Reincarnation and Karma

Since modern times, the human being's responsibility for himself and for the world in which he lives has grown enormously. This also has consequences for his own spiritual existence:  On one hand, man increasingly becomes what he made himself. On the other hand, he is faced with the consequences of his own actions in the world. The consequences for civilization of both are evident.

The concept of re-embodiment of the individual soul and of fate as understood within Anthroposophy includes that this link between self-determination and selfhood, respectively the link between action and responsibility continues to exist even when the boundaries of birth and death are crossed.

„The ego gains essence and importance from what it is connected with.“

Rudolph Steiner

The Nature of the Human Being

„The ego gains essence and importance from what it is connected with“ - in his book „Theosophy“ Rudolf Steiner describes with these simple words a complex relationship: The own existence is shaped by what it is dealing with.

What the ego connects itself with depends on the past (body) and can be perceived and shaped in the present (soul), and can lead to abilities to realise the own existence based on future opportunities (spirit).

These and other fundamental dimensions of human existence are subject of Rudolf Steiner‘s following comments.

„The following words of Goethe point beautifully to the beginning of one way by which the essential nature of man can be known. “As soon as a person becomes aware of the objects around him, he considers them in relation to himself, and rightly so, because his whole fate depends on whether they please or displease him, attract or repel, help or harm him. This quite natural way of looking at or judging things appears to be as easy as it is necessary. A person is, nevertheless, exposed through it to a thousand errors that often make him ashamed and embitter his life.

“A far more difficult task is undertaken by those whose keen desire for knowledge urges them to strive to observe the objects of nature as such and in their relationship to each other. These individuals soon feel the lack of the test that helped them when they, as men, regarded the objects in reference to themselves personally. They lack the test of pleasure and displeasure, attraction and repulsion, usefulness and harmfulness. Yet this test must be renounced entirely. They ought as dispassionate and, so to speak, divine beings, to seek and examine what is, not what gratifies. Thus the true botanist should not be moved either by the beauty or by the usefulness of the plants. He must study their formation and their relation to the rest of the plant kingdom. They are one and all enticed forth and shone upon by the sun without distinction, and so he should, equably and quietly, look at and survey them all and obtain the test for this knowledge, the data for his deductions, not out of himself, but from within the circle of the things he observes.”

This thought thus expressed by Goethe directs man's attention to three divisions of things. First, the objects concerning which information continually flows to him through the doors of his senses — the objects he touches, smells, tastes, hears and sees. Second, the impressions that these make on him, characterizing themselves through the fact that he finds the one sympathetic, the other abhorrent, the one useful, another harmful. Third, the knowledge that he, as a “so to speak divine being,” acquires concerning the objects, that is, the secrets of their activities and their being as they unveil themselves to him.

These three divisions are distinctly separate in human life, and man thereby becomes aware that he is interwoven with the world in a threefold way. The first division is one that he finds present, that he accepts as a given fact. Through the second he makes the world into his own affair, into something that has a meaning for him. The third he regards as a goal towards which he ought unceasingly to strive.

Why does the world appear to man in this threefold way? A simple consideration will explain it. I cross a meadow covered with flowers. The flowers make their colours known to me through my eyes. That is the fact I accept as given. Having accepted the fact, I rejoice in the splendour of the colours. Through this I turn the fact into an affair of my own. Through my feelings I connect the flowers with my own existence. Then, a year later I go again over the same meadow. Other flowers are there. Through them new joys arise in me. My joy of the former year will appear as a memory. This is in me. The object that aroused it in me is gone, but the flowers I now see are of the same kind as those I saw the year before. They have grown in accordance with the same laws as have the others. If I have informed myself regarding this species and these laws, I then find them again in the flowers of this year, just as I found them in those of last year. So I shall perhaps muse, “The flowers of last year are gone and my joy in them remains only in my memory. It is bound up with my existence alone. What I recognized in the flowers of last year and recognize again this year, however, will remain as long as such flowers grow. That is something that revealed itself to me, but it is not dependent on my existence in the same way as my joy is. My feelings of joy remain in me. The laws, the being of the flowers, remain outside of me in the world.”

By these means man continually links himself in this threefold way with the things of the world. One should not, for the present, read anything into this fact, but merely take it as it stands. From this it can be seen that man has three sides to his nature. This and nothing else will, for the present, be indicated here by the three words, body, soul and spirit. Whoever connects any preconceived opinions or even hypotheses with these three words will necessarily misunderstand the following explanations. By body is here meant that through which the things in the environment of a man reveal themselves to him, as in the above example, the flowers in the meadow. By the word soul is signified that by which he links the things to his own being, through which he experiences pleasure and displeasure, desire and aversion, joy and sorrow in connection with them. By spirit is meant what becomes manifest in him when as Goethe expressed it, he looks at things as a “so to speak divine being.” In this sense man consists of body, soul and spirit.


Rudolf Steiner: Theosophy. CW9. Chapter One: „The Essential Nature of Man”)

English language edition:
Rudolf Steiner: Theosophy - An Introduction to the Super-Sensible Knowledge of the World and the Destination of Man. Translated by Henry B. Monges
and revised by Gilbert Church.
Anthroposophic Press, 1971.

Original title:
Rudolf Steiner: Theosophie, "Das Wesen des Menschen". GA 9. Dornach 1961, S. 24f