It is not enough for us merely to introduce ideas such as those of reincarnation and karma — the question is, in what way we introduce them. If they become merely an incentive to egoism, then they do not raise our civilised life, they only serve to sink it lower. There is another way again in which reincarnation and karma become unethical — anti-ethical — ideas. Many people say: “I must be good, so that I may have a fortunate incarnation next time.” To act from such a motive, to be virtuous in order that one may have as pleasant a time as possible in the next incarnation — this is not simple egoism, but double egoism. Yet this double egoism is what many people did actually get out of the ideas of reincarnation and karma. Our civilisation possesses so little of any altruistic or religious impulse, that it is incapable of conceiving even such ideas as those of reincarnation and karma in the sense that would make them a stimulus to altruistic, not to egoistic actions and sentiments.
Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 191 – Cosmogony, Freedom, Altruism – Lecture 4 – Dornach, October 10, 1919
Previously posted on April 6, 2014