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Life Between Death and Rebirth
GA 140

1. Investigations Into Life Between Death and Rebirth I

26 October 1912, Milan

It will be my task here to explain to you some features of investigation of the spiritual world, and to indicate what the consequences of such knowledge are for life as a whole. He who has the task of communicating certain things to his fellowmen from the spiritual world cannot test too often their exactitude and absolute spiritual correctness. My aim is to impart something out of such verified knowledge in regard to the soul's life between death and a new birth. Lately, I have been able to test the research that can be made in this field. Particulars of these thorough investigations will be given in the second part of the lecture. This must be prefaced by some preliminary explanations pertaining to the attainment of spiritual knowledge.

A special disposition of the soul is necessary for the acquisition of spiritual knowledge, one to which the usual disposition in everyday life on the earthly plane is radically opposed. In external life, especially in our present day, the soul is in a continual state of unrest. Throughout the day the soul is constantly exposed to new impressions, and since it identifies itself with these impressions it lives in a state of continuous restlessness.

The very opposite must take place if one would penetrate into the spiritual world. The first condition necessary for ascending into the spiritual world and for understanding the experiences gained in that realm is complete inner rest and steadiness of soul. This quietness of soul is more difficult to attain than we might think. All anxiety, all excitement and worry must cease in order to obtain inner calmness. In fact, during the time that we wish to lift ourselves into higher worlds all interests in outer life must be extinguished. We should be as if standing at one point, determined not to move, so that the events of the spiritual world may pass before us. In our everyday life on the physical plane we go from one thing to another while the things themselves remain stationary. This is not so in the spiritual world where we must bring things to us, to the point to which we are fixed, by means of our thinking activity. We must, as it were, go out of ourselves, penetrate the things and then bring them to us from outside. This may lead to alarming experiences for the soul.

We shall discover that during our normal life on earth we are able to change things, to correct what we have perceived or done wrongly. This is no longer so in the spiritual world. There we realize that things present themselves in a true or false aspect according to the condition we are in when entering the spiritual world. Therefore, all preparation for a correct insight into the spiritual world must take place before entering that realm, because once we have passed the threshold we are no longer in a position to correct, but are forced to make the mistakes consistent with our own disposition of character. In order to avoid making certain mistakes in the future, we must return to the physical plane, improve our disposition, and then return to the spiritual world to do better than previously. From this you will understand the importance of a sound and careful preparation before crossing the threshold into the spiritual world.

What I have said is closely connected with the present cycle of human evolution, but conditions for the soul were not always as they are today. In our time we should fear rather than welcome a too forcible appearance of a visionary world on entering the realm of the spirit. When we begin our exercises to rise into the higher worlds it is indeed possible for visionary experiences to penetrate into us. In our time there is only one safeguard against making mistakes in the presence of this visionary world, namely, to say to oneself that to begin with one can only learn certain things about oneself from these visions. The appearance of a whole host of visions around us need be nothing more than the mirroring of our own being. Our own disposition and maturity of soul, all we think and feel, transform themselves in the spiritual world into happenings that appear to be objective realities. For instance, when we see events in the astral world that seem objective to us, they may be nothing more than the reflection of our own virtues or defects, or indeed the effect of a headache. He who seeks genuine initiation, especially in our time, must endeavor to understand by thinking all that reaches him by way of the visionary experience. Therefore, the candidate for initiation will not rest until he has understood what he has encountered in the visionary world as thoroughly as he understands the physical world.

Now as we approach initiation our soul undergoes the same experiences as those during the period between death and a new birth. Recently in my occult research the following question arose. What is the relationship between the visionary world that one can find through initiation or as a result of a loosening of the ether body owing to shock, and the realm in which one dwells between death and a new birth? It was shown that when we turn our attention to the time between death and rebirth, we find, that is, setting aside the period of kamaloca, that we live in an objective world that can be compared to that of the initiate. This should not be taken, however, to mean that immediately after death we do not live in a real world. We live an absolutely real world. We live there with those with whom we were connected on earth, and the connections are very real. But just as on earth we receive our perceptions by means of the senses, so after death we receive them by way of visions.

Let us consider the following instance. Suppose after death we meet someone in the spiritual world who died before us. He is there for us in reality, we stand before him, but we must be able to perceive him, must establish a relationship to him in the visionary world, just as in the physical world we would establish a connection with someone by means of our eyes and ears. Now, however, we encounter a difficulty that exists in the experience of the initiate and also in the life between death and rebirth. As previously explained, the world of visions presents at first only a reflection of ourselves. When a man meets us in the spiritual world a vision appears, but to begin with this vision only reflects the measure of affection or antipathy that we felt towards him on earth, or it reflects some other connection that we may have had with him in the past. We can therefore find ourselves in the presence of a person in the spiritual world and yet perceive nothing more than what was within our own soul before death. It may happen that we meet a person in the spiritual world but remain cut off from him because of our feelings or affection or dislike that envelop us like a visionary cloud. Such meetings after death are accompanied by deep feeling, by a real inner experience, and this is most important. We might feel, for example, that we have not loved someone on earth as much as we should have done and now after death, notwithstanding that we are in his presence and wish to love him more, we find that we can only bring as much affection as we had for him on earth. This is true in spite of our earnest desire to love him more and make amends for what we failed to do on earth. We experience this sense of limitation, this total incapacity to develop further one's inner powers, as an immense weight on the soul after death.

This leads me to some of my recent research. The early experiences during the kamaloca period consist in essence of what the soul has received in its relations with its fellow men before death. After a certain time after death, for instance, we can no longer ask ourselves how we should love a person. We can then only ask ourselves how we loved him during earthly life, and as a result how we love him now. This condition gradually changes as after death we develop the faculty to sense the working of the beings of the spiritual world, of the Hierarchies, on the visions that surround us. Therefore, the situation that I have characterized is only altered as a result of a feeling that develops little by little. Beings of the Hierarchies are working on the mist that surrounds us; they shine upon this mist as the sun's rays irradiate the clouds. We have to take a certain number of memories of our life before death with us. They surround us like a cloud and on the basis of them we must develop the faculty to receive the light of the Hierarchies. Generally speaking almost every soul in our time is prepared in this way to receive the influences of the higher Hierarchies. Today every person who dies and enters the spiritual world will reach the stage where the Hierarchies illumine the cloud of his visions.

The influence of the Hierarchies, this light-giving that occurs in the course of time, is also gradually altered. It changes in such a way that we experience little by little how this breaking-in of the light of higher Hierarchies could dim our consciousness. Then we become aware that the preservation of our consciousness depends upon certain specific things that happened before death. For instance, the consciousness of a person with an immoral soul disposition is more easily dimmed. It is therefore of the utmost importance that we cross the threshold of death with moral strength, for moral consciousness will keep our soul open to the light of the Hierarchies. Recently I have been able to examine the state after death of people with moral sentiments and also the state of those with an immoral disposition of soul, and in every case it could be established that a person with a moral disposition of soul was able to preserve clear, radiant consciousness after death, whereas those with an immoral soul constitution sink into a kind of dim twilight consciousness.

One might well ask what it matters if after death a person should fall into such a sleeping consciousness because then he would not suffer. He would even escape the consequences of his immorality. This argument will not hold because, with such a dimming of consciousness that is the result of immorality, the most terrible conditions of fear are connected. There is no greater fear after death than this darkening of consciousness.

Later, after a certain span of time has elapsed, one has quite other experiences. One compares, for instance, a variety of people during the period between death and rebirth, and one finds that during the later phase after death, in addition to the moral disposition the religious soul disposition plays a part. It is simply an unquestionable fact that souls deficient in religious thoughts experience a dimming of consciousness as a result of this deficiency. One cannot free oneself from the impression one gains in observing the state of men who have had only materialistic thoughts. Shortly after death their consciousness is dimmed, extinguished. This fact demonstrates that materialistic thoughts, however convincing they might appear to be, do not further human development after death.

I have thus described two phases of existence after death. In the first, one sees the effects of moral principles, in the second, the consequences of religious ideas. This is followed by a third period that would mean a dimming of consciousness for every soul were it not for certain cosmic measures that prevent this darkening. In investigating this third phase the total evolution of the whole of humanity through the various cycles of development will have to be considered. In pre-Christian times men could not acquire on earth what would have given them a consciousness in this third period after death. That they nevertheless had a consciousness during this third period was due to the fact that since the beginning of earth evolution certain spiritual forces were bestowed on man that enabled him to preserve his consciousness. These forces, which were inherited by man from the beginning of the world, were preserved by the wise guidance of initiated leaders. We must bear in mind that in pre-Christian times all the various peoples of the world received the influences of the Sanctuaries of Initiation, and there were many ways in which the spiritual life flowed forth from the Mysteries to the people.

These impulses became even weaker as human evolution approached the Mystery of Golgotha. An external proof of this can be seen in the advent of the great Buddha in pre-Christian times. A careful examination of the teachings of Buddha will not reveal any real information about the nature of the spiritual world. In fact, the spiritual world is characterized negatively in the teaching of Nirvana, and yet it is true that Buddha demanded of one who sought entry into the spiritual world that one should free oneself from all attachments to the physical world. But in the whole of Buddha's teachings we do not find any detailed description of the world of the spirit as we do, for instance, in the teachings of the Brahmans that still contain the traditions of ancient times. It must be emphasized that the facts referred to manifested themselves in various peoples until the time the Greeks experienced the meaning of the Mystery of Golgotha. Because during the period of Greek civilization consciousness was dimmed between death and rebirth, the Greeks, who knew this, experienced the spiritual world as the realm of the shades. On earth man could create beauty, art, harmonious social conditions out of his own forces, but he was unable to acquire in the physical world what would give him a light during the third phase of life after death.

This is connected with the fact that in the Greek epoch mankind had reached the point in evolution when the ancient sources of tradition were exhausted. He could not procure by dint of his own powers in the physical world the forces needed after death to maintain the consciousness described. At this point in evolution mankind had to receive from without the impulse by means of which he could gain consciousness during this third phase. Man had lost the power of inheriting the consciousness between death and rebirth, but he could regain it by turning his thoughts to what had occurred at the Mystery of Golgotha. The matter stands as follows. What could be experienced during the Greek epoch during the Mystery of Golgotha has illumined men's consciousness in the third phase between death and rebirth. Understanding the Mystery of Golgotha is the impulse for consciousness in the third period after death.

If we now consider the Greco-Latin period, we can say that for the first phase after death the moral disposition of soul was the determining factor; for the second, the religious inclination; but for the third, the understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha was of prime importance. He who had not acquired this understanding suffered an extinction of consciousness in the third period after death, just as the Greeks experienced it previously. The Mystery of Golgotha signifies the re-enlivening of man's consciousness precisely during the middle period between death and rebirth. The ancient spiritual heritage that mankind had lost was restored to him through this event, and so the Christ event had to occur because of the conditions that prevailed in the lives of men. As evolution progressed mankind continually received new powers. During the first stage of Christian evolution it was the understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha as recounted by those who had lived at the time, and as transmitted by means of tradition, that gave the power to maintain consciousness in the third phase after death. Today, as a result of the further development of man's faculties, a new relation is again necessary, both to the Mystery of Golgotha and to the Christ being.

If we seek to understand the essence of the soul in our time, then we must realize that the deepest part of man's nature can penetrate today to a knowledge of the ego. Such a comprehension was not possible in former times. Among human beings at large we find this drawing-near to the ego in the grossest forms of egoism. It manifests itself in a wide variety of degrees until we reach the stage of the philosopher. In studying contemporary philosophy you will find that a secure standpoint is only reached when the human ego is spoken of. In pre-Christian times, when man attempted to gain knowledge of the world he turned his attention to outer phenomena; in other words, in order to philosophize he went out of himself. Today man looks inward, into himself, and only there, when he finds the ego, does he encounter a firm point of reference. I need only mention the great Fichte and the contemporary philosopher Bergson. Both agree that a man only finds a measure of inner peace if he discovers the ego. The reason for this lies in the fact that in earlier times humanity could not come out of its own powers to a knowledge of the ego. This experience was bestowed upon him during the Greco-Latin age through the Mystery of Golgotha. The Christ gave mankind the certainty that a spark of the divine dwells in the human soul. It continues to live in man, in him who has not only become flesh in a physical sense, but who has become flesh in a Christian sense, and that means to have become an “I.” The possibility of recognizing the divine in a human individuality, namely, the Christ, is being ever more obscured in our time. This is due to the fact that the man of today penetrates increasingly into his personal ego and seeks to find the divine spark ever more in himself. We have seen that in the nineteenth century this way of viewing the ego was intensified to the point that the divinity of Christ was denied. The divine was understood merely as something abstract in the whole of mankind. So, for example, the German philosopher, David Friedrich Strauss, contended that one should not recognize the single historical Christ, but instead acknowledge the divine nature that animates the whole of humanity. Then the Resurrection signifies only what is manifested in all mankind as the awakening of the Divine Spirit.

This is the reason why the more man seeks the divine within himself, the more he will lose the understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha. The whole tendency of modern thinking is to seek the reflection of the divine exclusively in man. Because of this, ever greater obstacles prevent recognition that the Divine was incarnated within one personality. This has real consequences for the life between death and a new birth. If already in the Greco-Latin period man was not able by his own strength to maintain his consciousness in the third period after death, then it is all the more difficult in our time due to the general and philosophical egoism that prevails. In our present age, during the third phase after death the soul creates even greater obstacles for itself in its cloud of visions than during the Greco-Latin epoch.

If one considers the evolution of humanity in more recent times without prejudice, one must acknowledge that St. Paul said, “Not I, but the Christ in me.” But modern man says, “I in me, and the Christ as far as I can admit Him. The Christ is only valid inasmuch as I can acknowledge Him through my own powers of reasoning.”

In our present period there is only one way of maintaining a clear consciousness during the third phase after death, that is, by carrying certain memories from the previous life into our existence after death. In fact, during this period we would have to forget everything unless we were able to hold on to one particular recollection. If we have experienced on earth an understanding of Christ and the Mystery of Golgotha and have established a relationship to them, this will implant into us thoughts and forces that maintain our consciousness during this period after death. The facts clearly show that there is the possibility of remembering after death what has been understood on the earth in relation to the Mystery of Golgotha.

Once we have gained ideas and feelings about the Mystery of Golgotha, we shall be able to remember these after death, and also what is connected with them. In other words, after death we must carry our consciousness across an abyss, and this is done by means of the understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha that we have gained on earth. With this knowledge gained out of our memory during this period, we shall be able to cooperate in the correction of the faults that we bear in our soul as a result of our karma. If, however, we have not developed an understanding and deep realization of the words, “Not I, but the Christ in me,” then our consciousness is extinguished and with it the possibility of improving our karma. Other powers must undertake the correction of our defects that ought to be corrected by us in accordance with our karma.

Naturally, every man returns through a new birth to earth, but it is of importance whether the consciousness has been extinguished or whether it has remained intact across the abyss. If we reach this period after death with a knowledge of the Mystery of Golgotha, we are able to look backward and remember that with all that is essentially human in us, we have come from God. We also experience that we have been able to save our consciousness because of our understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha, and that we can develop our consciousness further as we behold this Spirit now drawing near to us. Then we reach a point during this third phase after death when we can remember and say to ourselves that we are born out of the Spirit, ex Deo nascimur. One who has reached a certain stage of initiation never experiences the truth of the words, “I am born out of the Divine Spirit,” as powerfully as when he transposes himself to this particular point. At this moment every soul who has developed an understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha experiences it. The significance of the words, ex Deo nascimur, is realized when one knows that their full depth will only be experienced when the soul has reached the middle period between death and rebirth.

When one knows these facts objectively, one would wish that more people in our time knew that the essence of these words can only be understood as characterized above. This saying has been made into a motto within our spiritual-rosicrucian movement precisely in order to awaken what should live within the soul between death and a new birth.

It would not be difficult to interpret this explanation as a preconceived opinion in favor of the Christian way of life. If this were the case, such a view would be entirely unanthroposophical. Spiritual science takes an objective position towards all religious creeds and studies them with equal interest. The facts that have been given here about the importance of the Mystery of Golgotha have nothing whatever to do with any form of denominational Christianity. They are simply objective occult realities. Yet the accusation has been levied against our Western spiritual movement that we speak out of a marked preference for Christianity as compared with other religions. Here, however, the Mystery of Golgotha is treated in the same way as any tangible fact in natural science. To say that the Mystery of Golgotha ought not be placed as a unique event in the evolution of humanity because other religions would not be able to acknowledge this fact shows complete misunderstanding. Let us consider the following. Today we have the sacred religious books of India and a modern Western world-conception. Today in the West we teach the Copernican system, and no one would suggest that we ought not to teach the Copernican theory because it is not contained in the sacred books of India! For the same reason no one can object to the teaching of the Mystery of Golgotha because it is not to be found in the religious writings of the ancient Hindus.

From this we see how unfounded is the reproach that the explanations here given about the Mystery of Golgotha come from a preference for Christianity. We are concerned with objective facts, and if you should ask why I will never modify in the slightest the importance attached to the Mystery of Golgotha, then the above reasons will provide the answer.

We do not study spiritual science for the sake of curiosity, nor from an abstract desire for knowledge, but in order to provide the soul with a necessary form of nourishment. By means of an understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha, we give the soul the possibility of developing those feelings that it will need in order to cross the abyss between death and rebirth as just described. One who has understood that the soul after death can suffer a loss of consciousness, so heavy to bear in all future cycles of time, will seek every opportunity to bring the Mystery of Golgotha to the understanding of his fellow men.

For this reason the understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha is one of the most important facts that we must learn through the study of spiritual science.

The more progress we make in our present epoch, the more will the various religions be obliged to accept the facts we have presented today. The time will come when the followers of the Chinese, Buddhist and Brahman religions will find that it is no more contrary to their religion to accept the Mystery of Golgotha than it is to accept the system of Copernicus. In the future it will be considered a kind of religious egotism if this fact is not admitted by religions that are not Christian.

You will notice that in our considerations we have reached the Mystery of Golgotha although our starting point was the conditions between death and rebirth. One can give but a few indications in relation to an area such as we have dealt with here, but I wished at least to impart to you some of the results of my most recent research.

As the next lecture will be related to the present one, we probably will make a brief review of what has been said here, and then pass on to further considerations.