Life Between Death and Rebirth
16. Life After Death
13 May 1913, Strasbourg
We encounter the full significance and the tasks of spiritual science when we consider the period of life between death and a new birth. There are many people, particularly in our materialistic age, who ask why they should concern themselves with life between death and rebirth or, if the idea of repeated earth lives is rejected, with an existence after death, since they surely can wait and see what happens after death when the time comes! This is said by people today who have not quite lost the feeling for the spiritual world but who are not yet equipped with sufficient soul-powers to acquire concepts and feelings about the super-sensible. They add that if they perform their duty here on earth, they shall experience in the appropriate way what awaits them after death.
Now a genuine connection with life between death and rebirth brings out clearly the fallacy of such a view and how important it is during earthly existence to have formed an idea of the conditions of life after death.
It is exceedingly difficult to speak about life after death in words borrowed from everyday language since the language we know is adapted to life between birth and death and refers to the objects of this world. Therefore, we can usually only indicate what happens between death and a new birth, which is so radically different in nature from anything that can be experienced here. We must imagine that everything we perceive here in the physical world to which we belong cannot be our world after death because we lack the physical-sensory organs. The intellect, which is bound to the brain, also ceases to function after death. We can only tentatively endeavor to give a picture of the life that is so completely different from our existence here on earth. In a certain sense, everyday words can only be used as analogies. Spiritual science, however, also teaches us to relate words to spiritual reality and conveys by means of words an understanding of the super-sensible world.
In the physical world, by the physical in man we mean that which is enclosed within his skin, the rest is known as his surroundings, what we experience depends on the functions of our sense organs but also on the heart, lungs and so forth. All this vanishes in the course of our journey between death and a new birth. During the earthly existence our soul-spiritual being is embedded in our physical body, and it lives on the activity of our organs. After death the part that leaves the physical and etheric bodies grows ever larger, and a time comes when what is otherwise contained within the boundary of the skin expands so far as to fill the whole circumference of the orbit of the Moon. The soul-spirit gradually grows right up to the Mercury and Venus spheres, and farther to the Mars, Jupiter and Saturn spheres, and even beyond into the universe. Later it contracts again and unites itself as a tiny spirit-germ with the stream of heredity that prepares its physical body through father and mother. This description agrees with what has been written in Theosophy. The Spirit Land begins in the Mars sphere.
From the above it can be deduced that having gone through the gate of death we all find ourselves within the same cosmic space. After death we do in a sense interpenetrate one another, yet all the dead are not together because togetherness after death depends upon something quite other than what it depends upon on earth. In the spiritual world we may be spatially united but we can only really be together with another individual if we have a spiritual connection with him.
Let us take the extreme case of a person who, while on earth, has utterly denied the spirit both in his thoughts and in his feelings. There are many theoretical materialists who deny the spirit and who nevertheless are in some way through their feelings connected with the spiritual world. In reality there are hardly any people who totally deny the spiritual world so that the fearful circumstances I am about to describe never quite come into effect. Let us assume that two such persons die who knew one another well on earth. After death they will dwell within the same space but will be completely unaware of one another because after death a feeling for the spirit corresponds, let us say, to what here are our eyes. Without eyes, no light; without a feeling for the spiritual, no perception of the super-sensible world.
But an even more terrible fate than not being able to perceive the spiritual world is in store for such people. Because souls who go through the gate of death are of a spiritual nature, materialistic souls cannot even perceive them. A yawning chasm opens up around such souls. In fact, one may ask, “What does such a soul perceive after death?” Not even himself as he is after death because he lacks a clear consciousness of self. The following will show us what remains for him.
Here on the earth we are situated at a point on the earth's surface. Our organs are within us, whereas the starry heavens are outside. The opposite is the case after death. Then man grows to a cosmic dimension. When he has expanded up to the Moon sphere, the spiritual that belongs to the Moon becomes an organ within him. It becomes after death what the brain is for us on earth as physical human beings. Each planetary body becomes an organ for us after death inasmuch as we have expanded to its orbit. The Sun becomes a heart for us. As here we bear the physical heart within our body, so there we carry the spiritual part of the Sun within us. There is only one difference. We are perfect physical human beings when, after the embryonic evolution, all the organs have formed; They are simultaneously present. After death we acquire these organs little by little, one after another. We are then in this respect, considered externally, quite similar to a plant-like being that also forms its organs successively. We may, for example, compare the organ we receive on Mars with the lungs and the larynx.
After death we grow into that of which the physical part has been discarded, and the spiritual part of the cosmic organ is now inside us. What is then our external world? What at present is our inner world, what we have experienced by means of our organs that make us into physical, earthly beings, and what we have done by means of these organs.
Let us again take the extreme case of the person who has made no connection whatsoever to the spiritual world. After death his outer world consists of what he has been able to experience by means of his physical organs. For such a radical atheist the world after death is totally devoid of human souls and he is forced to look back on his earthly life, on what was his world, on what he encompassed with his deeds and experiences. That is his external world. It consists of nothing apart from the memories that remain of his life between birth and death, and that is not sufficient for what man requires for his life between death and rebirth. In fact, when man dwells outside his skin, his earthly existence looks quite different.
For example, on earth we are connected with a person towards whom we feel antipathy, with whom we have quarreled and whom we have insulted and caused pain. We are emotionally involved with him and we would not behave in this way unless in a certain sense we found such behavior gratifying. One is perhaps filled with remorse, and then again one forgets about it.
After death we again meet this person but now we feel the opposite of the satisfaction previously experienced. One senses that if one had not acted in this way, one would have been a more perfect human being; one's soul is wanting in this respect. This shortcoming now remains in the soul until the deed can be adjusted. We do not behold the deed as much as the failing in our soul, which must be removed. We experience this as an inner force that leads us to find an opportunity to wipe away the deed.
In the case of an anti-spiritual soul something else must be added, because he feels he is severed from the soul he has dealt with unjustly, and he must wait until he meets him again in order to remove the stain. A feeling for the necessity of karma is the result of looking back at the previous earth life. The tableau in the Akasha Chronicle of the other soul stands before us in admonition. Then we dwell merely among such pictures in the Akasha Chronicle.
Such extreme cases do not actually exist. The initiate who enters into contact with the soul of a dead person can have the following experience. He finds a soul with whom he is acquainted and who has gone out of a male body through the portal of death leaving behind him wife and children. This soul tells him, “I have left behind my wife and children with whom I lived. Now I have only the images of what we experienced together. My family is on the earth, but I cannot see them. I feel separated from them. Perhaps one of them has already died, but I also cannot find that one.” That is the voice of despair of one who lived in surroundings in which the spirit has not been cultivated. Therefore, such souls remain in the dark in relation to the spiritual world and they cannot even be seen from the spiritual world.
On the other hand, when an initiate finds souls who have left others behind in the physical world, and who cultivated a spiritual life such as spiritual science, then he finds the dead can perceive the souls after death and communicate with them.
The so-called dead need the living, for otherwise they would only be able to behold themselves on earth, that is, their own life that has run its course. This explains the deed of love that we can perform for the dead by reading spiritually to them, not aloud, but in thoughts, by imagining the dead here with us in thought. In this way we can read to a number of dead at one and the same time, with or without a book, and thereby perform a considerable deed of love for them. The thoughts must be related to a spiritual content, otherwise they have no meaning for the dead. These thoughts create an external world for the dead that he can perceive. To think chemical laws and so forth has no sense because these laws are meaningless in the spiritual world.
It is also impossible, as one might easily imagine, to learn any more spiritual science after death because spiritual science after all contains spiritual ideas. We can do a great service to souls who have already heard something of spiritual science by reading cycles of lectures to them. Although such souls are able to perceive a spiritual world, they are nevertheless not able to form concepts and ideas that one can only acquire here on earth.
Let us take an example. There are beings known as bodhisattvas, lofty human beings who are far advanced and who incarnate repeatedly on the earth until they have ascended to the rank of buddhahood. As long as a bodhisattva dwells within a physical body, he lives as a man among men, as a spiritual benefactor of mankind. Even here on earth he has a special task, which is to teach not only the living but the dead and even the beings of the higher hierarchies. This is due to the fact that the content of earthly theosophy can only be acquired on earth within a physical body. It can then be made use of in the spiritual world but it must be attained within a physical body.
After their deaths, bodhisattvas can only in exceptional cases assist the progress of other beings, beings in the spiritual world who have already received the spark of the spirit here on earth. Theosophy cannot arise through the spiritual worlds as such. It only arises on earth and can then be taken upward by man into the spiritual world.
This can be understood if we consider that animals, for example, see everything on the earth as men do, but cannot understand what they are. Supersensible beings can only behold the super-sensible world but cannot understand it. Concepts and ideas of the spiritual world can only arise on earth, and they ray forth like a light into the spiritual world. This enables one to understand rightly the meaning of the earth. The earth is neither a mere transitional stage, nor a vale of despair, but it exists so that on it a spiritual knowledge can be developed which can then be carried upwards into the spiritual worlds.