Reincarnation and Karma by Rudolf Steiner

Their Significance in Modern Culture

Published by Steiner Book Centre in 1985

Book Notes by Bobby Matherne ©1996

The book started off slow for me, until I reached page 21 when it exploded in insights. I wrote about seven poems in the margin and rear overleaf of the book, filling every available space with notes and poems. On page 19, Steiner describes the changes from one lifetime to the next. If we don't believe in reincarnation, he says, we come back to a life that is barren and desolate. On page 20 he tells us that pain results when "an organ is injured so that the etheric and astral bodies cannot permeate it properly." Thus the mother's kissing of the bruised knee of her child can remove the pain by helping the child's etheric and astral bodies to refill the space they had earlier vacated following the fall. The wisdom of the native Americans who asked the Great Spirit for permission before killing an animal for food is apparent here. By notifying the animal's etheric and astral bodies of the coming change to the animal's physical body, the animal is spared the pain it would have otherwise felt. The human is spared the karmic consequences of having caused pain to the animal he took for food.

Steiner has the reader conjure up a 'thought man' by saying to himself: "As an experiment I will give myself up to the idea that I willed this [chance happening] with all my might; I will bring before my soul the picture of a man who willed something with all his might." Let's call this imaginary person, Dr. Chance, and imagine that we each have a Dr. Chance that follows us around, creating valuable experiences for us that we would have never created of our own accord, those unexpected circumstances we call 'chance happenings.' If one continues this experiment with Dr. Chance for some time, one begins slowly to recollect a previous incarnation in which they may have affronted or injured some human being. Dr. Chance's job is to compel us to perform a counter-balancing deed to overcome the imperfection the affront left in us. Dr. Chance is like a clever being who guides us, compels us to atone for our misdeeds in order to remove our imperfections. The good news, which may chagrin the vain among us, is that Dr. Chance also brings us the delightful experiences we call happiness and joy.

Steiner builds a picture of life changes from one incarnation to the next like a reversible jacket. What was outside, visible, and conscious in one lifetime becomes inside, invisible, and unconscious in the next, and vice versa. Our life is turned inside out so that we may work consciously on those parts of our life that were unconscious in the previous life, and, with Dr. Chance's help, we are compelled to experience as unconscious forces those parts of our life we exercised conscious control over in our previous life.

This carryover effect shows up in our selection of parents for this life. We are attracted to our same sex parent because of the skills we have left under-developed in our previous incarnation. We choose someone who will also leave these same skills uncompleted in their life, and we will complete them in the course of our life. This explains the basis for C. G. Jung's insight that "there is nothing that so motivates a child as what their parent almost but never quite did."

Our close friends (consciously selected) in this present life are likely to be promoted to blood relations (unconsciously selected) in our next life. Coming from a large family of six children I find myself with few very close friends and suspect that I may aiming (with Dr. Chance's help) for the position of only child in my next life.

This short volume contains lectures that Steiner gave in Berlin and Stuttgart from January through March of 1912. It is an important book and my brief notes here can only touch on a few points. As for myself it filled me with a greatly enhanced appreciation for the significance of reincarnation and karma in modern culture, which is what the subtitle promised.