Biographical turning points from a karmic perspective

By Orna Ben Dor

Drawing Noga Ben Dor

“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 consciousness was only “the tip of the iceberg.” Underneath it, in the unconscious, lies a turbulent, rich and complex psychic life which governs the individual’s feelings, behavior and thought, and 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, claimed that the unconscious is home to the rule of destiny: to one’s karma. The unconscious realm is the one that actually directs the events of one’s actions and encounters with other people. These in turn, are designed to allow the Self to meet its destiny beyond the threshold of birth, to rectify itself, and spiritually develop from one earthly life to another.

Steiner viewed 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 be revealed to mankind. People in our era are supposed to rediscover the source from which we all emerged and to which we all are heading. Only by understanding the linkage between the earthly and spiritual worlds, and their reciprocal influence, can we fully recognize and understand ourselves. According to Eastern thought our period is considered the period in which the age of spiritual darkness – known as “Kali Yuga” – ends, and the gates of the spiritual world reopen for mankind.

Karmic Compensation:

There are several doors through which one can enter and understand karma and reincarnations. One such gate is called ‘Karmic Imperative and its Essential Fulfillment’.

The cosmos holds a moral necessity, according to which, each immoral deed inflicts suffering upon the wrong doer, the aim of which is rectification and soul mending. Such process is called ‘karmic compensation’’ or in other words- ‘karmic balance’.

Let us review a case in which one person hurts another in a given life cycle; in the spiritual world after death, and before rebirth, the first person’s soul’s is determined to rectify itself. Such decision is taken in that realm since it is there, in the spiritual world, that a person fully understands that his objective worth as soul and spirit is diminished if his soul is stained by the act of hurting another soul.

During a defined period, named- Kamaloka, each one of us experiences the pain he/she inflicted upon others as if it were his/her own pain. Such an experience and the understanding that one will remain faulty should one not mend and rectify the bad deed, gives rise to the willingness to go through a rectification process, to acknowledge the requirement for ‘Karmic Compensation’ that will enable the release from the detrimental influence of the wrong deed.

Immoral deeds, wrong-doing and evil acts towards others are acts in which a person regards others as objects, exploits them for his own benefit, or abuses them. Although the decision regarding ‘Karmic Compensation’ takes place in the spiritual world, its implementation can only take place here on earth, when a soul returns to other life cycle.

The decisions to rectify and achieve balance are made by the person with the guidance of the higher spiritual Hierarchies, that accompany a person since its creation. Such hierarchies are various expressions of the infinite, and are known in the Jewish Kabbalah as, the Spheres.

So what is ‘Karmic Imperative’?

The word Imperative indicates that it is not dependent on a person’s free choice, but rather forced upon him regardless of his will or wish.

When a person returns to another life cycle, 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. It is that memory that leads him to seek rectification. The rectification is achieved through others and by crucial biographical events, such events fashion the Imperative as though from the outside. A person is “baptized” into a certain reality, and it is as though he is told: “This is your karmic compensation”.

Karmic imperatives are engrained in a person until he reaches the age of 21.

AngeloiArchangeloi 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 Imperatives must reach their inevitable fulfillment. In other words, the issue at hand will reappear again and again, so that it will be inscribed, even tattooed on the soul and body, to make sure he understands that the Imperative is an integral part of the rectification process, and belongs to his karma and individual biography.

Childhood, is a recapitulation (succinct summary) of a previous incarnation. Every person re-enters the world by reconstructing a soul gesture and even a certain sense of previous social standing that is related to his previous life.

For example, a man who in his previous incarnation belonged to a high social class such as, aristocracy or priesthood, feels superior to others. Through his high status he probably enjoyed being served by others and was 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. Such a person may lack sensitivity to lower-class people around him and regard them as inferior.

Even though such a person might reach high achievements in different scopes of life and even obtain lofty spiritual insights, still – he will be morally lacking.

When such a person passes through the ‘gates of death’ acknowledges his immoral deeds and the fact that his absolute cosmic value diminished – and decides to rectify.

According to the law of recapitulation, he will return to the world in his next incarnation with the same sense of superiority and uniqueness, as a mental gesture that testifies of his previous life.

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, since they originate from a previous life and are also fortified by the attitude of others toward him – his family, teachers, and often his peer group as well.

The ‘Karmic Imperative’ will be manifested as a fall from a high position. The moral flaw in the previous reincarnation was characterized by arrogant and inconsiderate behavior towards others, that stemmed from a sense of superiority and lack of sensitivity. The fall from the top will cause the boy to experience the same pain he himself inflicted upon others in his previous life. This might be manifested by a sense of humiliation, exclusion, helplessness and injured pride.

Biographical Event

Henia was a wise girl, the first in the class, especially beloved by her homeroom teacher, from whom she receives special attention. Then one day, the regular teacher left on maternity leave and a substitute teacher arrived. She did not recognize Henia’s uniqueness and did not grant her any special treatment. In fact, her attitude suggested that she was slightly resentful toward Henia’s outstanding behavior in class.

Henia experiences a strong sense of failure and humiliation. The substitute teacher made her feel as if she was not smart enough and not at all special. In fact, that was her karmic Imperative.

It is important to note that Henia’s emotional interpretation of the event was tied to her karmic Imperative. The event was generated in order to raise the karmic sense.

Most ‘karmic Imperatives’ are delicate inscriptions of destiny, inscriptions which after the age of 21 are exhibited more profoundly as karmic fulfillment.

Children who manage to hold on through the karmic Imperative will be able to carry on and endure suffering until the day in which they will decipher its meaning.

However there are cases in which ‘karmic Imperatives’ will defeat the child and he will not be able to hold on. This might be manifested in different ways whose goal is the same – to dim the sense of suffering. States such as emotional detachment up to extreme cases of autism, grave illnesses, and various addictions starting from puberty. Addictions may develop in later periods as well, when the ‘karmic demand’ returns as ‘karmic fulfillment’.

Karmic Fulfillment

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]

While suffering in childhood and youth is forced upon a person, starting from the age of 21, a person will make decisions, that will later result in suffering that is connected to his karmic Imperative, without being aware that he himself caused his condition either directly or indirectly. He will ‘summon’ events or encounters with people through which his karma will be fulfilled over and over again.

Biographical event (continued)

As she grew up, Henia gained a respectable profession, and at the age of 28 made the fateful decision to leave her homeland and emigrate to Israel. At the same time she left her first husband who took care of her and supported her for quite a few years. But when she reached this new land, she could not find a job to match her skills and was thus forced to work as in child-care with 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 that characterized the childhood event.  This time it was she herself, through her own seemingly conscious decision (to leave her homeland), that brought it upon herself.

Such events returned again and again in Henia’s life, and only after the age of 41, following conscious spiritual work on her biography and after a severe mental crisis that was accompanied by a physical disease, did she begin to tie the threads between her life’s events and examine them from the viewpoint of the karmic Imperative and its fulfillment. Following which, the events gained the higher meaning that assisted Henia to emerge from the crisis into which she fell.

It is important to note that a person may retreat and not be able to endure through Karmic Imperatives. In the case of Henia, one way to avoid karma would have been to return to her homeland. But she chose to stay on and cope. She barely managed to hold on and move on to the next step.

Usually, the decision to move on is related to a departure from the past. Many people do not cross that threshold, since such parting involved much suffering. There is a temptation to turn back to the familiar world and past connections. People with a spiritual mission will cross the threshold.

In the biblical story of Lot, God commands him and his family, not to look back at the burning city of Sodom, Lot’s wife fails to fulfill this injunction, which resulted in her immediate death.

When they had brought them outside, they said, “Flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the Plain; flee to the hills, or else you will be consumed.” (Genesis, Chapter 19, verse 17)

there are people who do not have the strength, for karmic reasons, to cross this threshold and in spite of that seemingly continue their external lives as successful people, active and opinionated. However, spiritually they undergo a process of spiritual regression, which will be expressed in their later years.

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]

A person who managed to endure suffering reaches a state in which he does not fight anymore against his karmic Imperative. For example, he may decide to consent to his ‘low status’ without trying to release himself from it. 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. At the same time, he will be in a position not to regard them with much importance anymore.

 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 [5], whose figure is a prototype of modern man who goes through an initiation journey of development. Percival’s journey is long and arduous, at the end of which he is crowned as the king of the Holy Grail.

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 encounters 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.  The most immoral deed was that when he passed upon Anfortas, the king of the Holy Grail that was terminally ill, he did not show interest and ask him the crucial question that would have saved him from his agony.

Henia, who’s karmic Imperative I describe in this article, 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 her past behind forever.

During the course of fulfilling one’s karma, a person may find 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.

When a person does not acknowledge the immorality that accompanies his necessary actions on the way to karmic Imperative, fails to sense the pain he caused others, the conflict between karmic fulfillment and morality ’moves to the limbs‘, that is, it is expressed physically, as an injury or disease in the body.

An example can be found in the Old Testament with Jacob, the physical and spiritual forefather of the Hebrew Nation. In order to achieve his mission Jacob had to cheat his father and his brother Esau and deprive the latter of his seniority and obtain the blessing of his father. By doing so he caused Esau injustice and great pain. Moreover, Jacob, in his commitment to be the father of the nation, also cheated Laban, the father of his two wives, when he left him with all his possessions.

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.”

The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuellimping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle”. (Genesis, chapter 32, verses 31-32).

It is important to note that even though karmic fulfillment sometimes requires immoral behavior, it will always require a person to pay for his deeds.

Returning to the biography of Henia – at the age of 41 she was inflicted with a severe disc rupture that paralyzed her for many months, helpless and in pain, without the ability to move. This in fact was the beginning of her conscious spiritual journey.

The Sacrifice

The correction of the ‘Karmic Imperative’ requires sacrifice. The sacrifice is manifested in the readiness to be in a state you tried to avoid throughout your lifetime. This may involve initiating an emotional separation, or agreeing to ‘be reduced’ in any manner.

A mental-spiritual metamorphosis can only take place when a sacrifice is offered. Karmic Imperative may sometimes continue till death.

The acquiescence, the willingness to sacrifice, may enable spiritual blossoming. At times, if the acquiescence is real and not manipulative with the expectation to be paid off –  the sacrifice will not be required after all.

The archetypical story of sacrifice is described in the biblical story of Isaac’s sacrifice. Eventually, due to Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his beloved son, the actual sacrifice was not required anymore.



[1] Steiner, R. (1924), Karmic Relationships vol.2, lecture 15, Rudolf Steiner Archive, GA236

[2] Steiner, R. (1924), Karmic Relationships vol.2, lecture 11, Rudolf Steiner Archive, GA236

[3] Steiner, R. (1924), Karmic Relationships vol.2, lecture 11, Rudolf Steiner Archive, GA236

[4] Steiner, R. (1924), Karmic Relationships vol.2, lecture 11, Rudolf Steiner Archive, GA236

[5] Steiner R (1913), “Mysteries of the East”. Rudolf Steiner’s Archive, GA 144

* This article is based on a biography workshop which was presented by Mr. Tzvi Briger, biographical counselor and 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 for 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 by doing so is loyal to 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.