4. Man Between Death and Rebirth
Budapest, June 6, 1909
Yesterday we heard about what takes place at the moment of death, how the etheric body, the astral body and ego bearer pass out of the physical body and the tableau of memory is arrayed before the soul. An intrinsic feature of this tableau is that the events present themselves simultaneously and provide a review in the form of a kind of panorama. The essential point, however, is that it is perceived as a picture. Events in physical life are connected with happiness or pain but there are no such experiences during the first few days after death. The tableau of memories is an entirely objective picture. Let us try to make this clear by means of an example. We see ourselves in a fatal, agonizing situation and follow the course it takes, but there is no experience of pain. It is like a picture at which we are looking, which, let us say, depicts martyrdom. We do not feel the pain that is involved, but merely see the event objectively. The same applies to the memory tableau after death. It appears directly the etheric body emerges, frees itself from the physical body and then dissolves in the universal cosmic ether. The extract, or essence containing the fruit of the past life, remains.
There now begins for the soul an essentially different period, the period of breaking its attachment to the physical world. The best way to think of this is to remind ourselves that for an occultist, urges and desires are realities. What is contained in the astral body is not nullified after death when the physical body has been laid aside, but all the urges and desires are present. An individual who was a bon vivant during his life does not, at death, lose his desire for tasty foods, for desire clings to the astral body and he has lost only the physical equipment of palate, tongue and so forth, by means of which his greed can be satisfied. His condition — the same applies in different circumstances — is comparable with that of someone suffering from terrible thirst without any possibility of quenching it. He suffers from these longings and from having to forego the prospect of satisfaction. The purpose of this suffering is to realize what it means to have desires that can be satisfied only through physical instruments. This condition is called kamaloka, the realm of desires, where habits are broken. It lasts for a third of the time spent by a human being between birth and death; perhaps it may be possible later on to go into the matter with greater exactitude. So if somebody dies at the age of sixty, it can be said that he spends twenty years, a third of his past life, in kamaloka. As a rule, therefore, kamaloka lasts until a man has rid himself of all the desires that still link him with the physical plane. This is one aspect of the period of kamaloka, but we will study it from still another.
What a human being experiences in the physical body is of value to him because he evolves to higher and higher stages as the result of what he achieves on earth. That is the essential point. On the other hand, between birth and death there are many inducements for individuals to create hindrances to their development, for example, everything that we do to injure our fellowmen. Every time when, at the cost of our fellowmen, we provide satisfaction for our own aims or embark for self-seeking reasons on a project that in some way affects the world, we create a hindrance to our development: Suppose we give someone a box on the ear. The physical and moral pain connected with it is a hindrance to our development. This hindrance would cling to us for all our subsequent lives in future epochs if we did not expunge it from the world. During the kamaloka period an impetus is given to a man to get rid of these hindrances to his development. During the period of kamaloka the individual concerned lives over his whole life in backward order, three times as quickly. The significant characteristic of the astral world, of kamaloka, is that things appear as mirror images; this is the confusing element for a pupil when he enters the astral world. For example, he must read the number 346 as 643; he must reverse everything when he is looking into the astral world. So it is, too, in the case of all passions.
Suppose that as the result of genuine training or of pathological conditions, someone becomes clairvoyant. To begin with he sees his own urges and passions streaming out of him; they appear to him in the form of varied shapes and figures and approach him in rays from all sides. Whoever becomes clairvoyant in the astral realm, either in a well-regulated or irregular way, immediately sees these figures, which in the form of goblins or demonic beings, rush upon him. This is a distressing experience, especially for individuals who become clairvoyant but know nothing of it. It will become less and less infrequent because we are living today in a stage of evolution when in a number of people the eyes for sight of the spiritual world are opening. This must also be said in order that those who have the experience shall not be alarmed. Spiritual science is there in order to lead human beings into the spiritual world. For many who become clairvoyant this process is fraught with much unhappiness of soul because they are ignorant of the facts and conditions. They see things in the astral world as mirror images and they see other things too in the spiritual world. In the physical world, when a hen lays an egg, you see the hen first and then the egg; astrally you see the process of the egg going back into the hen. Everything is experienced in reverse order.
Think of a man who dies at the age of sixty and then, in kamaloka, comes to the point when, at the age of forty he gave someone a box on the ear. Now, in kamaloka, he experiences everything that the other person experienced; he is literally within the body of the other. Thus, a man lives his life in backward order to his birth. But he does not experience pain only, he also experiences the happiness, the joy he has given to others. Little by little the soul discards the hindrances to its development and evolution and must be thankful to the wise guidance that makes compensation possible. Together with the will to make compensation, the soul receives something like a token, an impulse of will, to make reparation for what hinders its development, and in the coming life it is able to do this. We realize, therefore, that the objective tableau is something altogether different from the retrospective experiences in kamaloka. In kamaloka a man experiences exactly what the other person felt as the result of his behavior; he experiences the other side of his own deeds. But not only has this cross to be experienced. What has been experienced here (in physical life) as pain, is experienced in yonder world as happiness and joy — happiness and joy, therefore, as the opposite of what they were in the physical world. The purpose of kamaloka is to impart to the soul what the tableau of memory cannot impart, namely, the experiences of pain and joy in retrospect.
When kamaloka has been lived through, a kind of third corpse is discarded. The physical corpse was the first to be discarded, then the etheric corpse, which dissolves in the cosmic ether, and now the astral corpse is laid aside. This astral corpse comprises whatever from a man's astral body has not yet been purified and regulated by his ego. What was once his as the bearer of his urges and passions and has not been transformed and spiritualized by his ego, frees itself after the period of kamaloka. On his further path the human being takes with him an extract of his astral body: firstly, the sum total of all the good will impulses, and secondly, what he has transformed through his ego. Whatever urges he has ennobled into beauty, goodness and morality form the extract of his astral body. At the end of the kamaloka period the human being consists of the ego and around it he has laid, as it were, the extracts of the astral body and of the etheric body, the good impulses of will.
There now begins for a man a new condition, namely a life free from sorrow, the spiritual life of Devachan. It is encouraging when the occultist experiences these truths as realities and then finds them again in the sacred records and scripts. An example is this sentence in the New Testament: “Except ye become as little children ye cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” This is an indication of the experience of living the course of life in backward order; it is an example of a sublime moment when studying the sacred records of religion. You must understand me correctly here. An occultist does not swear by any original record or authority. The facts of the spiritual world alone are conclusive as far as he is concerned, but the value of the original records dawns upon him anew. Spiritual science is not based upon any original record or religion but upon the investigation of spiritual facts. The foundation of all spiritual science is objective investigation. Then, if the content of the original records proves to be identical, the occultist will be in a position to value them truly.
Life now begins in Devachan, in the Spiritland, the “World of the Spirit.” This spiritual world can at all times be seen; although it is actually entered for the first time at death, it is always present. Later on we shall hear about the methods by means of which it can be observed. It is difficult to describe this spiritual world because our words are coined for the physical world. Hence, it can be described only by using analogies. Here, in our terrestrial world, we have the solid earth upon which we move about, fluidity, a sphere of air and the whole permeated by warmth. You can form an idea of the Spiritland by means of analogy. A solid land can be found there, formed in a remarkable way. It is the “continental” region of Devachan, containing the archetypal forms of everything mineral. You know that where a mineral appears, a clairvoyant sees nothing in the space concerned; the space is hollowed out and round-about the mineral are the spiritual forces that appear to clairvoyant sight rather like etheric figures of light. Try to visualize a crystal. When consciousness is raised into the spiritual world, the physical substance is not the important thing; what is important are the spiritual forces visible round about it. The crystal cube presents itself to the clairvoyant in negative. The forms in our physical world form a solid soil in Devachan. There is, of course, a great deal else in Devachan. All life on earth and its distribution among the different plants, animals and humans appears to the seer as the fluid element of the spiritual world, like the sea and water systems of our earth. This flowing life in Devachan cannot, however, be satisfactorily compared with our rivers and seas but far rather with the blood that flows through the human body. This is the “oceanic” and the “fluid” region of Devachan. The solid and fluidic regions do not appear in stages but in a relationship similar to that between land and sea here on earth.
The third region is comparable with our air. This region of Devachan is formed of that of which our feelings and those of animals consist. It is the sum total of whatever is present in the astral realm. Flowing pain, flowing joy is the substantiality in Devachan that can be compared to the air on earth. Picture to yourselves a clairvoyant looking from Devachan at a battle. Watching it physically you would see soldiers, guns and so forth, but the clairvoyant would see more than the physical figures of human beings and physical weapons. He would see the passions of the fighters arrayed in opposition. From Devachan you would see what is present in the souls of those involved in the battle, how passion is hurled against passion. Like a terrible tempest raging among high mountains — that, approximately, is how such a battle would appear to a clairvoyant looking from Devachan. But loving feelings are also seen from there; they pervade the airy sphere of Devachan like a sound of wonderful sweetness. Thus we have named three regions — solid, flowing and airy — and have compared them with those of our earth.
Just as warmth pervades the three lower regions in our physical world, so does one common element pervade the three regions of Devachan that have been named. What pervades everything is the substance of our thoughts, which live there as forms and beings. What the human being experiences here in the way of thoughts is only a shadow image of the thoughts in their reality. Think of an outstretched canvas with living beings and figures behind it; on the canvas, however, you would be able to see only their images. This is exactly how the thoughts familiar to man in the physical world are related to what thoughts are in Spiritland. There they are beings with which one can associate and which pervade the whole sphere of Devachan as states of warmth. It is into this world that a man passes. During this life after death he has a definite feeling of the moment when he enters Devachan.
It must also be stated that to the extent to which the human being in kamaloka has broken away from physical connections, to that extent his consciousness lights up again. After the clear tableau of his life, a darkening of consciousness begins during postmortem existence, its intensity depending upon the strength of desire for physical life. But the more the human being breaks his attachment to physical things, the clearer does his darkened consciousness become. In Devachan a man's experiences are conscious, not dreamlike; all events are experiences in Devachan. We will speak later of how the relevant organs are formed.
A human being knows with exactitude when he enters the spiritual world. The first impression he has of Devachan is that he is seeing the form of the physical body of the previous life outside his ego, his “I.” This body is, of course, incorporated into the “continental” region of the spiritual world and belongs to the solid land of Devachan. When in physical life, you say, “I do this,” you affirm that you are living in your physical body and hence say “I” to it; not so in Devachan. You are then outside the physical body but in its form you become conscious of it when you enter Devachan and you say to it, “That art thou!” You no longer say “I” of your physical body. This is an incisive, significant event for the soul, which now realizes, “I am now no longer in the physical but in the spiritual world.” Hence you no longer speak of your physical body as “I,” but you say, “That art thou!” These words from the Vedanta philosophy, Tat twam asi, are based upon this experience. Utterances of this kind in Eastern philosophy represent facts of the spiritual world. When the Vedanta teaches the pupil to meditate on the “That art thou,” it means that already in this life, he should awaken in himself those ideas and conceptions that will arise in him when he enters Devachan. Genuine meditative formulae are actually “photographs” of facts of the spiritual world, and the Tat twam asi is the boundary sign or signal that one is about to enter the spiritual world. We learn gradually to contemplate objectively, without sympathy or antipathy, what is connected with our own physical lives, like pictures at which we gaze.
The soul's experiences in connection with the flowing life of Devachan are again different. In the physical world, life is distributed among the many individual beings. In Devachan, life manifests as a single whole. We encounter there the one all-embracing life, and perception of it is of great intensity, for in this uniform life experiences are not contained as abstractions. Just think of how everything introduced into life by the great founders of religion is in turn received by man into his astral and etheric bodies; such truths are experienced again in Devachan as a source of exaltation. What had flowed from the founders of religion into the individual incarnations — and the most valuable knowledge is seated in the etheric body — is an experience facing you in Spiritland. Everything that had streamed into the physical life is present before you in great, impressive pictures. You experience in Devachan what unites human beings and promotes harmony among them; what divides us, what is alien to us here, we bring into unison in yonder realm. The pleasures and sufferings in which we are so strongly involved here are made manifest to us there as wind and weather. We experience in pictures or images around us what we formerly experienced inwardly; it is now the airy sphere around us. What we feel personally in physical life is experienced in yonder world in connection with the totality. We only feel joy in connection with the totality of joy, pain in connection with the totality of suffering. Thus, the importance of our personal joy and suffering for the totality is made manifest. Such is the knowledge concerning joy and suffering that we acquire in the life after death. We live there with thoughts that are realities.
Now we ask how man's being is affected by this life within the whole in Devachan. Let us clarify this by means of a comparison. What enables man to have sight in the physical world? The fact that light comes to him and forms the organ for its reception. Goethe said with deliberate purpose, “The eye is formed by the light for the light.” The truth of this is confirmed by the fact that if animals go to live in dark caves, their eyes may degenerate, and other organs, for instance, the organs of touch that are essential there, develop greater sensitivity. The organ of perception is created by the relevant external element. If there were no sun there would be no eye; the light has produced the eye. Our organism is a product of the elements surrounding it; everything physical in us has been created by the surrounding world. Similarly, in Devachan the spiritual organs in man are built by the spiritual environment. During the time in Devachan, a man takes in something from the life of his environment, and from the elements around him builds for himself a kind of spirit organism. In Devachan he feels always as if he were a being in process of becoming, in whom member after member of his spirit organism is coming to birth. Now think of this. All awareness of productivity is accompanied by a feeling of blessedness, as indeed is the case in physical life, too! Think of an artist, or an inventor. This growing and becoming give rise to a feeling of blessedness in a human being as he passes through Devachan, and there he creates for himself the spiritual archetype of a man. He has already often done this whenever he sojourned in Devachan after death, but every time there is built into this archetype, as something new, what the man has taken with him into Devachan as the fruit of his last life, as an extract in his etheric body.
When man entered Devachan for the first time, he had already created spiritually an archetype that then densified to become physical man. Now, when he has lived through many incarnations, he takes with him every time into Devachan the extract of the past life, and then, in accordance with it, he creates the archetype of a new man. This operation takes a long time; today we will speak of it only in general terms.
Thus, it is by no means fortuitous that the human being appears on the earth in successive incarnations and passes through Devachan ever and again. The earth reveals a different countenance to him each time and new experiences are available in external culture and through relationships of every kind. The soul does not return to the physical plane until new experiences can be offered there. I will give you in figures later on the length of time between two incarnations; it is the time needed by the human being for the creation of his new archetype. Once it is created, this archetype has the impulse every time to appear on the earth again. This archetype is, after all, the human being himself. It is not easy to describe this impulse so we will take an example. Someone has a particular thought and also the urge to give expression to it. The impulse has led the thought to take on physical form.
The power to shape and elaborate the archetype that has been created by himself in Devachan does not yet lie within the power of human will. In the present cycle of life, man cannot yet direct his reincarnations himself; he needs lofty spiritual beings to guide him to the parents who are able to provide the physical body that is suitable for the archetype. These beings direct him to the people and the race best suited to the archetype. If the time for the reincarnation has come, man surrounds himself first of all, in keeping with the archetype created in Devachan, with astral substance. This actually forms itself and shoots in, as it were. The process of being directed by higher beings to the parental pair now begins. Because the physical body to be provided by the parents can be only approximately suitable for the astral body and ego, these higher beings meanwhile incorporate into the individual concerned the etheric body through which the best possible adjustment is achieved between the earthly and what comes from the spiritual world. Of this incorporation of the etheric body and of the physical birth we will speak tomorrow, but we now realize today that at birth, when the human being appears again on the earth, the course of the process is the exact opposite of what takes place after death. At birth the astral body is incorporated, then the etheric body and finally the physical body, whereas at death the human being first lays aside the physical body, then the etheric body and lastly the astral body.
When a human being receives the etheric body, something happens to him analogous to what takes place when he goes through the gate of death. Then he had a backward view of his past life, now he has a preview, a prophetic view of the life he is about to begin. This is of great importance for him. It takes place at the moment when the etheric body is being incorporated. The moment then vanishes from his memory. He does not see particular details but a picture of the life's possibilities. This preview can be disastrous for him only to the extent to which he is shocked by it, which means that he struggles against entering into the physical body. If the entry is as it should be, the etheric body and the physical body harmonize; in cases where there is a shock they do not. The etheric body then does not pass in its entirety into the physical body, but especially around the head projects outwards. It cannot then mould the organs of intelligence properly. Some cases of idiocy are due to this, but by no means all, emphatically not all.
Physical life becomes intelligible through the spiritual life behind it. This recognition will help us to dedicate our knowledge to the service of altruistic life.