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Alois Delug - The Norns, 1895

Karma ([ˈkaʁma] or [ˈkərmə][1]; Sanskrit: n., कर्म, karman, Pali: kamma, "action, deed, work", derived from the Sanskrit root कृ kṛ (kri) "to do, make, act, work"; Hebrewקַרְמָה karmā resp. גּוֹרָל gôral "fate"), the universal law of destiny, states that every physical, mental or spiritual effect that emanates from a spiritual being and - consciously or unconsciously - disturbs the spiritual-cosmic order[2] reverberates back to that being itself and also disturbs its own inner soul-astral order and brings it into disharmony with the spiritual world order and thereby determines its destiny, sometimes also referred to as fate (from Latinfatum "fact"), but with a different, more fatalistic meaning. Karma applies not only to man but to all spiritual beings in the entire cosmos.

Karma is inscribed into the astral world

Just as the etheric body is the carrier of our memory, so the effects of our deeds are inscribed in our astral body. When we go through the Kamaloka after death, all that we cannot purify here is inscribed in the astral world, the world astrality, as our karma. It cannot be taken into the higher astral world and still less into the Devachan, that is, the actual spiritual world, and remains in the lower astral world of the earth sphere. When we descend to the Earth for a new incarnation, our karma is again woven into the newly formed astral body.

„... just as the etheric body is the tool for our thoughts, insofar as they become memories and are incorporated into memory, so our astral body is the tool for our deeds. They arise from our astral body. Everything that man does, and thus, as I have described, incorporates as an effect of the outer world, is bound to the tool of the human astral body. Just as his everyday consciousness is bound to the physical body, just as his memories and his memory are bound to the etheric body, so, however fine the astral body may be, everything that man does, which is an effect in the outer world, is done through the human astral body. The consequence of this is that it also remains connected in a certain respect with this astral body, just as memory remains connected with the etheric body. If, as we have seen, we still live in our etheric body after death, then the memory tableau is formed; that is to say, the memories of our past life remain bound to our etheric body. When we have laid aside our etheric body some time after death and have entered into the general life ether what our personality first retained in memories, in memory content, then we still live entirely in our astral body. We have often described how man still has a long time to live in his astral body. In this astral body we are indeed - as has often been described - connected with the outer effects of our life. This is also shown externally by the fact that after death man has to relive his world of deeds backwards, everything he has ever done or performed for other beings on earth. In a time of which we have said that it amounts to about a third of his past life, he feels as if he were passing through his earthly deeds in his astral body, through all that he has done on earth. And just as - after we have laid aside our etheric body a few days after death - our personal memories are inscribed in the general life ether, so during the time in which we are still connected with the astral body, all our deeds are inscribed in the general world-astrality. There they stand, and we remain connected with them just as we remain connected with the memories of our personality, which are inscribed as a permanent note in the world ether, only our deeds are inscribed, as it were, in another world note. While we relive the deeds of our last life, all this is entered into the general world-astrality and we remain connected with it. Through our astral body, therefore, we permanently belong to our deeds, insofar as we are earthly people.

What I have just described, what connects us with our deeds, that is karma. That is in reality karma: what is entered from our life deeds into the general world astrality.“ (Lit.:GA 133, p. 140f)

Past and future karma

ΔΑΙΜΩΝ, demon

As on the day that bestowed thee on the world,
The sun stood to greet the planets,
Hast thou forthwith and evermore prospered
According to the law by which thou didst begin.
This is how you must be, you cannot escape from it,
So said the sibyls, so said the prophets;
And no time and no power can dismember
shaped form that develops alive.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Urworte. Orphic[3]

Through his actions, man imposes on himself a karmic task to be fulfilled in the future, which he cannot escape sooner or later, but which not only does not affect his freedom, but - together with the knowledge of good and evil - has made it possible in the first place, because freedom also means, above all, taking active responsibility for the consequences of one's deeds. Fate is not a punishment imposed by the gods, but it is one's own higher self that assumes this responsibility and willingly brings about the execution of fate. Responsibility is not exhausted in an earthly life. From an anthroposophical point of view, fate clearly proves to be the consequence of previous earthly lives. Karma and reincarnation thus appear to be inseparably connected for the earthly embodied human being. Karma, however, is not only to be seen as a lunar effect from the past. Not everything that happens to us is determined by past events, but enters our lives anew through no fault of our own. Even if we suffer from it at the moment, it will find its karmic compensation in the future.

Of particular importance in the future will be the solar karma, consciously created in freedom from present circumstances and pointing to the future, which as a creatively generated cause opens up new positive possibilities and also predisposes such possibilities for communal work in the coming incarnations. These two sides of Janus-faced karma are now often referred to as lunar karma (past) and solar karma (future). Karma helps people to free themselves from the burden of the past and opens up completely new possibilities for the future. By no means should it be misunderstood in the sense of a strictly deterministic doctrine of predestination.

In this context, Rudolf Steiner also speaks of creating out of circumstances, which are not derived from the past, but from the way in which the human being freely faces the facts of his environment.

„Thus we see as the final conclusion of what has been impressed on man by Saturn, the Sun and the Moon, the Christ event has come on Earth, which has given man the highest thing, which makes him able to live into the perspective of the future and to create more and more out of the circumstances, out of that which is not there, but depends on how man places himself in relation to the facts of his environment, which is the Holy Spirit in the most comprehensive sense. This is again such an aspect of Christian esotericism. Christian esotericism is connected with the deepest thought we can have of all development, with the thought of creation out of nothing.

Therefore, any true theory of evolution will never be able to drop the idea of creation out of nothing. If we assume that there is only evolution and involution, then there would be an eternal repetition, as there is with the plant, so on the Vulcan there would only be that which had its beginning on Saturn. But in this way creation out of nothing is added to evolution and involution and enters into the middle of our development. After Saturn, the Sun and the Moon have passed away, the Christ enters upon the Earth as the great element of enrichment which causes something quite new to exist on the Vulcan, something which was not yet there on Saturn. He who speaks only of evolution and involution will speak of development as if everything were only repeating itself like a cycle. But such cycles can never really explain world evolution. Only if we add to evolution and involution this creation out of nothing, which adds something new to the conditions that exist, will we arrive at a real understanding of the world.“ (Lit.:GA 107, p. 313f)

Earlier Rudolf Steiner had already explained this by means of examples which make it clear that the moon-like karma of the past plays no part in this, but the joy which arises as something entirely new from the present sight of the circumstances to which one has freely confronted oneself.

„Suppose you had before you a human being facing two others. Let us take together all that belongs to development. Let us take the one human being who is looking at the two others before us and say: he has passed through previous incarnations, he has developed out what previous incarnations have put into him. This is also the case with the other two people standing before him. But let us now suppose that this person now says to himself the following: The one person next to the other looks very beautiful here. - He likes the fact that these two people are standing next to each other. Another person would not need to be so pleased. The pleasure that one person takes in standing together has nothing at all to do with the developmental possibilities of the other two, for they have not acquired the ability to please the third person by standing side by side. That is something quite different; it depends solely on the fact that he is standing opposite the two people. So you see, the human being forms within himself the feeling of joy over the two standing together before him. This feeling is not conditioned by anything connected with development. There are such things in the world which arise only through the facts being brought together. It is not a question of the two people being connected by their karma. Let us take into consideration the pleasure he derives from the fact that the two people standing side by side are pleasing to him.

Let us take another case. Let us assume that a man is standing here at a certain point on the Earth and is looking up into the sky. There he sees a certain constellation of stars. If he were to stand five steps further, he would see something else. This gazing evokes in him the feeling of joy, which is something quite new. Thus man undergoes a sum of facts which are entirely new, which are not at all conditioned by his earlier development. Everything that the lily of the valley brings is conditioned by the earlier development. But this is not the case with what affects the human soul from its surroundings. Man has a whole multitude of matters which have nothing to do with an earlier development, but which are there because man comes into contact with the outer world through certain circumstances. But through the fact that man has this joy, it has become something in him, it has become an experience for him. Something has arisen in the human soul which is not determined by anything earlier, which has arisen out of nothing. Such creations out of nothing arise continually in the human soul. They are the experiences of the soul, which are not experienced through facts, but through relations, through relationships between the facts, which one forms oneself. I would ask you to distinguish between experiences that one has from the facts and those that one has from the relations between the facts.

Life really breaks down into two parts which run into each other without boundary: into such experiences as are strictly conditioned by previous causes, by karma, and into such as are not conditioned by karma, but enter our circle of vision anew.“ (Lit.:GA 107, p. 303f)

In Christian esotericism, creating out of circumstances is also called creating in the spirit.

„In Christian esotericism, creating out of circumstances is called creating in the spirit. And creating out of right, beautiful and virtuous circumstances is called the Holy Spirit in Christian esotericism. The Holy Spirit makes man happy when he is able to create out of nothing what is right or true, beautiful and good. But in order for man to be able to create in the sense of this Holy Spirit, he first had to be given the basis for all creation out of nothing. This foundation was given to him through the entry of the Christ into our evolution. By experiencing the Christ event on Earth, man became capable of ascending to creation in the Holy Spirit. Thus it is Christ Himself who creates the most eminent, deepest foundation. If man becomes so that he stands firm on the ground of the Christ-experience, that the Christ-experience is the chariot into which he enters in order to develop himself further, then the Christ sends him the Holy Spirit, and man becomes capable of creating what is right, beautiful and good in the sense of further development.“ (Lit.:GA 107, p. 312f)

The karma from the past reveals itself in the form of the head, the center of the nervous-sensory system, in which the Archai, Archangeloi and Angeloi work. The future karma matures invisibly in the metabolic-limb system where the Thrones, Cherubim and Seraphim live. In between lies the rhythmic system with the heart as its centre, in which the hierarchy of the Exusiai, Dynamis and Kyriotetes are present.

„So that we can say to ourselves, with regard to what becomes visible in the form of the head, really visible externally: every human being has his own head, no one has exactly the formation of the head of the other. - Although people often look alike, they are dissimilar in their karma. In the formation of the head the karma of man's past comes to light for the physical-sensual view; in the metabolic-limb system the future karma; spiritually hidden, invisible, it is there. So that when we speak spiritually of man, we can say: Man consists on the one hand in making his past Karma visible, on the other hand in carrying his future Karma invisibly within himself.

Thus we can ascend to an inner-spiritual contemplation of man. If we look at the metabolic-limb man, only the physical and the etheric are lowly in him; the entities of the highest Hierarchy live in the metabolic-limb system. If we go to the head, the head is certainly the most perfect part of the human being in a physical-sensuous way, because it carries within itself in an outer, visible way that which spiritually works over from earlier earthly lives - it is, after all, usually held in the highest esteem - but it is not so in a spiritual respect. For while Thrones, Cherubim, Seraphim live in the metabolic limb system, Archai, Archangeloi, Angeloi live in the head system. They are the ones who are essentially behind all that we experience with our head in the sensual-physical world. They live in us, in our head system; they act behind our consciousness, they encounter the effects of the merely physical-sensual world and they reflect this back, and we only become aware of the mirror images. That of which we become conscious in the head system is only the appearance of the deeds of the Archai, Archangeloi, Angeloi in us (it is drawn). If I am to continue the scheme, I must say: In the head system of man, at the other pole, Archai, Archangeloi, Angeloi work. - I always need for the spiritual beings, who could just as well be named with other expressions, the expressions of the older Christian conception of the world, which still had the spiritual, the spiritual.

Between the nervous-sensory system, which is preferably anchored in the head, and the metabolic system, man carries the rhythmic system. In this rhythmic system is that which proceeds between the lungs and the heart. In all this lives the hierarchy of the Exusiai, Dynamis, Kyriotetes.“ (Lit.:GA 239, p. 216ff)

Life as a meaningful wholeness

Looking back on his life, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's "original friend" Karl Ludwig von Knebel wrote about the inner coherence of destiny, which allows life to be recognised as a meaningful wholeness:

{{Quote|The 30th of December 1833.

- On closer observation one will find that in the lives of most people there is a certain plan which, by their own nature or by the circumstances which lead them, is, as it were, marked out for them.

The conditions of their lives, however varied and changeable they may be, nevertheless reveal in the end a whole which shows a certain consistency among them.

I have noticed this in particular, at my advanced age, under the various circumstances that have guided my life. It is not my intention, and would not be particularly rewarding, to list them individually here; but when I now add up what my fate and that of my own has thrown at me in life, I find that the outcome is mostly perfect agreement everywhere.

The hand of a certain fate, however hidden it may work, also shows itself exactly, it may now be moved by external effect or inner impulse; yes, contradictory reasons often move it in its direction.

As confused as the course is, reason and direction always show through.|Karl Ludwig von Knebel|ref=[4]


References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
Email: verlag@steinerverlag.com URL: www.steinerverlag.com.
Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English.
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold
steinerbooks.org - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.


  1. About the pronunciation of the word "karma" Rudolf Steiner said:

    „You see, the word word karma came to Europe in a roundabout way through English. through English. Well, because that's how it's spelt: Karma, people people very often say "karma". That is mispronounced. Karma is to be pronounced just as if it were written with ä ([ɛ] or [æ]. I have always spoken "ka(= ä)rma" since I have been leading the Anthroposophical Society, and I regret that very many people have got into the have got into the habit of constantly saying the horrible word "kirma". say. They must always understand, these people, when I say "karma", "kirma". I say "karma", "kirma". That is terrible. You will have heard it also that some very faithful disciples have been saying "kirma" for some time now.“ (Lit.:GA 235, p. 64)

  2. The spiritual-cosmic order and its reflection in the earthly-human world was originally called Ṛta (Sanskrit: n., ऋत, ṛta (rita) "truth, law, order") in Hinduism. Today, as in Buddhism, the term dharma (Sanskrit, m., धर्म, dharma; Pali: dhamma "custom, law, order") is commonly used for it.
  3. In German:

    ΔΑΙΜΩΝ, Dämon

    Wie an dem Tag, der dich der Welt verliehen,
    Die Sonne stand zum Gruße der Planeten,
    Bist alsobald und fort und fort gediehen
    Nach dem Gesetz, wonach du angetreten.
    So mußt du sein, dir kannst du nicht entfliehen,
    So sagten schon Sibyllen, so Propheten;
    Und keine Zeit und keine Macht zerstückelt
    Geprägte Form, die lebend sich entwickelt.

    (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Urworte. Orphisch)
  4. Karl Ludwig von Knebel's literarischer Nachlaß und Briefwechsel. Herausgegeben von K. A. Varnhagen von Ense und Th. Mundt. Dritter Band. Leipzig, 1836. p. 452 pdf (German)