The human being, conscious of himself as an individual, yet dependent on all that exists about him, is engaged in an eternal quest to understand his own being and the world in which he lives. Mankind has achieved much in the way of material knowledge. His discoveries and inventions are stupendous, yet in spite of the tremendous knowledge available, life still presents riddles.
If anyone has suffered a blow of fate he may well ask: What have I done to deserve that? He may meet someone, and the meeting may have fortunate or unfortunate consequences so that he may question the particular significance of it or of any incident connected therewith.
Observation teaches us that men are not born equal. Some are talented, others apparently not; some are infant prodigies, others mentally retarded. Some people have an easy life, others difficult. One person may be rich, another poor; one may be clever, another stupid; one may enjoy excellent health, another suffer continual illnesses; one may be merry, another sad.
Rational thinking will try to find an explanation for all these differences.
The twin ideas of reincarnation and karma bring some sense into such matters. They offer a reasonable explanation of many things in life which are otherwise incomprehensible. Let us first consider what is implied by these two words.
The word reincarnation comes from the Latin carnus (flesh) and re (again) and therefore has the meaning of ‘coming again into the flesh’. It expresses the idea that the human being has repeated lives on Earth. ‘Karma’ (action, fate), from Sanscrit, expresses the notion that the events and experiences of one life influence or determine the course of the next. It is the law of cause and effect related to successive lives on Earth.
Fifty years ago it was difficult to speak of reincarnation without eyebrows being raised but now the idea appears in all sorts of contexts, not least in popular literature.
Of late there has been a spate of publications or statements where people claim to have remembered a previous incarnation. No doubt is cast here upon the fact that they are made in good faith and could be true. There are, however, many factors which may encourage a person to ‘remember’ and therefore such assertions might be open to question.
We all have a streak of vanity and so imagination may play a part. But factually, according to Rudolf Steiner, it may be that at some time in a past existence we were in contact with a certain individuality whom we admired and we are led astray into thinking ourselves that person. Another possible error is when we occasionally have the experience of being in a place which we seem to know and this is interpreted in the light of reincarnation. It may be, however, that we have read about it, have even correctly pictured it in the imagination. It may also be that we have seen it in the preview of life we have before descending to a new incarnation and thus it seems familiar.
A point to be remembered always is the existence of evil powers whose interest it is to deceive and their best weapon is to pretend to demonstrate the truth.
In trying to understand these matters speculation is unprofitable. Study, clear thinking, the application of reason and common sense are required.
In ancient cultures people had different faculties of perception. They had spiritual vision and were aware by direct experience of the existence of a spiritual world. They knew that the spirit of man alternates between life in the spiritual state and life in the physical. This was an accepted fact in early civilizations, i.e. India, Persia, Egypt. In Greek times there was doubt. This was a period when thinking, as evidenced by the birth of philosophy, took the place of spiritual vision; direct knowledge of the spiritual world faded in favour of an intenser preoccupation with the physical.
It was part of the process of the development of humanity that knowledge of the spiritual world, and hence of reincarnation and karma, should be lost. Mankind was destined to turn its attention to the Earth, to become materialistic, to recognize the importance of the physical world; the human mind was to be awakened and developed spiritually through contact with material things, and if attention had been focused elsewhere such an awakening would not have taken place. The result has been a development of man’s ego leading to self-consciousness. Now that this has been achieved, ideas on supersensible worlds can circulate again.
There is, however, a difference in the way reincarnation and karma is understood in East and West.
Present India is a relic of a great civilization which flourished some eight thousand years before Christ. The ancient Indian possessed supersensible faculties and knew that after his death his acts would be judged by higher beings. He realized, too, that his deeds would have to be compensated in due course by the law of karma which would determine his next incarnation. His karma gave him a continual ‘thirst’ for earthly existence but if this thirst could be overcome, as was achieved by Gautama Buddha, then he could stay in his true home, the spiritual world. The material world was illusion. To him, bound by the wheel of fate, all life on Earth meant suffering.
In the West the feeling of ego-consciousness is much more strongly developed and the physical Earth is real. Here the ideas of reincarnation and karma, in so far as they are accepted, are bound up with a feeling of responsibility. The human being incarnates to learn and to make good what went wrong earlier. Earth is not a prison but a place of education and work where man strives towards some goal.
For two thousand years there has been little mention in the West of such transcendental ideas but a revival of interest in them has taken place in recent times and it is a fact that many distinguished people belonging to western culture have voiced positive opinions about them. If one agrees, one may indulge in the pleasant personal feeling of being in good company. Some of the famous who have expressed their belief in reincarnation during the last two hundred years are: Frederick the Great of Prussia, Benjamin Franklin, Goethe, Emerson, Tolstoy, Henry Ford, Frank Lloyd Wright, David Hume, John Masefield, Edward Carpenter, Sir Humphrey Davy, Victor Hugo, Lessing, Longfellow, Tennyson, Voltaire, John Buchan, Wordsworth, Gustav Mahler, Wagner, Edison, Lloyd George.
But it was left to one who had exceptional faculties of spiritual perception to give explanations of reincarnation and karma which are satisfactory to modern minds. This was Rudolf Steiner who presents facts from his own spiritual investigations — not as many contemporaries, who speak from feelings or presentiments, from tradition or philosophy or even reiterate oriental wisdom. Rudolf Steiner speaks from personal experience. Furthermore, the knowledge which he gives is an organic part of a comprehensive and connected conception of the world.
Today, with the growth of a technology that threatens to overwhelm him and with the failure of organized religion to inspire, man needs to find a new direction in life. Not only can the acceptance of such ideas as reincarnation and karma produce a stability in the individual soul but it will also instil a feeling of responsibility. We ourselves are the peoples of the past, the reincarnated Greeks, Romans, etc., and we shall also be the peoples of future civilizations. The Earth is our inheritance. It is ours to preserve or destroy.
Some people think that whatever happens in the future they will not be there. They will be, and so they should have an interest in the preservation of the Earth, nature, soil, etc., even if only for egoistical reasons. What is more, the contents of a man’s soul are significant for the future of Earth’s form and outer configuration.
It is not easy to explain all that belongs to the themes of reincarnation and karma. There are too many ramifications and complexities. Human destiny is composed of many different factors. There is what might be called a personal karma, a racial or national karma, and a world karma. These interweave and the human being can by no means follow a straight path. What is given here, then, must be looked upon as general principles or broad outlines and essentials, and allowances must be made for exceptions. A flexibility in thinking is necessary.
You are now reading from Chapter 2 of Roy Wilkinson’s book on Rudolf Steiner and Anthroposophy. To read this chapter from the beginning click here
Perhaps the simplest way of approaching this subject is to consider the process of sleeping and waking.
In Chapter 1, the constitution of the human being was explained. In its simplest form we can speak of a bodily nature and a soul-spiritual counterpart. During waking life they are united. In sleep the soul-spiritual parts company with the body and sojourns in another world.
During our waking life we are active; we do things and we get tired. We go to sleep and the forces used in waking life are renewed. During sleep we are also active but remember nothing about it. As far as our earthly life is concerned, there is, therefore, this alternation of consciousness and unconsciousness. But after the period of unconsciousness we do not start life anew. We continue our activity at the point where we left off the day before. In spite of the intervals of sleep there is continuity.
We can extend the principle and say that what is done in one life is continued in the next and, in between, there is a period spent in the spiritual world. There is, however, a difference. We do not return to the same body but build up a new one, together with a new soul constitution, from the forces of the cosmos and with the help of higher beings. The structure of the new body and soul is determined by past events and experiences, and is in accord with future needs. We need certain types of parents and certain circumstances in which to be born. In the spiritual world we have made resolutions to compensate for past deeds but on coming into earthly existence we do not remember them. They are, however, ingrained in our soul and act as a sort of pilot to lead us to meet the situations we have prescribed for ourselves.
Just as there are world rhythms so are there rhythms in the life or lives of the human being. One of these rhythms is the frequency of incarnation. Connected with this is the period of time, as measured on Earth, spent in the spiritual spheres.
Looking back over the past and following the progress of the different civilizations, we note that a new period of culture arises approximately every two thousand years (See Chapter3). We can say that western culture is prominent today and has been evolving since about the fifteenth century. Earlier epochs, in reverse order of time, were Greece/Rome, Egypt/Chaldea, Ancient Persia, Ancient India. The period of two thousand years is a cosmic rhythm and it is a period during which great changes take place on the face of the Earth. To partake of Earth development the rhythm of incarnation is the same but since the experience of the world is different according to sex, an incarnation will take place about every thousand years, i.e. once as a man and once as a woman in each cultural epoch.
This would be the normal rhythm but it is possible that matters have changed. In comparatively recent times changes have been brought about on the Earth quicker than earlier and one could imagine that more frequent incarnations are necessary in order to keep abreast of developments. Another factor may be human decisions in regulating procreation.
The normal span of life is the biblical three score years and ten. Where it is otherwise, there is a karmic reason.
The question may arise as to the significance of early death. One can speak of normal rhythms but, of course, there are always exceptions and dying young is not uncommon. Early death means a storage of forces for the future and when death takes place at an early age in several incarnations, it means that a very special destiny lies ahead for the individuality concerned.
You are now reading from Chapter 2 of Roy Wilkinson’s book on Rudolf Steiner and Anthroposophy. To read this chapter from the beginning click here
The Meaning of Karma
In order to understand the facts of karma we might start again with observations of ordinary, everyday life. In childhood we attend school. We learn the alphabet and we learn to deal with numbers. In the course of time we are able to read, write and do mathematics. At some stage we may learn to do craft or artistic work and thus acquire manipulative or artistic skills. Cause has an effect; effort becomes talent. But the process continues throughout life. As adults we learn something one day which serves us in good stead as physical or mental skill the next.
In school we also study science, history, geography and many other subjects. We may forget most of the detail we have learnt but the effort to learn will have had some result and the fact of having acquired so much knowledge changes something in the soul. For instance, geography is a very wide subject and much that is taught may be forgotten. Assuming that it has been taught properly, that it has been shown that life is interdependent, that people mutually support one another, that the Earth is the dwelling and work place of all mankind irrespective of race or nationality, then a feeling for the brotherhood of man will have been encouraged. In other words, what is taught and how it is taught will create an attitude of mind.
Most people have some creative urge within them. A hobby in many cases brings them joy and happiness. If a person is happy in what he is doing his outlook is brighter, his health better. Moreover he radiates warmth into his environment which is welcomed by his fellow men. Naturally the opposite is also true.
Somewhere in the back of each individual’s mind there lurks an ideal. It may take the form of material well-being; on a more philanthropic note it may be a striving to serve humanity; it may be the desire to take the path of spiritual development. Whatever it is, it will affect the soul condition of the human being and even the physiognomy. A spiritually advanced individual has a different facial expression from a less mature person.
The matters mentioned above with regard to learning and striving are concerned with the personality himself. But everyone on the Earth has contacts with other people, relations, friends, associates in one form or another. The relationships fluctuate. Some may end, others continue; new ones may develop. We ourselves may be obliged to some particular person and another is under obligation to us. No man is an island. Whatever attitude a man has, it affects his fellow humans and calls forth a reaction.
There is a further point. What a person does is not only of significance for himself and for other humans but for the world in general. If he pollutes the air, destroys or plants a tree, the world is affected. What is done today endures tomorrow and the deed affects subject and object. It becomes not only a part of that person’s destiny but of the destiny of the world.
We can expand these considerations to include a succession of incarnations.
In the life between death and rebirth the experiences of the former life are carried over into the spiritual world where they are worked upon in co-operation with higher beings and transformed into future destiny. Thus the next life on Earth is influenced and determined. What the human being brings into the world at birth in the way of powers and capacities must be considered as the effects of causes he himself engendered in previous incarnations. The forces from one incarnation become qualities and tendencies of soul in a new one. Lessons learnt and knowledge acquired become talents. Past deeds of evil and negative attitudes are compensated by pain and suffering; good deeds and selfless love by joy and good health. The present bodily constitution of the human being is as it is because of his past. He is in his present situation for the same reason and these matters were arranged in the spiritual world. However, effects and causes are not necessarily consecutive. Things may have to be worked out over several incarnations.
It must be appreciated that karma is not blind fate. Karma expresses the law of compensation. It is the law of moral retribution. He who is responsible for the cause meets the effect. St Paul expresses it thus: ‘Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.’ Karma is activity which has become destiny.
In the spiritual world we are made conscious of our failings and we resolve to mould our future destiny to make good. We do not receive rewards or punishments according to our deeds but we are subject to a world justice which is self-imposed. If we have been guilty of nefarious acts which cannot be made good in this life (the person offended may have died), it might be a depressing thought that we have to meet the consequences nevertheless, but in actual fact it should be a matter for rejoicing that the opportunity will be given to pay the debt. It might even have the effect of increasing the desire to make moral progress. We can look forward with apprehension or with pleasure but in the meantime we can transform our attitudes here on Earth so that we transgress no more.
Yet it must not be thought that all events are due to the past. Karma may be past or future. It may be that someone has a particular task for which preparation is necessary and that might take the form of original illness or accident whereby special powers are acquired. Higher spiritual beings may appoint a person to a special position. Indeed, it is not for nothing that we use the expression, ‘divinely inspired.’
Every single human being has a biography. If one writes the life story of an animal it is really a description of the species, but man is an individual. With his species he may share characteristics but he is unique with regard to other qualities. His genius is his own. Each man is a species.
What gives the human being his individuality is something we may term the spirit or the eternal being. This is the real man.
On the path of evolution each incarnation has to be looked upon as an opportunity to improve our nature and to learn something new. Pain and suffering are great teachers. If we have brought things on ourselves, we have no right to complain. Every sorrow, every suffering, every obstacle in life should be an indication that there is something within us wiser than ourselves, an inner man leading us by virtue of our past acts. We may dislike sorrows with ordinary consciousness but our inner self leads us to them. Moreover, if we can recognize that misfortune may have come to us through our own faults, we may be able to correct them for the future. In any case we must accept circumstances and be neither jealous nor envious if our neighbour appears to be better off. If joy and happiness should be our lot, we should not necessarily think that we have been paragons of virtue in the past but we may be thankful and put all the more effort into helping mankind.
The fruits of each life are taken up by the eternal spirit of man and in each life the human spirit appears again in a bodily form with the fruits of experiences from former incarnations. This indicates that the human being makes progress even if, in his present circumstances, he is not aware of the ultimate goal.
Examples of the Working of Karma
We have already seen how the law of compensation can be observed in day-to-day life. A further example would be where a person eats or drinks too much and the result is indigestion and eventually ill-health; or he may have negative attitudes, act out of spite, grumble and find that he is less popular with his contemporaries than he would like to be; he may commit a crime and retribution follows.
These are simple examples of cause and effect.
When the law of compensation, or of cause and effect, is spread over several lives, it is known as karma. The results of attitudes and deeds will manifest themselves in a form different from the original cause.
It must be borne in mind that what is written here deals only with generalities and tendencies. Karma stands between the past and the future. Events and experiences may not necessarily be conditioned by the past; they may be preparations for the future. One should not draw conclusions about any particular instance mentioned here, as present understanding and knowledge is far too limited.
Let us consider three aspects of life in connection with karma:
- Physical well-being or otherwise.
- The constitution of the soul.
- External life, i.e. those occurrences and incidents which come towards us.
1: Physical well-being or otherwise
Simple examples from everyday life illustrate the fact that soul experiences affect the body. A sudden shock will drain the blood away from the face or even cause fainting. In anger, frustration or embarrassment, the blood rises and the face turns red. Even if there is no immediate manifestation, all impressions have an effect.
Considered in a wider context, health and all aspects of the physical body in one life are very much influenced by the soul experiences of the previous incarnation. In a general way one could say that what has lived in the soul in one life is transformed and becomes manifest in the body in the next. Habits and inclinations have an influence. Talents acquired go to shaping the bodily organs. Whether a person has been good or evil, moral or immoral, shows itself physically. Moral deficiencies such as selfish acquisitiveness and uncharitableness will show themselves as a tendency towards contracting certain diseases; unwillingness to speak the truth as a malformation of the inner organs. A self-centred egoist who has had little interest in the world outside will have some sort of bodily weakness. By contrast, those whose lives have been devoted to efforts to do good, who have been capable of giving love and making sacrifices, who have observed and taken interest in life and the world at large, will retain a certain youthfulness and enjoy good health.
It must be pointed out that these correctives are self-imposed. For instance, a person will unconsciously seek a certain illness or be drawn to the place where he will contact it, in order to make the necessary compensation. What appears to be chance may be karmic necessity. Through the illness he is relieved of the burden of a particular piece of karma. It is not a punishment bestowed by an outside agency but an occasion brought about from within. In experiencing the illness he gains insight and new forces which give him the opportunity to evolve further.
2: The constitution of the soul
Certain features of the new soul life are brought about by attitudes from the past. It seems logical that superficiality should result in a difficulty in telling the truth; hate and apathy bring unhappiness and eventually mental torpor. Those who willingly close their eyes to the spiritual world deny themselves a measure of intelligence; they become obtuse. Unfounded derogatory criticism results in a quarrelsome nature in a new incarnation. A person acting from duty alone, without inner participation, may meet with indifference from his fellows.
There is naturally another side of the coin. Love, a seeking for the spirit and truthfulness result in joy, intelligence, inner strength and satisfaction.
Soul experiences from the past can also be transmitted into new attitudes. For instance, philanthropists may have been feeble-minded in earlier incarnations. They experienced kindness without understanding, and this developed instinctive humanitarianism.
What we call temperament is also conditioned by the past. A person who lived a narrow, restricted life is likely to be a melancholic; one who has had a hard struggle, a choleric. Those who have paid little attention to the world, passing things by as onlookers, will tend to be of phlegmatic or sanguine disposition.
3: External life
The third point concerns external life. In the spiritual world we have broadly decided on the path we shall follow and the people whom we must meet in the next earthly existence, and have made plans accordingly. Judged with a little caution ‘love at first sight’ might be an example of karma at work.
On incarnating, the plan is relegated to our subconscious where it acts as a guide to lead us to those situations which are karmically determined. Thus everywhere we meet the fate that we have prepared for ourselves, and we should recognize that events and surroundings are parts of our own being.
The environment into which we are born corresponds to our needs as a result of our acts in a previous life. The period of childhood is necessary in order that we may adapt to new conditions. Things happen to us which do not appear to be willed. We meet people with whom we have karmic connections. In this respect there is a general principle with regard to time.
The friends we choose in mid-life are likely to become blood relations in the next. A marriage partner is an example. The rhythm is from the mid-period of one incarnation to the beginning of the next. Conversely, those with whom we are together early in one incarnation are likely to be met in the middle of the next. In the second half of life we meet people with whom we have had dealings in earlier incarnations but which were not concluded. Friends which we make late in life are likely to become our youthful companions in the next and the friends of our youth were met late in life in the previous incarnation.
Another example of karma at work is the sudden change which can take place in the direction of a person’s life. Luther and Wilberforce provide us with such instances. Another is that in one incarnation a number of people may conspire against someone who becomes their judge in the next. It may be that a man wrongs his neighbour but will then seek to serve him. A tyrant may be born into a situation where he is tyrannized. At some point of time a meeting may take place between two personalities which is of especial significance for the future of one of them, or even both. These are prepared events and the human being is only meeting his own destiny.
Even seeming accidents can be looked upon in this way. What appears to be chance may be willed. A man may seek out an accident, as well as an illness, through the force of earlier events. However, it must not be assumed that all accidents are caused by past karma, although the future will certainly be influenced thereby. The avoidance of an accident may also be karmic. There are well-documented cases of people who have been prevented from joining a train or an aeroplane by some trivial accident but have therefore been absent when disaster struck.
When, on the other hand, people die in the circumstances of such natural catastrophes as earthquakes, it does not necessarily signify that they have a common karma from the past. It may have to do with the future. At the moment of death such people receive a certain enlightenment. The shock awakens special powers which unite them and it may well be that they are then able to perform some future task together, or it may lead to some common spiritual striving in the next incarnation.
The same might be said about accidents brought about by human agency. It is possible that the people who lose their lives bring it about to expiate former guilt, but they need not have had anything in common. The accident may unite them for the future or it may be that the event has a special significance for each individual.
Earlier it was stated that incarnations as male and female usually alternate. The reason for this becomes clear when we consider how the soul life affects the physical. In the case of the woman, experiences go deep into the soul. The effect of this is a strong influence on the next physical body which results in a male incarnation. The man lives more in the outer world and less in his own feelings and absorbs correspondingly less. Thus the soul enters less into the bodily organization next time, the result being a female incarnation.
Disease, Prevention, Cure
Obviously some illnesses and cures are brought about by events in the same life and not everything must be attributed to karma. However, the cause of serious illness is usually karmic and its purpose is to make compensation, not in the sense of retribution, but to call forth new powers. It is therefore a healing process. The karmic aim of illness is progress and the improvement of the individual. It provides the opportunity for inner growth and development.
With regard to children’s illnesses, these are outward signs of the struggle which is taking place as the individuality is adapting its newly inherited body to its needs. The influences of heredity are being cast off.
When inoculation or vaccination takes place, the disease may be prevented physically but the reason for it remains in the soul. The illness has therefore only been postponed or diverted and another affliction will take its place in the future. There is, however, another result, and that is, in putting off payment when it is due, the soul does not purify itself but becomes stagnant and seeks distractions. There is, fortunately, a remedy. This lies in cultivating soul activity, i.e. studying spiritual science and practising such exercises as are recommended. In fact, if one were sufficiently wise, sufficiently spiritually developed, it might be possible to recognize a karmic liability in advance and correct it in time to avoid an illness altogether.
The question may also arise as to the connection between epidemics and measures of hygiene. An answer cannot be absolutely straightforward since many currents flow together in affairs of karma. It is extremely difficult to summarize these and for fuller explanation the reader is referred to Rudolf Steiner’s book Manifestations of Karma.
Epidemic diseases are due to collective experiences in the past which have lasted for a period of time. It is, therefore, only to be expected that when the karmic results appear they also last for a particular period. Certain epidemic diseases of the past were also a karmic necessity and hence it did not lie within the ordering of the world to take preventive measures at the time. Another thread must also be considered. It is due to events of the past that a particular set of ideas develop at a certain point of time. The emergence of ideas on hygiene are a case in point. They are a repetition, in a materialistic setting, of ritualistic practices of cleanliness in an earlier period which were considered as divinely ordained. There may therefore be a certain coincidence in that hygienic measures are practised as the epidemics have run their course. Nevertheless, supposing the disease is prevented by such action, the result is the same as with vaccination. It does not alter the fact that the cause of the disease has to be compensated, and if it lies within the destiny of the human being to have to make this compensation it will take some other form, perhaps in a later incarnation. Again, as in the case of vaccination some occupation of the mind with spiritual science may mitigate matters. This should not be taken to infer that matters of hygiene should be neglected.
A chronic illness is one which has an enduring quality, i.e. the patient is not cured nor does he quickly depart this life. In such a case it is usually a part of the organism which is affected.
It is a well-known fact that if we suffer from some minor ailment and become engrossed in an interesting activity, we forget the trouble. The principle can be applied consciously in the case of chronic illnesses. The affliction will probably be due to some earlier transgression but to some extent this can be countered in the sense already mentioned. What will help is a discipline of the soul, study of spiritual science and meditative practices such as are advocated.
A painful or a lingering illness at the end of life must be looked upon as a special preparation for the next.
In the matter of treating illness, a means which removes the symptoms does not cure. The aim must be to give assistance which will help the individual to use his own powers. This may be psychological. Attitudes certainly play a part in healing.
To find the right remedies is not an easy task in our present state of knowledge. Basically one could say that they exist in the substance of the material world. But the substance of the material world has a spiritual origin and thus one can assume that it has a spiritual effect when taken into the human organism. It is then a matter of finding the right substance in this sense to support the striving soul of the sick person.
If a disease is a karmic necessity so are the forces implanted in the human being to overcome it. A cure will result when, in overcoming the illness, he acquires forces to make spiritual progress while still in the physical world. If a person dies from an illness, it can be looked upon as a payment on account. He will be stronger through the illness but not sufficiently strengthened to make use of the new powers immediately. These forces will mature in his next incarnation.
It might be said that helping anyone in sickness or distress frustrates their karma but it can never be wrong to give assistance. Love and kindness are beneficial whatever the circumstances. It could be that the giving or receiving of help is a karmic necessity. ‘Bear ye one another’s burdens’ was the advice once given.
Pain and Sorrow
Life is not all bliss and happiness. It takes its course between contrasts — light and dark, good and evil, joy and sorrow. While joy may give an impetus to life, sorrow brings knowledge and the opportunity to gain inner strength.
Pain and sorrow belong to life just as their opposites. They also belong to karma and to avoid them might bring difficulties of another sort. They are easier to bear if this is understood and particularly in the light of cause and effect. Naturally one should strive to remove the causes and accept any help which is really beneficial. Some misfortunes appear to be inevitable. Then the attitude should be to ask the higher powers for strength to bear what destiny may bring, not for the means to avoid it.
Some people, having suffered on Earth, cannot bear the thought of repeated existences. They must realize that this is a judgement made on Earth and that things look very different from the other side. In any case lives are not replicas of one another. There is progression and no two incarnations follow the same pattern.
In suffering trials and tribulations one has to reflect on the fact that they were caused, but that now the opportunity is given to restore equilibrium in the sense of gaining inner strength. It might be called positive retribution.
The usual view of heredity is that qualities are passed down the line of ancestry. In that case a brilliant person would appear some way along the line, but in actual fact brilliance generally appears in an original and the progeny do not partake of it. We must also account for the marked differences in the members of one family.
When the human being wishes to incarnate, he needs a physical body and this is prepared by the stream of inheritance. It is a model which is then fashioned by what man brings from the spiritual worlds. The qualities of personality which he brings are his own. He can only incarnate where there is a more-or-less fitting vehicle for his needs and hence from the spiritual world he will seek out an appropriate line of descent. This must contain qualities similar to his own and this is the reason why there are likenesses within the family. A musician, for instance, must choose ancestors whose hearing is well developed. The Bach family is an example.
It is always the case that the descending spirit will never find his exact requirements but takes the nearest available. In our materialistic civilization the difficulties are enhanced in finding the right physical instrument, hence perhaps the many misfits in society, restlessness and difficult children.
The Draught of Forgetfulness
The phrase is borrowed from Plato. The objection is sometimes raised that we cannot remember past incarnations. This is no argument against their existence. We do not remember our experiences in sleep, nor our early years, nor our life in the womb. There are many things in ordinary everyday life which we do not remember yet what we have become is a result of them. Life is not always formed on the basis of conscious experience. In education much is taught which is forgotten but faculties or capacities are the result. In any case it is perhaps good at our present stage of development that previous incarnations are not remembered. If we knew someone had done us harm, we might be tempted to retaliate. As it is, we can act out of the immediate circumstances, which means a measure of freedom. When we are sufficiently advanced morally not to be influenced by the past, then perhaps we shall earn the ability to recollect.
Reincarnation and Christianity
The idea of reincarnation is also opposed on the grounds of religion. It is said that there is no mention of it in the Bible and hence it has no place in orthodox Christianity. In spite of several oblique references in the Bible, it is true that reincarnation is not a Christian tenet, but this in no way invalidates it. The Bible may contain truth but not necessarily all or final truth. For reasons already mentioned the interest of mankind had to be turned for a time to physical life and surroundings only. But Christian belief includes grace and redemption. Reincarnation demonstrates it.
The concept of an eternally happy existence in Heaven (or the spiritual worlds) put forward as Christian belief is not really in harmony with the central truths of Christianity. It is not the truly Christian way to seek a quiet life. Christ’s mission on Earth was to combat evil. When the human being enters the spiritual world, he experiences his earlier wrong-doing on Earth and it is then his wish to put this right. That is the grace for which he asks. Redemption, i.e. compensation, follows. It is grace to be allowed to make good, to progress, to help establish world morality.
Freedom and Necessity
It is sometimes argued that if events occur due to karma, the human being has no freedom. It must be remembered that present life-situations have been created by ourselves and are a result therefore of past ‘freedom’. If we build a house to our own specification, it is reasonable that we should take up residence in it and within it we are free to act. A meeting with a particular person on Earth may have been determined from the spiritual world, based on past events, but what subsequently transpires is new. Since we do not recall earlier events we can act unhindered. Since we do not wish to burden ourselves with difficult future karma, it behoves us to act with moral responsibility. It means that in the final instance we strive to overcome our failings and shortcomings, and to develop love — selfless love towards those from whom we can expect nothing in return. These things are also within our freedom.
We have also the freedom to acquire spiritual insight which means self-development or a striving towards self-perfection, not for egoistic reasons but to serve humanity.