2. Re-imbodiment of the Spirit and Destiny
Midway between body and spirit lives the soul. The impressions which come to it through the body are transitory. They are present only as long as the body opens its organs to the things of the outer world. My eye perceives the colour of the rose only as long as the rose is in front of it and my eye is itself open. The presence of the things of the outer world as well as of the bodily organs is necessary in order that an impression, a sensation, or a perception can occur. But what I have recognised in my intellect as truth concerning the rose does not pass with the present moment. And as regards its truth, it is not in the least dependent on me. It would be true even although I had never stood before the rose. What I know through the spirit is rooted in an element of the soul-life, through which the soul is linked with a world-content that manifests itself in the soul independently of its bodily basis. The point is not whether what manifests itself is essentially imperishable, but whether its manifestation for the soul takes place in such a way that the soul's perishable bodily basis takes no part, but only that which is independent of the perishable element. The enduring element in the soul comes under observation at the moment one becomes aware that the soul has experiences which are not bounded by its perishable factor. Again the important point is not whether these experiences come to consciousness primarily through perishable processes of the bodily organisation, but the fact that they contain something which does indeed dwell in the soul, but yet in its truth is independent of the transient process of the perception. The soul is placed between the present and duration, in that it holds the middle place between body and spirit. But it also mediates between the present and duration. It preserves the present for remembrance. It thereby rescues the present from impermanence, and takes it up into the duration of its own spiritual being. It also stamps that which endures upon the temporal and impermanent by not merely yielding itself up in its own life to the transitory incitements, but by determining things from out of its own initiative, and embodying its own nature in them in the shape of the actions it performs. By remembrance the soul preserves the yesterday; by action it prepares the to-morrow.
My soul would always have to perceive afresh the red of the rose, in order to have it in consciousness, if it could not retain it through remembrance. What remains after an external impression, what can be retained by the soul, can again become a conception, independently of the external impression. Through this power of forming conceptions, the soul makes the outer world so into its own inner world that it can then retain the latter in the memory — for remembrance — and, independent of the impressions acquired, lead therewith a life of its own. The soul-life thus becomes the enduring result of the transitory impressions of the external world.
But action also receives permanence when once it is stamped on the outer world. If I cut a twig from a tree, something has taken place through my being, which completely changes the course of events in the outer world. Something quite different would have happened to the branch of the tree if I had not interfered by my action. I have called into life a series of effects which, without my existence, would not have been present. What I have done to-day endures for to-morrow; it becomes lasting through the deed, as my impressions of yesterday have become permanent for my soul through memory.
For this fact of becoming permanent through action we do not, in our ordinary consciousness, form a definite conception, like that which we have for “memory,” for the becoming permanent of an experience which has occurred as the result of a perception. But will not the “I” of a man be just as much linked to the alteration in the world resulting from his deed as it is to a memory resulting from an impression? The “I” judges new impressions differently, according as it has or has not this or that other recollection. But it has also as “I” entered into a different relation to the world according as it has performed one deed or another. Whether in the relation between the world and my “I” a certain something new is present or not, depends upon whether or not I have made an impression on another person through an action. I am a different man in relation to the world after having made an impression on my surroundings.
The fact that what is here indicated is not so generally noticed as is the change in the “I” through the acquiring of a recollection, is solely due to the circumstance that the recollection unites itself, immediately on being formed, with the soul-life, which man always feels to be his own; but the external effects of the deed are independent of soul-life and work out in consequences which again are something different from what is retained in the recollection. But apart from this it must be admitted that, after a deed has been accomplished, there is something in the world which the ego has sealed with its own character. If one really thinks out what is here being considered, the question must arise as to whether the results of a deed on which the “I” has stamped its own nature might not retain a tendency to return to the “I,” just as an impression preserved in the memory, revives in response to some external inducement. What is preserved in the memory waits for such an inducement. Could not that which has retained the imprint of the “I” in the external world wait also, so as to approach the human soul from without, just as memory, in response to a given inducement, approaches it from within? This matter is put forward here only as a question: for certainly it might happen that the opportunity would never occur, through which the results of a deed, bearing the impress of the ego, could meet the human soul. But that these results do exist, as such, and that, through their presence, they determine the relation of the world to the “I” is seen at once to be a possible conception, when one really follows out in thought the matter before us. In the following considerations, we shall enquire whether there is anything in human life which, starting from this possibility, points to a reality.
Let us first consider memory. How does it originate? Evidently in quite a different way from sensation or perception. Without the eye I cannot have the sensation “blue.” But through the eye I in no way have the remembrance of “blue.” If the eye is to give me this sensation now, a blue thing must come before it. The body would allow all impressions to sink back again into nothing were it not that whilst the present image is being formed through the act of perception, something is also taking place in the relationship between the outer world and the soul, as a result of which the man is able, subsequently, to form, through his own inner processes, a fresh image of that which he received in the first place as an image from outside himself. (Anyone who has acquired practice in observing the life of the soul will be able to realise how erroneous it is to say that a man has a perception to-day, and to-morrow, through memory, the same perception appears again, having meanwhile remained somewhere or other within him. No; the perception which I now have is a phenomenon which passes away with the “now.” When recollection takes place, a process occurs in me which is the result of something that happened, in addition to the calling forth of the actual present image, in the relation between the external world and me. The image called forth through remembrance is a new one, and not the old one preserved. Recollection consists in the fact that one can make a fresh mental image to oneself, and not that a former image can revive. What appears again in recollection is something different from the original image itself. These remarks are made here, because in the domain of Spiritual Science it is necessary that more accurate conceptions should be framed than is the case in ordinary life, and indeed also in ordinary science.) I remember; that is, I experience something which is itself no longer present. I unite a past experience with my present life. This is the case with every remembrance. Let us say for instance, that I meet a man and recognise him again because I met him yesterday. He would be a complete stranger to me were I not able to unite the picture which I made yesterday by perception, with my impression of him to-day. The picture of to-day is given me by the sense-perception, that is to say, by my sense-organisation. But who conjures yesterday's picture into my soul? It is the same being in me that was present during my experience yesterday, and is also present in that of to-day. In the previous explanations it has been called soul. Were it not for this faithful preserver of the past, each external impression would be always new to a man. Clearly the process by which perception becomes a recollection is that the soul imprints it upon the body, as though it were stamped upon it. But the soul must both make the impression and also itself perceive the impression it has made, just as it perceives any object outside itself. It is in this way that the soul is the preserver of memory.
As preserver of the past the soul continually gathers treasures for the human spirit. That I can distinguish what is correct from what is incorrect depends on the fact that I, as a human being, am a thinking being, able to grasp the truth in my spirit. Truth is eternal; and it could always reveal itself to me again in things, even if I were always to lose sight of the past and each impression were to be a new one to me. But the spirit within me is not restricted to the impressions of the present alone; the soul extends its horizon over the past. And the more it is able to bring to the spirit out of the past, the richer does it make the spirit. Thus the soul hands on to the spirit what it has received from the body. The spirit of man therefore carries at each moment of its life a two-fold possession within itself: firstly the eternal laws of the good and the true; secondly, the remembrance of the experiences of the past. What it does, it accomplishes under the influence of these two factors. If we want to understand a human spirit we must therefore know two different things about it: first, how much of the eternal has revealed itself to it; second, how much treasure from the past lies stored up within it.
These treasures by no means remain in the spirit in an unchanged form. The impressions man acquires from his experiences fade gradually from the memory. Not so their fruits. One does not remember all the experiences one lived through during childhood while acquiring the faculties of reading and writing. But one could not read or write if one had not had the experiences, and if their fruits had not been preserved in the form of abilities. And that is the transmutation which the spirit effects on the treasures of memory. It consigns whatever can merely lead to pictures of the separate experiences to their fate, and extracts from them only the force necessary for enhancing its own abilities. Thus not one experience passes by unutilised; the soul preserves each one as memory, and from each the spirit draws forth all that can enrich its abilities and the whole content of its life. The human spirit grows through assimilated experiences. And although one cannot find the past experiences in the spirit as it were in a storeroom, one nevertheless finds their effects in the abilities which the man has acquired.
Spirit and soul have thus far been considered only within the period lying between birth and death. One cannot stop there. Anyone wishing to do so would be like a man who observes the human body also within the same limits. Much can certainly be discovered within these limits; but the human form can never be explained by what lies between birth and death. It cannot build itself up directly out of mere physical substances and forces. It can only descend from a form like its own, which arises as the resultant of what has been handed on by heredity. The physical materials and forces build up the body during life; the forces of propagation enable another body, a body which can have the same form, to proceed from it; that is to say, one which is able to be the bearer of a similar life-body. Each life-body is a repetition of its forefather. Only because it is such a repetition does it appear, not in any chance form, but in that passed on to it by heredity. The forces which make possible my human form lay in my forefathers. But the spirit of a man appears also in a definite form (the word “form” is naturally used in a spiritual sense). And the forms of the spirit are the most varied imaginable in different persons. No two men have the same spiritual form. Investigations in this region should be made in just as quiet and matter-of-fact a manner as in the physical world. It cannot be said that the differences in human beings in a spiritual respect arise only from the differences in their environment, their upbringing, etc. This is by no means the case: for two people under similar influences as regards environment, upbringing, etc., develop in quite different ways. One must therefore admit that they have entered on their path of life with quite different qualities Here one is brought face to face with an important fact which when its full bearing is recognised, sheds light on the being of man. A person who is set upon directing his outlook exclusively towards material happenings, could indeed assert that the individual differences of human personalities arise from differences in the constitution of the material germs. (And in view of the laws of heredity discovered by Gregor Mendel and further developed by others, such a view can say much that gives it the appearance of justification, even to a scientific judgment.) One who judges in this way only shows, however, that he has no insight into the real relation of man to his experience. For it is obvious to careful observation that external circumstances affect different persons in different ways, because of something which is not the direct result of their material development. To the really accurate investigator in this domain it becomes apparent that what proceeds from the material basis can be distinguished from that which, it is true, arises through the mutual interaction of the man with his experiences, but which can only take shape and form in that the soul itself enters into this mutual interaction. It is clear that the soul stands here in relation to something within the external world, which, by virtue of its very nature, cannot be connected with the material, germinal basis.
Human beings differ from their animal fellow-creatures on the earth through their physical form. But in respect of this form they are, within certain limits, like one another. There is only one human species. However great may be the differences between races, tribes, peoples, and personalities, as regards the physical body, the resemblance between man and man is greater than between man and any animal species. Everything that finds expression in the human species is conditioned through inheritance from forefathers to descendants. And the human form is bound to this heredity. As the lion can inherit its physical form through lion forefathers only, so can the human being inherit his physical body through human forefathers only.
Just as the physical similarity of men is clear to the eye, so does the difference of their spiritual forms reveal itself to the unprejudiced spiritual gaze. There is one very evident fact through which this is expressed. It consists in the existence of the life-history of a human being. Were a human being merely a member of a species, no life-history could exist. A lion, a dove, lay claim to interest in so far as they belong to the lion or the dove species. The single being in all its essentials has been understood when one has described the species. It matters little whether one has to do with father, son, or grandson. What is of interest in them, father, son and grandson have in common. But what a human being signifies begins, not where he is merely a member of a species, but where he is a single individual being. I have not in the least understood the nature of Mr. Smith if I have described his son or his father. I must know his own life-history. Anyone who reflects on the nature of biography becomes aware that in respect of the spiritual each man is a species for himself. Those people, to be sure, who regard a biography merely as a collection of external incidents in the life of a person, may claim they can write the biography of a dog in the same way as that of a man. But anyone who depicts in a biography the real individuality of a man, grasps the fact that he has in the biography of one human being something that corresponds to the description of a whole species in the animal kingdom. The point is not — and this is quite obvious — that one can relate something in the nature of a biography about an animal — especially clever ones — but the point is that the human biography does not correspond to the life-history of the individual animal but to the description of the animal species. Of course there will always be people who will seek to refute what has been said here by urging that owners of menageries, for instance, know how single animals of the same species differ from one another. The man who judges thus, shows however, that he is unable to distinguish the difference between individuals from a difference which reveals itself as acquired only through individuality.
Now if genus or species in the physical sense becomes intelligible only when one understands it as conditioned by heredity, so too the spiritual being can be understood only through a similar spiritual heredity. I have received my physical human form because of my descent from human forefathers. Whence have I that which finds expression in my life-history? As physical man, I repeat the shape of my forefathers. What do I repeat as spiritual man? Anyone claiming that what is comprised in my life-history required no further explanation, but has just be accepted as such, must be regarded as being also bound to maintain that he has seen, somewhere, an earth-mound on which the lumps of matter have, quite by themselves, conglomerated into a living man.
As physical man I spring from other physical men, for I have the same shape as the whole human species. The qualities of the species, accordingly, could thus be acquired within the species through heredity. As spiritual man I have my own form as I have my own life-history. I can therefore have obtained this form from no one but myself. And since I entered the world not with undefined but with defined soul-predispositions, and since the course of my life, as it comes to expression in my life-history, is determined by these predispositions, my work upon myself cannot have begun with my birth. I must, as spiritual man, have existed before my birth. In my forefathers I certainly did not exist; for they as spiritual human beings, are different from me. My life-history is not explainable through theirs. On the contrary, I must, as spiritual being, be the repetition of someone through whose life-history mine can be explained. The only thinkable alternative would be this: that I owe the form of the content of my life-history to a spiritual life only, prior to birth (or more correctly to conception.) But one would only be entitled to hold this idea if one were willing to assume that what acts upon the human soul from its physical surroundings is of the same nature as what the soul receives from a purely spiritual world. Such an assumption contradicts really accurate observation. For what affects the human soul out of its physical environment works in the same way as a later experience works on a similar earlier experience in the same life. In order to observe these relations correctly, one must acquire a perception of how there are impressions operating in human life, whose influence upon the aptitudes of the soul is like standing before a deed that has to be done, in contrast to what has already been practised in physical life. But the soul does not bring faculties gained in this immediate life to meet these impressions, but aptitudes which receive the impressions in the same way as do the faculties acquired through practice. Anyone who penetrates into these matters, arrives at the conception of earth-lives which must have preceded this present one. He cannot in his thinking stop at purely spiritual experiences preceding this present earth-life. The physical form which Schiller bore, he inherited from his forefathers. But just as little as Schiller's physical form can have grown directly out of the earth, as little can his spiritual being have arisen directly out of a spiritual environment. He must himself be the re-embodiment of a spiritual being, through whose life-history his own will be explicable, just as his physical human form is explicable through human propagation. In the same way, therefore, as the physical human form is again and again a repetition, a re-embodiment, of the distinctively human species, so too the spiritual human being must be a re-embodiment of the same spiritual human being. For, as spiritual human being, each one is in fact his own species.
It might be objected to what has been stated here, that it is a mere spinning of thoughts; and such external proofs might be demanded as one is accustomed to demand in ordinary natural science. The reply to this is that the re-embodiment of the spiritual human being is, naturally, a process which does not belong to the domain of external physical facts, but is one that takes place entirely in the spiritual region. And to this region no other of our ordinary powers of intelligence has entrance, save that of thinking. He who will not trust to the power of thinking, cannot in fact enlighten himself regarding higher spiritual facts. For him whose spiritual eye is opened, the above trains of thought act with exactly the same force as does an event that takes place before his physical eyes. Anyone who ascribes to a so-called “proof,” constructed according to methods of natural science, greater power to convince than the above observations concerning the significance of life-history may be in the ordinary sense of the word a great scientist; but from the paths of true spiritual investigation he is very far distant.
One of the most dangerous assumptions consists in claiming to explain the spiritual qualities of a man by inheritance from father, mother or other ancestors. Anyone who is guilty of the assumption, for example, that Goethe inherited what constituted his essential being from father or mother will at first be hardly accessible to argument, for there lies within him a deep antipathy to unprejudiced observation. A materialistic spell prevents him from seeing the mutual connections of phenomena in the true light.
In such observations as the above, the antecedents are provided for following the human being beyond birth and death. Within the boundaries formed by birth and death, the human being belongs to the three worlds, of the bodily element, of soul, and of spirit. The soul forms the intermediate link between body and spirit, inasmuch as it endows the third member of the body, the soul-body, with the capacity for sensation, and inasmuch as it permeates the first member of the spirit, the Spirit-self, as consciousness-soul. Thus it takes part and lot during life with the body as well as with the spirit. This comes to expression in its whole existence. It will depend on the organisation of the soul-body, how the sentient soul can unfold its capabilities. And on the other hand, it will depend on the life of the consciousness-soul to what extent the Spirit-self can develop within it. The more highly organised the soul-body is, the more complete is the intercourse which the sentient soul will be able to develop with the outer world. And the Spirit-self will become so much the richer and more powerful, the more the consciousness-soul brings nourishment to it. It has been shown that during life this nourishment is supplied to the Spirit-self through assimilated experiences and the fruits of those experiences. For the interaction of soul and spirit described above can, of course, only take place where soul and spirit are within each other, penetrating each other, that is, within the union of Spirit-self with consciousness-soul.
Let us consider first the interaction of the soul-body and the sentient soul. The soul-body, as has become evident, is the most finely elaborated part of the body; but it nevertheless belongs to the body and is dependent on it. Physical body, ether-body, and soul-body compose, in a certain sense, one whole. Hence the soul-body is also involved in the laws of physical heredity through which the body receives its shape. And since it is the most mobile and, so to speak, the most volatile form of body, it must also exhibit the most mobile, volatile manifestations of heredity. While, therefore, the difference in the physical body corresponding to races, peoples and tribes is the smallest, and while the ether-body shows, on the whole, a preponderating likeness, although a greater divergence as between single individuals, in the soul-body the difference is already a very considerable one. In it is expressed what is felt to be the external, personal peculiarity of a man. It is therefore also the bearer of that part of this personal peculiarity which is passed on from parents, grandparents, etc., to their descendants. True, the soul as such leads a complete life of its own; it shuts itself up with its inclinations and disinclinations, its feelings and passions. But as a whole it is nevertheless active, and therefore this whole comes to expression also in the sentient soul. And because the sentient soul interpenetrates and as it were fills the soul-body, the latter forms itself according to the nature of the soul and can in this way, as the bearer of heredity, pass on inclinations, passions, etc., from forefathers to children. On this fact rests what Goethe says: “From my father I have stature and the serious manner of life, from my mother a joyous disposition and the love of telling stories.” Genius, of course, he did not receive from either.
In this way we are shown what part of a man's soul-qualities he hands over, as it were, to the line of physical heredity. The substances and forces of the physical body are in like manner present in the whole circle of external, physical Nature. They are continually being taken up from it and given back to it. In the space of a few years the substance which composes our physical body is entirely renewed. That this substance takes the form of the human body, and that it is perpetually renewed within this body, depends upon the fact that it is held together by the ether-body. And the form of the latter is not determined by events between birth — or conception — and death alone, but is dependent on the laws of heredity which extend beyond birth and death. That soul-qualities also can be transmitted by heredity, that is, that the progress of physical heredity receives an impulse from the soul, is due to the fact that the soul-body can be influenced by the sentient soul.
Now how does the interaction between soul and spirit proceed? During life, the spirit is bound up with the soul in the way shown above. The soul receives from it the gift of living in the good and the true, and of thereby bringing, in its own life, in its tendencies, impulses and passions, the spirit itself to expression. The Spirit-self brings to the “I,” from the world of the spirit, the eternal laws of the true and good.
These link themselves through the consciousness-soul with the experiences of the soul's own life. These experiences themselves pass away but their fruits remain. The Spirit-self receives an abiding impression by having been linked with them. When the human spirit meets with an experience similar to one to which it has already been linked, it sees in it something familiar, and is able to adopt a different attitude towards it from the one it would adopt if it were facing it for the first time. This is the basis of all learning. And the fruits of learning are acquired capacities. The fruits of the transitory life are in this way graven on the eternal spirit. And do we not see these fruits? Whence spring the innate predispositions and talents described above as characteristic of the spiritual man? Surely only from capacities of one kind or another which the human being brings with him when he begins his earthly life. These capacities, in certain respects, exactly resemble those which we can also acquire for ourselves during our earthly life. Take the case of a genius. It is known that Mozart when a boy, could write out from memory a long musical work after hearing it only once. He was able to do this only because he could survey the whole at once. Within certain limits, a man is also able during life to increase his capacity of rapid survey, of grasping connections, so that he then possesses new faculties. Lessing has said of himself that through a talent for critical observation he had acquired for himself something that came near to genius. One has either to regard such abilities founded on innate capacities as a miracle or to consider them as fruits of experiences which the Spirit-self has had through a soul. They have been graven on this Spirit-self, and since they have not been implanted in this fife, they must have been in a former one. The human spirit is its own species. And just as man, as a physical being belonging to a species, transmits his qualities within the species, so does the spirit within its species, that is, within itself. In each life the human spirit appears as a repetition of itself with the fruits of its former experiences in previous lives. 1See also under Addenda p. 58. This life is consequently the repetition of others, and brings with it what the Spirit-self has, by work, acquired for itself in the previous life. When the Spirit-self absorbs something that can develop into fruit, it saturates itself with the Life-spirit. Just as the life-body reproduces the form, from species to species, so does the Life-spirit reproduce the soul from personal existence to personal existence.
The preceding considerations give validity to that conception which seeks the reason for certain life-processes of man in repeated earth-lives. That conception can really only receive its full significance by means of observations which spring from spiritual insight, such as can be acquired by following the path of knowledge described at the close of this book. Here the only intention was to show that ordinary observation, rightly orientated by thinking, already leads to this conception. But observation of this kind, it is true, will at first leave the conception to become something like a silhouette. And it will not be possible to defend the conception entirely against the objections advanced by observation which is neither accurate, nor rightly guided by thinking. But on the other hand it is true that anyone who acquires such a conception through ordinary thoughtful observation, makes himself ready for supersensible observation. To a certain extent he develops something that one needs must have prior to this supersensible observation, just as one must have eyes prior to observing through the senses. Anyone who objects that through the formation of such a conception one can readily suggest to oneself the super-sensible observation, proves only that he is incapable of entering into the reality and that it is he himself who is thereby suggesting his objections.
Thus the experiences of the soul become enduring not only within the boundaries of birth and death, but beyond death. The soul does not stamp its experiences, however, only on the spirit which flashes up in it; it stamps them on the outer world also, through its action. What a man did yesterday is to-day still present in its effects. The relationship between cause and effect in this connection is illustrated by the parallel relation between death and sleep. Sleep has often been called the younger brother of death. I get up in the morning. My consecutive activity has been interrupted by the night. Now under ordinary circumstances, it is not possible for me to begin my activity again just as I like. I must connect it with my doings of yesterday, if there is to be order and coherence in my life. My actions of yesterday are the conditions predetermining those actions which fall to me to-day. I have created my fate of to-day by what I did yesterday. I have separated myself for a while from my activity; but this activity belongs to me and draws me again to itself, after I have withdrawn myself from it for a while. My past remains bound up within me; it lives on in my present, and will follow me into my future. If the effects of my yesterday were not to be my fate to-day, I should have had, not to wake this morning, but to be newly created out of nothing. It would be absurd if under ordinary circumstances I were not to occupy a house that I have had built for me.
The human spirit is as little newly created when it begins its earthly life, as a man is newly created every morning; let us try to make clear to ourselves what happens when entrance into this life takes place. A physical body, receiving its form through the laws of heredity, comes upon the scene. This body becomes the bearer of a spirit, which repeats a previous life in a new form. Between the two stands the soul, which leads a self-contained life of its own. Its inclinations and disinclinations, its wishes and desires, minister to it; it presses thought into its service. As sentient soul, it receives the impressions of the outer world and carries them to the spirit, in order that the spirit may extract from them the fruits that are to endure. It plays, as it were, the part of intermediary; and its task is fulfilled when it is adequate to this part. The body forms impressions for the sentient soul which transforms them into sensations, retains them in the memory as conceptions, and hands them over to the spirit to hold permanently. The soul is really that through which man belongs to his whole earthly life. Through his body he belongs to the physical human species. Through it he is a member of this species. With his spirit he lives in a higher world. The soul binds the two worlds together for a time.
But the physical world into which the human spirit enters is no strange field of action to it. On that world the traces of its own former actions are imprinted. Something in this field of action belongs to this spirit. It bears the impress of its being. It is related to it. As the soul in the first place transmitted impressions from the outer world to the human spirit, in order that they might remain enduringly within it, so later the soul, as the organ of the human spirit, converted the faculties bestowed on it by the spirit into deeds which in their effects are also enduring. Thus the soul has actually immersed itself in these actions. In the effects of his deeds a man's soul lives further a second life of its own. Now this provides us with a motive for examining life from this angle, in order to perceive how the processes of fate enter into it. Something “happens” to a man. He is probably at first inclined to regard such a “happening” as something coming into his life “by chance.” But he can become aware of how he himself is the outcome of such “chances.” Anyone who studies himself in his fortieth year and in the search after his soul-nature refuses to be content with an unreal abstract conception of the “I,” may well say to himself: “I am indeed nothing else whatever than what I have become through what has ‘happened’ to me according to fate up to the present. Should I not be a different man, if, for example, I had had a certain series of experiences when twenty years old instead of those that I did have?” The man will then seek his “I,” not only in those educative impulses which came to him from “within” outwards, but also in what has formatively thrust itself into his life from “without.” He will recognise his own “I” in that which “happens to him.” If one gives oneself up unreservedly to such a perception, then only a further step of really intimate observation of life is needed in order to see, in what comes to one through certain experiences of destiny, something which lays hold upon the “I” from without, just as memory works from within in order to make a past experience flash up again. Thus one can make oneself able to perceive in the experiences of fate, how a former action of the soul finds its way to the ego, just as in memory an earlier experience finds its way into the mind as a conception, if called forth by an external cause. It has already been alluded to as a “possible” conception, that the consequences of a deed may meet the human soul again. A meeting of this kind in regard to certain consequences of action is out of the question in the course of one earth-life, because that earth-life was particularly arranged for the carrying out of the deed. Experience is derived from its accomplishment. A definite consequence of that action can as little react upon the soul in that case, as one can remember an experience while one is still in the midst of it. It can only be a question here of the experience of the results of actions which do not confront the ego while it has the same soul-content which it had during the earth-life in which the deed was committed. One's gaze can only be directed to the consequences of action from another earth-life. As soon as one realises that what “happens” to one seemingly as a destined experience is bound up with the “I,” just as much as what shapes itself “from out of the inner being” of that “I” — then one is forced to the conclusion that in such a destined experience one is concerned with the consequences of action from previous earth-lives. One sees that one is thus led, through an intimate grasp of life, guided by thinking, to what for the ordinary consciousness is the paradoxical assumption — namely, that the destined experiences of one earth-life are linked with the actions of preceding earth-lives. This conception again can only receive its full content through supersensible knowledge; lacking this it remains a mere silhouette. But once more, this conception, derived from the ordinary consciousness, prepares the soul so that it is enabled to behold its truth in actual super-sensible observation.
Only the one part of my deed is in the outer world: the other is in myself. Let us make this relation of “I” to deed clear by a simple example taken from natural science. Creatures that once could see, migrated to the caves of Kentucky, and through their life in them have lost their power of sight. Existence in darkness has put the eyes out of action. Consequently the physical and chemical activity that is present when seeing takes place is no longer carried on in these eyes. The stream of nourishment, which was formerly expended on this activity, now flows to other organs. These creatures can now live only in these caves. They have by their act, by the immigration, created the conditions of their later lives. The immigration has become a part of their fate. A being that once acted, has united itself with the results of the action. It is so also with the human spirit. The soul could only mediate and make over certain capacities to the spirit through being itself active. And these capacities correspond to the actions. Through an action which the soul has performed, there lives in the soul the predisposition, full of energy, to perform another action, which is the fruit of that first action. The soul carries this as a necessity within itself, until the latter action has come to pass. One might also say: through an action, the necessity has been imprinted upon the soul to carry out the consequences of that action.
By means of its actions, the human spirit has really brought about its own fate. In a new life it finds itself linked to what it did in a former one. One may ask, “How can that be, when the human spirit on reincarnating finds itself in an entirely different world from that which it left at some earlier time?” This question is based on a very superficial conception of the linking's of fate. If I change my scene of action from Europe to America I also find myself in new surroundings. Nevertheless, my life in America depends entirely on my previous life in Europe. If I have been a mechanic in Europe, my life in America will shape itself quite differently from the way in which it would, had I been a bank clerk. In the one case I should probably be surrounded in America by machinery, in the other by banking arrangements. In each case my previous life decided my environment; it attracts to itself, as it were, out of the whole surrounding world, those things that are related to it. So it is with the Spirit-self. It inevitably surrounds itself in a new life with that to which it is related from previous lives. And on that account sleep is an apt image for death, because the man during sleep is withdrawn from the field of action in which his fate awaits him. While one sleeps, events in this field of action pursue their course. One has for a time no influence on this course of events. Nevertheless, our life in a new day depends on the effects of the deeds of the previous one. Our personality actually incarnates anew every morning in our world of action. What was separated from us during the night is spread out as it were around us during the day. So it is with the actions of the former embodiments of man. They are bound up with him as his destiny, as life in the dark caves remains bound up with the creatures who, through migration into them, have lost their power of sight. Just as these creatures can only live in the surroundings in which they have placed themselves, so the human spirit can only live in the surroundings which by its acts it has created for itself. That I find in the morning a state of affairs which I created on the previous day is brought about by the direct progress of the events themselves. That I, when I reincarnate, find surroundings which correspond with the results of my deeds in a previous life, is brought about by the relationship of my reincarnated spirit with the things in the world around. From this one can form a conception of how the soul is set into the constitution of man. The physical body is subject to the laws of heredity. The human spirit, on the contrary, has to incarnate over and over again; and its law consists in its bringing over the fruits of the former lives into the following ones. The soul lives in the present. But this life in the present is not independent of the previous fives. For the incarnating spirit brings its destiny with it from its previous incarnations. And this destiny determines its life. What impressions the soul will be able to have, what wishes it will be able to have gratified, what sorrows and joys shall grow up for it, with what individuals it shall come into contact — all this depends on the nature of the actions in the past incarnations of the spirit. Those people with whom the soul was bound up in one life, the soul must meet again in a subsequent one, because the actions which have taken place between them must have their consequences. When this soul seeks re-embodiment, those others, who are bound up with it, will also strive towards their incarnation at the same time. The life of the soul is therefore the result of the self-created destiny of the human spirit. The course of man's life between birth and death is therefore determined in a three-fold way. And thereby he is dependent in a three-fold way on factors which he on the other side of birth and death. The body is subject to the law of heredity; the soul is subject to its self-created fate. Using an ancient expression, one calls this fate, created by the man himself, his karma. And the spirit is under the law of re-embodiment, repeated earth-lives. One can accordingly express the relationship between spirit, soul and body in the following way as well: the spirit is immortal; birth and death reign over the body according to the laws of the physical world; the soul-life, which is subject to destiny, mediates the connection of both during an earthly life. All further knowledge about the being of man presupposes acquaintance with the “three worlds” to which he belongs. These three worlds are dealt with in the following pages.
A thinking which frankly faces the phenomena of life, and is not afraid to follow out to their final consequences the thoughts resulting from a living, vivid contemplation of life, can, by pure logic, arrive at the conception of the law of destiny and repeated incarnations. Just as it is true that for the seer with the opened “spiritual eye,” past lives, like an opened book, he before him as experience, so it is true that the truth of all this can become obvious to the unbiased reason which reflects upon it. 2Compare what is said about this at the end of the book under Addenda p. 45.