every man can see that the racial theories are only a helpless search for such a spiritual source.

New eyes must be opened to see not only our own nation, but all nations. The Ancient Christian Love of one's enemy is falling into ruin, and Christian circles are foremost in the work of pulling it down. Elementary feelings are furbished up as Christian. “If Christianity demands of me a love of the French, then I give up my Christianity here and now!” I have myself heard sayings like this, which was uttered by a highly educated woman, from the lips of princes of the Church. But Christian love of one's enemy must not only be freed from all sentimentality, it must also be raised above everything that is of the nature of a commandment, or is simply a matter of the feelings. The “simple” announcement that God created all men, and Christ died for all men, is no longer sufficient. One sees this not only among humanity in general, but also in Evangelical Church circles. Mankind's community of destiny in its unity and in its individual parts, must be freshly perceived. We live in the nation — we pass through the nations. I fulfil the intention of my destiny only when I accomplish my task for my nation; and only when I look beyond my nation to humanity, do I grasp the aim of the earth. We cannot free ourselves from this twofold attitude to life, and it is out of this attitude only that we can work out salvation for our own nation, and yet not only for our own nation.

The old view taken by the Christianity of the West is being subjected to an overpoweringly severe strain. Masses, more and more masses of people stream through the gate of birth, into existence. How about them? The problem was always there, but we did not see it; we could always withdraw ourselves from it into our own private dwelling. Now, however, such questions surround us like high mountains. Whither are all these people tending? A sergeant in the army remarked to me, “In heaven there will be no room for all these people who are constantly being born upon the earth.” The idealist, trained in philosophy, expresses himself differently: “That there is a God. I can still believe; but that the single individual is so valuable to this God that he continues after death, I can no longer believe.” The pious Christian can only cast such questions hopefully upon the unfathomability of God, which would not be unfathomable, if all these questions did not find room for themselves in it. In all cases of difficulty he brings up his “confidence in faith.” At least the question, “What will become of all the people who have not known Christ in this life?” was raised in a circle of friends by one such Christian, only to cast it upon God's unfathomableness. Do we not see that these ancient opinions simply do not touch humanity and its problems any longer?

And now the knowledge of reincarnation comes and says: “You deceive yourselves when you think that new people are for ever coming up out of nothing. Humanity is a race of men, striving together out of the dark into the light. It is a closed fellowship with a common destiny. It has existed for thousands of years, and it will ,continue to exist for thousands of years longer. A single, great people — such are we, and we have been permitted to leave the kingdoms of divine creation, and are now wandering together through the desert.” He who can bring this thought to life in him, feels as if for the first time a humanity existed for him. We must not accept as human all that which by the “accident of birth” wears a human face. But behind the human face there lives a human ego that is laboriously seeking its way towards the heights of humanity. Wherever a human heart beats, there lives a member of this great community of those who are united by human destiny, to whom the earth is entrusted and who are entrusted to the earth. Our worth as men is not ours through this one birth, but we have borne it for thousands of years in our ego — not in our body — far as we may stray from the goal of humanity.

Yes, when we look back into the past, Christian Morgenstern says: “Why do we always speak of ‘the ancient Indians or Egyptians’, why do we not speak of ‘the ancient Indians or Egyptians’?” The destiny of the past is our destiny also; it is within us and makes us understand. New lights play upon a hundred questions, not only upon the question of pious people: “What becomes of people who did not come to know Christ in this life?” but also upon the doubt of the thinker: “What is the meaning of the fact that in great catastrophes men perish in thousands?” Here. Rudolf Steiner's investigations were equally illuminating. By the shock of death especial powers are awakened in man. By the common overthrow, fellowships of a common destiny were formed, to which a common work for the future could be entrusted. Providence and predestination are found extending far forward in this plan. Even the hopeless work of standing all day by machines, the sorrowful slavery to mechanism which exists in the industry of the present age, has its significance. Men who are today tragically worn out in the status of workmen, bear within them a hidden seed, and the future of humanity will one day be decisively carried on by the forces which are being secretly formed in such lives.

After all that has been said, it cannot be thought to be a rhetorical phrase, but rather an important deduction drawn from our study of the life of our times, if we conclude with these words: “It is a great moment when the idea of reincarnation enters the spiritual life of the West anew. It is no longer a mountainous weight of reincarnation, such as it was when it oppressed India, but a light of reincarnation which illuminates all the spheres of life.”

The doctrine of reincarnation, as it appears now, has taken into itself the results, of the evolution of Western Christian culture; of the culture of the West, with the thoughts of evolution, in which reincarnation comes before men, no longer as an endless returning, but as an unending ascent; of Christianity with its message of mercy, in which reincarnation appears to men no longer with the eyes of the judge of men, but with the eyes of the teacher, yes more, with the eyes of the redeemer. A healthy and holy ordering of the world — in which is this cosmic goodness as it is revealed in Christ — leads humanity carefully upwards. The doctrine of reincarnation has not till now appeared in this form to humanity, it has not yet spoken to humanity with this voice, it has never yet looked upon it with those eyes.

Humanity's inward need is sighing for new thoughts which can bear it up; but often before, when men have begged for them, such thoughts have been here and have not been recognised. The author of this book is convinced as firmly as possible that only in Christ lies the hope for humanity. But through the thought of reincarnation Christianity puts on a new appearance, and through Christianity reincarnation assumes its true appearance. It is of immense importance today that the doctrine of reincarnation should appear in a Christian spirit before men.

So, too, thought Rudolf Steiner. And the author of this book regards it as a service which he has to render to humanity in a serious hour of its destiny, that he should help men to take this doctrine seriously, to think it out, to live it out, to accept it finally.




Last Modified: 07-Oct-2019
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