Morality and Karma
One of the most important lectures on the etheric appearance of Christ was given at Nuremberg on the 13th of November 1910. The text of this lecture containing many details was published in the News Sheet in 1937 (page 105) under the title “THE WISDOM CONTAINED IN ANCIENT DOCUMENTS AND IN THE GOSPELS. THE EVENT OF THE CHRIST.” The text of the lecture which preceded it was discovered on looking through the notes of the lecture. This lecture of the 12th of November contains many valuable details on the effects and influences of Karma. And it should meet an objective and historical interest to publish this brief resume of the lecture given on the 12th of November in the News Sheet.
12 November 1910, Nuremberg
Today I must tell you a few things on morality and karma and tomorrow I shall speak on the appearance of Christ and reveal a few facts which have not yet been revealed.
Theosophy becomes really fruitful if we can observe its influence on our own life and if it becomes living substance within us. Theosophical principles can be looked upon as interesting doctrines, but theoretically it is difficult to gain a real conviction of the truth implied by the spiritual-scientific doctrines, in the real meaning of the word. Of course, all theosophical facts discovered along the path of genuine spiritual-scientific investigation can be tested by the human intellect and recognized through logic; but if we take in spiritual-scientific truths we are still a long way from being able to test them. Among our audience many people prefer to tread an easier path, which is to accept spiritual truths on the authority of a teacher. This is far more comfortable. On the other hand, however, there is hardly any other alternative for the great majority of people, for the independent testing of spiritual-scientific truths is a very difficult path; the other path, of observing life in itself, is far easier. But if the laws of Karma hold good, life itself must take on a form which shows us how Karma works in the experiences of life and in the development of character. Those who strive after spiritual truths will more easily gain a conviction of these truths by observing facts supported by life itself.
I shall take two widely-spread qualities as a starting point in this lecture. Taken as moral qualities, there has always been a strong, instinctive repugnance against them. ENVY and FALSEHOOD have always been considered as a special moral failing. This special aversion may be seen in the fact that in the case of no other human error is the repugnance so strong and instinctive as in the case of envy and falsehood. This feeling may be found in great men and in insignificant people. Benvenuto Cellini, who was a great man, once said that he felt himself capable of every kind of sin, but that he could not remember any real lie which he had told. Also Goethe found a certain relief in being able to say that he had never harboured any feeling of envy. Consequently the souls of the simplest people and the souls of highly developed men have an instinctive repugnance against envy and falsehood and defend themselves against them.
Without taking into consideration the theosophical aspect it may be said, first of all, that envy and falsehood are visibly an offence against a fundamental element of social life: they are an offence against the feeling of compassion. Compassion does not only imply sharing another's grief and pain, but it also implies experiencing his value. Compassion is a quality which is not greatly developed among men. It still contains a great amount of egoism. Of Herder it is said, for instance (he intended to study medicine) that he fainted when he first entered an operating theatre where a corpse was to be dissected; he fainted not through compassion, but through weakness and egoism, because he could not bear that sight. Compassion must become less selfish; we should be able to rejoice at another person's success and rise; we should be able to look upon his good qualities without any feeling of bitterness.
Compassion is a fundamental element in the soul life which we share with others because all human soul experiences are connected with each other. Envy and falsehood in particular offend against the capacity of appraising another person's value. We damage our fellow man through envy and falsehood.
Envy and falsehood bring us in opposition to the course of the universe; by envy and falsehood we harm the laws which govern the world's course of events. They can easily be recognized as errors and people do not tolerate them.
As a rule both envy and falsehood have occult backgrounds. Certain mysterious laws hold sway, which easily escape our observation, and they work in such a way that both envy and falsehood can arise in the same person in later years.
Envy does not always take on the form of conscious green envy. Of course, if anyone is conscious of this feeling, he tries to get rid of it. Envy as such is a quality rooted in the astral body of man. We know that feelings, passions, etc. should be looked for in the astral body. There is a certain law according to which qualities arising in the astral body and which are so detestable that we wish to get rid of them, gradually insinuate themselves into the etheric body. There they take on delusive aspects and appear in the guise of certain definite judgments which we pass on other people. No envy is contained in these judgments, yet we criticize people and find everything in them bad. This is a secret form of envy which creeps into our etheric body. There it takes on the form of an opinion, of a critical judgment. We say: This person has done this or that, and our statement may seem perfectly correct; nevertheless it contains envy in a masked form. What has taken place? A very significant process has taken place.
We know that the human soul passes through many incarnations and that there was a moment in the development of mankind when the tempters, Lucifer and Ahriman, crept into the human soul. In what form do Lucifer and Ahriman live within us today? This is not easy to discover without the aid of clairvoyant investigation, and Goethe expressed a deep truth when he said: “Folks do not notice the Devil, even when he takes them by the scruff of the neck!” IN fact, it is possible to ignore the devil; it is possible not to see him. From the standpoint of modern natural science it is easy to say that Mephistopheles does not exist; nevertheless, Lucifer and Ahriman live in human nature. Ahriman lives in the etheric body and Lucifer in the astral body of man.
Lucifer is a power that tempts the human soul by drawing it down morally and by leading it away from its origin. He casts us into the depths of earthly nature and we should beware of this. Lucifer is the power that draws us down into the depths of passion.
Ahriman, on the other hand, is the spirit of falsehood and error and he falsifies our judgments.
Both Lucifer and Ahriman are powers which are hostile to human progress. Yet they get on very well with each other. Envy is a quality in which the Luciferic power comes to expression. It is a detestable quality and that is why people dislike it. They seek to get rid of it, to overcome it and drive it away. When a person first discovers that his soul is filled with envy, he begins to fight against Lucifer, the source of envy. What does Lucifer do in that case? He simply hands over the matter to Ahriman, and Ahriman darkens the human judgment.
When we fight against Lucifer in the astral body, Ahriman can easily insinuate himself into the etheric body, darkening our judgments on other people. This is falsehood and falsehood is an Ahrimanic quality.
People also feel a strong dislike for falsehood and they try to fight against it. When we try to overcome falsehood, we can see that Ahriman hands over the scepter to Lucifer, so that a quality creeps into the astral body which appears in the form of an extremely pronounced EGOISM. Egoism is restrained falsehood.
These two qualities, falsehood and envy, are a crass expression of the way in which Lucifer and Ahriman work within the human soul.
It is possible to observe the influence of envy and falsehood even in the course of a single incarnation. Let us now speak of facts which prove the truth of theosophical teachings. Let us observe a certain period in a person's life and let us suppose that this person was strongly addicted to telling lies. The law of Karma would in that case exercise its influence and we should wait until this becomes manifest. It is, however, possible to observe in the present incarnation the connection which exists between an earlier and a later period of life. A study of human life may show us that a person perhaps lost the habit of telling lies — for life itself is a great school — but he will reveal instead a new, plainly marked characteristic: a certain timidity. There are people who cannot look us in the face and it is possible to observe a certain relationship between a feeling of shyness in later life and hypocrisy at some earlier period of life.
Another example: A person may be filled with the feeling of envy. When this has disappeared, when it has been overcome, we can observe that at some later period of life such a person is dependent on others; he will lack independence in the way in which he faces life — be a weak and swaying person.
These connections between falsehood and shyness, envy and lack of independence, which can already be observed in one and the same incarnation, are Karmic connections.
In reality, Karma works in such a way that a faint fulfillment of its laws already comes to expression in one and the same incarnation, though the decisive influence upon man's character only appears in the next incarnation. Helplessness and lack of independence will arise in old age, when envy appeared during youth. This is a faint nuance of the influence of Karma; it remains after death, works throughout kamaloka, etc., and it will be contained in the forces which build up the next life; it will become interwoven with the fundamental character which expresses itself in the three bodies: the physical, etheric and astral bodies.
Goethe expressed this in a very fine way by saying: The desires of our youth are fully realized in our old age. This applies, of course, both to good and bad desires.
In the next life the character qualities build up the three bodies, our character is then the architect of these three bodies. If envy has been a fundamental quality during one incarnation, it will exercise an influence upon the three bodies during the next incarnation and produce, as a result, a weak physical constitution. It works upon the human organism during the next incarnation.
When we see someone facing life in a helpless and dependent way, we must say: “Envy must have been at work during his past incarnation,” and we should behave towards him accordingly. If the laws of Karma hold good, it will soon appear whether our attitude is justified. When we see someone entering life with bad health and a weak constitution, we may take for granted that envy played a certain part in his life during his past incarnation.
When there is such a person in our environment, we must say that Karma led us together with him for a definite purpose: perhaps we were the object of his former envy. What can we now do for him? If Karma is a fact which can be reasonably accepted, if it is a valid truth, it should become manifest that by adopting the right attitude towards such a physically weak person in our environment, a good result can be achieved. What he needs is forgiveness; he needs to encounter this forgiving attitude in the widest measure. Under the condition that we have something to forgive him, we should envelop him in an atmosphere of forgiveness. “You have to forgive him something — therefore do it”; this is what we say to ourselves, but not to HIM — we shall act accordingly and await the result, and we shall see him gaining health and strength. Simply try to do what is right and the result will not fail to appear. This is how we may live in accordance with the laws of Karma and the whole of Theosophy will then become living substance.
Now someone might come along and say: It is quite right that things should have gone wrong with that person, for this is the retribution for what he did during his past incarnation. It is very reasonable that things should have taken this course, because his Karma demands it. People who say this do not understand Karma, for to understand Karma we must know that another person's Karma does not concern us at all! The fulfillment of Karma will come of its own accord; our only task is to help him! We must, however, draw in everything which might bring about a favourable change in his Karma. To know and to feel this forms part of a deep understanding of Karma and its laws. It is another matter when someone is passing through an esoteric development; in that case advice may be given as to the best way in which he can live out his Karma.
Moral qualities in fact produce results; they bring about Karmic effects. They may change during one incarnation. But in the next incarnation they must descend right down into the physical organism.
We said that falsehood may change into timidity during one and the same incarnation, so that a person withdraws into himself. All the more will falsehood in one incarnation produce timidity in the next incarnation. Such a person is born as a timid soul, full of fears. He will not only be shy towards the people of his environment, but he will also fall a prey to certain pathological conditions of fear. The timidity which appeared in one incarnation as a slight karmic effect of falsehood, will therefore appear in the next incarnation as a fundamental organic quality also of the physical body.
What is the right attitude towards a person in whose case we must assume that he told many lies during his past incarnation? We say to ourselves — we do not say this to him — and this should determine our actions: He will have told us many lies during a past incarnation; he misled us. We must try to bring him fruitful and valuable truths. Those who are led together with him by Karma must try to penetrate into his soul with love and devotion. Falsehood must be recompensed by truth; these are two extremes which bring about a kind of compensation.
The secret of the whole matter is that a favourable influence cannot be exercised upon him by anyone, but just by those who are karmically connected with him. Those who adopt this attitude will see what good results can be achieved if he brings him positive truths and has real understanding for him.
Karma is a real law; its result will appear in a very peculiar way. If we lovingly penetrate into the weaknesses of such people, our influence upon them will be an immense relief to them and bring them freedom and health. If we can immerse ourselves completely in them, we shall have a rejuvenating influence upon such people.
Our attitude towards people may be an understanding one or a critical one. What is the effect? We may help them or be unable to help them. We may come towards a person with understanding; i.e., immerse ourselves lovingly in his soul, with a real understanding for his weaknesses, if Karma demands this from us, as a task. But we may also criticize him and remain by this.
Let us observe life in both cases. What is the effect of criticism and rebuke upon the object of such rebuke? One effect can be that the reproaches helped him, but it may also be otherwise. People who habitually criticize and rebuke others will also bring about a certain result: a certain feeling of isolation will take hold of them; they will feel themselves cut off from the others.
Let us compare this with the effects produced in one incarnation, when we immerse ourselves with love and understanding in the other person's soul, in spite of his failings. In this case, too, the result may be a good one or a bad one, but the effect upon the soul will undoubtedly be a favourable one.
This shows us that entirely different laws hold sway when we remain standing, as it were, by criticism and rebuke, or when we progress as far as real understanding. Rebuke recoils upon ourselves and forms new Karma, but understanding gives rise to a store of wealth in the other soul; it dissolves Karma, smoothens it and eliminates it.
This is a very significant fact in life. Let us now recapitulate the result of our observations in a sentence which constitutes a deep truth; namely, that we are in the position to be of very little help to ourselves, and that we can, on the other hand, harm ourselves greatly. We can, however, be of great help to others, whereas we cannot cause them much harm by our own errors. Our good qualities can therefore be of great help to others; our bad qualities cause us great harm, but cannot cause much harm to others, at least not permanently.
This is a very peculiar law. It shows the effect of Karma in one and the same incarnation: for one who helps another person by his good qualities and by immersing himself lovingly in his soul, may be sure of a favourable effect in his own life at some later period. Do not say that this is egoism, that it is selfish to be good and noble. No, goodness must be something quite natural, and its good effect at some later time arises as a natural consequence.
If we do not go beyond our own interests, if we have no understanding for other people and only criticize them, no good effects will arise. The strange thing is that unless we are good towards others we cannot progress; this is a condition for our own progress.
This is a fundamental law passing over from one incarnation to the other, and appearing in a wonderful way. If in one incarnation we are instinctively led to goodness, if a kind of life instinct draws us towards a good life, this will appear in the next life as Theosophy, which will already have exercised its influence. Let us for instance imagine a person who was good to us at a time when we were not yet able to guide ourselves. Here we see a great difference between the different qualities of good — there are the good things in life which we do not deserve (we speak of undeserved good) and we can see that in one case its effect may be a favourable one, whereas in another case it is useless.
The clairvoyant may now perceive something quite special: Another person's good actions towards us, at a time in which we did not deserve them, appear as goodness which we earned back from him. If this is the case, their effect upon us will be a good one; if this is not the case, they cannot have any good effect upon us. When we observe the workings of Karma we should bear in mind that every action has its effect, even though it may not immediately appear to the physical eye.
The paths of Karma are very intricate paths, but if we study life we may understand them, for life contains the proofs for the way in which Karma works in the world. If we study Karma and act accordingly, the success in life itself will show us that we went out from a real law, which holds good.
There are three ways in which we can face Karma: We may not believe in it at all; we may believe in it, and then we may apply the test by observing life itself. This will enable us to recognize the truth of its laws. Theosophy is not only a theoretical truth, but a search for proofs which establish this truth in life itself.