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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Life Between Death and Rebirth
GA 140

11. The Mission of Earthly Life as a Transitional Stage for the Beyond

2 March 1913, Frankfurt

Today there are still many people who maintain that a spirit-soul life may exist after death, but they wonder why we should concern ourselves with it now. We can simply live on earth with all that it offers and simply wait and see whether other forms of existence do come about after death!

Spiritual science shows, however, that during life between death and rebirth man encounters certain beings. Just as here he meets the many beings of the various kingdoms of nature, so after death he meets the beings of higher hierarchies and certain elemental beings. If a person goes through life without any sense of judgment, this is due to the fact that between death and rebirth he was unable to meet those beings who could have given him the appropriate forces to enable him to be morally and intellectually effective in this life. But the possibility and the ability to meet certain beings between death and rebirth depends on the last life. If during earthly life we do not occupy ourselves with thoughts relating to the super-sensible, if during our life we have been completely immersed in the external sense world, if we only lived in our intellect inasmuch as it was directed to the physical world, then we make it impossible for ourselves between death and a new birth to encounter certain beings and to receive abilities from them for a subsequent life. The realm beyond remains dim and dark for us, and we are unable to find the forces of higher hierarchies in the darkness. Man, then between death and a new birth, passes by those beings from whom he should receive forces for his next earthly life.

From whence comes the light by means of which we can illumine the darkness between death and rebirth? Where do we find it? Between death and rebirth no one gives us any light. The beings are there and we can only reach them providing we have kindled the light in our last earthly life by means of our interest in the spiritual world. After death we are unable to penetrate the darkness unless we have taken the light with us through the gate of death.

This shows how incorrect is the statement that we need not concern ourselves with things of a spiritual nature, but that we can afford to wait for what happens. In fact, if we wait and see, we shall only encounter darkness!

Earthly life is not merely a transitional stage. It has a mission. It is a necessity for the beyond, as indeed the beyond is for earthly existence. The lights for the life beyond must be carried upward from the earth. It may also happen that down here people remain dull to the super-sensible world, that they simply miss the opportunity to develop certain faculties, that they fail to create instruments for the next incarnation.

A person who lacked a certain ability in this or that sphere during life goes through the gate of death. Now you see what a hopeless situation it all makes. If nothing were to intervene, the person would become less and less able. For if a person has deliberately dulled himself toward the spiritual world in one incarnation, he will be even less able in a following life to prepare organs for himself. If nothing else were to occur, things would take their course along an ever steeper slope of decline.

Something else, however, does intervene. A man who goes through life with deliberate dullness in one incarnation will find that Lucifer approaches him with his powers in the spiritual world after the second earthly life. If Lucifer did not approach him at this point, he would stumble through the thickest darkness. Because he has lived as described, Lucifer can approach him and can illumine the forces and beings needed for the next earthly incarnation. The result is that they are colored with luciferic light. Now following the dull existence, and after having been led by Lucifer between death and rebirth, he enters a new earth existence. He is now fully equipped with talents and abilities which prepare his organs so that everywhere he is open to luciferic temptations on earth.

Now such a person may be clever, but his cleverness will be cold and calculating; above all it will be permeated by selfishness, by egoism. This manifests itself to the seer in many instances where people are clever but actually cold and selfish in their activity. When one meets them they are always seeking their own advantage and do all they can to place themselves in the limelight. A consideration of such people shows that in the spiritual world they were led by Lucifer. In the pervious incarnation they led a dull existence that was followed by a stumbling in the darkness after death and this was preceded by yet another life on earth during which they deliberately closed themselves to the spiritual world.

Such an insight reveals a sad prospect for materialists. Our contemporaries who are materialistically inclined and reject all concern for the spiritual world and consider the soul life as ending with death, can expect an existence as just described. It is of little consequence to gather abstractly certain thoughts about the interrelations of various earth lives. An exact, concrete survey reveals the most manifold connections between former and later earth lives and the life in the spirit that follows each incarnation. We should hold onto the fact that life on earth is of considerable importance for life after death.

Life on earth has yet another significance. It is only on the earth that we can meet certain beings, and man belongs above all among them. Unless the link is established between man and man on earth, it cannot occur in the spirit world. The relationships between human beings are forged here and continue in the spiritual world. If we miss the opportunity to meet certain individuals on earth who were predestined to be in incarnation, we cannot make up for it during the period between death and rebirth.

Let us take the example of Gautama Buddha. He was that human personality who lived during the sixth century B.C. as the son of a king, and who rose in his twenty-ninth year from the rank of bodhisattva to that of Buddha. This means that he became a Buddha and no longer needed to incarnate in physical human form. The Gautama Buddha thus accomplished his last earthly life. A considerable number of people met this individuality on earth during that time, and also in earlier incarnations people had been in contact with the Bodhisattva. All these connections could be continued later in the spiritual world. The connection to Gautama Buddha, which bore the character of a pupil to teacher relationship, could be continued in the spiritual world. But there were souls who during the evolution of humanity never made a connection with Gautama Buddha on earth. These souls, even if they now have reached a considerable degree of development, cannot at all easily come in contact in the spiritual world with the being of Buddha, with the soul of the one who was incarnated as Gautama Buddha. For Gautama Buddha what may be called a replacement appears; he has a replacement if one has been unable to make a connection with him on earth.

The Buddha has had a special destiny since he rose to buddhahood and no longer needed to return to the earth thus continuing to dwell in a pure spiritual region. He remained in touch with earthly happenings, however, and worked from the spiritual worlds down into the earthly sphere. We know that the being of Gautama Buddha radiated into the Jesus child spoken of in the Gospel of St. Luke. The super-sensible being of Buddha streamed into the astral body of the Luke Jesus child. It worked from the super-sensible down into earthly realms. Human beings on earth could no longer find access to him. Only those could make a contact with the being of Gautama who, like Francis of Assisi, for instance, had gone through a higher form of development. Before he entered life on earth, and previous also to the last life between birth and death, the being of Francis of Assisi lived in a mystery center situated in the southeast of Europe. In this center there were no physical teachers, but teachers belonging to the super-sensible hierarchy of whom Buddha, or more accurately, of whom the soul that had been incarnated in Buddha, was one. The pupils in such mystery centers had already developed lofty faculties for beholding the super-sensible world. Such pupils are able to be taught by teachers who work only from the spiritual world. Thus Buddha taught in that mystery center, and Francis of Assisi in a former incarnation was his faithful and devoted pupil. At that time Francis of Assisi absorbed everything that later enabled him to receive the light-filled impulses of the higher hierarchies, and that then allowed him to appear in incarnation as the great mystic who was to exert such a strong influence on his age. This was all due to the fact that the soul of Francis of Assisi, through the higher faculties he possessed at the time, was able to establish a connection with the Gautama Buddha after the Buddha was able to work down from the super-sensible world upon him.

For ordinary human beings who are dependent on life as it unfolds through the senses and the intellect, such a meeting is not possible. In that case what has been said earlier applies. We cannot meet a person in the spiritual world unless we have first met him on earth.

The exception that we have just considered in relation to the Buddha brings forth yet another. Although it is impossible for ordinary individuals to meet others in spiritual realms with whom they have not had a previous connection on earth, yet if a person has received the Christ impulse and permeates himself with it, he can nevertheless meet the Buddha after death. For the position of this being is a special one.

At the beginning of the seventeenth century another planet was involved in a crisis of development similar to that of the earth when the Mystery of Golgotha occurred. As the Christ appeared on earth from higher realms at the time of Golgotha, so Buddha appeared on Mars during the Mars crisis of the seventeenth century. After Buddha had completed his incarnations it was no longer necessary for him to return to the earth, but he continued his activities in other realms. The Buddha wandered away from earthly affairs to the realm of Mars. Until then Mars had been the chosen center of forces designated by the Greeks as fearfully warlike. This mission of Mars came to an end in the seventeenth century. Another impulse became necessary and the Buddha accomplished a Buddha crucifixion there. The Buddha Mystery on Mars did not take the same course as the Christ Mystery on earth, but Buddha, the Prince of Peace, who, during his last earthly life had spread peace and love wherever he went, was transferred to the belligerent realm of Mars. The fact that a being who is fully permeated by forces of peace and love was transferred to a realm of strife and disharmony may in a sense be regarded as a crucifixion. For the seer two happenings come together in a most wonderful way. One beholds, on the one hand, the eighty-year-old dying Buddha, and this death has a deeply moving, deeply stirring quality. Buddha died in 483 surrounded by silver rays on a wonderful moonlit night, radiating peace and compassion. That was his last earthly hour. And then he was active again in the way described. The seer discovers him kindling the compassionate, silvery moral light of Buddha on Mars at the beginning of the seventeenth century. These two wonderful events are deeply related in the course of world history.

The human souls who have received the Christ impulse into themselves in the corresponding manner here on earth travel through the cosmic universe after death. We all go through these cosmic realms. To begin with, we go through the planets of our planetary system. We experience a Moon period, a Mercury period, a Venus period, a Sun period, a Mars period, a Jupiter period and a Saturn period. Following these we go into the surroundings of our planetary system and then later commence our return journey. Now we encounter those forces and the beings from whom we must receive what we need to build up our next earthly life. He who has received the Christ impulse on earth can also receive what streams from the Buddha in his passage through the Mars sphere. This belongs to the exceptional case in which souls who have not been together with Buddha in earlier incarnations nevertheless have the opportunity of meeting him between death and rebirth.

Supersensible perception reveals that a number of personalities who lived during the seventeenth century owed their remarkable talents to the fact that during their prenatal life in the spiritual world they received an impulse from Buddha. At present the ability to receive such talents is still limited among human beings because it is only comparatively recently that the Buddha accomplished the Mystery on Mars. In future, human souls will be more and more capable of receiving the Buddha impulse from the Mars sphere. But in the nineteenth century there were already some personalities—and this was disclosed to those able to perceive it—who were able to develop their faculties here on earth as a result of the influences they received from Buddha through their passage in the Mars sphere. The course of life between death and rebirth is indeed complex and wonderful.

Unless man is able to take with him the light to illumine his experience between death and rebirth, he stumbles in the dark. This also holds good for this exceptional case. A person who departs from the earth through the gate of death without having taken the Christ impulse into himself, who wished to know nothing of it, will not have the slightest intimation of the influences of Buddha during his next life in the spiritual world as he passes through the Mars sphere. For him it is as if the Buddha were not present. It should be borne in mind that we encounter the beings of the Higher Hierarchies, but whether or not we perceive them and establish the right connection with them depends on whether we kindled a light in our last earthly existence so that we do not pass them by and are able to receive impulses from them. That is why it is a complete fallacy to maintain that it is unnecessary to concern oneself with the beyond during earthly existence.

You will gather from the foregoing that from a higher aspect life on earth really constitutes a special case. We live embodied within a special organism on earth between life and death. Apart from an earthly incarnation one can speak of an “embodiment” between death and rebirth, or rather of an “ensouling.” What I have elaborated in connection with the spiritual world also applies to the earth. Consider that a human being living between death and rebirth may pass through the Mars sphere without entering it in the slightest connection with the beings who inhabit Mars. He does not see them, and they are not aware of him. This is true of the earth also. Beings belonging to other planets, just as man belongs to the earth, are continually passing through the earth sphere. The inhabitants of Mars spend the normal course of their life on Mars, and during their experience, which corresponds on Mars to the period between death and a new life but yet is different, they pass through the planetary spheres. So that in fact inhabitants of other planets are continually passing through our earth sphere. Human beings are unable to establish any contact with them because they live under quite different conditions and because they will in the main not have made the least connection with these beings on Mars.

What would be the conditions necessary in order to meet the beings from other planets as they pass through the earth sphere? One would have had to develop points of contact with them in their own planetary realms, but this is only possible if on earth one has already reached the stage of being able to contact beings other than those of the earth as a result of the development of super-sensible powers.

Thus the possibility is there for those who have undergone a higher development to encounter the beings who wander through from other planets. It may sound peculiar and yet it is so, that for those who have intercourse with the wanderers from Mars and learn to know of the nature of that planet, the strange theories that physics and astronomy weave about Mars inhabitants appear most comical, for the facts are quite different.

I bring forth these things so that you can widen your gaze from earthly existence into other realms extending beyond the visible beings that surround us to be beings who cannot be perceived unless we develop the organs to behold them. But between death and rebirth we also cannot establish a connection with conditions belonging to the mission of the earth unless we have first contacted them by way of the earth.

What is spiritual science or anthroposophy from a cosmic aspect? He who weaves theories might easily believe that spiritual science is something that can be taught and learned in all realms of the cosmos, but that is not the same. Each realm has its own particular task and it does not repeat itself in other realms. The creative powers have so made the earth that only here can certain things arise. Spiritual science can only arise on earth. Nowhere else can it be learned. It is a revelation of the super-sensible world but in such a form as can arise only here on earth.

One might well say that supposing all this to be true, surely one could be instructed about the super-sensible in the spiritual world in a form other than that of spiritual science! One can certainly think this, but it is not true. For if a person is at all predisposed to gain a genuine connection with higher worlds, he can do so only by means of spiritual science. If he fails to draw near to spiritual science or anthroposophy on earth, no other form of existence will help him to get to know it. But no other form of existence will help him to gain a genuine human connection with the super-sensible worlds, either.

This need not plunge us into despair about the many people who are still refusing to know anything about anthroposophy. They will return and establish a connection with it at a later stage. Anthroposophy has been established on the earth in such a way as to impart to people what has to be known about the super-sensible worlds in accordance with the nature of man. Only one form of communication is possible and that is by way of human beings. If a person goes through the gate of death without having heard anything of spiritual science on earth, he can become familiar with it through the fact that he knew a person who had a connection with spiritual science. This is a round-about path but a possible one.

Let us take the example of two people who were on friendly terms during their earthly life. One has made a connection with anthroposophy, the other not. The latter dies. The former can help him considerably by reading to him, by making him familiar with what surrounds him after death. A person can read an important work of spiritual science with the dead and, as the seer will confirm, the dead listens attentively.

It is also a fact that a simple person who has only just come in touch with spiritual science may be better able to read to a deceased person whom he genuinely loved than the seer who, though able to find the soul of the dead, had no affectionate connection with him in this life. From time to time it may also happen that seers give themselves the task of reading to the souls of the dead whom they have not known. Yet more often than not one is unable to read to a dead person with whom one has had no previous connection on earth.

These facts will impress upon you the importance of spiritual communities such as the anthroposophical one because here we find to a certain extent a replacement for what may be called a kind of living together and getting in touch.

Should such communities not exist, each soul after death would have to rely entirely on being read to by people close to them. Only such spiritual communities where spiritual ideals are commonly fostered can expand this sphere. Thus it can and does happen that one meets an anthroposophist who, because of what he has previously learned, is able in a special way, to read a spiritual content with much concentration or to let such thoughts pass through his soul. One might approach him, mention to him that a person who dies was also an anthroposophist, belonged to the same society, and show him a sample of the writing of the deceased. It may suffice that by seeing the writing or by hearing a favorite verse of the deceased, the more developed anthroposophist is able to read to such a soul in a most fruitful manner, though he did not know him on earth. It is indeed a fine task for a spiritual community to bridge so strongly the gap between the living and the dead.

Today anthroposophists still conceive of many tasks that lie merely on the physical plane because materialistic ways of thought are still prevalent among them, though theoretically they may have absorbed the science of anthroposophy. The true spiritual tasks will present themselves when spiritual science will have penetrated the soul more deeply. People will be found to take on the task of helping the dead so that they may evolve. A beginning has been made within our movement and what already has been achieved in this sphere can give us a high degree of satisfaction.

In fact, in certain circumstances when an anthroposophist goes through the gate of death carrying spiritual thoughts with him, he may be able to serve the dead and could become their teacher. This, however, is more complicated than is usually imagined. It is easier to do this from the earth because the communities that are formed after death depend entirely on the groups that were formed before death.

If two people, for instance, lived with one another on earth, the one an anthroposophist and the other not, the one who had an aversion towards spiritual science will long for it after death. If may happen that the anthroposophist who remains behind on earth concerns himself until his death with the departed soul by reading to him. Now after a certain period of time the anthroposophist also goes through the gate of death. He is then re-united with the other in the spiritual world. An echo of the earlier connection on earth is now felt, and this presents a difficulty. There was no difficulty as long as the one was on earth and the other in the spiritual world. Dissonances arise again as they did in the earthly relationship now that they are once more united. Just as on earth the one soul did not wish to know anything about spiritual science, so it becomes again the case in the world beyond. This shows to what extent the relationships after death are dependent upon the previous earthly connections. These matters are exceedingly complex and cannot be merely thought out intellectually.

Such instances clearly reveal the mission of spiritual science. The gulf between the living and the dead must be bridged. Under certain conditions the dead can also work into the earthly sphere, as the living are able to send their influence into the spiritual world, and we can investigate how the dead work into the physical world.

As a matter of fact, people know little of what surrounds them on earth. How do they view life? The events of life as they unfold are strung on a thread, as it were. Some are considered to be causes, others effects, but beyond this little thought is given to the matter. It may sound strange that the actual things that happen form the smallest content of real life. They only represent the external content. There is yet another sphere of life apart from the things that happen, and this is of no less importance for life.

Let us take an example. A person is in the habit of leaving home punctually every morning at eight. He has a definite way to go, across a square. One day circumstances are such that he leaves three minutes later than usual. He now notices something strange on the square, under the colonnade where he used to walk every day. The roof of the colonnade has collapsed! Had he left at the accustomed time, the falling roof certainly would have killed him.

There are many such instances in life. We often find that had circumstances been different, this or that might have taken quite another course. We are protected from many dangers. Much of what could happen does not come to pass. In life we consider the external realities, not the inner possibilities. Yet these possibilities constantly lie concealed behind the actual events. The events of a particular day only constitute the external reality of life. Behind them lies an entire world of possibilities.

Take the sea as an example. In it there lives a multitude of herring but for them to arise, not only as many eggs as herring had to be present. An endless number of eggs are destroyed. Only a relatively small number of herring come to life. So it is with the whole of life. What we experience from morning until night constitutes only a portion of an enormous number of possibilities. We are continually led past certain possible events that do not actually happen. When a possible event passes us by, this marks a special moment for us. Consider the instance of the man. If he had left his house at the usual time he would have been killed by the roof of the colonnade. Such possibilities constantly accompany us in life. Such a moment, when a man would have been struck had he arrived three minutes earlier, marks an opportune occasion for the spiritual world to light up in him. He may then have an experience that can bring him together with the dead. Today people are not yet aware of such occasions because fundamentally they only live on the surface of life.

Spiritual science aims gradually to become a life elixir. Man then will not only behold external reality but he will pay attention to the stirrings in his soul life. There he will frequently find the voices of the dead who still want something from the living.

As we have an example of how the living can influence the dead by reading to them, so we also see how the dead can influence the living. A time will come when man will converse spiritually with the dead. People will speak with the dead, and they will listen to the dead. Death only marks a change in the outer form of man; his soul develops further. At present we experience as yet a most imperfect condition of mankind inasmuch as men are unable to communicate with their fellow men who dwell in another form of life. When spiritual science is no longer a theory but has permeated souls, a living communion with the dead will continually be possible. In fact, conditions, which in a sense obtain only for the seer at present, will gradually become the common heritage of the whole of humanity.

You may say, “Well, that may be so for the seer. He can find human beings between death and rebirth.” Actually, this presents considerable difficulties today because the general lack of belief in the spiritual world, the lack of connection to the spirit, creates hindrances also for those who could establish a relationship to the spiritual world.

There are certain things that can take place unhindered only if they belong to the common possession of humanity. A man may be an outstandingly gifted master-builder. If nobody engages his services, he will not be able to build. This also can be the case for the seer. He may possess the faculties to ascend spiritually to the realm of the dead but if this process is hindered owing to the fact that communion with the dead is impossible for most people, the seer will only be able to succeed in establishing a contact in a few exceptional instances.

My dear friends, I wished to show you how spiritual science can be a life-giving impulse. More than anything we may learn theoretically, it is important to cultivate a feeling for the task of spiritual science in relation to the future of humanity. This enables each one who belongs to the anthroposophical movement to gain an impression of what he is really doing. He gains an impression of the tremendous task that has to be achieved by spiritual science or anthroposophy. This also enables one to connect oneself earnestly and worthily to spiritual science, not in a light-hearted way, as to something that is to refresh one but as an impulse which will become of ever increasing importance as mankind advances into the future. I wished to evoke a feeling for this by today's considerations.