Manifestations of Karma
1. The Nature and Significance of Karma in the Personal and Individual; and in Humanity, the Earth and the Universe
16 May 1910, Hamburg
In this course of lectures we shall deal with certain questions in the realms of Spiritual Science which play a great part in life. From the different lectures which in the course of time have been given, you will have learned that Spiritual Science should not be an abstract theory, not a mere doctrine or teaching, but a source of life and aptitude for life. It only fulfils its task when by the knowledge it is able to give, it pours into our souls something which makes life richer and more comprehensible, strengthening our souls and invigorating them. When the anthroposophist sets before him the ideal we have just summed up in a few words, and then looks around him to see how far he can put it into practice, he will perhaps receive a by no means gratifying impression. For if we consider impartially what the world thinks it ‘knows’ nowadays, and what leads men to this or that feeling or action, we might say all this is so very different from Anthroposophical ideas and ideals, that the Anthroposophist is quite unable to influence life directly by what he has acquired from Spiritual Science. This would however be a very superficial view of the situation, not taking into consideration what we ourselves have gained from our world conception. If those powers which we acquire through anthroposophy really become strong enough, they will find a way to work in the world; but if nothing is ever done to make these powers increasingly stronger, then indeed will it be impossible for them to influence the world.
But there is something else which may console us, so to speak, even if after the above considerations we feel hopeless, and that is just what should come to us as the result of the observations which will be set forth in this course of lectures; studies concerning what is called human karma and karma in general. For every hour that we spend here we shall see more clearly that nothing must be spared to bring about the possibility of influencing life by means of anthroposophy; moreover, if we ourselves earnestly and steadfastly believe in karma, we must have confidence that karma itself will dictate to us what we shall each, sooner or later, have to do for our own forces. If we think we are not yet able to make use of the powers we have acquired by our conception of the world, we shall see that we have not sufficiently strengthened those powers for karma to make it possible for us to influence the world by means of them. So that in these lectures there will not only be a number of facts about karma, but with every hour our confidence in karma will be more fully awakened, and we shall have the certainty that, when the time comes, be it to-morrow, or the day after, or many years hence, our karma will bring us the tasks which we, as Anthroposophists, have to perform. Karma will reveal itself to us as a teaching which does not tell us merely what is the connection between this or that in the world, but we can, with the revelations it brings to us, make life more satisfactory, and at the same time raise it to a higher standard.
But if karma is really to do this we must go more deeply into the law referred to, and into its action in the universe. In this case, it is to a certain extent necessary that I should do something unusual for me in dealing with questions of Spiritual Science, namely, to give a definition, an explanation of a word; for usually definitions do not lead very far. In our considerations we generally begin by the presentation of facts, and if these facts are grouped and arranged in the proper way, the conceptions and ideas follow of themselves; but if we were to follow a similar course with regard to the comprehensive questions which we have to discuss during the next few lectures, we should need much more time than is at our disposal. So in this case, in order to make ourselves comprehensible, we must give, if not exactly a definition, at least some description of the conception which is to occupy us for some time. Definitions are for the purpose of making clear what is meant when one uses such and such a word. In this way, a description of the idea of ‘karma’ will be given, so that we may know what is understood when in future the word ‘karma’ is used.
From the various lectures, every one of us will have formed for himself an idea of what karma is. It is a very abstract idea of karma to call it ‘the Spiritual Law of Causes,’ the law by which certain effects follow certain causes found in spiritual life. This idea of karma is too abstract, because it is on the one hand too narrow and on the other much too comprehensive. If we wish to conceive of karma as a ‘Law of Causes,’ we must connect it with what is otherwise known in the world as the ‘Law of Causality,’ the Law of Cause and Effect. Let us be clear about what we understand to be the law of causes in the general way before we speak of spiritual facts and events.
It is very often emphasised nowadays by external science, that its own real importance lies in the fact that it is founded on the universal law of causes, and that everywhere it traces certain effects to their respective causes. But people are certainly much less clear as to how this linking of cause and effect takes place. For you will still find in books of the present day which are supposed to be clever and to explain ideas in quite a philosophical manner, such expressions as the following: ‘An effect is that which follows from a cause.’ But to say this is to lose sight entirely of the facts. In the case of a warm sunbeam falling on a metal plate and making it warmer than before, material science would speak of cause and effect in the ordinary way. But can we claim that the effect — the warming of the metal plate — follows from the cause of the warm sunbeam? If the warm sunbeam had this effect already within it why is it that it warms the metal plate only when it comes into contact with it? Hence, in the world of phenomena, in the inanimate world which is all around us, it is necessary, if an effect is to follow a cause, that something should encounter this cause. Unless this takes place one cannot speak of an effect following upon a cause. This preliminary remark, philosophical and abstract though it apparently sounds, is by no means superfluous; for if real progress is to be made in anthroposophical matters we must get into the habit of being extremely accurate in our ideas instead of being casual as people sometimes are in other branches of knowledge.
Now we must not speak of karma in a way similar to that of the sunray warming a sheet of metal. Certainly there is causality. The connection between cause and effect is there, but we should never obtain a true idea of karma if we spoke of it only in that way. Hence, we cannot use the term karma in speaking of a simple relation between effect and cause.
We may now go a little further and form for ourselves a somewhat higher idea of the connection between cause and effect. For instance if we have a bow, and we bend it and shoot off an arrow with it, there is an effect caused by the bending of the bow; but we can no more speak of the effect of the shot arrow in connection with its cause as ‘karma’ than in the foregoing case. But if we consider something else in connection with this incident, we shall, to a certain extent, get nearer to the idea of karma, even if we do not then quite grasp it. For example, we may reflect that the bow, if often bent, becomes slack in time. So, from what the bow does and from what happens to it, there will follow not only an effect which shows itself externally, but also one which will react upon the bow itself. Through the frequent bending of the bow something happens to the bow itself. Something which happens through the bending of the bow reacts, so to speak, on the bow. Thus an effect is obtained which reacts on the object by which the effect itself was caused. This comes nearer to the idea of karma. Unless a result is produced which reacts upon the being or thing producing it, unless there is this peculiar reacting effect upon the being which caused it, the idea of karma is not understood. We thus get somewhat nearer to the idea when it is clear to us that the effects caused by the thing or being must recoil upon that thing or being itself; nevertheless we must not call the slackening of the bow through frequent bending, the ‘karma’ of the bow, for the following reason. If we have had the bow for three or four weeks and have often bent it so that after this time it becomes slack, then we really have in the slack bow something quite different from the tense bow of four weeks before. Thus when the reacting effect is of such a kind that it makes the thing or the being something quite different, we cannot yet speak of ‘karma.’ We may speak of karma only when the effects which react upon a being find the same being to react upon, or at any rate that being, in a certain sense, unaltered. Thus we have again come a little nearer to the idea of karma; but if we describe it in this way we obtain only a very abstract conception of it.
If we want to grasp this idea abstractly, we cannot do better than by expressing it in the way we have just done; but one thing more must be added to this idea of karma. If the effect reacts upon the being immediately, that is, if cause and reacting effect are simultaneous, we can hardly then call that karma, for in this case the being from whom the effect proceeded would have actually intended to bring about that result directly. He would, therefore, foresee the effect and would perceive all the elements leading to it. When this is the case we cannot really call it karma. For instance, we should not call it karma in the case of a person performing an act by which he intends to bring about certain results, and who then obtains the desired result in accordance with his purpose. That is to say, between the cause and the effect there must be something hidden from the person when he sets the cause in motion; so that though this connection is really there, it was not actually designed by the person himself. If this connection has not been intended by him then the reason for a connection between cause and effect must be looked for elsewhere than in the intentions of the person in question. That is to say, this reason must be determined by a certain fixed law. Thus karma also includes the facts that the connection between cause and effect is determined by a law independent of whether or not there be direct intention on the part of the being concerned.
We have now grouped together a few principles which may elucidate for us the idea of karma, but we must include all these principles in the conception of karma, and not limit it to an abstract definition. Otherwise we shall not be able to comprehend the manifestations of karma in the different spheres of life. We must now first seek for the manifestations of karma where we first meet with them — in individual human lives.
Can we find anything of the sort in individual lives, and when can we find what we have just presented in our explanation of the idea of karma? We should find something of the sort if, for example, we experienced something in our life about which we could say. ‘This experience which has come to us stands in a certain relationship to a previous event in which we took part, and which we ourselves caused.’ Let us try in the first place, by mere observation of life, to make sure whether this relationship exists. We will take the purely external point of view. He who does not do so can never arrive at the recognition of a law of inter-dependence in life, any more than a man who has never observed the collision of two billiard balls can understand the elasticity which makes them rebound. Observation of life can lead us to the perception of a law of inter-dependence. Let us take a definite example.
Suppose that a young man in his nineteenth year, who by some accident is obliged to give up a profession which until then had seemed to be marked out for him, and who up to that time had pursued a course of study to prepare him for that profession, through some misfortune to his parents was compelled to give up this profession and, at the age of eighteen, to become a business man. An impartial observer of such an occurrence in life, like the student in physics observing the impact of the elastic balls will probably find that the business experiences into which the young man has been driven will at first have a stimulating effect upon him, so that he will carry out his duties, learn something from them, and perhaps even attain special excellence in his work. But after some time one can also observe another condition entering in, a certain boredom or discontent. This discontent will not be manifested immediately. If the change of calling took place in the youth's nineteenth year, probably the next few years would pass quietly, though about his twenty-fourth year it would become evident that something apparently inexplicable had taken root in his soul. Looking more closely into the matter we are likely to find, if the case is not complicated, that the explanation of the boredom arising five years after the change of calling must be sought for in his thirteenth or fourteenth year; for the causes of such a phenomenon are generally to be sought for at about the same period of time before the change of calling as the occurrence we have been describing took place afterwards. The man in question when he was a school-boy of thirteen, five years before the change of vocation, might have experienced something in his soul which gave him a feeling of inner happiness. Supposing that no change of profession had taken place, then that to which the youth had accustomed himself in his thirteenth year would have shown itself in later life and would have borne fruit. Then, however, came the change which at first interested the young man and so possessed his soul that he repressed, as it were, what had before occupied it; but though repressed for a certain time, it would on that account gain a peculiar strength. This may be compared with the squeezing of an india-rubber ball which we can compress to a certain point where it resists, and if it were allowed to spring back it would do so in proportion to the force with which we have compressed it. Such experiences as we have just indicated, which the young man went through in his thirteenth year, and which grew stronger until the change of profession, might also in a certain sense be driven into the background. But after a time a certain resistance arises in the soul and one can then see how this resistance becomes strong enough to produce an effect. Because the soul lacks what it would have had if the change of profession had not taken place, that which had been repressed now begins to assert itself, appearing as boredom and discontent with its surroundings.
Here then we have the case of a man who experiences something or did something in his thirteenth or fourteenth year and who later did something — changed his occupation, and we see that these causes later on in their effect react on the same person. In such a case we should have to apply the idea of karma primarily to the individual life of a man. We ought not to object to this because we have known cases in which nothing of the kind could be traced. That may be, but no student of physics examining the laws of the velocity of a falling stone would say that the law was incorrect because the stone was deflected by a blow. We must learn to observe in the right way, and to exclude those phenomena which have nothing to do with the establishment of the law. Certainly such a young man, who supposing nothing else intervenes, experiences boredom in his twenty-fourth year as the result of impressions received in his thirteenth year, would not have been thus bored if, for example, in the meantime he had married. But we are here dealing with something which has no influence on the fundamental truth of the principle. What is important is that we must find the real factors from which we can establish a law. Observation pure and simple is insufficient; only methodical observation will lead us to the recognition of the law; and therefore if we want to study the law of karma, we must make these methodical observations in the right way.
Let us start, then, with the study of the karma of one special person. Fate deals a man in his twenty-fifth year a heavy blow, which causes him pain and suffering. Now, if our observations are of such a nature that we merely say ‘This heavy blow has just broken into his life and has filled it with pain and suffering,’ we shall never arrive at an understanding of karmic connections. But if we go a little further and observe the life of this person in his fiftieth year, after he has passed through such a trouble in his twenty-fifth year, we shall perhaps come to a different conclusion which we might be able to express thus: ‘The man whom we are now observing has become industrious and active, leading an excellent life.’ Now, let us look further back into his life. When he was twenty we find that he was a good-for-nothing fellow, and thoroughly idle. At twenty-five this trouble came upon him, and had he not met with this blow we may now say that he would have remained a good-for-nothing. In this case the severe blow of fate was the cause that at the age of fifty we now find him an industrious and excellent man.
Such a fact teaches us that we should be mistaken if we considered the blow of fate at the age of twenty-five was merely an effect. We cannot just ask what caused it, and stop at that. But if we consider the blow not as an effect at the end of the phenomena which preceded it, but place it rather at the beginning of the subsequent events, and consider it as a cause, then we learn that we must entirely and essentially change the judgments we have formed by our feelings and perceptions with regard to this blow of fate. We shall very likely be grieved if we think of it only as an effect, but if we think of it as the cause of what happens later on, we shall probably be glad and feel pleasure over it. For we can say that thanks to the fateful blow the man who experienced it has become a decent fellow, and a useful member of society. So we see that our attitude is essentially different in so far as we consider an event in life as cause or as effect. Therefore it is of importance from which point of view we regard an event happening to a man — whether we consider it as a cause or as an effect. It is true that if we start our investigations at the time of the painful events, we cannot then clearly perceive the direct effect, but if we have arrived at the law of karma by the observation of similar cases, that law can itself say to us: ‘an event is painful perhaps now because it appears to us merely as the result of what has happened previously, but it can also be looked upon as the starting point of what is to follow.’ Then we can foresee the blow of fate as the starting point and the cause of the results, and this places the matter in quite a different light.
Thus the law of karma itself may be a source of consolation if we accustom ourselves to set an event not only at the end, but at the beginning of a series of events. This consolation exists only if we learn to study life methodically, and to place things in the right relationship to one another as cause and effect. If we carry out these observations thoroughly, we shall notice events in the life of a man which take place with a certain regularity; others, again, appear quite irregularly in the same life. He who observes human life carefully — not simply in a superficial way — may find remarkable connections in it. Unfortunately, the phenomena of human life are at present observed for only short periods of time, hardly even for a few years; people are not accustomed to connect what has happened after a long period of time, with what may have happened previously as the cause. There are very few at the present day who study the beginning and the end of a man's life in their relationship to each other; nevertheless this relationship is extraordinarily instructive.
Supposing we have brought up a child during the first seven years of his life without having done what generally happens, that is, without starting out in the belief that if a man is to lead a good and useful life he must unconditionally fulfil our own ideas of a good man. For in such a case we should train the child as strictly as possible in the behaviour which, according to our own ideas, is that of a good and useful man. But if at the outset we recognise that a man may be good and useful in many different ways, and that there is no necessity to determine in which of these ways the child with his individual talents is to become a good and useful man — in this case we would say: ‘Whatever may be my ideas of a good and useful man, this child is to become one through having his best talents brought out, and these I must first discover. What matter the rules by which I myself feel bound? The child himself must feel the necessity to do this or that. If I wish to develop the child according to his individual talents, I must try first to develop tendencies latent in him and draw them out, so that he may above all realise them and act in accordance with them.’
Thus we see that there are two quite different ways of influencing a child in the first seven years of its life. If we now look at the child in its later life it will be a long time before the essential effects are manifested of what we have in this way brought into the first years of its life. Observation of life reveals to us that the actual results of what was put into the child's soul in its earliest years does not manifest itself until the very evening of life. A man may possess to the very end of his life an active mind, if he has been, as a child, educated in this way; that is, if the living, inherent tendencies of his soul have been observed and naturally developed. If we have drawn out and developed his innate powers we shall see the fruits in the evening of his life displayed as a rich soul-life. On the other hand, in a starved and impoverished soul and a corresponding weakly old age (for we shall see later on how a starved soul reacts on the body), is manifested that we have done wrong in our treatment of a person is in earliest childhood. This is something in human life which in a certain way is so regular that it is applicable to everyone as a connection between cause and effect.
The same connection may also be found in the intermediate stages of life, and we will now draw attention to this. The way in which we deal with a child from his seventh to his fourteenth year produces effects in that part of his life which precedes the final stage, and thus we see cause and effect working in cycles. What existed as cause in the earliest years comes out as effect in the latest ones. But in addition to these causes and effects in individual lives which run their course in cycles, there is what may be described as a straight line law.
In our example which showed how the thirteenth year influenced the twenty-third, we see how cause and effect are so connected with human life that what a man has experienced leads to after-effects which in their turn react upon him. Thus karma is fulfilled in individual lives. But we shall not arrive at an explanation of human life if we study only the connection of cause and effect in the life of a single individual. How the idea now brought forward is to be further proved and carried out we shall show in further lectures; at present we shall only briefly touch upon what is already acknowledged, that Spiritual Science teaches how the life of a man between birth and death is the repetition of previous human existences.
If we now seek for the chief characteristic of the life between birth and death, we can describe this as being the extension of one and the same consciousness (at any rate in its essentials) throughout the whole life-time. If you call to mind the earliest parts of your life, you will say: ‘There is indeed, a point of time when my recollections of life begin, which does not coincide with my birth, but which comes somewhat later.’ Everyone who is not an initiate will allow this, and he will say, this is as far back as his consciousness extends. There is, indeed, something very remarkable in the period of time between birth and the beginning of this recollection of life, and we shall return to it again as it will throw light upon important matters. Except then for this period between birth and the beginning of memory we can say that life between birth and death is characterised by the fact of one consciousness extending throughout that period of time.
In ordinary life a person does not seek a connection between cause and effect, because he takes only short periods into consideration. So when something happens to him in later life, he does not look for the cause in his earlier life; yet he could do so if he were only observant enough and investigated everything. He could do it with the consciousness which as memory-consciousness is at his disposal, and if through recollection he strove to make the connection, in a karmic sense, between earlier and later events, he would arrive at the following conclusion: ‘I see, of course, that certain experiences that come to me would not have occurred unless this or that had happened to me in earlier life, and I must now suffer for the wrong way in which I was brought up.’ But if he also looks into the connection, not for what he has done wrong, but for the wrong done against him, that will be a help to him. He will more easily find ways and means to neutralise the harm which has been done to him. The recognition of such a connection between cause and effects in our different periods of life which we can scan with ordinary consciousness may be of the utmost use to us in life; for if we acquire this knowledge we may perhaps do something else. Without doubt if a person having arrived at the age of eighty looks back and sees that the causes of the things happening to him now are to be found in his earliest childhood it will then perhaps be very difficult for him to remedy the ill that has been done to him; and if he then begins to study the teaching it will not help him very much. But if he lets himself be taught before, and looks back in, say, his fortieth year on the wrongs that have been done to him, he might then have time to take measures against them.
Thus we see that we must be taught not entirely by our own individual life karma, but by the law of inter-dependence which karma as a whole signifies. This may be very useful in our life. What should a man do who in his fortieth year attempts to avert the effect of wrongs done to him, or wrongs which he himself did in his twelfth year? He will do everything to avert the consequences of his own misdeeds or those of others towards him. He will to a certain extent replace by another the result which would inevitably have taken place had he not intervened. The knowledge of what happened in his twelfth year will lead him to a definite action in his fortieth year, which he would not have taken unless he had known that this or that had happened in his twelfth year. What then, has the man done by looking back at his early life? He has through the knowledge thus attained, allowed a definite result to follow a cause. He has willed the cause and has brought it about. This shows now how, in the line of karmic consequences, our will can intervene and bring about something which takes the place of the karmic effects which would otherwise have followed. If we consider such a case in which a person has quite consciously brought about a connection between cause and effect in life, we could conclude that in this case karma or the laws of karma have penetrated his consciousness, and he has himself, in a certain way brought about the karmic effect. Let us now apply the same reflections to what we know about the life of man in his different reincarnations upon earth. The consciousness of which we have just spoken which extends, with the exception mentioned, throughout the period between birth and death, is due to the fact that man is able to use his brain as an instrument. When a man steps through the gate of death, a different sort of consciousness comes into play — one that is independent of the brain and works under essentially different conditions. We also know that this consciousness, which lasts until a new birth, can look back over all that has been done by the man in his life between birth and death. In this period between birth and death we must first form the intention to look back at any wrongs which have been done to us, or which we have done, if we wish to counteract these wrongs karmically. After death, in looking back over life, we see what we have done wrong or otherwise; and at the same time we see how these deeds have affected ourselves; we see how, to a certain action, our characters have been improved or debased. If we have brought suffering to anyone, we have sunk and become of less value; we are less perfect, so to speak. Now, if we look back after death we see numerous events of the sort, and we say to ourselves: ‘I have deteriorated.’ Then in the consciousness after death, the will and power arise to win back, when the opportunities occur, the value we have lost; the will, that is to say, to make compensation for every wrong committed. Thus between death and re-birth the tendency and intention is formed to make good what has been done wrong, in order to regain the standard of perfection a man should have — a standard which has been lowered by the deed referred to.
Then the man returns once more to life on earth. His consciousness is altered again. He does not recollect the time between death and rebirth, or the resolutions to make compensation. But the intention remains within him, and although he does not know that he must do such and such a thing to compensate such and such an act, yet he is impelled by the power within him to make the compensation. Now we can form an idea of what happens when a man in his twentieth year suffers bitter trial. With the consciousness he possesses between birth and death, he will be depressed by the trial; but if he could remember his resolutions made between death and rebirth, he would be able to trace the power which drove him into the position in which he suffered the trial, because he felt that only by passing through it would he win back the degree of perfection which he has lost and was now to regain. When, therefore, the ordinary consciousness says, ‘The trial is there, and you are suffering from it,’ it sees only the trouble itself, and not the effect it produces; but the other consciousness which can look back upon all the time between death and rebirth, sees the intentional seeking for the trial or other misfortune.
This, indeed, is actually shown to us when we look out over a man's life from a higher standpoint. Then we can see that fateful events occur in human life which are not the results of causes in the individual life itself, but are the effects of causes perceived in another state of consciousness, namely, the consciousness we had before re-birth. If we grasp these ideas thoroughly, we shall see that in the first place we have a consciousness which extends over the time between birth and death, which we call the consciousness of the ‘Personality.’ And then we see that there is a consciousness which works beyond birth and death of which man in his ordinary consciousness knows nothing, but which nevertheless works in the same way as the ordinary consciousness. We have, therefore, shown first of all how anyone may take over his own karma, and in his fortieth year make some compensation so that the causes of his twelfth year may not come to effect. Thus he takes karma into his personal consciousness. If, however, the man is driven somewhere where he has to suffer pain in order to compensate for something and to become a better man, this also proceeds from the man himself; not from his personal consciousness, but from a more comprehensive consciousness which operates during the period between death and rebirth. The entity included in this consciousness we will call the ‘individuality,’ and this consciousness, which is being continually interrupted by the ‘personal consciousness,’ we will call the ‘individual consciousness.’ Thus we see karma operative in relation to the individual human being.
In spite of this, we shall not understand human life if we only follow the sequence of phenomena as we have just done, if we only fix our attention on what man has within him in the way of cause and the effects which concern him. We need only bring forward a simple case to make things clearer, and we shall at once see that we cannot understand human life if we take into consideration only what has already been said. Let us take a discoverer or an inventor, for example, Columbus, or the inventor of the steam-engine, or any others: in the discovery there is a distinct action, a distinct achievement. If we examine the action and seek for the cause why the man did it, we shall always find such causes by searching along the lines just pointed out. We shall find in his individual and personal karma the reasons why Columbus sailed to America and why he determined to do so at just that particular time. But now we might ask if the cause must be sought for only in his personal and individual karma; and is the action only to be considered as an effect for the individuality working in Columbus. That Columbus discovered America had certain consequences for him. He rose by doing so, and became more perfect, and this will show itself in the development of his individuality in succeeding lives. But what effects has this achievement had on other men? Must it not also be considered as a cause which affected the lives of countless human beings?
This, again, is still rather an abstract consideration of such a question which we could study much more deeply if we could observe human life over long periods of time. Let us consider human life in the Egyptian-Chaldean age which preceded the Greco-Latin. If we examine the peculiarities of this age, especially with regard to what it has given to mankind, and what mankind then learnt in it, we shall see something curious. If we compare this epoch with our own, we shall perceive that what is happening in our own time is connected with what happened in the Egyptian-Chaldean civilisation. The Greco-Latin lies between the two. In our time certain things would not happen unless other things had happened in the Egyptian-Chaldean times. If present-day natural science has brought about certain results, it has certainly done so by means of powers which have unfolded and developed out of the souls of men. The human souls who worked in our time were also incarnated in man in the Egyptian-Chaldean age, and at that time they underwent certain experiences without which they would not be able to accomplish what they do to-day. If the pupils of the old Egyptian temple priests had not learned in Egyptian astrology about the relations existing between the heavenly bodies, they would not later on have been able to penetrate into the secrets of the world, nor would certain souls in the present age have possessed the abilities to explore the regions of the heavens. For instance, how did Kepler arrive at his discoveries? He did so because within him there was a soul who in the Egyptian-Chaldean times had acquired the forces necessary for the discoveries which he was to make in the fifth age. It fills us with inner satisfaction to see in certain souls a realisation arising out of the fact that the germs of what they are now doing were laid in the past. Kepler, one of the men who has played a most important part in the investigation of the laws of the universe says of himself, ‘Yes, it is I who have robbed the golden vessels of the Egyptians to make an offering to my God far removed from Egyptian bounds. If you will forgive me, I will rejoice, but if you blame me I must bear it; here I throw the dice and I write this book. What matter if it is read to-day or later — even if centuries must elapse before it is read! God himself had to wait six thousand years for the one who recognised his work.’
Here we have a sporadic memory rising in Kepler of what he received as a germ for the work which he, in his personal life as Kepler, accomplished. Hundreds of similar cases might be given. But we see in Kepler something more than the mere manifestation of effects which were the result of causes in a previous incarnation — we see a manifestation which has its significance for the whole of mankind — a manifestation of something which was equally important for the humanity in a previous epoch. We see how a person is placed in the special position in order to do something for the whole of mankind. We see that not only in individual lives, but in the whole of humanity, there are connections between cause and effect, which stretch over wide periods of time, and we can deduce that the karmic law of the individual will intersect the laws which we may call ‘karmic laws of humanity.’ Sometimes this intersection is only slightly perceptible. Imagine what would have happened to our astronomy if the telescope had not been discovered at that particular time. If we look back at the history of the telescope we see of what tremendous importance the discovery has been. Now it is well known that the discovery of the telescope was made in the following way: Some children were playing with lenses in an optician's workshop and by chance, as one might say, they had so placed the optical lenses that someone hit upon the idea of employing this arrangement to make something like a telescope. Think how deeply you must search in order to arrive at the individual karma of the children and the karma of humanity which led to the discovery at that particular moment. Try to think the two facts out together, and you will see in what a remarkable manner the karma of single individuals and the karma of the whole of humanity intercept and are interwoven. You must admit that the whole of the development of mankind would have been different if such and such a thing had not come to pass when it did.
To ask such a question as: — ‘What would have happened to the Roman Empire if the Greeks had not beaten off the Persian attack in the Persian wars at a particular time?’ — is often quite futile, but to ask: ‘How did it happen that the Persian war ended in this way?’ is by no means futile. If we follow up this question and seek an answer we shall see that in the East, definite results came about because there were despotic rulers who only wanted something for themselves, and who, to gain their ends, combined with the sacrificial priests. The whole organisation of the Eastern State was at that time necessary for any given thing to be accomplished and this arrangement brought with it all the trouble which resulted in the Greeks — a differently constituted people — defeating the Eastern attack at a critical moment. How then must we consider the karma of those who worked in Greece to resist the Persian attack? We shall find much that is personal in the karma of those in question, but we shall also find that their personal karma is linked with the karma of nations and of humanity, so that we are justified in saying that the karma of humanity placed these particular persons in that particular place at that time. We see here the karma of humanity affecting the individual karma, and we must ask how these things are interwoven. But we may go still further, and consider yet another connection by means of Spiritual Science.
We can look back to a time in the evolution of our earth when there was as yet no mineral kingdom. The evolution of the earth was preceded by the Saturn, Sun and Moon evolutions, where as yet there was no mineral kingdom in our sense of the word. It was on this earth that our minerals first took on their present forms. But because the mineral kingdom became separated in the course of the earth's evolution, it will remain a separate kingdom to the end. Before that, men, animals, and plants had developed without the mineral kingdom. In order that later the other kingdoms might make further progress, they had to separate the mineral kingdom out of themselves, but after they had done this, they could only develop on a planet which had a firm mineral form. They could have developed in no other way than this, if we admit that the formation of a mineral kingdom took place in the way we have said. The mineral kingdom is there, and the subsequent fate of the other kingdoms depends on the existence of this mineral kingdom which was formed within our earth in remote ages of antiquity. So something happened connected with the fact of the formation of the mineral kingdom which must be taken into account in all the later evolutions of the earth. What follows as the result of the origin of the mineral kingdom finds its fulfilment in later periods of what happened in earlier ones. On the earth is fulfilled what was on the earth prepared long ago. There is a connection between what happened earlier and what came to pass later — but this is also a connection which in its effects reacts upon the being which caused it. Men, animals, and plants have separated from the mineral kingdom, and the latter reacts upon them! Thus we see that it is possible to speak of the karma of the earth.
Finally, we can bring to light something, the elements of which we can find in the general principles described in my book, Occult Science. We know that certain beings remained at the stage of the old Moon evolution and that these beings did so for the purpose of giving to human beings certain definite qualities. Not only beings, but also substances, remained from the old Moon-time of the earth. At the Moon stage there remained behind beings who influenced our earth's existence as luciferic beings. As a result of this, certain effects are manifested on our earth of which the causes are to be found in the Moon life. But from the point of being of actual substance something analogous was also brought about. As we now see our solar system, we find it composed of heavenly bodies which regularly carry out recurrent movements showing a sort of inner completeness. But we find other heavenly bodies which move, indeed, with a certain rhythm, but break through, as it were, the usual laws of the solar system. These are the comets. Now, the substance of a comet does not obey the laws which exist in our solar system, but such laws as prevailed in the old Moon-existence. Indeed, the laws of that old Moon are preserved in the life of the comet. I have already often pointed out that Spiritual Science had indicated certain laws of science before they were confirmed by Natural Science. In Paris, in 1906, I drew attention to the fact that, during the old Moon-existence, certain combinations of carbon and nitrogen played a similar part to that played at the present day on our earth by combinations of oxygen and carbon, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and so on. These latter have something deadly in them. Cyanide combinations, prussic acid combinations, played a similar part during the old Moon-existence. Attention was called to these facts by Spiritual Science in 1906, and in other lectures it was shown that comets bring the laws of the old Moon-existence into our solar system, so that not only the luciferic beings remained behind, but also the laws of the old Moon-substance, which work in our solar system in an irregular way. We have always said that a comet must contain something like cyanide combinations in its atmosphere. Only much later, namely this year, 1910, was prussic acid found by spectrum analysis in the comet, proving what had already been made known by Spiritual Science. If we are ever asked to show whether anything can be discovered by Spiritual Science we have here a proof. There are more of such proofs if only one could observe them. So there is something of the old Moon-existence working in our present earth existence. Now we come to the question: Can it be maintained that something spiritual lies behind a phenomenon observed by means of the outer senses?
To one who knows Spiritual Science it is quite clear that there is something spiritual behind all material realities. If from the point of view of substance there is an action of the old Moon-existence on our earth existence when a comet shines upon it, then also something spiritual is working behind, and we can even distinguish what spiritual force is working in the case of Halley's comet. Halley's comet is the outward expression of a new impulse of materialism every time it comes within the sphere of our earth's existence. To the world of the present day this may seem superstitious, but men must remember how they themselves bring spiritual influences from the constellations. Who would deny that an Eskimo is a different sort of human being from a Hindu, because in the polar regions the sun's rays strike the earth at a different angle! Everywhere the scientists themselves refer spiritual effects on mankind to constellations. A spiritual impulse towards materialism is coincident with the appearance of Halley's comet 1The next appearance of the comet will be [was] in 1986. Its periodic visitations occur at intervals of about 76 years, and have been recorded since 240 BC. During its last visit, it passed directly between the Earth and the Sun, the Earth actually passing through the tail of the cornet. It is interesting to note that this series of lectures were being given as the comet was at its closest to the Earth, May 1910. (Ed.) and this impulse can make itself felt. The appearance of this comet in 1835 was followed by that materialistic culture of the second half of the nineteenth century, and its appearance before that was followed by the materialistic enlightenment of the French Encyclopaedists. That is the connection. In order that certain things may enter into the earth's existence, the causes must be laid long before outside the earth; and here we actually have to deal with the world-karma. The spiritual and the material have been driven out of the old moon in order that certain effects may be reflected back upon those entities that have driven them out. It is certain that the luciferic beings have been driven out and forced to develop in a different way so that for the beings on earth, free will and the possibilities of free will could originate. Here we have something which in its karmic effect extends beyond our earth existence; here is a glimpse of the world-karma!
So we have now been able to speak of the conception of karma, of its significance for each personality, each individuality, and for all mankind. We have described its influence within our earth and beyond it, and we have found something else which we may describe as the world-karma.
Thus we find the karmic law of connection between cause and effect which works in such a way that the effect in its turn works back upon the cause; and yet in reacting it keeps its essence and remains the same. We find this law of karma ruling everywhere in the world in so far as we recognise the world as a spiritual one. We dimly sense karma revealing itself in so many different ways, in entirely different spheres, and we feel how the different branches of karma — personal karma, the karma of humanity, earth karma, world karma, etc., will intersect each other. And thereby we shall have the explanation we need in order to understand life; for life can only be understood in its details if we can find how the various karmic influences are interwoven.