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GA 9

III-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 which, owing to their mutual relationship, bring about soul-manifestations such as desire, susceptibility, wish, liking, aversion, etc., are not only active between soul-formations and soul-formations, 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 to a certain extent 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, aversion and pain arise. And the soul 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 sympathises with the manifestations of the spirit; he is the more imperfect the more the inclinations of his soul are satisfied by the functions of the body.

The spirit is the central point of man, the body the instrument by which the spirit observes and learns to understand the physical world and through which it acts in it. But the soul is the intermediary between the two. It releases the sensation of the tone from the physical impression which 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 translated by the soul into the wish to realise it, and only through this can it become deed, with the help of the body as instrument. Now man can fulfil 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 raising them into the spiritual. By sinking them into the physical world the soul's own being becomes saturated and coloured by the nature of the physical. But since the spirit is able to act in the physical world only through the soul as intermediary, it also receives in this way the direction towards the physical. Its formations are drawn towards the physical by the forces of the soul. Observe, for example, an undeveloped man. 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 too is thereby completely drawn down into this region. His thoughts are used only to satisfy his demands on the physical life. Since the spiritual Self lives from incarnation to incarnation, it is intended to receive its direction ever increasingly out of the spiritual. Its knowledge should be determined by the spirit of eternal Truth, its action by the eternal Goodness.

Death, regarded as a fact in the physical world, signifies a change in the functions of the body. With death the body ceases to be, through its organisation, the instrument of the soul and the spirit. It shows itself henceforth entirely subject in its processes to the physical world and its laws; and it passes over into it in order to dissolve there. It is only these physical processes of decay in the body that can be observed after death by the physical senses. What then happens to soul and spirit escapes these senses. For even during life, soul and spirit can be observed by the senses only in so far as they attain to external expression in physical processes. After death such an expression is no longer possible. Therefore in regard to the fate of the soul and spirit after death, observation by means of the senses and a science based on them are of no value. Here a higher knowledge steps in, 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. And as during physical life the body fettered it to the physical world, so now the soul fetters it to the soul-world. But it is not in this soul-world 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. But through the soul it has become entangled in the physical world. It is bound to a soul-entity which is saturated and coloured by the nature of the physical, and through this it has acquired a tendency in that direction. After death the soul is no longer bound to the physical 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. And 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 as it is bound to the body during physical incarnation. When the body shall die is determined by the laws of the body. Speaking generally, in fact, it must be said it is not that the soul and spirit forsake the body, but that they are released from the body when its forces are no longer able to fulfil the purpose of the human organisation. The relationship between soul and spirit is just the same. The soul will release the spirit to pass into the higher, the spiritual world, when its forces are no longer able to fulfil the purpose of the human soul-organisation. The spirit is set free the moment the soul has handed over to dissolution what it can only experience in the body, and retains only that which can five on with the spirit. This remainder which, although experienced in the body, can, nevertheless, as fruit be impressed on the spirit, connects the soul with the spirit in the purely spiritual world. In order to learn the fate of the soul after death, therefore, one has to observe its process of dissolution. It had the task of giving the spirit its direction towards the physical. The moment it has fulfilled this task the soul takes the direction to the spiritual. In fact, the nature of its task would cause it to be at once only spiritually active when the body falls away from it, that is, when it can no longer be a connecting link. And so it would be, had it not, owing to its life in the body, been influenced by the latter and in its inclinations attracted to it. Without this colouring, received through the body, it would at once, on being disembodied, follow the laws of the spiritual-soul-world only, and manifest no further inclination to the sense-world. And this would be the case if a man, on dying, completely lost all interest in the earthly world, if all desires, wishes, etc., attaching to the existence he has left, had been completely satisfied. In so far, however, as this is not the case, that which remains over in this direction clings to the soul.

To avoid confusion, we must here carefully distinguish between what chains man to the world in such a way that it can be balanced in a subsequent incarnation, and that which chains him to one particular incarnation, that is, to the immediately preceding one. The first is made good by means of the law of destiny, Karma; but the other can be got rid of only by the soul after death.

After death there follows, for the human spirit, a time during which the soul is shaking off its inclinations towards physical existence, in order once more to follow the laws of the spiritual-soul-world only and set the spirit free. It is natural that this time will last longer the more strongly the soul was bound to the physical. It will be short in the case of a man who has clung little to physical life; long, on the other hand, for one who has completely bound up his interests with it, so that at death many desires, wishes, etc., still live in the soul.

The easiest way to gain an idea of the condition in which the soul fives during the time immediately after death, is afforded by the following consideration. Let us take a somewhat crass example: the pleasures of the bon vivant. His pleasure consists in the tickling of the palate by food. The pleasure is naturally not bodily, but belongs to the soul. The pleasure lives in the soul as also does the desire for the pleasure. But for the satisfaction of the desire 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 which provides the means for satisfying the desire. The state of the man is now—to be sure, from another cause, but one which acts in the same way only far more strongly—as if he were suffering burning thirst in a region in the length and breadth of which there is no water. The soul thus suffers burning pain from the deprivation 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 not to long any more for what can only be satisfied through the body. And 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 on their action depends the manner in which its inclinations towards the physical are destroyed. The way in which they act on it must differ according to the kinds of soul-substances and soul-forces, in whose domain it is placed at the time. Each of these kinds will make its purifying, cleansing influence felt. The process which takes place here is such that all antipathy in the soul is gradually overcome by the forces of sympathy, and this sympathy itself is brought to its highest pitch. For through this highest degree of sympathy with the whole of the rest of the soul-world, the soul will, as it were, merge into it, become one with it; then it is utterly emptied of its self-seeking. It ceases to exist as a being inclined to physically sensible existence. In this way the spirit is set free. The soul therefore purifies itself through all the regions of the soul-world already described, 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 with it, the spirit has become most intimately related to the soul. This relationship is much closer than the one with the body. For to the body the spirit is only indirectly bound through the soul; while to the soul it is directly bound. The soul, is in fact, the spirit's own life. For this reason the spirit is not bound to the decaying body, though 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 from the soul only when the latter has itself become one with the general soul-world.

In so far as the soul-world is the abode of man immediately after death, it can be called the “Region of Desires.” The different religious systems, which have embodied in their doctrines a knowledge of these conditions, know this “Region of Desires” by the name of “purgatory,” “cleansing fire,” and so on.

The lowest region of the soul-world is that of Burning Desire. By it everything in the soul that has to do with the coarsest, lowest, selfish desires of the physical life is purged from the soul after death. For through such desires it is exposed to the effects of the forces of this soul-region. The unsatisfied desires which have remained from physical life furnish the points of attack. The sympathy of such souls extends only to what can nourish their selfish natures; it is greatly exceeded by the antipathy which floods everything else. Now the desires, however, are concerned with physical enjoyments which cannot be satisfied in the soul-world. The craving is intensified to its highest degree by this impossibility of satisfaction. But at the same time, owing to this impossibility, it is forced to die out gradually. The burning lusts gradually exhaust themselves, and the soul has learned by experience that the only means of preventing the suffering that must come from such longings lies in killing them out. During physical life, satisfaction is ever and again being 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 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, for 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 bound up with that fire during life; and the more they require on that account to be purified in it. Such purification should not be described as suffering in the same sense as one would feel anything similar in the sense-world as suffering. For the soul, after death, demands its own purification, because only thereby can an imperfection that exists in it be purged away.

In the second region of the soul-world, sympathy and antipathy preserve an equal balance. In so far as a human soul is in that condition after death it will be influenced for a time by what takes place in this region. 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 in so far as it is brought about by the soul-inclinations just indicated. They allow themselves to be influenced by each worthless trifle of everyday life; but as their sympathy is attached to no one thing in particular, the influences quickly pass. Everything that does not belong to this region of empty nothings is repellent to such persons. If the soul experiences this condition after death without the presence of the physical objects which are necessary for its satisfaction, the condition must needs ultimately die out. Naturally the privation which precedes its complete extinction in the soul is full of suffering. This state of suffering is the school for the destruction of the illusion in which a man is enveloped during physical life.

Thirdly, there comes under consideration in the soul-world that which is filled with predominating sympathy, that in which the wish-nature predominates. The effects of this activity are experienced by souls through all that maintains an atmosphere of wishes after death. These wishes also gradually die out on account of the impossibility of being satisfied.

The region of Attraction and Repulsion in the soul-world which has been described above as the fourth, imposes on the soul special trials. As long as the soul dwells in the body it shares all that concerns it. The inner surge of attraction and repulsion is bound up with the body. It causes the soul's feeling of well-being and comfort, dislike and discomfort. Man feels during his physical life that his body is himself. What is called the feeling of self is based upon this fact. And the more people live in the sense-life, the more does their feeling of self take on this characteristic. After death the body, the object of this feeling of self, is lacking. On this account the soul, which still retains the feeling, has the sensation of being, as it were, hollowed out. A feeling as if it had lost itself overcomes the soul. This continues until it has been recognised that the true man does not lie in the physical. The impressions of this fourth region on the soul accordingly destroy the illusion of the bodily self. The soul learns no longer to feel this corporality as an essential reality. It is cured and purified of its attachment to corporality. In this way it has conquered that which previously chained it strongly to the physical world, and can unfold fully the forces of sympathy which flow outwards. It has, so to say, broken free from itself, and is ready to pour itself with full sympathy into the common soul-world.

It should not pass unnoted that the experiences of this region are suffered with special intensity by suicides. They leave their physical body in an artificial way, while 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 hollowed out, the unsatisfied desires and wishes on account 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 power. Souls are connected with it in so far as, during their physical lives, they did not lose themselves in the satisfaction of lower necessities, but took delight and pleasure in their surroundings. Enthusiasm for Nature, for example, in so far as it has borne something of a sensuous character, undergoes cleansing here. It is necessary, however, to distinguish clearly this kind of love of Nature from that higher living in Nature which is of the spiritual kind, and which seeks for the spirit that reveals 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 establish something permanent in the spirit. But one must distinguish 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 much as in the case of other inclinations based on mere physical existence. Many people hold, as a kind of ideal, arrangements which minister to sensuous welfare, and a system of education which results above all in the production of sensuous comfort. One cannot say of them that they are furthering only their selfish impulses. But their souls are, nevertheless, directed to the physical world, and must be cured of this by the prevailing force of sympathy in the fifth region of the soul-world in which these external means of satisfaction are lacking. The soul here recognises gradually that this sympathy must take other directions; and 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 who seek from their religious observances mainly an enhancement of their sensuous welfare, whether it be that their longing goes out to an earthly or a heavenly paradise, are purified here. They 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 which 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 that part of the soul which thirsts for action takes place in souls whose activity does not bear an egotistical character, but springs, nevertheless, from the sensuous satisfaction which action affords them. Natures which develop this desire for action, viewed superficially, convey the impression of being idealists; they show themselves to be persons capable of self-sacrifice. In the deeper sense, however, the chief thing with them is the enhancement of a sensuous feeling of pleasure. Many artistic natures and such as give themselves up to scientific activity because it pleases them, belong to this class. What binds these people to the physical world is 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 sensibly physical world. Each preceding region takes up from the soul whatever has affinity with it. What now still envelops the spirit is the belief that its activity should be entirely devoted to the physical world. There are individuals who, though highly gifted, do not think about much more than 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 no objects exist in true reality 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; the spirit, free from all fetters, rises to the regions where it lives in its own surroundings only. The soul has completed its previous earthly task, and after death any traces of this task that remained as fettering to the spirit, have dissolved. By overcoming the last trace of the earth, the soul is itself given back to its own element.

One sees from this description that the experiences in the soul-world, and also the conditions of soul-life after death, assume an ever less repellent appearance the more man has shaken off those elements adhering to him from his earthly union with the physical corporality and immediately related to his body. The soul will belong for a longer or shorter time to one or another region according to the conditions created in its physical life. Where the soul feels itself to be in affinity, there it remains until the affinity is extinguished. Where no relationship exists, it goes on its way without feeling the possible influences.

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 characteristics of these higher worlds to be described. For what can be compared with spatial relationships and the course of time (since conditions here are quite different from those obtaining in the physical world) can only be discussed intelligibly when one is prepared to deal with them in full detail. References of importance in this connection will be found in the book Occult Science—an Outline.