Life Between Death and Rebirth
8. Between Death and a New Birth
21 January 1913, Vienna
The last time I spoke to you here, I dealt briefly with a significant phase of human life between death and rebirth. This phase cannot be treated as if it were of no importance to our physical existence. We should be clear about the fact that the forces we need for life do not only come from the realm of the physical body. They emanate essentially from a super-sensible world to which we belong between death and rebirth. This can be understood only if we are able to form mental images of life between death and rebirth.
Man is mostly enveloped in a kind of dreaming-sleeping condition. Those who go through the daily routine without thinking about the events they experience are in fact asleep to life, and those who concern themselves with what lies beyond material existence are also those who awaken to physical life. Referring to our earlier considerations, you will remember that spiritual science rightly understood is capable of entering fully into all aspects of human existence. Inasmuch as spiritual science permeates our civilization, humanity will experience an awakening from a sleep of life. Many things that approach the human being appear strange and mysterious, but they represent a riddle more to the feelings than to the dry intellect. A mother standing by the coffin of her child, or the reverse, is such an instance. One has but to concern oneself thoroughly with human existence to realize how people become aware of the riddle of life. People who have lost a sister, a husband, or a wife come to me and say, “I never used to think about death, never concerned myself about what might happen afterwards, but since this relative has been taken from me it is as if he were still here, and this has led me to occupy myself with spiritual science.” Life will bring people to spiritual science. What happens as a result will be richly rewarding because spiritual science can permeate life with certain impulses that it alone can give.
When a person is no longer physically present, the riddle arises as to what happens to him after death. External science cannot supply the answer because it only observes with the eyes, and they, too, decay. The physical brain decays also, and it is clear that it can be of no use for what man experiences without his physical sheath. Yet the mighty questions regarding the beyond remain. In this connection general answers are of little avail and it is preferable to consider actual instances that can penetrate directly into life.
Let us take life on earth as a starting point. Perhaps you will have come across a person who, through a deep inner longing, through his own soul disposition, was driven to spiritual science, whereas another may have become antagonistic towards it. The one became more deeply involved in spiritual science, while his friend developed increasing enmity towards it. Life not only presents us with a maya in nature but also in the immediacy of our connection with others. In fact, what has just been related may be a complete deception. He who has convinced himself that all this is nonsense may, in the depths of his soul of which he remains unconscious, develop a secret love for it. In the substrata love can express itself as hate. One does find such cases in earthy life. When a person has gone through the gate of death, all the secret soul impulses and longings that he has suppressed during his earthly existence rise to the surface and become the content of the period of catharsis. We have observed people going through the gate of death who on earth were enemies of spiritual science and who after death developed an intense longing for it. Such antagonists then strive for spiritual science. Had we during their earthly lives gone to them with a book on spiritual science, they might have dismissed us in anger. After death we can do them no greater service than to read to them. Reading in thought to the dead can have the greatest furthering effect for them.
There are many instances within our spiritual movement in which those connected with a dead person have read to him and thereby helped him. The dead receive what is given with the utmost gratitude, and in this way a beautiful relationship can be developed. This shows what spiritual science can mean quite practically. Spiritual science is not mere theory. It must take hold of life and tear down the wall that separates the living from the dead. Thus can the gulf be bridged. A great deal of good can be done by bringing spiritual science into life with the right attitude. No better advice can be given than to read to the dead because it is a strange fact that immediately after death we are incapable of making new connections. We are forced to continue with the old ones.
The question presents itself as to whether or not the dead are able to find spiritual beings beyond the threshold who could teach them. That is not possible! To begin with, one can only have connections with beings with whom one has had a relationship before going through the gate of death. On encountering a being one has not known on earth, one merely passes him by. On earth, too, one would not recognize a great genius if he were dressed like a teamster. One has contact only with the individuals one has known on earth. One might meet many beings who could be of help, but if there has been no prior connection, they can be of no use to one. Spiritual science is in its early stages and because it has only just begun to have an effect on human beings, the living can perform the greatest service to the dead by helping them in this way. This is an instance of the influence that can be exercised from our world upon the other. But the opposite is also possible — the dead can work into the physical world. To the extent that spiritual science takes hold of life, a cooperation between both worlds will come about. The dead can also influence the living.
People know remarkably little about the world. At most, only what happens in the course of time is grasped. Many think that the rest is of no significance. But what actually occurs is only the smallest part of what is worth knowing. By knowing only what happens externally, one actually remains ignorant of life. In the morning we go to work. Probably we consider the things that happen there as well worth knowing. One day we leave three minutes later than usual and surprising events take place. If, for example, we had left home at the right time we might have been run over, but we have been protected. Or perhaps we have to make a trip and miss the train. Then this very train is involved in a serious accident. What can we gather from such considerations?
There is much that does not happen in life, and yet we should reckon such events among the possibilities. Does the individual know how many such possibilities he escapes every single day? Imagine all the things that could happen from which he is protected! We overlook them because for a cold, abstract view of life they are quite meaningless. But let us consider the effect on the soul of a person who has been saved from danger by an apparent coincidence. A man from Berlin intended to go to America and had already purchased his ticket. A friend advised him not to sail on the Titanic! Picture to yourself the feelings of this man. He did not sail, and then he heard of the sinking of the Titanic. It had a shattering effect on his feelings. What impressions would arise in us if we were able to observe in the course of the day all the things we have been spared! When a person begins to concern himself with spiritual science he develops a far greater sensitivity for the complexities of life, for what happens in the normal course of the day.
Now if we have acquired a sensitivity of soul and are spiritually prepared, at moments such as these we can receive an impression from the spiritual world, a message from the dead that comes as an act of grace. The gates are flung open by the dead. They can speak to those who have developed sensitivity. Important matters can be imparted. The dead person, for example, may order us to accomplish something that he has not done. So the gulf is bridged. When spiritual science penetrates into practical life, and it will do so in the future, we shall be able to communicate in both directions with the dead. It will bring the super-sensible world into the immediate present.
The following question may arise. When we read a spiritual-scientific book in a particular language, can the dead understand this language? During the period of catharsis the dead understand the language they have spoken on earth. It is only later, during the passage into devachan, that they can no longer understand words but only thoughts. A transformation in the intercourse with the dead takes place after a definite period of years. If the one who has remained on earth is sensitive, he will feel that the one who has died is with him and that they think the same. This can last for years and then suddenly one loses the connection. That is the moment when the dead passes into devachan. During the period of catharsis he still remembers earthly life, he still holds onto these memories.
What is an earthly language? Every language has meaning only for earthly life and is closely connected with a person's organization, with the climate and with the formation of the larynx. In Europe we do not speak the same languages as in India. But thoughts are not formed according to earthly conditions. The dead only understand language as long as they are in kamaloca. When a medium conveys a message from the dead in a particular language, it can only come from one who has recently gone through the gate of death.
Fundamentally we are already within the higher worlds every time we go to sleep, for in sleep we enter unconsciously the same realm we enter after death.
I would like to pose the following question. Can someone who is not yet able to see with super-sensible perception nevertheless know about these things? A sleeping man, of course, does live. He is somewhat like a plant. You may recall that a scientist, Raoul Francé, writes that plants are endowed with feelings and are able to admire. Yet plants do not have a soul element. The sleeping human organism is on par with the plant. The rays of the sun have to fall on the plant if it is to live. The earth is covered with plants because the sun has called them forth. Without the sun there are no plants and during the winter they cannot sprout forth.
When man sleeps, where is his sun? What lies in the bed we also cannot envisage without the sun. This sun is outside the man's ego. There the ego has to work on the sleeping organism as the sun does on the plant. But it is not only the sun that plays a part in bringing forth and sustaining vegetation. The moon does also. Without the influences from the moon there would be no plant growth either, but the effect of lunar influences is completely ignored by scientists.
The light of the moon influences the plant. The lunar forces determine the width of the plant. A plant that grows tall and thin is little influenced by the moon. Even the whole cosmos is involved in the growth of plants. The ego works into the physical and etheric bodies as the sun influences plant growth. Similarly, the astral body is related to the moon. The ego is the sun for the physical body, the astral body is spiritually its moon. Our ego creates a replacement for the influences of the sun, and our astral body for those of the moon. This justifies what the initiate means when he says man has been formed as an extract of the forces of the cosmos. As the sun is the central point of the plant world and rays forth its light in all directions, in the same way light must permeate the physical and etheric bodies. The sunlight is not only physical, it is also of a soul-spiritual nature separated from the cosmos and become the “I” or ego. The human astral body contains an extract of the light of the moon. The greatest wisdom is contained in these matters.
If the human ego were still bound to the sun, man would only be able to alternate between sleeping and waking like the plants. If there were only the solar influence we would never be able to sleep during the day. We would sleep only at night. But our whole cultural life depends upon an emancipation from these conditions. We carry our own sun within us and the ego is an extract of the solar influence. The astral body in man is an extract of the lunar influence. So during sleep we are not dependent in the spiritual world on the cosmic solar influence. Our ego does what the sun would do otherwise. We are illumined by our own ego and astral body.
Ancient occult vision penetrated to this point only occasionally. Spiritual science gives us the following picture of the sleeping man. Above him shines the sun, his ego, without which he could not be as a plant during sleep. Above him shines the moon, his own astral body.
Now, we can also picture that during the autumn when the sun's influence decreases, vegetation withers. In a man who is awake the astral body and ego are within the physical and ether bodies. The return into the body is to a certain extent like the setting of the sun and moon, and it also marks the end of the plant-like existence. The vegetative condition that prevails to revivify our forces during sleep is much less active during waking life. The vegetative growth-forces wane as man awakens. Inasmuch we are plant-like, we die every morning. This throws considerable light on the interplay between soul and body. Some people feel active and stimulated shortly after waking. Those are the ones who are able to live more strongly in the soul sphere. People who tend to live more in the bodily nature often sense a certain fatigue in the morning. The less tired a person is in the morning, the more active he can be. Yet our waking life may be compared to the dying process of the plants in winter. Each day we draw death forces within our organism. They accumulate and because of this process we eventually die. The fundamental reason for death lies in the sphere of consciousness. From this we can gather that the conscious activity of the ego within our daily life is the destroyer of our physical and etheric bodies. We die because we live consciously.
Many attempts are being made to explain the nature of sleep. Sleep is supposed to be a condition of exhaustion and is said to exist to dispel tiredness. But sleep is not really a condition of exhaustion. The small child, for instance, sleeps more than anyone. Sleep is a part of the whole of life. It is inserted in the rhythm of falling asleep and waking up. Similarly, as we see nature wither in winter, so something dies in us during our waking life.
When we go through the gate of death, we leave our physical and etheric bodies behind and our ego and astral body now emerge as sun and moon that have nothing to illumine. Nevertheless, the ego and the astral body can continue their existence in spite of the fact that they have nothing to illumine. When they permeate the body, consciousness arises. In the spiritual world also, man has to permeate something if he is to acquire consciousness, otherwise he would exist without consciousness.
Into what does man enter after death? He plunges into the spiritual substance that is present without earthly participation. Since the Mystery of Golgatha man must always penetrate into the Christ-substance of the earth that has come about through the deed on Golgatha. We have learned to know the Christ as the Sun Spirit. The ego has emancipated itself from the light of the sun. Then the mighty Sun Spirit descended to the earth, and thereby does the ego of man penetrate into the substance of the Sun Spirit. Man experiences this plunging into the Christ-substance when he has gone through the gate of death. Because of this he is able to develop consciousness after death. In nature this stage will be accomplished when the earth has reached the Vulcan condition. As the sun shines from above downward on the earth, it conjures forth the carpet of vegetation. Now assume the sun were to shine on the earth with strength to bring forth the plants, but the earth was unable to bring them forth and instead reflected the sunlight back. Then the sunlight would not be lost but would shine out into cosmic space and bring forth a supersensible vegetation. This does in fact occur, not physically but spiritually. Because the Christ united himself with the earth, every individual who has united himself with the Christ is able to experience after death the repercussions of what he has grasped consciously on earth. Thus we can understand that on earth man must acquire the capacity to develop consciousness after death. He must carry over from his physical body the forces that develop consciousness.
The bodily nature was most strongly illumined during the Greco-Latin period. Then the saying, “Rather a beggar on earth than a king in the realm of the Shades,” had reality. At that time to dwell in the underworld meant to lead a miserable existence. Before the birth of Christ life after death was little developed. We, on the other hand, belong to an age that is characterized by the fact that such forces are no longer exercised on the bodily nature. Man, inasmuch as he sleeps, is on the decline. The bodily nature has been on the downgrade since the time of Christ. The vegetative forces were most strongly prevalent during the Greek epoch. At the end of the evolution of humanity the bodily nature will be most barren. In earlier epochs men were clairvoyant and the soul was highly developed. Through the soul-spiritual decline the bodily nature rose to its peak as expressed in the beauty of Greek art. But as we go into the future all striving for beauty is faced with a pitfall in that external beauty has no future. Beauty must become an inner quality and in this way must it reveal its character.
Insofar as this withering process increases, the inner nature of the sun and of the moon will become ever more glorious. Those who cultivate spirit and soul through spiritual science have a greater understanding of the future than those people who seek to revive the Greek games. The more a person leaves his soul-spiritual nature in unconsciousness, the more miserable is the destiny he will encounter between death and a new birth. The decay of the body has nothing to do with life after death, but if nothing of a soul-spiritual nature has been developed, then there is nothing to carry over into the spiritual world. The more a person has opened himself to receive a spiritual content, the better he will fare after death. Mankind will learn increasingly to become independent of what is bound to the physical body.
Spiritual science will not keep its present form. Words can scarcely express what it wishes to convey. In spiritual science more will depend on how things are said, rather than on what is said. That is an international element and can live in any language. One will accustom oneself to listen to how things are expressed. In this way one can enter into contact with the dweller of devachan. Today we are gathered together and speak of spiritual science. We will go through the gate of death and continue to develop in a number of future incarnations. Then we will have thoughts independent from the earth-bound language of today. The spirit will enter into our life and we will be able to communicate with the dead.
External cultural life goes to its downfall. A time will come when the skies will be filled with airplanes. Life on earth will wither, but the human soul will grow into the spiritual world. At the end of earth evolution man will have progressed so that there will no longer be a sharp division between the living and the dead. The earth will go over into a spiritual condition again because man will have spiritualized himself. This will give you a basis for a correct answer when people ask, “Death and birth repeat themselves but will this always continue?” There will not be such a difference between living and dying because for human consciousness everything will be spiritualized. The upward development of the whole of mankind leads to the condition that will be experienced on Jupiter.
In speaking about life between death and rebirth we open up a far-reaching realm. There, also, everything is subject to change and transformation, including the intercourse of the living with the dead. We shall gradually penetrate further into the nature of man's existence, into the interplay between his bodily and spiritual nature.