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At the Gates of Spiritual Science
GA 95

4. Devachan

25 August 1906, Stuttgart

We have seen how at his death a man leaves behind him the corpse, first of his physical body, then of his etheric body and finally of his lower astral body. What is then left when he has shed these three bodies? The memory-picture which comes before the soul at death vanishes at the moment when the etheric body takes leave of the astral. It sinks into the unconscious, so to speak, and ceases to have any significance for the soul as an immediate impression. But although the picture itself vanishes, something important, something that may be called its fruit, survives. The total harvest of the last life remains like a concentrated essence of forces in the higher astral body and rests there.

But a man has often gone through all this in the past. At each death, at the end of each incarnation, this memory-picture has appeared before his soul and left behind what I have called a concentrated essence of forces. So with each life a picture is added. After his first incarnation a man had his first memory-picture when he died; then came the second, richer than the first, and so on. The sum-total of these pictures produces a kind of new element in man. Before his first death a man consists of four bodies, but when he dies for the first time he takes the first memory-picture with him. Thus on reincarnating for the first time he has not only his four bodies but also this product of his former life. This is the “causal” body. So now he has five bodies: physical, etheric, astral, ego and causal. Once this causal body has made its appearance, it remains, though it was first constituted from the products of previous lives. Now we can understand the difference between individuals. Some of them have lived through many lives and so have added many pages to their Book of Life. They have developed to a high level and possess a rich causal body. Others have been through only a few lives; hence they have gathered fewer fruits and have a less developed causal body.

What is the purpose of man's repeated appearance on Earth? If there were no connection between the various incarnations, the whole process would of course be senseless, but that is not how it goes. Think how different life was for a man who was incarnated a few centuries after Christ, compared with the conditions he will find when he reincarnates today. Nowadays a child's life between the sixth and fourteenth years is taken up with acquiring knowledge: reading, writing, and so on. Opportunities for the cultivation and development of human personality are very different from what they were in the past. A man's incarnations are ordered in such a way that he returns to the Earth only when he will find quite new conditions and possibilities of development, and after a few centuries they will always be there. Think how quickly the Earth is developing in every respect: only a few thousand years ago this region was covered with primeval forests, full of wild beasts. Men lived in caves, wore animal skins and had only the most primitive knowledge of how to light a fire or make tools. How different it all is today! We can see how the face of the Earth has been transformed in a relatively short time. A man who lived in the days of the ancient Germanic people had a picture of the world quite different from the picture which prevails today among people who learn to read and write. As the Earth changes, man learns quite new things and makes them his own.

What is the usual period between two incarnations and on what does it depend? The following considerations will give us the answer and we shall see how the changing conditions of the Earth come into it.

In the course of time certain Beings have enjoyed peculiar honours. For example, in Persia in 3000 B.C. the Twins (Gemini) were specially honoured; between 3000 B.C. and 800 B.C. the sacred Bull Apis (Taurus) was revered in Egypt and the Mithras Bull in Asia Minor. After 800 B.C. another Being came into the foreground and the Ram or Lamb (Aries) was honoured. So arose the legend of Jason, who went to fetch the Golden Fleece from the sacred Ram in Asia beyond the sea. The lamb was so highly revered that in due time Christ called Himself the “Lamb of God”, and the first Christian symbol was not the Cross with the Saviour hanging on it, but the Cross together with the Lamb.

This means that there were three successive periods of civilisation, each associated with important happenings in the heavens. The Sun takes his course in the sky along a particular path, the Ecliptic, and at the beginning of Spring in a given epoch the Sun rises at a definite point in the Zodiac. So in the year 3000 B.C. the Sun rose in Spring in the constellation of the Bull; before that in the constellation of the Twins, and about 800 B.C. in the constellation of the Ram. This vernal point moves slowly backwards round the Zodiac year by year, taking 2,160 years to pass from one constellation to the next, and people chose as the symbol of their reverence the heavenly sign in which the vernal Sun appeared. If today we were able to understand the powerful feelings and the exalted states of mind which the ancients experienced as the Sun passed on into a new constellation, we should understand also the significance of the moment when the Sun entered the sign of Pisces. But for the materialism of our time no such understanding is possible.

What was it, then, that people saw in this process? The ancients saw it as an embodiment of the forces of nature. In Winter these forces were asleep, but in Spring they were recalled to life by the Sun. Hence the constellation in which the Sun appeared in Spring symbolised these reawakening forces; it gave new strength to the Sun and was felt to be worthy of particular reverence. The ancients knew that with this movement of the Sun round the Zodiac something important was connected, for it meant that the Sun's rays fell on the Earth under quite different conditions as time went on. And indeed the period of 2,160 years does signify a complete change in the conditions of life on Earth. And this is the length of time spent in Devachan between death and a new birth. Occultism has always recognised these 2,160 years as a period during which conditions on Earth change sufficiently for a man to reappear there in order to gain new experience.

We must remember, however, that during this period a person is generally born twice, once as a man and once as a woman, so that on average the interval between two incarnations is in fact about 1,000 years. It is not true that there is a change from male to female at every seventh incarnation. The experiences of the soul are obviously very different in a male incarnation from those it encounters in a female incarnation. Hence the general rule is that a soul appears once as a man and once as a woman during this period of 2,160 years. It will then have had all the experiences available to it under the conditions of that period; and the person will have had the possibility and opportunity to add a new page to his Book of Life. These radical changes in the conditions on Earth provide a schooling for the soul. That is the purpose of reincarnation.

A man takes with him into Devachan his causal body and the purified, ennobled parts of his astral and etheric bodies; these belong to him permanently and he never loses them. At a particular moment, just after he has laid aside his astral corpse, he stands face to face with himself as if he were looking at himself from the outside. That is the moment when he enters Devachan.

Devachan has four divisions:

  1. The continents
  2. The rivers and oceans
  3. The airy region; etheric space
  4. The region of spiritual archetypes

In the first division everything is seen as though in a photographic negative. Everything physical that has ever existed on this Earth, whether as mineral, plant or animal, and everything physical that still exists, appears as a negative. And if you see yourself in this negative form, as one among all the others, you will be in Devachan. What is the point of seeing yourself in this way?

You do not see yourself once only, but by degrees you come to see yourself as you were in former lives, and this has a deep purpose. Goethe says: “The eye is formed by the light for the light.”18Goethe says ...” Literally, “And so the eye is formed by the light for the light.” He means that light is the creator of the eye, and this is perfectly true. We see how true it is if we observe how the eye degenerates in the absence of light. For example, in Kentucky certain creatures went to live in caves; the caves were dark and so the creatures did not need eyes. Gradually they lost the light of the eyes, and their eyes atrophied. The vital fluids which had formerly nourished their eyes were diverted to another organ which was now more useful for them. These creatures, then, lost their sight because their whole world was without light: the absence of light destroyed their power of sight. Thus if there were no light, there would be no eyes. The forces which create the eye are in the light, just as the forces which create the ear are in the world of sound. In short, all the organs of the body are built up by the creative forces of the universe. If you ask what has built the brain, the answer is that without thinking there would be no brain. When a Kepler19Johannes Kepler, 1571–1630, astronomer and mathematician. Established the three laws concerning the movements of the planets. or Galileo20Galileo Galilei, 1564–1642. Laid the foundations of mechanics, discovered the laws of free fall, of the pendulum, of ballistics. directed his reasoning power to the great laws of nature, it was the wisdom of nature which had created the organ of understanding

Ordinarily a man enters the earthly world with his organs to a certain extent perfected. During the interval since his last incarnation, however, new conditions have arisen, and he has to work upon them with his spirit. In all his experiences there is a creative power. His eyes, and the understanding which he already possesses, were formed in an earlier incarnation. When after death he reaches Devachan, he finds, as we have seen, the picture of his body as it was in his last life, and within him he still carries the fruits of the memory-picture of his last life. It is now possible for him to compare the course of his development in his various lives: what he was like before the experiences of his last life and what he can become when the experiences of this latest life are added to those of the others. Accordingly he forms for himself a picture of a new body, standing one step higher than his previous bodies.

At the first stage in Devachan, therefore, a man corrects his previous life-picture, and out of the fruits of his former lives he prepares the picture of his body for his next incarnation.

At the second stage in Devachan, life pulsates as a reality, as though in rivers and streams. During earthly existence a man has life within him and he cannot perceive it; now he sees it flowing past and he uses it to animate the form he had built up at the first stage.

At the third stage of Devachan, a man is surrounded by all the passions and feelings of his past life, but now they come before him as clouds, thunder and lightning. He sees all this as it were objectively; he learns to understand it, and to observe it as he observes physical things on Earth; and he gathers all his experiences into the life of his soul. By dint of seeing these pictures of the life of soul he is able to incorporate their particular qualities, and thus he endows with soul the body he had formed at the first stage.

That is the purpose of Devachan. A man has to advance a stage further there, so he himself prepares the image of his body for his next incarnation. That is one of his tasks in Devachan; but he has many others also. He is by no means concerned only with himself. Everything he does is done in full consciousness. He lives consciously in Devachan, and statements to the contrary in theosophical books are false. How is this to be understood? When a man is asleep, his astral body leaves the physical and etheric bodies, and consciousness leaves him also. But that is true only while the astral body is engaged on its usual task of repairing and restoring harmony to the weary and worked out physical body. When a man has died, his astral body no longer has this task to perform, and in proportion as it is released from this task, consciousness awakens. During the man's life his consciousness was darkened and hemmed in by the physical forces of the body and at night he had to work on this physical body. When the forces of the astral body are released after death, its own specific organs immediately emerge. These are the seven lotus-flowers, the Chakrams. Clairvoyant artists have been aware of this and have used it as a symbol in their works: Michaelangelo21Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1475–1564. His “Moses”, intended for the tomb of Pope Julius II, is in the church of S. Pietro in Vincoli, Rome. created his statue of Moses with two little horns. The lotus-flowers are distributed as follows:

  • The 2-petalled lotus-flower at the base of the nose, between the eyebrows;
  • The 16-petalled lotus-flower in the region of the larynx;
  • The 12-petalled lotus-flower in the neighbourhood of the heart;
  • The 8- or 10-petalled lotus-flower in the region of the stomach;
  • A 6- and a 4-petalled lotus-flower are to be found lower down.

These astral organs are hardly observable in the ordinary man of today, but if he becomes clairvoyant, or goes into a state of trance, they stand out in shining, living colours, and are in motion. Directly the lotus-flowers are in motion, a man perceives the astral world. But the difference between physical and astral organs is that physical organs are passive and allow everything to act on them from outside. Eye, ear and so on have to wait until light or sound brings them a message. Spiritual organs, on the other hand, are active; they hold objects in their grip. But this activity can awaken only when the forces of the astral body are not otherwise employed; then they stream into the lotus-flowers. Even in Kamaloka, as long as the lower parts of the astral body are still united to the man, the astral organs are dimmed. It is only when the astral corpse has been discarded and nothing remains with the man except what he has acquired as permanent parts of himself—i.e. at the entrance to Devachan—that these astral sense-organs wake to full activity; and in Devachan man lives with them in a high degree of consciousness.

It is incorrect for theosophical books to say that man is asleep in Devachan; incorrect that he is concerned only with himself, or that relationships begun on Earth are not continued there. On the contrary, a friendship truly founded on spiritual affinity continues with great intensity. The circumstances of physical life on Earth bring about real experiences there. The inwardness of friendship brings nourishment to the communion of spirits in Devachan and enriches it with new patterns; it is precisely this which feeds the soul there. Again, an elevated aesthetic enjoyment of nature is nourishment for the life of the soul in Devachan.

All this is what human beings live on in Devachan. Friendships are as it were the environment with which a man surrounds himself there. Physical conditions all too often cut across these relationships on Earth. In Devachan the way in which two friends are together depends only on the intensity of their friendship. To form such relationships on Earth provides experiences for life in Devachan.