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GA 9

Chapter III: The Three Worlds: 2. The Soul in the Soul World After Death

The soul is the connecting link between the spirit of man and his body. Its forces of sympathy and antipathy that, owing to their mutual relationship, bring about soul manifestations such as desire, sensitivity, wish, liking and aversion, and so forth, are not only active between soul formation and soul formation, but they manifest themselves also in relation to the beings of the other worlds, the physical and the spiritual. While the soul lives in the body, it participates, so to speak, in all that takes place in the body. When the physical functions of the body proceed with regularity, pleasure and comfort arise in the soul. If these functions are disturbed, discomfort and pain arise. The soul, however, has its share in the activities of the spirit also. One thought fills it with joy, another with abhorrence; a correct judgment has the approval of the soul, a false one its disapproval. The stage of evolution of a man depends, in fact, on whether the inclinations of his soul move more in one direction or in another. A man is the more perfect, the more his soul sympathizes with the manifestations of the spirit. He is the more imperfect the more the inclinations of his soul are satisfied by the functions of his body.

The spirit is the central point of man, the body the intermediary by which the spirit observes and learns to understand the physical world, and through which it acts in that world. The soul is the intermediary between the two. It liberates the sensation of sound from the physical impression that the vibrations of the air make on the ear. It experiences pleasure in this sound. All this it communicates to the spirit, which thereby attains to the understanding of the physical world. A thought, which arises in the spirit, is transformed by the soul into the wish to realize it, and only through this can be the thought become a deed with the help of the body as an instrument. Now man can fulfill his destiny only by allowing his spirit to direct the course of all his activity. The soul can by its own power direct its inclinations just as readily to the physical as to the spiritual. It sends, as it were, its feelers down into the physical as well as up into the spiritual. By sinking them into the physical world, the soul's own being becomes saturated and colored by the nature of the physical. Since the spirit is able to act in the physical world only through the soul as intermediary, this spirit itself is thus given the direction towards the physical. Its formations are drawn toward the physical by the forces of the soul. Observe, for example, the undeveloped human being. The inclinations of his soul cling to the functions of his body. He feels pleasure only in the impressions made by the physical world on his senses. His intellectual life also is thereby completely drawn down into this region. His thoughts serve only to satisfy his physical needs. Since the spiritual self lives from incarnation to incarnation, it is intended to receive its direction ever increasingly from the spiritual. Its knowledge should be determined by the spirit of eternal truth; its action by eternal goodness.

Death, regarded as a fact in the physical world, signifies a change in the functions of the body. At death the body ceases to function as the intermediary between the soul and the spirit. In its processes it shows itself henceforth entirely subject to the physical world and its laws, and it passes over into it in order to dissolve therein. Only these physical processes of the body can be observed after death by the physical senses. What happens to the soul and spirit, however, escapes these senses because even during life, soul and spirit cannot be observed by the senses except insofar as they attain to external expression in physical process. After death this kind of expression is no longer possible. For this reason, observation by means of the physical senses and the science based on it does not come under consideration in reference to the fate of the soul and spirit after death. Here a higher knowledge steps in that is based on observation of what takes place in the soul and spirit worlds.

After the spirit has released itself from the body, it still continues to be united with the soul. Just as during physical life the body chained it to the physical world, so now the soul chains the spirit to the soul world. It is not in this soul world, however, that the spirit's true, primordial being is to be found. The soul world is intended to serve merely as its connecting link with the scene of its actions, the physical world. In order to appear in a new incarnation with a more perfect form, the spirit must draw force and renewed strength from the spiritual world. Through the soul it has become entangled in the physical world. It is bound to a soul being, which is saturated and colored by the nature of the physical, and through this has acquired a tendency in that direction. After death the soul is no longer bound to the body, but only to the spirit. It lives now within soul surroundings. Only the forces of this soul world can, therefore, have an effect on it. At first the spirit also is bound to this life of the soul in the soul world. It is bound to it in the same way it is bound to the body during physical incarnation. When the body shall die is determined by the laws of the body. Speaking generally, it must be said that it is not the soul and spirit that forsake the body, but they are set free by the body when its forces are no longer able to fulfill the purpose of the human soul organism.

The relationship between soul and spirit is just the same. The soul will set the spirit free to pass into the higher, spiritual world, when its forces are no longer able to fulfill the purpose of the human soul organism. The spirit is set free the moment the soul has handed over to dissolution what it can experience only in the body, retaining only what can live on with the spirit. This remainder, although experienced in the body, can nevertheless be impressed on the spirit as fruit. It connects the soul with the spirit in the purely spiritual world. In order to learn the fate of the soul after death, the process of dissolution must be observed. It had the task of giving the spirit its direction toward the physical. The moment it has fulfilled this task, the soul takes the direction toward the spiritual. In fact, the nature of its task would cause it henceforth to be only spiritually active when the body falls away from it, that is, when it can no longer be a connecting link. So it would be, had it not, owing to its life in the body, been influenced by the body and in its inclinations been attracted to it. Without this coloring received through the body, it would at once on being disembodied follow the laws of the spirit-soul world only and manifest no further inclination toward the sense world. This would be the case if a man on dying lost completely all interest in the earthly world, if all desires and wishes attaching him to the existence he has left had been completely satisfied. To the extent that this is not the case, all that remains of his interest clings to the soul.

To avoid confusion we must carefully distinguish here between what chains man to the world in such a way that it can be adjusted in a subsequent incarnation, and what chains him to one particular incarnation, that is, to the one just passed. The first is made good by means of the law of destiny, karma. The second can only be got rid of by the soul after death.

After death there follows for the human spirit a time during which the soul is shaking off its inclinations toward physical existence in order to follow once more the laws of the spirit-soul world only and thus set the spirit free. The more the soul was bound to the physical, the longer, naturally, will this time last. It will be short for the man who has clung but little to physical life, and long for the one whose interests are completely bound up with it, who at death has many desires, wishes and impulses still living in the soul.

The easiest way to gain an idea of this condition in which the soul lives during the time immediately after death is afforded by the following consideration. Let us take a somewhat crass example—the pleasure of the bon vivant. His pleasure is derived from food. The pleasure is naturally not bodily but belongs to the soul. The pleasure lives in the soul as does the desire for the pleasure. To satisfy the desire, however, the corresponding bodily organs, the palate, etc., are necessary. After death the soul has not immediately lost such a desire, but it no longer possesses the bodily organ that provides the means for satisfying it. For another reason, but one that acts far more strongly in the same way, the human soul now experiences all the suffering of burning thirst that one would undergo in a waterless waste. The soul thus suffers burning pain by being deprived of the pleasure because it has laid aside the bodily organ through which it can experience that pleasure. It is the same with all that the soul yearns for and that can only be satisfied through the bodily organs. This condition of burning privation lasts until the soul has learned to cease longing for what can only be satisfied through the body. The time passed in this condition may be called the region of desires, although it has of course nothing to do with a “locality.”

When the soul enters the soul world after death it becomes subject to the laws of that world. The laws act on it and the manner in which the soul's inclinations towards the physical are destroyed depends upon their actions. The way these laws act on the soul must differ depending upon the kinds of soul substances and soul forces in whose domain it is placed at the time. Each of these according to its kind will make its purifying, cleansing influence felt. The process that takes place here is such that all antipathy in the soul is gradually overcome by the forces of sympathy. This sympathy itself is brought to its highest pitch because, through this highest degree of sympathy with the rest of the soul world, the soul will, as it were, merge into and become one with it. Then will it be utterly emptied of self-seeking. It ceases to exist as a being inclined to physically sensible existence, and the spirit is set free by it. The soul, therefore, purifies itself through all the regions of the soul world described above until, in the region of perfect sympathy, it becomes one with the general soul world. That the spirit itself is in bondage until this last moment of the liberation of its soul is due to the fact that through its life the spirit has become most intimately related to the soul. This relationship is much closer than the one with the body because the spirit is only indirectly bound to the body through the soul, whereas it is bound directly to the soul. The soul is, in fact, the spirit's own life. For this reason the spirit is not bound to the decaying body, although it is bound to the soul that is gradually freeing itself. On account of the immediate bond between the spirit and the soul, the spirit can feel free of the soul only when the soul has itself become one with the general soul world.

To the extent the soul world is the abode of man immediately after death, it is called the region of desires. The various religious systems that have embodied in their doctrines a knowledge of these conditions are acquainted with this region of desire under the name “purgatory,” “cleansing fire,” and the like.

The lowest region of the soul world is that of Burning Desire. Everything in the soul that has to do with the coarsest, lowest, most selfish desires of the physical life is purged from the soul after death by it, because through such desires it is exposed to the effects of the forces of this soul region. The unsatisfied desires that have remained over from physical life furnish the points of attack. The sympathy of such souls only extends to what can nourish their selfish natures. It is greatly exceeded by the antipathy that floods everything else. Now the desires aim at physical enjoyments that cannot be satisfied in the soul world. The craving is intensified to the highest degree by the impossibility of satisfaction. Owing to this impossibility, at the same time it is forced to die out gradually. The burning lusts gradually exhaust themselves and the soul learns by experience that the only means of preventing the suffering that must come from such longings lies in extirpating them. During physical life satisfaction is ever and again attained. By this means the pain of the burning lusts is covered over by a kind of illusion. After death in the “cleansing fire” the pain comes into evidence quite unveiled. The corresponding experiences of privation are passed through. It is a dark, gloomy state indeed in which the soul thus finds itself. Of course, only those persons whose desires are directed during physical life to the coarsest things can fall into this condition. Natures with few lusts go through it without noticing it because they have no affinity with it. It must be stated that souls are the longer influenced by burning desire the more closely they have become related to that fire through their physical life. On that account there is more need for them to be purified in it. Such purification should not be described as suffering in the sense of this expression as it is used in the sense world. The soul after death demands its purification since an existing imperfection can only thus be purged away.

In the second region of the soul world there are processes in which sympathy and antipathy preserve an equal balance. Insofar as a human soul is in that condition after death it will be influenced by what takes place in this region for a time. The losing of oneself in the external glitter of life, the joy in the swiftly succeeding impressions of the senses, bring about this condition. People live in it to the extent it is brought about by the soul inclinations just indicated. They allow themselves to be influenced by each worthless trifle of everyday life, but since their sympathy is attached to no one thing in particular, the influences pass quickly. Everything that does not belong to this region of empty nothings is repellent to such persons. When the soul experiences this condition after death without the presence of the physical objects that are necessary for its satisfaction, the condition must ultimately die out. Naturally, the privation that precedes its complete extinction in the soul is full of suffering. This state of suffering is the school for the destruction of the illusion a man is wrapped up in during physical life.

Then a third region of the soul world is to be considered in which the phenomena of sympathy, of the wish nature, predominate. Souls experience the effects of these phenomena from everything that preserves an atmosphere of wishes after death. These wishes also gradually die out because of the impossibility of satisfying them.

The region of Liking and Disliking in the soul world that has been described above as the fourth region imposes special trials on the soul. As long as the soul dwells in the body it shares all that concerns the body. The inner surge of liking and disliking is bound up with the body. The body causes the soul's feeling of well-being and comfort, dislike and discomfort. During his physical life man feels that his body is himself. What is called the feeling of self is based upon this fact, and the more people are inclined to be sensuous, the more does their feeling of self take on this character. After death the body, the object of the feeling of self, is lacking. On this account the soul, which still retains such a feeling, has the sensation of being emptied out as it were. A feeling as if it had lost itself overcomes the soul. This continues until it has been recognized that the true human being does not lie in the physical. The impressions made by this fourth region on the soul accordingly destroy the illusion of the bodily self. The soul learns to feel this corporeality no longer as an essential reality. It is cured and purified of its attachment to the body. In this way it has conquered what previously chained it strongly to the physical world, and it can now unfold fully the forces of sympathy that flow outwards. It has, so to speak, broken free from itself and is ready to pour itself into the common soul world with full sympathy.

It should not pass unnoted that the experiences of this region are suffered to an especial degree by suicides. Such a one leaves his physical body in an artificial way, although all the feelings connected with it remain unchanged. In the case of natural death, the decay of the body is accompanied by a partial dying out of the feelings of attachment to it. In the case of suicides there are, in addition to the torment caused by the feeling of having been suddenly emptied out, the unsatisfied desires and wishes because of which they have deprived themselves of their bodies.

The fifth stage of the soul world is that of Soul Light. In it sympathy with others has already reached a high degree of importance. Souls are connected with this stage insofar as they did not lose themselves in the satisfaction of lower necessities during their physical lives, but had joy and pleasure in their surroundings. Over-enthusiasm for nature, for example, in that it has borne something of a sensuous character, undergoes purifying here. It is necessary, however, to distinguish clearly this kind of love of nature from the higher living in nature that is of the spiritual kind that seeks for the spirit revealing itself in the things and events of nature. This kind of feeling for nature is one of the things that develop the spirit itself and establishes something permanent in it! One must distinguish, however, between such a feeling for nature, and a pleasure in nature that is based on the senses. In regard to this, the soul requires purification just as well as in regard to other inclinations based on mere physical existence. Many people see a kind of ideal in the arrangements of civilization that serve sensuous well-being, and in a system of education that, above all, brings about sensuous comfort. One cannot say that they seek to further only their selfish impulses. Their souls are, nevertheless, directed toward the physical world and must be cured of this by the force of sympathy that rules in the fifth region of the soul world and lacks these external means of gratification. Here the soul gradually recognizes that this sympathy must take other directions. These are found in the outpouring of the soul into the soul region, which is brought about by sympathy with the soul surroundings. Those souls also are purified here that mainly seek an enhancement of their sensuous welfare from their religious observances, whether it be that their longing goes out to an earthly or to a heavenly paradise. They, indeed, find this paradise in the “soul-land,” but only for the purpose of seeing through its worthlessness. These are, of course, merely a few detached examples of purifications that take place in this fifth region They could be multiplied indefinitely.

By means of the sixth region, that of Active Soul Force, the purification of the part of the soul that thirsts for action takes place in souls whose activity does not bear an egotistical character but spring, nevertheless, from the sensuous satisfaction that action affords them. Viewed superficially, natures that develop such a desire for action convey the impression of being idealists; they show themselves to be persons capable of self-sacrifice. In a deeper sense, however, the chief thing with them is the enhancement of a sensuous feeling of pleasure. Many artistic natures and those who give themselves up to scientific activity because it pleases them belong to this class. These people are bound to the physical world by the belief that art and science exist for the sake of such pleasure.

The seventh region, that of the real Soul Life, frees man from his last inclinations to the sensory physical world. Each preceding region takes up from the soul whatever has affinity with it. The part of the soul still enveloping the spirit is the belief that its activity should be entirely devoted to the physical world. There are highly gifted individuals whose thoughts, however, are occupied with scarcely anything but the occurrences of the physical world. This belief can be called materialistic. It must be destroyed, and this is done in the seventh region. There the souls see that in true reality there exists no objects for materialistic thinking. Like ice in the sun, this belief of the soul melts away. The soul being is now absorbed into its own world. Now free of all fetters the spirit rises to the regions where it lives entirely in surroundings of its own nature. The soul had completed its previous earthly task, and after death any traces of this task that remained fettering the spirit have dissolved. By overcoming the last trace of the earthly, the soul is itself given

One sees from this description that the experiences in the soul world, and also the conditions of soul life after death, take on an ever less repellent character the more a man has stripped off those elements adhering to him from his earthly union with the physical corporeality and that were directly related to his body. The soul will belong for a longer or shorter time to one or another region according to the conditions created during its physical life. Wherever the soul feels affinity, there it remains until the affinity is extinguished. Where no relation exists, it goes on its way without feeling the possible effects.

It was intended that only the fundamental characteristics of the soul world and the outstanding features of the life of the soul in this world should be described here. This applies also to the following descriptions of the spiritland. It would exceed the prescribed limits of this book were further descriptions of the characteristics of these higher worlds attempted. The spatial relationships and the time lapses—terms that can only be used by way of comparison because the conditions are quite different there from those obtaining in the physical world—can only be discussed intelligibly when one is prepared to deal with then adequately and in full detail. References of importance in this connection will be found in my Occult Science, an Outline.