Life Between Death and Rebirth
9. Life After Death
26 January 1913, Linz
What are our aims when we gather for spiritual-scientific studies? Many ask this question because those who are connected with spiritual science devote a part of their forces to considerations that for others actually do not come into question today. Truly, we consider realms that for the majority of people simply do not exist. Yet the gathering for such work is not merely the pursuit of an “ideal” in the sense of other ideals that are prevalent in our time.
The spiritual-scientific “ideal” is different in that it seeks to answer the call, which in our time is perhaps only heard faintly and by a few but which will become more and more audible in the world. Today there are some who are able to say clearly that spiritual science is a necessity and others do so out of indeterminate feeling. But out of what depths of the soul does this arise? Surely the one follows more or less what may be termed a spiritual instinct, an urge, that he is quite unable to bring to full consciousness. Yet such an urge corresponds to a rightly directed will. This may be observed when we investigate the soul life.
It is my intention on this occasion not to unfold general theories but to deal with actual instances. This is especially necessary if we wish to answer the above question.
The seer who is able to look into the spiritual worlds also gradually gains an insight into the life between death and rebirth. This existence takes place in spiritual realms that are continually surrounding us, to which we belong with the best part of our soul life. Man lives purely in the spiritual world when he has gone through the gate of death and has laid aside his physical body. As long as he makes use of the physical senses and the intellect, the spiritual world remains hidden from him. The seer, however, can follow the different stages of life between death and rebirth.
The basic questions, which are important in relation to our ideals, do in fact stem from a consideration of life between death and a new birth. One might easily suppose that that life has nothing whatever to do with our life here on the physical plane, but in a deeper sense they are closely related. We become especially aware of this when we look at a soul that has gone through the gate of death. Let us take an actual instance and consider the relationship of such a soul to those who are still in a physical body.
A man went through the gate of death and left his wife and children behind. After a certain period had elapsed, it was possible for one able to look into the spiritual worlds to find this soul and a painful existence was revealed. The soul lamented the loss of wife and children. This expressed itself approximately in the following words, but we should remember that the earthly words used to express what a soul seeks to convey are only an approximation and are similar to a garment. One naturally cannot convey the language of the dead by means of earthly words. It is different and one has to translate it.
So this soul lamented, “I used to live with those whom I have left behind. Previously when I dwelt in a physical body and would come home in the evening after I had done my work, I would join them, and what shone from their souls was like the light of the sun. Everything that I experienced in their company used to alleviate the burden of physical existence. I was then quite unable to imagine life in the physical world without my wife and children. I am able to recall our life together as it used to be in every detail. But when I awoke in the spiritual world after death, I was unable to find my wife and children. For me they are not there. Only memories remain. I know that they are below on the earth, but their soul life as it is taking place in thinking, feeling and willing from morning until night is as if extinguished. I am unable to find my loved ones however hard I try.”
This is a genuine experience, and it is shared by many souls who cross the gate of death in our present time. It was not always so in the evolution of humanity. In ancient times it was different. Men crossed the threshold of death in another way but they also were not in their physical bodies on earth as they are today.
The difference lies in the fact that in earlier times man still possessed a spiritual heritage by means of which he was linked to the spiritual world. The farther back we go in ancient periods when souls who are incarnate today were already present on the earth, the more we discover that man then was rightly connected to the spiritual world. Man has lost increasingly the old spiritual inheritance, and today we live in a period when there is a radical change in the evolution of humanity.
Let us clarify this point before embarking on the profound facts previously described. In our time there are people who know little more about the starry heavens, for instance, than what is common knowledge today. True, there are still some who go out on a clear night and delight in the grandeur and glory of the starry heavens, but such people are in a minority. There are more and more people who are unable to distinguish between a planet and a fixed starry but that is not the most important thing. Even when people do go out to look up to the heavens, they only see stars externally in their physical appearance. This was not the case in ancient times. It was not so for souls who are here today but who in ancient times dwelt in other bodies. The same souls who now see only the physical stars formerly beheld, when they contemplated the starry heavens, not so much the physical light of the stars but what was spiritually connected with them. Spiritual beings are connected with all the stars. What we term the higher hierarchies in spiritual science today were seen clairvoyantly by the souls of primeval times — by all of you here and by all the people outside. Man then did not merely see the physical world but he also beheld the spiritual world. It would have been sheer foolishness in those times to deny the spiritual world, as much as if today a person would deny the existence of roses and lilies. The spiritual world could not be denied because it was perceived. That man has lost the immediate connection with the spiritual world marks, in a certain sense, a step forward. In its place he has gained a greater degree of independence and freedom.
In former times the human soul lived in an external spiritual world. This realm gradually has been lost but the loss has to be replaced from within. Therefore, today the soul that relies merely on the perception of the outer world feels barren and empty. How many souls are there in our time who go about in the world totally oblivious of the fact that all space is filled by the presence of spiritual beings! One nevertheless can gain an understanding of the content of the spiritual by beholding the external world only. This is possible by penetrating into the depth of the soul. Many people, however, are not willing to do so, including the family of whom I spoke to your earlier.
The man in question dwelt in the spiritual world, in the realm in which we live between death and rebirth. He longed to be reunited with the souls with whom he had lived on earth, but for him they were not existent. Why? Because the souls who remained behind on the earth did not seek a spiritual content, because they were only able to manifest their presence by way of a physical body. He longed to know something of these souls who formerly had been to him as rays of sunshine, and the seer who was acquainted with him before he passed through the gate of death was not even able to comfort him in any special way. For comfort such as the following would have been fundamentally dishonest. “The souls that are extinguished for you will join you later if you have but the patience to wait. Then you will have them again as they were on earth.” That would not have been quite true, because these souls were far removed from any form of penetration into spiritual life. They, too, after they have gone through the gate of death will have a fearful longing to be united with those whom they knew on earth. Souls who are devoid of any form of spiritual life encounter many obstacles.
We have reached the stage in the cycle of evolution of mankind when souls dwelling in a physical body must learn the language of the spirit. We must acquire a knowledge of higher worlds here. Many souls in our time despise a knowledge that may be termed theosophy in the literal sense of the word. This is truly the language that we must be able to speak after death if we wish to be rightly there for the spiritual world. After death we cannot make up for what we should have learned as the language of theosophy or spiritual science.
If the man I referred to had occupied himself with spiritual science together with his family, he would have had quite other experiences, another form of consciousness after death. In fact, he would have known that souls can be experienced there. Even is he was separated from them by a gulf they would one day join him. They would be able to find each other because they shared a common spiritual language. Otherwise he would not be reunited with them as one rightly should be after death. He would only encounter them as one meets people on earth who are dumb, who want to convey something but are quite incapable of doing so.
Truly it must be admitted that such facts are uncomfortable, and many of our contemporaries do not find them to their liking, but it is the truth that matters, not whether they sound pleasant or not.
In earlier periods of human evolution souls received much because they were still in their infancy and accepted religious traditions and ideas about the spiritual world in a childlike manner. As a result, they possessed a language for the spiritual life and were able to live in communion with spiritual beings. Now man is called upon, particularly in our age, to become ever more independent in his relation to spiritual life.
Spiritual science has not come into the world in an arbitrary way. It cannot be propagated by the means usually available and is commonly the practice of societies that seek to spread their particular aims.
Those who feel called upon to carry spiritual ideas into our contemporary cultural life have experienced the painful cry of souls after death who are unable to find the ones they have left behind because spiritually they are empty. The cry of the dead is the call that brings forth the ideal of spiritual science.
One who is able to experience by entering into the spiritual world the agony, the longing, the renunciation, but also the hopelessness that fills the souls who have passed through the gate of death, knows the reason for our gatherings. He also knows that he cannot do otherwise than to represent this spiritual life. This is a matter of the greatest seriousness and it is called forth by the deepest longing of humanity.
Today there are souls who feel, even if out of the deepest recesses of their instincts that they wish to experience something of the spiritual world! They are the pioneers of a future when souls will come who will consider it important to cultivate a spiritual life founded on the cognition of the spiritual worlds. Spiritual life must be cultivated on earth in the sense of the new spiritual science, because otherwise humanity will increasingly enter into the other world spiritually dumb, lacking the capacity to open itself rightly.
It is also a fallacy to believe that we can wait until we have crossed the threshold of death to experience something of a spiritual nature over there. In order to experience anything of this kind one must have attained the faculty to perceive. But this faculty cannot be developed after death unless one has first acquired it here on earth. We do not live in vain in the material world! It is not for nothing that our souls descend to the physical world. They descend so that we may acquire what actually can only be acquired here, namely, spiritual cognition.
We cannot regard the earth as a mere vale of despair into which our souls are transposed, so to speak. We should consider the earth as a place by means of which we can acquire the possibility of developing spiritually. This is the truth of it.
If we question the seer further regarding the nature of life after death, he will reply that it is quite different from the course of life on earth. Here we travel across the world; we see the heavenly vault spread out above us, the sun that is shining. We look out and see the mountains, the lakes, the creatures of the various kingdoms of nature. We go through the world and carry our thoughts, sensations, passions, desires within us. Then we pass through the gate of death, but here things are different. For those unfamiliar with spiritual scientific observations, it all appears most paradoxical. What Schopenhauer said is correct, that “poor truth” must bear the fact that it is paradoxical.
The thoughts and mental images that we regard as belonging to an inner realm appear to us after death as our external world. After death all our thoughts and mental representations appear as a mighty panorama before the soul. People who go through life thoughtlessly travel through the world between death and rebirth in such a way that what should be experienced as filled with wisdom and thought content appears to them as empty and barren. Only they feel filled with a content between death and a new birth who have acquired the faculty to behold the thoughts spread out in the starry realms. One acquires this faculty between birth and death by evolving a thought content within the soul.
If we have not filled our soul here on earth with what the physical senses can give us, it is as if we were to journey along the path from death to rebirth like one who has no ears and therefore cannot hear a sound, like the one who has no eyes and cannot perceive a single color. The sun in the heavens illuminates everything, but when it sets the surroundings, disappear from our view. Likewise, things that are external in life appear after death as an inner world.
Let us consider what is yet another real experience to the seer. When we contemplate people who live between death and rebirth and seek to translate into our language what torments them, they tell us the following. “Something lives in me that causes me to suffer. It rises up out of my own self. It is akin to a headache in the physical world, except that the pain is experienced inwardly. I am myself the one who causes the pain.” A human being after death may complain of much inner pain, inner suffering.
Now if the seer traces the origin of the inner suffering that strikes souls after death, he discovers that it comes from the way of life of these people here on earth. Suppose a person has felt a quite unjustifiable loathing for a fellow human being. Then the one who hated experiences inner pain after death, and he now suffers inwardly what he has inflicted on the other.
Whereas our thinking enables us to behold an outer world after death, so what we experience on earth as our external moral world, as the feeling relationships to other people, becomes our inner world after death. Indeed, it sounds grotesque and yet it is true that just as here we can feel a pain in our lungs, our stomach or our head, so after death a moral injustice can hurt. What is inner here is external there, and what is external here is inner there. We have reached the stage in the development of humanity when much can be experienced only after death.
A person who is not prepared to admit the reality of karma, or repeated earth lives, can never really accept the fact that a destiny belongs to him. How does a person go through the world? One person does this to him, the other that; he likes the one, dislikes the other. He does not know that he himself is the cause of what comes to meet him, of the painful experience inflicted by another person. This does not occur to him, for otherwise he would feel, “You have brought it on yourself!”
If during one's lifetime one is able to entertain such thoughts, then one at least will have a feeling as to the origin of the suffering one has to endure after death.
To know about karma in life between death and rebirth alleviates the pain, for otherwise the agonizing question as to why one has to suffer remains unanswered. In our time we have to begin to be aware of such things for without knowledge of them the evolution of humanity will not be able to continue.
Another instance is revealed to the seer. There are people who, between death and rebirth, are made to fulfill most unpleasant tasks. We should not imagine that we have nothing to do between death and a new birth. We have to accomplish the move varied tasks according to our individual capabilities. The seer finds, for instance, that there are souls who are forced to serve a being such as Ahriman after death.
As soon as we enter the realm beyond the physical, Ahriman appears quite clearly to us as a special being. Everything that has been portrayed as the domain of Ahriman and Lucifer in the drama, The Guardian of the Threshold, is real. Ahriman has a number of tasks to perform. The seer discovers souls who are appointed in the realm of Ahriman and have to serve that being. Why have they been condemned to serve Ahriman? The seer investigates how such people lived between birth and death, considers the principal characteristics of such souls and discovers that they all suffered from one common evil, the love of ease. Love of ease and comfort are among the most widespread characteristics of contemporary humanity.
If we should inquire the reason that most people fail to do something, the answer invariably is, love of ease! Whether we turn our attention to the most important things of life or to mere trifles, love of ease permeates them all. To hold onto the old, not being able to shake it off, is a form of ease. In this respect people are not as bad as one is inclined to believe. It was not out of bad will that Giordano Bruno and Savanarola were burned at the stake or that Galileo was maltreated as he was. It is also not out of badness that great spirits are not appreciated during their lifetime, but rather out of love of ease! A long time has to elapse before people are able to think and feel along new lines, and it is only because of a love of ease! Love of ease and comfort are widespread characteristics, and it makes it possible to be enlisted after death into the ranks of Ahriman, for Ahriman, apart from his other functions, is the spirit of obstacles. Wherever obstacles arise Ahriman is master. He applies the brakes to life and to human beings.
Those who are subject to love of ease on earth will become agents to the slowing down process of everything that comes into the world from the super-sensible. So love of ease fetters human souls between death and rebirth to spirits who, under Ahriman, are compelled to serve the powers of opposition and hindrance.
In many people we find a propensity that in everyday life we denote as an immoral characteristic, and that is lack of conscience. In the voice of conscience we have a wonderful regulator for the soul life. A lack of conscience, the inability to listen to the warning voice of conscience, delivers us to yet other powers between the period of death and a new birth. The seer discovers souls who have become the servants of particularly evil spirit-beings after death.
Here on earth illnesses occur, and they arise in a number of different ways. We know, for instance, that in olden times epidemic sicknesses such as plague and cholera swept Europe. Materialistic science is able to point to the external causes but it cannot grasp the inner spiritual origin. Yet everything that happens has a spiritual foundation. If someone should say that science has the task to discover the physical causes of happenings, then one can always add that spiritual science does not exclude the reality of outer causes when they are justified. Spiritual science supplies the spiritual causes to the phenomena.
A person once asked the following question in connection with spiritual causes. “Can we not explain Napoleon's passionate fondness for conducting battles by the fact that when his mother carried him she would often go for walks over battle fields? Is this not a case of physical heredity?” There is something in this, but Napoleon found his way to his mother; he implanted this liking in her.
For instance, someone might say, “Here is a man. Why does he live?” The materialistic might reply, “Because he breathes.” Another might respond, “But I know better. He would not be alive today if I had not pulled him out of the water three months ago!” Yet is this last statement not correct in spite of the first? One all too readily imagines that the findings of natural science are repudiated by spiritual science. Even if it is possible to show that a person owed this or that faculty to his father and grandfather by way of heredity, it is nonetheless true that he himself has created the appropriate conditions.
Thus it is possible to study the causes of illnesses on a purely scientific basis. One can also ask the question quite externally of why has this or that person died young. But this, too, has its source in the spiritual world. In order that illnesses manifest themselves on earth, certain spiritual entities must direct them from the spiritual into the physical world.
The spiritual investigator is confronted by a shattering experience when he turns his spiritual gaze to souls who have died prematurely in the flower of youth, either as a result of illness, misfortune or hardships during their lifetimes. There are many such destinies. The seer beholds a vast expanse of illness and death wholly governed by certain evil spirits who bring disease and death down to the earth. If one now seeks to trace the course of existence of those souls who lacked conscience on earth, one finds that they were forced to become the servants of the evil spirits of death, disease and hindrance who bring about premature deaths and great misfortune. That is the connection.
Life only becomes comprehensible when one considers the total picture, not merely the small segment between birth and death. For this period is again closely related to what took place during the unborn condition, during the prenatal existence in the pure spiritual world. Our whole being is dependent on what occurred previously in the spirit-world. This can be understood most readily if one studies a phenomenon by means of super-sensible cognition that might appear to many as an objection to spiritual investigation as such.
There are people who say, “You seek to trace faculties and destinies of human beings to previous earth lives, but consider the Bernoulli family in whom there were eight mathematicians! Surely that shows clearly that certain faculties are passed from generation to generation by way of heredity.”
If, however, such a phenomenon is carefully studied by means of super-sensible cognition, the following result is reached. Everything that manifests itself on earth in this or that artistic form, that permeates the human being with a sense for the spiritual — and art always does this — has its origin in the super-sensible world. A person who brings artistic gifts into the world does so because of previous earth lives, or by virtue of a special act of grace during the period before birth, before conception, when he lived in a special manner in the realm of the harmony of the spheres. Now he manifests a certain affinity towards that physical body able to provide the faculty he has perceived and thus bring it to expression in earthly life.
No soul would seek to incarnate in a body in such a family where musical gifts are in the hereditary stream unless he had acquired in a previous earth life the very faculties needed for that art, unless he had passed through the period between death and rebirth in order to be reborn in a musical body. For only the most primitive predispositions can be found in the hereditary stream. A good musical ear is inherited. The organs are transformed according to the particular faculties of the soul during the embryonic period or after birth. The first instrument on which man plays is his own organism, and this is truly a most complex instrument. Divine spiritual beings have needed the whole of the Saturn, Sun and Moon periods of evolution in order to fashion this instrument. We come into the world with a wisdom that far exceeds what we are able to acquire later.
Man imagines that he has reached a considerable degree of wisdom when he begins to be able to think. But the wisdom we develop when we begin to think is in fact far smaller in comparison to the great wisdom that we acquired but lost at a particular time. At birth our brain is still soft. The connecting links that go from the brain to the several organs are still undeveloped, and we are endowed with wisdom during childhood in order to “plan-in” the organs, the instrument.
The moment to which we look back as the first occasion on which we were conscious of ourselves marks the time when we lost the faculty to play on our instrument. This ability is much greater in early childhood than later on. A profound wisdom is utilized in order to bring us to the point at which we become this intricate instrument. This fact can permeate us with a deep sense of admiration for what we are as long as we rest within the womb of divine spiritual wisdom. Then we become aware that we actually come into life with a much greater wisdom than is normally realized. Then we can also picture the vastness of the wisdom that surrounds us in our existence that precedes the embryonic stage. This is of the utmost significance, for initiate consciousness perceives that the farther back we go the greater the wisdom and ability of man.
Now let us consider with super-sensible perception the soul of an individual who has become the servant of an evil spirit of disease and death. Such a soul enables us to see how the wisdom of which man is capable has been extinguished, how he has lowered himself. Such a soul offers a terrifying aspect. Once destined to develop the loftiest wisdom, he is now so degraded that he has become the servant of ahrimanic beings! Man has the alternative during an incarnation when he has surrounded himself with a physical body either to receive the spiritual world into himself, to participate in spiritual life, to animate his soul so that after death he experiences the spiritual world around him, or to dull himself. Such souls have dulled themselves because they failed to receive between birth and death what would have enabled them to perceive a spiritual world around them.
Thus we see how individual souls are connected with the spiritual life of the world as a whole. Thus we see ourselves membered in the totality of life on earth. So also we understand the importance of not letting our innate spirit-powers wither, but of cultivating them lest we gradually be obliterated from the world. A person could maintain, however, that he wants to obliterate himself from the surrounding world because to him life is meaningless. To extinguish oneself in this way is not destruction. It merely represents an extinguishing of oneself in relation to the surrounding world. Although one is nevertheless there for oneself. To extinguish oneself in the world means to be condemned to loneliness in the spiritual world. It is as if one lived in utter solitude, cut off, robbed of any means of communication. This is what one achieves if one excludes oneself from the spiritual world.
You may well make use of the following picture. Let it impress itself upon you for it can be considered as a sound basis for meditation.
The more a person advances in the evolution of the world, the freer he becomes. He will live more and more as if on an island and his calls, his understanding must go from island to island. Human beings who seek to partake of the future of the spiritual life of humanity will be able to understand one another, that is, those who live in freedom on other islands. Those, on the other hand, who flee the spiritual life will find themselves on their own individual islands, and when they seek to communicate with those whom they knew previously, they will be unable to do so. The voice that calls will be stifled in them. Each will sense, “Over there on those islands are those whom I know, with whom I am connected.” But nothing will penetrate to him and he will listen but hear nothing.
Spiritual science provides the language that in the future will enable men to gain the possibility to bridge the gap of loneliness and reach an understanding. The utterances that come to us out of occult writings are often more profound than we imagine. When the Mystery of Golgotha took place, humanity received the first proclamation that man needs in order to reach an understanding from one island to the other.
The second proclamation is by way of anthroposophical spiritual science, which seeks to clarify ever more the Christ mystery for the soul of man. The actual words of Christ are indicated in many of his sayings. Among the most profound of them all is, “When two are gathered in my name, I will be among them.” One will learn to understand this Name only when one masters the language of the spirit.
In the early phase of the Christian proclamation one still found it in a naïve manner. In the future only those human souls will know the Christ who recognize Him by way of spiritual science.
To many peoples it may appear ridiculous that spiritual science is termed the spiritual language that humanity needs so that people will not be isolated after death, but will find the possibility of traveling from one island to the other.
The subject with which we have dealt today will give you the reason why we gather in order to cultivate spiritual science. He who works consciously for spiritual science follows that call, that voice. He also follows it who merely feels a longing to hear something about the spiritual world. These voices, these calls come from the spiritual world, and so does the need that is experienced in the spiritual world when those who dwell between death and a new birth are heard. And the voices of the various hierarchical beings can also be heard.
These voices as they sound forth towards us will awaken in our souls what will lead humanity to cultivate increasingly the spiritual life that is also nurtured in our groups. May it also continue to be cultivated faithfully here.
That is the wish that I could like to express to you at the end of these considerations, and it is my deepest hope that it may grow ever stronger, kindling your souls so that the work of spiritual science may take fire and be carried forward out of true anthroposophical warmth.