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On Good Fortune, Its Reality and Its Semblance ☼

This is reset gist from a Steiner lecture: main points of he tells is structured to be of good help. The data of the full lecture is given at the bottom of the page.

1. Making good sense out of happenings and things and being comprehensible is a fruit of knowledge, and suggests a real development in consciousness

Good fortune can be regarded as bringing our soul-forces into a certain harmonious mood. How different the conceptions of fortune and misfortune are in an ascetic and a sensualist! The philosophers' answers are often grotesquely remote, in this connection, from our experience in everyday life.

To become comprehensible is the essential. Not only to derive satisfaction from success but to take it as an incentive to further development, (and) regarding failure and misfortune in the same way. The philosophers or psychologists who write about fortune have a living relation to good or bad fortune only as they themselves have experienced it.

I used my good sense, my wisdom, in such a way that it should come about, but now I see that the result far exceeds all that my wisdom planned. This is the essential. The most eminent philosophers, from Aristotle down to our own times, have constantly characterized the possession of wisdom, of knowledge, as a piece of particularly good fortune.

Take a man who has no grounds for jealousy at all, but believes that he has every possible ground; he is unhappy in the deepest sense of the word, yet there is no occasion for it at all. The extent, the intensity, of the unhappiness depends not on any external reality but simply on the man's attitude to external reality - in this case, to a complete illusion. How enigmatic good fortune or misfortune - especially the latter - may be in a man's life. The following true and excellent folk-saying can be applied to the whole of a man's relation to his fortune: Simple country people have coined many beautiful and extraordinarily apposite sayings about fortune. Countless seeds must perish.

Many a man who thinks he has fathomed spiritual science when he has only perceived something of it from a distance falls into error by saying: Here is a fortunate man . . . An unfortunate man has prepared this bad fortune for himself in a former life. We may go still further, we need only keep undeniable facts before our eyes . . . Many germs of living beings perish without reaching any real development, because under existing conditions it is impossible for them to become that for which they were organized. We feel that we cannot speak of "misfortune" when we see a great martyr who has something of importance to transmit to the world. Robert Hamerling . . . had heard this story related in Venice:

A daughter was born to a married couple. The mother died in child-birth. The same day the father heard that all his property had been lost at sea. The shock brought on a stroke, and he, too, died the day the child was born. Hence the infant met with the misfortune of becoming an orphan on the first day of her earthly existence. She was first of all adopted by a rich relation, who drew up a will bequeathing a large fortune to the child. She died, however, while the child was still young; and when the will was opened it was found to contain a technical error. The will was contested and the child lost the whole of the fortune intended for her. Thus she grew up in want and misery and later had to become a maid-servant. Then a nice, suitable young man whom the girl liked very much fell in love with her. However, after the friendship had lasted some time, and when the poor girl, who had been earning her living under most difficult conditions, was able to think that at last some good fortune was coming her way, it transpired that her lover was of the Jewish persuasion and for this reason the marriage could not take place. She reproached him most bitterly for having deceived her, but she could not give him up. Her life continued its extraordinary, alternating course. The youth was equally unwilling to give up the girl, and he promised that after the death of his father - who had not long to live - he would be baptized, when the marriage could be celebrated. He was in fact very soon called to his father's death-bed. Now, to add to the troubles of this unfortunate girl, she became very ill indeed. In the meantime, the father of her betrothed had died at a distance, and his son was baptized. When he came back to her, however, the girl had already died of the mental suffering she had endured in addition to her physical malady. He found only a lifeless bride. Now he was overcome by most bitter grief, and he felt that he could not do otherwise - he must see his beloved again although she was already buried. Eventually he was successful in having her body exhumed; and behold, she was lying in a position that clearly showed she had been buried alive and had turned in the grave when she woke.
      A distinct consciousness of the inner depths . . . can help us only when it is changed into something. [so] we can quite well connect a gambler's luck with the satisfaction a man may have in acquiring an item of knowledge. When he speaks of good or bad fortune he means in the deepest sense what establishes contact between him and the world. [Yet] when it comes to man himself, to what he feels with regard to fortune or misfortune in his life, it would seem that when we try to grasp it conceptually, we very seldom succeed.

How we transform the experiences: Any man should try to create happiness out of his inmost being (Modified). And the man stands in a succession [Adjust to that, or many an] accepted conception of good fortune eludes us. Now anyone can inveigh [protest] against fortune, especially from the point of view of spiritual science.

With the powers I set in motion I expected something quite insignificant, but I am glad that my fortune has brought me something greater. In man outer semblance is continually being transformed into inner reality [through experiences]. It would seem that since good or bad fortune may be entirely dependent upon the inner being of man, the idea of good fortune as a general idea disappears.

All that in the outer world at first appeared to me as my ill-fortune, as the evil destiny of my life, becomes explicable to my spiritual understanding through my relation to the universal cosmos in which I am placed. Then ill-luck becomes a challenge to regard life as a school . . . that makes life richer and increases its significance.

2. Direct speech is good, yet one should take into account the likely responses and adjust to that too

DEPENDING, not on abstractions and theories but on reality itself [we] may see that a man - like a crystal fortunate enough to develop its angles freely in every direction - may be so fortunate as to be able to say with the crystal: nothing hinders me; external circumstances and the way of the world are so helpful to me that they set free what is purposed in the inmost core of my being - and only in this case does a man usually say that he is fortunate; any other circumstances either leave him indifferent or impel him to speak directly of misfortune. When we were struck by some misfortune, by some misadventure that might happen to us, we were to take it not simply as a blow, [but] "a great misfortune [that perhaps] has overtaken me."

And when a sick man - Herder - in the most severe physical pain says to his son: "give me a sublime and beautiful thought, and I will refresh myself with it" . . . [when he] comprehend the inner core of man not as what is there just for once but as something in the throes of a whole evolution, in the sense, that is, of spiritual science; [not] shaping one life but many.

What profound philosophy there is in the simplest man's outlook. In this respect those who call themselves the most enlightened could learn very much from them. What was originally external "semblance" becomes inner reality . . . Being [as] Reality [Mod.]

When a man passes through the gate of death, any illusion of fortune or of jealousy which he has looked on as a reality will be wiped out. Human fortune or misfortune . . . It is only necessary to utter these two words and immediately the sensitive judgment of man's heart will respond.

Man with his inner being must be. If we can count upon this in a world-conception, then we may say that this conception fulfills the hopes of even the best of men. But let us go further. Take the pleasure-seeking man, the man who throughout his life considers himself fortunate only when all the desires arising from his passions and instincts are satisfied - satisfied often by the most banal of pleasures. It might be quite impossible to speak of fortune or misfortune if a single human life only were taken into account.

All good fortune that comes to us from outside may change; good fortune may turn into bad. Suppose that the crystal, which ought to develop regular forms according to definite laws, should be compelled, through the vicinity of other crystals, or through other forces of nature at work near it, to develop one-sidedly and is prevented from forming its proper angles. There are actually very few crystals in nature perfectly formed in accordance with their inner laws. Good luck as well as bad may be in the highest degree subjective [if] a man who lived habitually . . . pictures to himself how fortunate it would be for him to be a parson in Sweden [yet with] no reality in any of it.
      To him for whose central being good fortune is only an incentive to higher development, ill-fortune is also a challenge to further evolution. Thus the apparent contradiction [can be] solved for us. The characteristic quality of man's desire for good fortune is deeply rooted in his incessant urge not to be alone with his thoughts, his feelings, his whole inner being, but to be in harmony with all that works and weaves in his environment. In reality a man speaks of good fortune when he is unwilling that some result, some effect, should depend on himself alone; on the contrary, he attaches great importance to its depending, not on himself but on something else.

3. Great luck can give knowledge, and so can bad experiences! And harmony can be brought to serve higher awareness too

I HAVE grown into what I now am. All striving after good fortune and contentment is after all only egoism. (5)

Every misfortune can be represented as the result of some imperfection in ourselves and what we make of them.

If we analyze the satisfaction of a successful gambler we can only say . . . That [his gambling luck] could not exist at all if he himself could bring about what happens without his cooperation. His satisfaction is based on the fact that something outside himself is involved, that the world has "taken him into consideration". It [could] furnish us with more sublime thoughts.

Can [sound knowledge] perhaps bring good fortune out of bad? Study of a life from one point of view alone can give only an apparent result. Let us suppose that a man with very high ideas, even with the gift of an exceptional imagination, should have to work in some humble position. [There is] Josef Emanuel Hilscher, who was born in Austria in 1804 and died in 1837. In spite of his brilliant gifts he rose to nothing higher than quartermaster. Let us suppose that this unfortunate girl had been placed in an environment . . .

In man's soul there is a definite urge to be in a certain harmony with his environment. This reality experienced within him lifts his ordinary existence above external life so that he can say: But I also live in what is only a spiritual line of causation.

There is hardly anything about which the man of our enlightened age becomes so easily superstitious, so grotesquely superstitious, as about what is called luck. We can look upon [good luck] as the promoter of inward harmony in the soul-forces, and can hope that those whose soul-forces achieve inner harmony through good fortune may gradually overcome their [vain] egoism.

What has such a philosophical interpretation of fortune to do with what dwells in the soul of a man who has to perform some menial, perhaps repulsive, task in life? The success is there but I have shown myself to be weak in face of such a success. I shall learn by [my present success] to enhance my powers; I shall sow seeds in the inmost core of my being which will lead it to higher and higher perfection.

If we study the plants, we must say that in them, too, an inner law of development seems to be inborn. We cannot fail to see, however, that very many plants are unable to bring to perfection the whole force of the inner impulse of their development in the struggle against wind and weather and other conditions of their environment. The inmost core of man's being . . . Works on the outer man, even shaping his body, and also establishing the man in the place he occupies in the world. ✪ 

How will he deal with such a lucky chance? (the word chance is used here in the sense of something that comes upon one unexpectedly) . . . Considered not as an end but as a beginning - a beginning from which he will learn and which will (aid) his future evolution — Karma . . . must be regarded as something that penetrates our will, causing us to live in the sense of this law. This will be admitted by everyone who has ever felt the inner delight that knowledge can give. In such a case we seem compelled to look beyond the limits set by birth and death.

We see good or bad fortune definitely relegated to the human sphere - and within that to a still narrower one. There [should really be] no need for me to consider myself unfortunate.

True, we might say in a certain sense: we see quite clearly that the beings we come across in the different kingdoms of nature have inner forces and laws of development; but these forces and laws are limited by their environment and the impossibility of bringing themselves into harmony with it. And indeed, we cannot deny that we have something similar when we speak of human fortune or misfortune. Even in speaking of human life, we soon notice a limit beyond which we can no longer speak of fortune at all. (7)


Make good sense of what is told and of experiences: go for knowledge and higher awareness too - in time, at least.


Rudolf Steiner, Steiner thought, Rudolf Steiner extracts, Literature  

Steiner, Rudolf. "Good Fortune: Its Reality and Its Semblance". 1 Lecture given in Berlin, December 7, 1911. GA 61. London: The Anthroposophical Publishing Company, 1956.

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