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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Man's Being, His Destiny and World Evolution
GA 226

2. Life between Death and a New Incarnation

17 May 1923, Oslo

Yesterday I tried to give you a picture of the states undergone by the human being after he passes through the portal of death and arrives in the spiritual world. Let us briefly summon before our soul the picture of the most essential stages. Immediately after passing through the portal of death, the human being first experiences the withdrawing of his ideational world. The ideas, the powers of thought, become objects, become something like active forces spreading out into the universe. Thus man feels at first the withdrawal from him of all the experiences he has consciously undergone during his earth-life between birth and death. But whereas earth-life, as experienced through thinking, withdraws from the human being and goes out into the vast cosmos (a process that occurs a few days after death [See: Rudolf Steiner, Theosophy, Anthroposophic Press, New York.]), man's inner depths send forth a consciousness of all that he has undergone unconsciously during earth-life while asleep. This stage takes shape in such a way that he goes backward and recapitulates his earth-life in a period of one third of its actual duration.

During this time, the human being is intensely wrapt up in his own self. It might be said that he is still intensely connected with his own earthly affairs. He is thoroughly interwoven with what he passed through, while asleep, during the successive nights of his earthly life.

You will realize that the human being, while continuously occupied with his nightly experiences, must necessarily be led back to his self. Just consider the dreams, the only element in man's earth-life that surges up from the sleeping state. These dreams are the least part of his experiences while asleep. Everything else, however, remains unconscious. Only the dreams surge up into consciousness. Yet it could be said that the dreams, be they ever so interesting, ever so manifold, ever so rich in many-hued colors, represent something that restricts the human being completely to his own self. If a number of persons sleep in the same room, each of them has, nevertheless, his own dream world. And, when they tell their dreams to one another, these persons will speak of things that seem to have happened in entirely different worlds. For in sleep, each person is alone within himself. And only by inserting our will into our organism do we occupy the same world situated in the same space as is occupied by others. If we were always asleep, each of us would live in a world of his own.

But this world of our own which we pass through every night between falling asleep and awaking is the world we pass through in reverse, after death, during a period encompassing one third of our life-span.

If people possessed nothing but this world, they would be occupied for two or three decades after death (if they die at an old age) exclusively with themselves. This, however, is not the case. What we experience as our own affairs nevertheless connects us with the whole world. For the world through which each of us passes by himself is interwoven with relations to all those human beings with whom we were associated in life.

This interweaving of relations is caused by the fact that, when looking down from the soul world on the earthly experiences of those persons with whom we were associated in some way, we experience together with them what occurs on earth. Hence anyone willing to try may perceive, if he acquaints himself with spiritual-scientific methods, [See: Rudolf Steiner, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment, Anthroposophic Press, New York.] how the dead, immediately after their transition, are helped to participate intensively in earthly events by those of their former companions who are still alive. And so we find that the dead, in the measure in which they shared this or that interest with others, underwent common destinies with others, remain connected with all these earthly interests; are still interested in earthly events. And, being no longer hindered by the physical body, they judge earthly events much more lucidly and sagaciously than men who are still alive. By attaining a conscious relation to the dead, we are enabled to gain, by means of their judgment, an extraordinary lucidity concerning earthly events.

Furthermore, something else must be considered. We can see that certain things existing within earthly relations will be preserved in the spiritual world. Thus an eternal element is intermingled, as it were, with our terrestrial experiences.

Descriptions of the spiritual world often sound almost absurd. Nonetheless, since I am addressing myself presumably to anthroposophists of long standing, I may venture to speak frankly of these matters. In looking for a way to communicate with the dead, it is even possible to use earthly words: ask questions, and receive answers. And now a peculiar fact is to be noticed: The ability lost first by the dead is that of using nouns; whereas verbs are retained by them for a long time. Their favorite forms of expression, however, are exclamatory words; all that is connected with emotion and heart. An Oh!, an Ah!, as expressions of amazement, of surprise, and so forth, are often used by the dead in their language. We must, as it were, first learn the language of the dead.

These things are not at all as the spiritists imagine. These people believe that they can communicate with the dead, by means of a medium, in ordinary earthly language. The character of these communications immediately indicates that we are concerned here with subconscious states of living persons, and not with actual, direct utterances of the dead transmitted through a medium. For the dead outgrow ordinary human language by degrees. After the passing of several years, we can communicate with the dead only by acquiring their language—which can best be done by suggesting, through simple symbolic drawings, what we want to express. Then the answers will be given by means of similar symbolic forms necessarily received by us in shadowy outlines.

All this is described by me for the purpose of indicating that the dead, although dwelling in an element akin to sleep, yet have a vast range of interests and sweep the whole world with their glance. And we ourselves can greatly assist them. This may be done by thinking of the dead as vividly as possible; especially by sending thoughts to them which bring to life, in the most striking way, what we experienced in their company. Abstract concepts are not understood by the dead. Hence I must send out such thoughts as the following: Here is the road between Kristiania and a near-by place. Here we two walked together. The other person, who is now dead, walked at my side. I can still hear him speaking. I hear the sound of his voice. I try to recall how he moved his arms, how he moved his head.—By visualizing, as vividly as possible, what we experienced together with the dead; by sending out our thoughts to the dead whom we conjure up before our soul in a familiar image, we can make these thoughts, as it were, soar or stream towards the dead. Thus we provide the dead with something like a window, through which they can look at the world. Not only the thought sent by us to the dead comes forth within them, but a whole world. They can gaze at our world as if through a window.

Conversely, the dead can experience their present spiritual environment only to the degree in which they formerly reflected, as much as earthly men are capable of doing, on the spiritual world.

You know how many people are saying now-a-days: Why should I worry about life after death? We might as well wait. Once we are dead, we shall see what is going to happen.—This thought, however, is completely misleading. People who have not reflected, while still alive, on the spiritual world, who have lived in a purely materialistic way, will see absolutely nothing after death.

Here I have outlined to you how the dead are living during the period in which—commensurate with their experiences in the sleeping state—they pass through their life in reverse. The human being who has now discarded his physical and etheric body, feels himself to be at this time in the realm of spiritual moon forces. We must realize that all the world organisms—moon, sun and stars—inasmuch as they are visible to physical eyes, actually represent only physical formations of a spiritual element.

Just as the single man, who is sitting here on a chair, consists not only of flesh and blood (which can be regarded as matter), but also of soul and spirit, so the whole universe, the whole cosmos, is indwelled by soul and spirit. And not only one unified spiritual entity dwells therein, but many, innumerably many spiritual entities dwell therein. Thus numerous spiritual entities are connected with the moon, which is seen only externally as a silver disk by our physical eye. We are in the realm of these entities while retracing our earth-life, as has been described, until we arrive again at the starting point. Thus it might be said: Until then we dwell in the realm of the moon.

While we are in the midst of this going backward, our whole life becomes intermingled with certain things, which are brought to an approximate conclusion after we have left the moon realm.

Immediately after the etheric body has been discarded by us in the wake of death, a moral judgment on our worth as human beings emerges from the nightly experiences. Then we cannot do otherwise than judge, in a moral sense, the events through which we pass in reverse. And it is very strange how things develop from this point.

Here on earth we carry a body made of bones, muscles, arteries, and so forth. Then, after death, we acquire a spiritual body, formed out of our moral qualities. A good man acquires a moral body radiating with beauty; a depraved man a moral body radiating with evil. This is formed while we are living backward. Our spirit-body, however, is only partly formed out of that which is now joined to us. Whereas one part of the spirit-body received by us in the spiritual world is formed out of our moral qualities, the other part is simply put on us as a garment woven from the substances of the spiritual world.

Now, after finishing our reverse course and arriving again at the starting-point, we must find the transition to which I alluded in my Theosophy as the transition from the soul world into the spirit realm. This is connected with the necessity of leaving the moon sphere and entering the sun sphere of the cosmos. We become gradually acquainted with the all-encompassing entities dwelling, in the form of spirit and soul, within the sun sphere. This we must enter. In the next few days, I shall discuss to what degree the Christ plays a leading role in helping the human being to make this transition from the moon sphere to the sun sphere. (This role is different after the Mystery of Golgotha from the role He played before the Mystery of Golgotha.) Today we shall describe the passage through this world in a more objective way.—What ensues at this point is the necessity of depositing in the moon sphere all that was woven for us, as it were, out of our moral qualities. This represents something like a small package, which we must deposit in the moon sphere in order that we may enter, as purely spiritual beings, into the pure sun sphere. Then we see the sun in its real aspect: not from the side turned towards earth but from the reverse side, where it is completely filled with spiritual entities; where we can fully see that it is a spiritual realm.

It is here that we give as nourishment to the universe everything that does not belong to our moral qualities, but which has been granted to us by the gods in the form of earthly experiences. We give to the universe whatever it can use for maintaining the world's course. These things are actually true. If I compared the universe to a machine—you know that I do this merely in a pictorial sense, for I am certainly not inclined to designate the universe a machine—then everything brought by us into the sun sphere after depositing our small package in the moon sphere would be something like fuel, apportioned by us to the cosmos as fuel is apportioned to a machine.

Thus we enter the realm of the spiritual world. For it does not matter whether we call our new abode the sun sphere, in its spiritual aspect, or the spiritual world.

Here we dwell as a spirit among spirits, just as we dwelled on earth as a physical man among the entities of the various natural kingdoms. Now we dwell among those entities which I described and named in my Occult Science; and we also dwell among those souls which have died before us, or are still awaiting their coming earth-life. For we are dwelling as a spirit among spirits.

These spiritual entities may belong to the higher Hierarchies or be incorporeal men dwelling in the spiritual world. And now the question arises: What is our next stage?

Here on earth we stand at a certain point of the physical universe. Looking around in every direction, we see what lies outside the human being. That which lies inside him we are utterly unable to see.

Now you will say: What you tell us is foolish. It may be granted that ordinary people cannot see man's inside; but the learned anatomists, who cut up dead people in hospitals, are certainly familiar with it.—They are not familiar with it in the least! For what can be learned about a man in this way is only something external. After all, if we regard a human being merely from the outside, it does not matter whether we investigate his outer skin or his insides. What lies inside the human skin is not that which anatomists discover in an external way, but what lies inside the human skin are whole worlds. In the human lung, for instance, in every human organ, whole universes are compressed to miniature forms.

We see marvelous sights when admiring a beautiful landscape; marvelous sights when admiring at night the starry sky in all its splendor. Yet if viewing a human lung, a human liver, not with the anatomist's physical eye, but with the eye of the spirit, we see whole worlds compressed into a small space. Apart from the splendor and glory of all the rivers and mountains on the surface of the earth, a still more exalted splendor adorns what lies inside of man's skin, even in its merely physical aspect. It is irrelevant that all this is of smaller scale than the seemingly vast world of space. If you survey what lies in a single pulmonary vesicle, it will appear as more grandiose than the whole range of the mighty Alps. For what lies inside of man is the whole spiritual cosmos in condensed form. In man's inner organism we have an image of the entire cosmos.

We can visualize these things also in a somewhat different way. Imagine that you are thirty years old and, looking into yourself with a glance of the soul, remember something which you experienced between your tenth and twentieth year. Here the outer event has been transformed into an inner soul-image. In a single moment, you may survey widely spread experiences undergone by you in the course of years. A world has been woven into an ideational image. Only think of what you experience when brief memory-images of widely spread events passed through by you come forth in your soul-life. Here you have the soul-essence of what you experienced on earth. Now, if viewing your brain, the inside of your eye—the inside of the eye alone represents a whole world—your lung, your other organs in the same way as your memory-images; then these organs are not images of events passed through by you but images—even if appearing in material form—of the whole spiritual cosmos.

Let us suppose that man could solve the riddle of what is contained in his brain, in the inside of his eye, in the inside of his lung; just as he can solve the riddle of the memories contained in his soul-life. Then the whole spiritual cosmos would be opened up to him; just as a series of events undergone in life are opened up to man by a single memory-image. As human beings, we incorporate the whole memory of the world. If you consider these things in the right way, you will understand the following: The human being, who has undergone after death all the states described by me previously, now becomes manifest to the vision of man himself. The human being is a spirit among spirits. Yet, what he sees now as his world is the marvel of the human organism itself in the form of the universe, the whole cosmos. Just as mountains, rivers, stars, and clouds form our surroundings here on earth; so, when dwelling as spirit among spirits, we find our surroundings, our world, in man's wonderful organism. We look around in the spiritual world; we look—if I may express myself pictorially—to the right and to the left: as here we found rocks, river, mountains on all sides, so there above we find the human being, MAN, on all sides. Man is the world. And we are working for this world which is fundamentally man. Just as, on earth, we build machines, keep books, sew clothes, make shoes, or write books, thus weaving together what is called the content of civilization, of culture, so above, together with the spirits of the higher Hierarchies and incorporeal human beings, we weave the woof and weft of mankind. We weave mankind out of the cosmos. Here on earth we appear as finished products. There we lay down the spiritual germ of earthly man.

This is the great mystery: that man's heavenly occupation consists in weaving, in cooperation with the spirits of the higher Hierarchies, the great spiritual germ of the future terrestrial human being. Inside the spiritual cosmos, all of us are weaving, in magnificent spiritual grandeur, the woof and weft of our own earthly existence, which will be attained by us after descending again into earthly life. Our work, performed in cooperation with the gods, is the fashioning of the earthly human being.

When we speak of germs here on earth, we think of something small which becomes big. If we speak, however, of the germ of the physical human being as it exists in the spiritual world—for the physical germ maturing in the mother's body is only an image of the spiritual germ—we must think of it as immense, enormous. It is a universe; and all other human beings are interlinked with this universe. It might be said: all human beings are in the same “place,” yet numerically differentiated. And then the spiritual germ diminishes more and more. What we undergo in the time between death and a new birth is the experience of fashioning a spiritual germ, as large as the universe, of our coming earthly existence. Then this spiritual germ begins to shrink. More and more its essence becomes convoluted. Finally it produces its own image in the mother's body.

Materialistic physiology has entirely wrong conceptions of these things. It assumes that man, whose marvelous form I have tried to sketch for you, came forth from a merely physical human germ. This science considers the ovum to be a highly complicated matter; and physiological chemists investigate the fact that molecules or atoms, becoming more and more complicated, produce the germ, the most complicated phenomenon of all.

All this, however, is not true. In reality, the ovum consists of chaotic matter. Matter, when transformed into a germ, is dissolved; it becomes completely pulverized. The nature of the physical germ, and the human germ particularly, is characterized by being composed of completely pulverized matter, which wants nothing for itself.

Because this matter is completely pulverized and wants nothing for itself, it enables the spiritual germ, which has been prepared for a long time, to enter into it. And this pulverization of the physical germ is brought about by conception. Physical matter is completely destroyed in order that the spiritual germ may be sunk into it and make the physical matter into an image of the spiritual germ woven out of the cosmos.

It is doubtless justified to sing the praises of all that human beings are doing for civilization, for culture, on earth. Far from condemning this singing of praises, I declare myself, once and for all, in favor of it when it is done in a reasonable way. But a much more encompassing, a much more exalted, a much more magnificent work than all earthly cultural activity is performed by heavenly civilization, as it might be called, between death and a new birth: the spiritual preparation, the spiritual weaving of the human body. For nothing more exalted exists in the world order than the weaving of the human being out of the world's ingredients. With the help of the gods, the human being is woven during the important period between death and a new birth.

If yesterday I had to say that, in a certain sense, all the experience and knowledge acquired by us on earth provide nourishment for the cosmos, it must be said again today: After offering to the cosmos, as nourishment or fuel, all the earthly experiences that could be of use to it, we receive, from the fullness of the cosmos, all the substances out of which we are able to weave again the new human being into whom we shall enter at a later time.

The human being, now devoting himself wholly to a spiritual world, lives as a spirit. His entire weaving and being is spiritual work, spiritual essence. This stage lasts for a long time. For it must be repeated again and again: to weave something like the human being is a mighty and grandiose task. Not without justification did the ancient Mysteries call the human physical body a temple. The greater the insight we gain into the science of initiation, into what takes place between death and a new birth, the deeper do we feel the significance of this word. Our life between death and a new birth is of such a nature that we, as spiritual beings, become directly aware of other spiritual beings. This condition lasts for some time. Then a new stage sets in.

What took place previously was of such a nature that the single spiritual beings could really be viewed as individualities. The spiritual beings with whom one worked were met face to face, as it were. At a later stage, however, these spiritual entities—to express it pictorially, because such things can be suggested only in images—become less and less distinct, finally being merged into an aggregation of spirits. This can be expressed in the following way: A certain period between death and a new birth is spent in immediate proximity to spiritual beings. Then comes a time when one experiences only the revelation of these spiritual beings; when they become manifest to us as a whole. I want to use a very trivial metaphor. On seeing what seems to be a tiny gray cloud in the distance, you would be sure that this was just a tiny gray cloud. But, by coming closer, you would recognize it to be a swarm of flies. Now you can see each single fly. In the case of the spiritual beings, the opposite took place. First you behold the divine-spiritual beings, with whom you are working, as single individualities. Then, after living with them more intensively, you behold their general spiritual atmosphere, just as you beheld the swarm of flies in the shape of a cloud. Here, where the single individualities disappear more and more, you live—I might say—in pantheistic fashion in the midst of a general spiritual world.

Although we live now in a general spiritual world, we feel arising out of our inner depth a stronger sense of self-consciousness than we experienced before. Formerly your self was constituted in such a way that you seemed to be at one with the spiritual world, which you experienced by means of its individualities. Now you perceive the spiritual world only as a general spiritual atmosphere. Your own self-consciousness, however, is perceived in greater degree. It awakens with heightened intensity. And thus, slowly and gradually, the desire of returning to earth again arises in the human being. This desire must be described in the following way:

During the entire period which I have described and which lasts for centuries, the human being—except in the first stage when he was still connected with the earth and returned to his starting point—is fundamentally interested in nothing but the spiritual world. He weaves, in the large scale that I have described, the fabric of mankind.

At the moment when the individualities of the spiritual world are merged together, as it were, and man perceives the spiritual world in a general way, there arises in him a renewed interest in earth-life. This interest for earth-life appears in a certain specialized manner, in a certain concrete manner. The human beings begin to be interested in definite persons living below on earth, and again in their children, and again in their children's children. Whereas the human beings were formerly interested only in heavenly events, they now become, after beholding the spiritual world as a revelation, strangely interested in certain successive generations. These are the generations leading to our own parents, who will bear us on our return to earth. Yet we are interested, a long time before, in our parents' ancestors. We follow the line of generations until reaching our parents. Not only do we follow each generation as it passes through time; but—once the spiritual world has been manifested to us as a revelation—we also foresee, as if prophetically, the whole span of generations. Across the succession of great-great-great-grandfathers, great-great-grandfathers, great-grandfathers, grandfathers, and so forth, we can foresee the path on which we shall descend again to earth. Having first grown into the cosmos, we grow later into real, concrete human history. And thus comes the moment when we gradually (in regard to our consciousness) leave the sun sphere.

Of course, we still remain within the sun sphere; but the distinct, clear, conscious relation to it becomes dim and we are drawn back into the moon sphere. And here, in the moon sphere, we find the “small package” deposited by us (I can describe it only by means of this image); we find again what represents the worth of our moral qualities. And this package must be retrieved.

It will be seen in the course of the next days what a significant part is played in this connection by the Christ-impulse. We must embody within us this package of destiny. But while embodying within us the package of destiny and entering the moon sphere, while gaining a stronger and stronger feeling of self-consciousness and transforming ourselves inwardly more and more into soul-beings, we gradually lose the tissue woven by us out of our physical body. The spiritual germ woven by ourselves is lost at the moment when the physical germ, which we shall have to assume on earth, is engendered through the act of conception.

The spiritual germ of the physical body has already descended to earth; whereas we still dwell in the spiritual world. And now a vehement feeling of bereavement sets in. We have lost the spiritual germ of the physical body. This has already arrived below and united itself with the last of those successive generations which we have watched. We ourselves, however, are still above. The feeling of bereavement becomes violent. And now this feeling of bereavement draws out of the universe the needful ingredients of the world-ether. Having sent the spiritual germ of the physical body down to earth and remained behind as a soul (ego and astral body), we draw etheric substance out of the world-ether and form our own etheric body. And to this etheric body, formed by ourselves, is joined—approximately three weeks after the fecundation has taken place on earth—the physical germ which formed itself out of the spiritual germ, as I have previously described.

It was said that we form our etheric body before uniting ourselves with our own physical germ. And into this etheric body is woven the small package containing our moral worth. We weave this package into our ego, our astral body, and also into our etheric body. Thus it is joined to the physical body. In this way, we bring our karma down to earth. First, it was left behind in the moon sphere; for, had we taken it with us into the sun sphere, we would have formed a diseased, a disfigured physical body.

The human physical body acquires individuality only through the circumstance of its being permeated by the etheric body. Otherwise, all physical bodies would be exactly alike; for human beings, while dwelling in the spiritual world, weave identical spiritual germs for their physical body. We become individualities only by means of our karma, by means of the small package interwoven by us with our etheric body which shapes, constitutes and pervades our physical body already during the embryonic stage.

Of course, I shall have to enlarge during the next days on this sketch concerning the human being's transition between death and a new birth. Yet you will have realized what a wealth of experiences is undergone by us: the great experience of how we are first merged into the cosmos and then, out of the cosmos, again are shaped in order to attain a new human earth-life.

Fundamentally, we pass through three stages. First, we dwell as spirit-soul among spirit-souls. This is a genuine experiencing of the spiritual world. Secondly, we are given a revelation of the spiritual world. The individualities of the single spiritual entities become blurred as it were. The spiritual world is revealed to us as a whole. Now we approach again the moon sphere. Within ourselves the feeling of self-consciousness awakens; this is a preparation for earthly self-consciousness. Whereas we did not desire earth-life while being conscious of our spiritual self within the spiritual world, we now begin, during the period of revelation, to desire earth-life and develop a vigorous self-consciousness directed towards the earth.

In the third stage, we enter the moon sphere; and, having yielded our spiritual germ to the physical world, draw together out of all the heaven worlds the etheric substance needed for our own etheric body. Three successive stages: A genuine life within the spiritual world; a life amidst the revelations of the spiritual world, in which we feel ourselves already as an egoistic self; a life devoted to the drawing together of the world ether.

The counterparts of these stages are produced after the human being has moved again into his physical body. These counterparts are of a most surprising nature. We see the child. We see it before us in its physical body. The child develops. This development of the child is the most wonderful thing to behold in the physical world. We see how it first crawls, and then assumes a state of balance with regard to the world. We observe how the child learns to walk. Immeasurably great things are connected with this learning to walk. It represents an entrance of the child's whole being into the state of equilibrium of the world. It represents a genuine orientation of the whole cosmos towards the world's three spatial dimensions. And the child's wonderful achievement consists in the fact that it finds the correct human state of equilibrium within the world.

These things are a modest, terrestrial counterpart of all that the human being, while dwelling as a spirit among spirits, underwent in the course of long centuries. We feel great reverence for the world if we look at it in such wise that we observe a child: how it first kicks its limbs awkwardly in every direction, then gradually learns to control itself. This is the aftereffect of the movements which we executed, during centuries, as a spiritual being among spiritual beings. It is really wonderful to discover in the child's single movements, in its search for a state of equilibrium, the terrestrial after-effects of those heavenly movements executed, in a purely spiritual sense, as spirit among spirits.

Every child—unless some abnormal condition changes the sequence—should first learn to walk (attain a state of equilibrium) and then learn to speak.

Now again the child, by an imitative process, adjusts itself through the use of language to its environment. But in every sound, every word formation shaping itself in the child, we find a modest, terrestrial echo of the experience undergone by us when our knowledge of the spiritual world becomes revelation; when this knowledge is compressed, as it were, into a uniform haze. Then the World Logos is formed out of the world's single being, which we experienced previously in an individualized way. And when the child utters one word after the other, this is the audible terrestrial counterpart of a marvelous world tableau experienced by us during the time of revelation, before we return again to the moon sphere.

And when the child, having learned to walk and speak, gradually develops its thoughts—for learning to think should be the third step in a normal human development—this is a counterpart of the work performed by man while forming his own etheric body out of the world ether gathered from every part of the universe.

Thus, in looking at the child as it enters the world, we see in the three modest faculties needed to gain a dynamic static relationship to the world—learning to maintain equilibrium (what we call learning to walk), learning to speak, learning to think—the compressed, modest, terrestrial counterparts of that which, spread out into grandiose cosmic dimensions, represents the stages passed through by us between death and a new birth.

Only by gaining a knowledge of the spiritual life between death and a new birth, do we gain a knowledge of the mystery coming forth from man's innermost depth when the child, having been born in a uniform state, becomes increasingly differentiated. Hence, by pointing to every single being as a revelation of the divine, we learn to understand the world as a revelation of the divine.