The Anthroposophical conception of Karma
One of Rudolf Steiner's main themes throughout his work was about the importance of a proper understanding of Karma. And this is one area in which many misconceptions have been encountered since the beginning. According to Steiner, Karma is most often misunderstood as the iron law of the past determining the present. Karma is actually much more complex and flexible.
For there to be free will in the universe, not everything in the present can be determined by the past. If the past controls the present completely, there would be no free will. The individual human being has to be free to do both good and evil in order to truly be truly free. Yet if he or she chooses evil, they may very well harm another person who did not "deserve" to be harmed. That is why karma must be understood by looking both forwards and backwards in time. Karma is the law that every action must be balanced out before the end of human evolution. If you do evil, if you harm an innocent, then you incur an obligation to make it right in the future.
The implications of this are several. First, if something bad happens to you, there are actually three possibilities:
- You deserved it - you did bad things, and this misfortune is the past coming back to you.
- You are the victim of someone else's bad choices (bear your fate as best you can, and rest assured that every bad deed must be made good again, if not in this life, then in another).
- It may be a chance occurrence. Yes, Steiner’s view of karma also allows for chance, or a random influence in the universe. See his book Chance, Providence and Necessity. (Spring Valley: Anthroposophical Press, 1988.)
Unless you are a clairvoyant, you will never know what caused a particular misfortune (your own or someone else's). It could be the past (karma), the free will of the present, or simple chance.
Further, Steiner also states that forgiveness is the highest spiritual good: if someone owes you for a past misdeed and you forgive them - either by forgoing your inclination for revenge or by renouncing the recompense that is due to you (so that it may be used for those who could use even more help) - then you are performing one of the most powerful deeds a free human being can accomplish. Your sacrifice of your self interest allows others to get the help they need.
Thus, in Anthroposophy there is simply no excuse for harming others. There can be no justification along the lines of "you had that coming because you harmed me (or someone else)". And no follower of Steiner's teachings can ever look at another person and say, "You deserve your misfortune". Such a thing can never be known without full clairvoyant consciousness.
There is also no excuse for not helping others as much as you can. Helping other people does not harm the universe, but instead improves the whole world for all of humanity. Some people mistakenly believe that helping someone who is "supposed to" suffer might unbalance the universe, but this is incorrect. For first, who is to judge who is "supposed to" suffer and who is supposed to recieve aid? And second, the world is not harmed by more good deeds. A true good deed is more difficult than it might first appear, because you have to determine the appropriate way to help. Many people "help" in the way that they want to, and not necessarily in the way that is needed. It takes a certain amount of moral intuition to determine what is needed, rather than simply doing what you would prefer to do. But appropriately rendered help always improves the universe.