Essential Fulfilment of the Karmic Inevitability / Orna Ben Dor
Biographical turning points from a karmic perspective
“Paradoxical as it may seem to the modern mind, the only way in which human life can be understood in its deeper aspect is to center our study of the course of world-events around observation of Man himself in history. And Man cannot be taken as belonging to one age of time only, as living in one earthly life only. In considering Man, we must realize how the individuality passes from one earthly life to another, and how in the interval between death and a new birth he works upon and transforms that which has taken its course more in the subconscious realm of earthly life but for all that is connected with the actual shaping of the destiny. For the shaping of destiny takes place, not in the clear consciousness of the intellect, but in what weaves in the sub-conscious(1).
The concept of the “unconscious” was first brought to the world’s attention at the end of the nineteenth century by the psychoanalyst and thinker Sigmund Freud, who was one of the first to reveal the fact that the visible layer of the consciousness was only “the tip of the iceberg.” Under it, in the unconscious, there is a turbulent, rich and complex psychic life which governs the individual’s feelings, behavior and thought, and which deeply affects his/her life.Unlike Freud who believed that the unconscious was the home of all the forbidden desires, the repressed instincts, and the wishes which are considered immoral, Rudolf Steiner, who lived and worked in the same period as Freud, said that the unconscious is home to the rule of destiny: to one’s karma. In it are found the contents which direct the events of one’sactions andmeetings with other people, all of which are intended to allow the Self to meet its destiny beyond the threshold of birth, to reform itself, and develop from one earthly life to another .
Steiner saw karmic knowledge as the most important knowledge about to be revealed to humanity in our time. According to Steiner, after many centuries of materialistic thought which denied the world of the spirit, the spiritual life and the idea of the reincarnation of souls on earth, this knowledge – which allows correction and continued development – was about to once again become the property of mankind. In that regard, it is worth mentioning that in Eastern thought our period is considered the period in which the age of darkness – known as “Kali Yoga” – ends, and the gates of the spiritual world reopen for mankind.
There are several doors through which one can enter and understand the link between the current incarnation of the individual and his/her earlier incarnations. Two of them were named by Steiner ‘Karmic Inevitability’ and ‘karmic fulfillment.’ The two are linked with the actions of human beings.
Before we delve deeper into these concepts, we must understand another concept used by Steiner, which is ‘karmic compensation’.
‘Karmic compensation’ is the result of an immoral act towards another person. For example, if one person hurts another in a certain lifetime, following death and before the next rebirth, he undertakes a journey in the psychic and spiritual worlds in order to undergo purification and correction.
In the psychic world, where the physical body is no longer a barrier to sensing the other, the offender experiences the pain he has caused, as his own. He feels the wrong he has done as though it was done towards him, and this will create the basis for ‘karmic compensation’.
Steiner defined the situation in which a person objectifies another person, instead of recognizing his personhood, and therefore allows him/her to exploit, dominate, and denigrate the other, as a “cosmic crime”.This crime is a sin – the sin of pride, which was considered even in ancient Greece to be the gravest sin (hubris) and one entailing heavy retribution from the Gods.
Steiner claimed every karmic compensation has been determined in advance in the earlier reincarnation, and is caused by the injury caused to the other. In addition, the correction can only be accomplished in the physical world, in the following reincarnations, and not in the spirit world between two life spans.
The motive for correction is the Soul’s deep knowledge, when it is in the spirit world, that it will not be able to develop until it will correct its moral attitude towards the other.
These decisions to reform are made by the person and the higher Hierarchies, which are spiritual entities responsible for the creation of mankind. In the Jewish Kabbalah they are known as the Spheres.
So what is the ‘Karmic Inevitability’?
The word Inevitability indicates that it is not dependent on human choice.
When a person returns to another life span, the bad deeds which he committed in previous incarnations are woven within him, as karmic memory, the knowledge of what he must do as compensation for his previous actions is ingrained in his being.
In younger ages the Inevitability is not heard through the person’s consciousness, but as a result of events and actions initiated by others. These events fashion the Inevitability as though from the outside. We are “baptized” into a certain reality, and it is as though we are told: “This is your karma, this you will accomplish in the future.” The Inevitability seems forced upon us with no explanation.
Steiner says that until the age of 21, what one must do in this life is ingrained within.
“Angeloi, Archangeloi and Archai say to us in our sub-consciousness during the first three epochs of life: All this thou hast brought over from earlier epochs, from earlier earthly lives. This thou must take upon thyself”(2).
Between the ages of 28-49, these karmic Inevitabilitys must come to karmic fulfillment. In other words, the issue at hand will reappear again and again, so that it will be inscribed, even tattooed on the soul, in order to enable spiritual work and reform.
Childhood, says Steiner, is a recapitulation of the previous incarnation. This means that when a person enters the world, his spiritual existence is similar to the one he had in the previous incarnation. For example, a man who in his previous incarnation lived in an ivory tower, superior to and served by others, free to live a life of contemplation and study without needing to work for a living or come into any real contact with the material world, may lack sensitivity to lower-class people around him, or treat them as objects.
The “sin” of which such a man is guilty of is the sin of pride. This can be a man who has achieved much, and yet, he is morally lacking.
In his next incarnation this mental existence will repeat itself, and he will be reincarnated with a special feeling of uniqueness and superiority. As a boy, for example, he will feel smarter than others and sense his own worth. His basic feeling will be one of power and control.These feelings will be regarded by him as natural and obvious, and he will not analyze them deeply. At that point, however, the ‘karmic Inevitability’ will make itself felt.
The ‘karmic Inevitability’ will be a fall. As a result of the moral flaw in the previous reincarnation, this boy will have to experience the feelings which he himself has caused others: feelings of humiliation, exclusion, helplessness and injured pride. He will thus experience a true fallfrom his high position.
This can manifest itself in the simplest events of everyday life, as, for example, in the classroom.
We will bring as an example the story of Henia, a clever girl, the first in the class, and the teachers favorite and especially beloved by her homeroom teacher, from whom she receives special attention.Then one day, the regular teacher goes on maternity leave, and a substitute teacher arrives, who ignores Henia completely! She prefers another girl over her.
Henia experiences a strong sense of failure, collapse and lack of appreciation. Henia’s emotional interpretation of the event has to do with her ‘karmic Inevitability’. It does not necessarily mean that another child would respond similarly.
Most ‘karmic Inevitabilitys’ are delicate inscriptions of destiny, inscriptions which after the age of 21 take a stronger hold on life. However there are cases in which ‘karmic Inevitabilitys’ will overcome the child and he will not be able to hold on. Cases of inability to withstand the demand may include, for example, a disassociation from emotion up to the point of autism and various addictions which help dim the suffering. Addictions can develop in later periods as well, when the ‘karmic demand’ returns as ‘karmic fulfillment’.In our time, we witness many serious illnesses that attack even small children, for example, cancer. This disease too is a form of not being able to hold-on.
Children are beings which have just arrived from a spiritual world in which all was well. As a little girl, in a recapitulation of her previous life, a girl like Henia would feel happy. And then she will suddenly fall into a kind of hell. Therefore, in addition to the ‘karmic Inevitability’ of falling, she will have to hold on within the suffering and not back down. Various possibilities of retreating, as mentioned above, include serious addictions, mental illnesses, even autism – all of them expression of the inability to deal with the pain.
What will karmic fulfillment be in such a case?
As mentioned, ‘karmic fulfillment’ takes place at a later age. All the circumstances of life which a person is exposed to till the age of 21, he is supposed to fulfill as if of his own free will later on in life. Thus, he will put himself in situations in which to his surprise, even horror – he will reenact the original ‘Karmic Inevitability’.
“On the other hand, when we direct our attention to the further course of life, when we observe the human being between the ages of 28 and 49, we find that it is less a matter of the inscribing of karmic demands, but rather of the fulfilment of karma, the discharging of karma. For it is particularly in this period of life that what has been inscribed into a man’s being in the first three epochs of life must be brought to karmic fulfilment.”(3).
If the suffering of the fall in childhood was forced upon the child, from the age of 28 he will make conscious decisions which will lead him, unintentionally, to re-enact the state of suffering forced upon him by the ‘Karmic Inevitability’.
Let us return to the case of Henia:
As she grew up, Henia gained a respectable profession, and at the age of 28 made the fateful decision to leave her homeland. At the same time she left the husband who supported her since they married. At the age of 28 she immigrated to another country, were her future destiny awaited her. But when she reached this new land, she could not find a job to match her skills, and was forced to work as a child-minder for a local family.
The work did not satisfy Henia, as it did not enable her to utilize her academic skills and did not provide her with the social standing or economic gain to allow for a comfortable life.
Again Henia experienced the fall, the suffering and the humiliation. And this time it was she herself, through her own seemingly conscious decision (to leave her homeland), who placed her in this situation.
Such events returned again and again in Henia’s life, and only after the age of 40, with the help of conscious spiritual work on her biography, did she understand their meaning for her karmic correction.
In his/her karmic fulfillment, a person can retreat and escape the suffering. Henia, for example, could have decided to return to her homeland, not to face her fate and not to undergo the difficult stage, and so retreat.
Usually, the age of 28 is very significant. It is a threshold age in which a person decides whether to advance towards his/her future fate, or retreat. The decision to advance is usually linked with parting. Letting go of the past. Not all people cross this threshold, because the parting often involves much suffering, and there is a temptation to return to the familiar world and the previous connections. People with a spiritual calling will, however, cross the threshold.
In this respect it is impossible not to mention the biblical story of God’s injunction to Lot’s family, not to look back at the burning city of Sodom, and the failure of Lot’s wife to fulfill this injunction, which resulted in her immediate death. People who do not have the strength, for karmic reasons, to cross this threshold, can continue their external lives as successful people, active and opinionated; however, as they did not find the internal strength, at the age of 28, to connect with the higher spiritual powers in the cosmos, they undergo a process of spiritual regression.
There are many such people in our times, says Steiner, and he brings examples:
“I have always been interested in the spiritual development of human beings and when I look at many who were creative in early life, who made a great impression on their contemporaries, perhaps as young poets or artists in some sphere, of whom it was said when they were 24, 25, 26, 27 years old: “What wonderful talent!” … well, they grew older; after the poetic and artistic achievements of youth the stream dried-up and they were of no account at all in the sphere where they had once been of real significance…. Life in our time is often fraught with this tragedy and there is so much that does not stand the test of the years. In youth, ideals are plentiful; in old age few remain. Older people rely more upon the State and upon their pensions than upon the sustaining power of life itself; they need support from outside because they cannot find what brings them into relation with the First Hierarchy.”(4)
People whose powers allow them to overcome the suffering, fulfill the ‘Karmic Inevitability’ in the ages of 28-49. In addition to a “passive” correction – a balancing of the karma by experiencing the difficult emotions inflicted on others in previous lifetimes – from the age of 49 an active correction can also take place. In this correction a man is aware of his fate, and sees it in a broad perspective. Then the role of suffering is over. The lesson hasbeen learned. This can happen, for example, in a person’s decision not to accept the recognition, respect and high status which were his. Sometimes this decision, the renunciation and the willful sacrifice will cause things to work out, seemingly mysteriously, so that the person will not have to actually give up the recognition and honor, as they will return to him from another direction.
Karmic fulfillment and morality
At times, ‘karmic fulfillment’ seems to contradict accepted moral norms. An example of this can be found in the story of the knight Percival, whose figure is, according to Steiner, a prototype of modern man (see GA 144.) Percival was born to a mother who hid his knightly identity from him, as she hoped to save him from the fate of his father, the legendary Sir Lancelot. Till the age of 15 she raised him in the woods with great devotion, in the company of 15 women, without telling him of his origin or of the existence of the institution of knighthood.
One day, Percival comes upon a group of knights who were passing through the woods. Entranced by their heroic appearance, Percival decides to be a knight himself. His loving mother collapses and dies one day after his departure. On his path towards fulfilling his destiny, Percival unknowingly commits many immoral acts. His journey is long and arduous, and at its end he becomes the King of the Holy Grail.
Similarly, our Henia also left behind her a husband who supported her financially and emotionally for many years, and elderly parents who also supported and loved her. Driven by her decision, Henia left forever. These two examples show that fulfilling one’s karma involves the breaking of moral codes and doing acts of “evil”. A person gives him/herself justifications so as not to feel the evil, as in the claim “the end justifies the means.” However, the stain of evil remains within, and must be dealt with eventually.
Till the age of 35, more or less, one can feel one’s evil internally. Later, if this recognition has not occurred, the conflict between karmic fulfillment and morality “moves to the limbs,” that is, it is expressed physically, as an injury or disease of the body.
An example can be found in the Jewish tradition. Jacob had a mission – to be the physical and spiritual father of the Hebrew Nation. In order to achieve this Jacob had to cheat his father and his brother Esau and deprive the latter of his seniority and the blessing of his father. From the perspective of Esau, a terrible injustice had been done.
Jacob, in his commitment to be the father of the Jewish people, also cheated Laban when he left him. Laban told him to choose for himself one type of goats, and leave the other type with Laban. Jacob secretly interfered with the process of the offspring’s’ birth by carving sticks in different ways and putting them inside the water troughs, for the goats to look at when they were drinking. The “trick” worked, and the goats gave birth to offspring’s with the same spots and shapes as those appearing on the sticks.
In the case of Jacob, the result of his necessary immorality was his struggle with the angel, a struggle from which he emerged limping, wounded in his thigh; in other words, the results of his actions “descended to the limbs.”
In the case of Henia, at the age of 41 a hidden genetic disease flared up and had a devastating effect on her pelvic bones and legs. She lay for many months, helpless and in pain, without the ability to move. This in fact was the beginning of her spiritual journey into Anthroposophy.
The correction of the ‘Karmic Inevitability’ or the evil it can lead to includes a sacrifice. The sacrifice is the acceptance that you should return to the place from which you have always fled. Whether this involves initiating an emotional separation, or assenting to descend from the ivory tower, as in the case of Henia. A mental spiritual metamorphosis can only take place when a sacrifice is offered. Without it the individual is forced to repeatedly fulfill his/her Karmic Inevitability, sometimes till death.
In the case of Henia, a complete correction took place. Henia is an unusual person in her spiritual development. She gained much knowledge and contributed and helped others. She serves the spiritual truth without regard to social status and money. She avoids the limelight and works behind the scenes.
The biblical story of Abraham is also relevant here – hewas required to sacrifice that which he held dearest, his son,. who was also God’s promise to him: “To your seed I will give this land.” Abraham did not hesitate, and when he was about to sacrifice his son, he was no longer required to do so.
The acquiescence, the willingness to sacrifice, can allow spiritual blossoming. At times, if the acquiescence is real and not manipulative, the sacrifice will not be required after all.
(1)Karmic relationship 2- Lecture III: The Study of History and the Observation of Man April 23, 1924
(2)Beings of the Spiritual World and the Shaping of Karma May 18, 1924
(3)Lecture XI: Beings of the Spiritual World and the Shaping of Karma May 18, 1924 – See more in (3) : http://wn.rsarchive.org/Lectures/GA236/English/RSP1974/Karm02_index.html#sthash.RqM7x4Wi.dpuf
This article is based on a biography workshop which was presented by Mr. Tzvi Briger, biographical counselorand Anthroposophy scholar, in Haifa, Israel, 2011.
In his studies T. Briger relates to things said by Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Anthroposophy, in his various lectures, articles and books. For T. Briger, Steiner’s doctrine forms the basis of further research. He creates new and creative links which were not necessarily formed by Steiner, but are based on his words.
In this sense, Tzvi Briger is an active and innovative scholar. He breathes new life into the sometimes obscure writings of Steiner, and does this the true spirit of Steiner himself, who always sought to bring to life abstract concepts, so that they will not become dead ideas.
I have edited and reorganized Tzvi Briger’s words from the workshop recordings, and therefore I naturally am responsible for any mistake or misunderstanding this essay may contain.