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The Evolution of Consciousness
GA 227

8. During Sleep and after Death

26 August 1923, Penmaenmawr

From what has been said about the relation of sleeping to waking in man, and also about the membering of his organism, it can be seen that in sleep he experiences a profound cleavage in his earthly existence. We know that a distinction has to be made between the part of man which is materially perceptible to the senses, his physical body, and the part that can be seen only through Imagination, his etheric or formative forces body. This formative forces body embraces also the living forces which enable a man to grow, underlie his nutritive processes and generally build him up. As we have seen, the formative forces body includes also the whole system of a man's thoughts. Intermingled with his formative forces body and his physical body are two higher members, which we may call the astral body and the Ego-organisation.

In a man's life during the day these four members of his being are in active inner relationship with one another. But when he passes into the sleeping state, his physical and etheric bodies separate from the Ego and astral body. They remain—if one may put it thus—in bed, while the astral and Ego organisations enter a purely spiritual world. So that, from his falling asleep until he wakes, a man's being is split in two—on the one hand there are his physical organisation and the etheric that holds his world of thought; on the other, the Ego and the astral organisation.

I believe someone in the course of these days has voiced the misgiving: If in sleep a man's whole thought-world remains in the etheric organisation, then he must be unable to carry effectively into the sleeping state the thoughts which he can grasp only while he is awake. This shows a certain anxiety lest wishes for one's fellow-men, for example, or thoughts relating to an absent one, should lose all power because they cannot be taken over into the life of sleep. I should like to reply with a picture.

You are not very likely to have heard of anyone who, wanting to shoot at a target, thought he had to throw his gun at it. While still holding the gun he lets the charge do the work, and you cannot say that nothing reaches the target because the gun remains in the man's hands. It is just the same in the case we are considering. The effects of our thinking life when we are awake do not cease during sleep because the thoughts remain in the physical and etheric bodies. It is particularly important with these subtle matters that we should be precise in our thinking—precise to a degree unnecessary in the physical world, where the things themselves provide immediate corrections. From what has been said in these last few days, however, you will see that a much more intimate relation exists between the physical body and the etheric body than between the etheric body and the astral organisation. For throughout the whole of an earthly life the physical body and the etheric remain together, never separating even when, in sleep, the etheric body and the astral body have to part company.

There is a close connection, on the other hand, between the Ego and the astral organisation, for neither do they ever part from one another during life on Earth. But the connection between the astral and the etheric bodies is looser, and it is there that the split can occur. This has a quite definite effect on a man's earthly life, and also on his life beyond the Earth. In our waking state we give life to our senses through our Ego, and through the astral body to our nervous system; and what is brought about in this way we send down into the etheric and physical bodies, as we must do if we are to live in the physical world. Hence, because everything has to be imprinted into the physical body, in order to become manifest in life from birth or conception until death, a materialist supposes that the physical body can make up the whole of a man's being.

This work of incorporating the experiences of earthly existence into the etheric body and the physical body does not proceed, however, without meeting obstacles and hindrances. We are never able to send down straight away into the organs of these bodies our experiences and the thoughts embodied in our nervous system, for anything we absorb from the external physical world is at first in a form moulded by that world. If, for example, we perceive something angular, an experience of this angular quality forms itself in our Ego and our astral body. This cannot be taken up immediately into the etheric body, for the etheric body struggles against absorbing anything experienced in the external world of the senses. Imaginative knowledge alone is able to throw light on this situation. No ordinary sense-observation, no material experiment, no intellectual reflection, will help us to a view of this necessary re-forming, re-shaping, of what we perceive with the senses, so as to fit it for living in the etheric body and physical body in such a way that we can separate from it in sleep. It is only when we are able to observe the actual relation between waking and sleeping in earthly man that we come to realise the continuous conflict that goes on in life. Thus—in the case of the crude example already mentioned—if I have to take my experience of an angular object into my etheric and physical bodies, I must first round off its angles and give the object a form suited to those bodies. It has to be completely transformed.

This transforming of anything having as volatile a life as that of the Ego and astral body themselves, and giving it a plastic form capable of living in the etheric body and of continuing its existence as plastic movement in the physical body—this transformation creates an inner struggle not perceived by ordinary consciousness to-day, but anyone who has Imaginative knowledge can perceive it. Generally it lasts two or three days. We have to sleep on an experience for two or often three nights for it to unite with the other experiences already imprinted in the etheric and physical bodies. The dream-world is an actual expression, but only an outward expression, of this struggle. While a man is dreaming, his Ego and his astral body flow into his etheric and physical bodies and come to a sudden stop—as already explained. This check is an expression of the struggle I am now picturing; it goes on for two or three days. Until the experience has been slept upon more than once, it has not gone sufficiently far down into the etheric body, so that where the connection is loose, as it is between astral body and etheric body, a continuous interweaving is to be seen.

If we have here the etheric body and the astral is there asleep, then on the verge of waking or of going to sleep a continuous struggle takes place, a movement full of life, expressed outwardly in the dream, but signifying inwardly this weaving of experiences into the etheric and physical bodies. It is only when a man has slept on some experience two or three times—perhaps more often—that the experience is united with the memories already bound up with his etheric and physical bodies. The point is that the experience has to be transformed into memory, which is left lying in bed during sleep, for a memory is essentially the expression in thought of the physical and etheric bodies.

For Imaginative cognition, perceiving this is an extraordinarily interesting experience. The very form of its expression is significant. We give our ordinary earthly experiences definite outlines in conformity with natural laws. These laws, however, no longer hold good when the experiences merge with the etheric; everything firmly outlined becomes soft and plastic. Whatever was at rest begins to move; anything angular becomes rounded. Intellectual experience passes over into the experience of the artist.

That is the deeper reason why, in those ancient days when people still had instinctive vision, art was rooted in life in a quite different way from anything we have to-day. Even as late as the Renaissance, in the searching back to earlier art there was still in Raphael and other painters at least a tradition of that conversion of the intellectual into the artistic. For the intellectual loses its form, and takes on the nature of art, directly we rise to the super-sensible. The fact that in art to-day people are so strongly inclined to naturalism, wanting models for all their work, shows that they no longer realise its true nature. Humanity must find its way again into the true realm of art.

Human life as I have described it is thus made up in such a way that it is always possible to say: I am experiencing something which will take three days to flow into the etheric body. A day later, the experience of the previous day will flow in. Hence it takes a man two, three, or even four days to complete this uniting of an experience with the etheric body.

Now when a man passes through the gate of death, the etheric body detaches itself from the physical body—something that never happens during earthly life. And now, when the etheric body is free of the physical, all that has been interwoven into the etheric body is gradually dispersed, and this process lasts for about as long—two, three or four days—as the interweaving did. Imagination, which can judge rightly of these matters, shows how during life the physical body holds together, through its resistance, the experiences that have gradually penetrated into the etheric body. When the physical body is laid aside at death, it can be seen how in the first few days afterwards the memories woven into the etheric body pass out into the universal cosmic ether, and dissolve. And so, for two, three or four days after death, a person experiences this dissolving of his accumulated store of memories. This may be called the laying aside of the etheric body, but it involves an ever-increasing enhancement of the memories; they lose the third dimension and become two-dimensional, entirely picture-like. After the gate of death is passed, the person is faced with the whole tableau of his life, taking its course in vivid pictures for two, three or four days, the time varying with each individual.

But just as a student of botany recognises in a seed the plant that will develop from it, so anyone with Imaginative cognition does not see only at death this passing over of the etheric, of the whole memory system, to the cosmos; he has seen it already in picture form, for as a picture it is always present in human beings. Those who can grasp rightly the interweaving that goes on in the course of three days or more see already, in this incorporation of experiences in the etheric body, a picture of the inward experience that is lived through for three or four days after death. Whereas in earthly existence, before acquiring Imaginative cognition, a man experiences more or less unconsciously this blending of his experiences into the memories held together by the physical body, immediately after death he experiences the reverse process, the unwinding, as it were, of his memories and the passing away of them into the Cosmos. Our treasured thoughts, left behind whenever we fall asleep, unite directly after death with the whole Cosmos. This is what in dying we have to yield up to cosmic existence.

These things must not be grasped only intellectually, but also with heart and soul. For in face of them a man feels that his life is not to be taken egoistically, but that he is placed in the world as a thinking being. He will feel that his thoughts are not something he can preserve, for after his death they will flow out into the Cosmos and will go on working there as active forces. If we have had good thoughts, we surrender them to the Cosmos, and if we have had bad thoughts, we surrender them also. For a man does not exist on earth merely to develop himself as a free being. This he certainly should do, and he can do it precisely if he takes something else into consideration. He is here also as a being on whom the Gods themselves may work, in order to lead the Cosmos on from epoch to epoch. Moreover I would say this: What the Gods are to weave into the Cosmos as thoughts has to be prepared by them through all that can be thought and produced during individual human lives. Here is the nurturing-place where the Gods have to tend the thoughts they need for the continuing evolution of the world—thoughts they then incorporate into the Cosmos as active impulses.

During sleep, a man lives with his Ego and astral organisation outside his physical and etheric bodies. While in this state as a being of soul and spirit, as Ego and astral organisation, he is interwoven with the spiritual forces pervading the whole Cosmos. He is in the world that is, figuratively speaking, outside his skin—the world of which the only impressions he receives in waking life come through his senses. During sleep, therefore, he enters right into the things that in waking life show him only their outer side. But it is only what is experienced by the astral organisation, when outside the physical and etheric bodies, that can be brought back into the thoughts of the etheric body, not what is experienced out there by the Ego. Hence, during the whole of our existence on Earth, the experiences of the Ego in sleep remain subconscious for ordinary consciousness, and even for Imaginative consciousness. They are revealed only to Inspired consciousness, as already described.

So this may be said: In sleep a man gathers up sufficient strength to imprint on the etheric body those experiences that can be put into thoughts. But during his life on Earth he lacks the power to deal with the wishes and desires which during sleep are experienced by the Ego in connection with earthly affairs—for these also are gone over during sleep. In our epoch, therefore, only the part of sleep-life that can be transformed into thoughts, imprinted in thoughts, passes over into the conscious waking life of earthly men; while the sleep-experiences of the Ego lie hidden behind the veil of existence.

Imaginative and Inspired consciousness bring to light here things which can be perfectly well understood by any impartial person with a healthy mind, but in our present civilisation they encounter tremendous prejudice. Even the fact that when the three-dimensional in the physical world is imprinted in the etheric body, it changes from the plastic to a picture form, from three to two dimensions—even to grasp this calls for an unprejudiced approach. Directly we rise to Imagination, we no longer have to do with three dimensions, any more than with four, as a misguided science believes, but with two only. The difficulty of picturing what is then experienced comes from our being accustomed in earthly experience to reckon with three dimensions and to form our concepts accordingly. And so, when we should be finding our way over to two dimensions, we say: “Yes, but two dimensions are included in the three; the two dimensions of a plane can lie in such a way that there might still be a third.”

That, however, is not the point. As soon as we enter the Imaginative world, the third dimension no longer concerns us at all, and the position of a plane is immaterial. On our entering the etheric world of Imagination, the third dimension ceases to have any meaning. Hence—and I add this for mathematicians—all equations for the ether must be transformed so as to correspond with the two-dimensional world.

Now if we would pass on to the world accessible to Inspiration, in which we are as Ego between going to sleep and waking, we come to one dimension only; we then have to do with a one-dimensional world. This transition to a one-dimensional world, taken for granted by the faculty of Inspiration—the faculty, that is, of actually perceiving the spiritual in which we live between going to sleep and waking—this understanding of a world with only one dimension has always been part of Initiation-knowledge.

I have already described how the hidden forces of the Sun—not the forces of the external physical sunlight—are revealed to men of the Jacob Boehme type. These hidden Sun-forces do not spread out three-dimensionally, but are perceived in one dimension only. An older, more instinctive Initiation-knowledge could, and did, come to perceive this through Inspiration, but without a clearly conscious knowledge of what it was. Much that is still handed down in the ancient records of long past epochs of mankind is to be understood only when one knows: This refers to the spiritual world that is one-dimensional, the world we find through Inspiration; as regards our earthly life it refers to the hidden forces of the Sun and Stars. Between going to sleep and waking we do not live in Sun-forces that are outwardly displayed, but in those that are hidden.

These hidden forces of the Sun can, for example, pass through certain kinds of stone which are impenetrable to physically perceptible Sun-forces, and by passing through them become one-dimensional. If anyone has acquired Inspirational vision, then, although he may not perceive the physical light, he can see the hidden Sun-forces penetrating the otherwise opaque stone; thus the stone is permeable for the Sun's hidden forces and also for the forces of Inspiration.

In very ancient periods of human evolution on Earth, such expedients were not needed. But when the old instinctive clairvoyance, which in those days was the basis of Initiation-knowledge, was on the wane, these aids were adopted as a short cut—we might say—to the perception of things no longer perceptible through instinctive Inspiration. People had recourse to such measures in the following way, for example. Imagine a number of stones set up beside one another, with other stones laid across the tops of them. If this is so arranged that on certain occasions the penetrating rays of the Sun fall on the covering stone, then the physical rays of the Sun will be held up by the stone and the hidden rays will pass through.

When anyone trained to it places himself so that he can look into this structure from the side, he will see the spiritual, one-dimensional rays of the Sun shining through and vanishing into the earth. If, when all this was no longer perceived through instinctive clairvoyant powers, a short cut of that kind were taken, it enabled anyone looking from the side into the shadow-zone to perceive the world of spiritual Sun-rays which we experience every night during sleep. Hence in such contrivances, to be met with in this very district, we can see by what means, during a long transitional period, certain wise leaders of mankind tried to penetrate to the hidden forces of the Sun, which a man such as Jacob Boehme could do instinctively through simply beholding earthly things.

Although such collections of stones can be seen to-day in appropriate places, their real significance can be brought out only through what Spiritual Science reveals. Otherwise people are left with a superficial explanation which misses the real point.

Such stones can of course be distributed in the circle so as to show how the spiritual rays of the Sun differ according to particular constellations of the stars.

I have been trying to make clear to you the world in which our Ego lives during sleep. This world is not held together by the inherent forces of the physical and etheric bodies. These bodies, however, are alone responsible for the clear consciousness of earthly man; they are the source of the judgments we form, in accordance with our feelings and our will, on our own actions, our inward experiences and thoughts. Hence, when we are awake, we judge our external life according to the thoughts we have been able to imprint in our physical and etheric bodies. But it is not only a human being himself who has something to say about his experiences; his experiences and actions are the concern of the whole spiritual Cosmos. The Cosmos judges whether an action, a thought or feeling is to be declared good or bad. Between waking and sleeping we are left to form our own opinions about ourselves. As I have sufficiently shown during these lectures, the spiritual content of the Cosmos takes the moral as its natural law, and what the Cosmos has to say about our true nature and our actions is experienced by the Ego during sleep. Inspired cognition shows how the Ego, even during the shortest sleep, experiences over again everything the individual has gone through from his last moment of waking until his present sleep—however long or short this period may be. So a man, in the successive states of waking, sleeping, waking, sleeping, experiences again in sleep whatever he went through during his last waking time, especially where his own activities were concerned.

As far as this is the experience of the Ego, it remains outside ordinary consciousness, but Inspiration can call it up. Then the particular nature of the experience is disclosed, and we find it is gone through in reverse order to our experience by day. Whereas by day you go through your experiences—leaving short sleeps aside—from morning to evening, during the night, in sleep, you live through these experiences backwards—from evening to morning. This is in order that we may experience whatever the spiritual Cosmos has to say about the way we have lived through the day.

During earthly life, however, a man cannot normally call this experience up into consciousness. Yet he must become conscious of it, or his human existence would fall out of connection with cosmic existence. Inspired cognition shows that as soon as a man after death has watched his life-tableau, which, as I have said, lasts two, three, or four days, and as soon as his memories have dissolved into the Cosmos, spreading themselves out there—after this experience, often referred to as the freeing of the etheric body—a time comes when the man is able to look back on his earthly life again, but in a different way.

If we look at those few days after death, we come to a mighty panorama of our life, but at first it embraces daytime experiences alone. In reality, however, a man goes through not only his waking experiences but also those he has had during sleep. When in earthly life you look back on your ordinary memories, you always leave out your periods of sleep, as if your only experiences had been those lived through by day. And so it goes on right back to the time after birth when your memories cease.

In fact it is like this with the panorama that appears during those two or three days after death. Then, later, comes a period when soul and spirit have gained sufficient strength to experience in the spiritual world all that could manifest only unconsciously, in picture form, while we were asleep at night during our life on Earth. It now comes before us as experience. A man then passes through a period—lasting about one-third of his life on Earth, approximately the time normally spent in sleep—when he experiences his nights again, but in a backward direction. So he lives through his last night first, then the night before, and so on right back to the time of his birth and conception.

From other points of view I have described this going back through a quite different world after death in my book, Theosophy, when I was speaking of man, as a being of soul and spirit, passing through the soul-world.

Now when after death a man has gone thus through the soul-world, taking about seven years for it if he has lived twenty-one years, or, if he has lived to sixty, perhaps twenty years—always the length of time he has slept in earthly life—he has then to experience the total effect he has had upon Earth-existence—an existence created by the Gods in order to carry the world, with the help of the human race, a little further on its progress. Up to the end of this backward survey of his nights after death, a man has been gaining knowledge of what he has himself become, of his significance for the Cosmos. He now has to experience how the Earth itself has been affected by his life. This takes a long time—half the time, indeed, between earthly death and a new earthly life. Tomorrow we shall have to speak of this in greater detail.

After going backwards through our nights, we come to our birth; and having arrived there, after this backward journey through the soul-world, we have to find the way back to our previous earthly life. This enables a man to bring over with him that previous life for the shaping of his next life on Earth.

Here we enter the realm of the old Initiation-knowledge (which must be renewed to-day in a way suited to men's present faculties.) The old Initiation-knowledge led people over to religious experience. For Initiation-knowledge is always true knowledge, but of a kind that leads out from the world of the senses into the spiritual, so that the human will is stirred to take a religious form. At the stage of Initiation which leads to the Intuitive-knowledge already described, it has always been recognised as of the utmost importance that when a man goes back to his previous life on Earth, he should meet on the way a being who can become his guide after death.

In a certain region of the Earth a man would say to himself: In my earthly life I must absorb the teaching of the last Bodhisattva to appear on earth. The man may have lived three hundred years after the appearance of this Bodhisattva. But when after death he went back to his previous life on Earth, he arrived at the time when the last Bodhisattva was living on Earth. In the old Initiation-knowledge, this meeting with the last Bodhisattva to appear on the Earth was regarded as enabling the man to make a real contact with his own previous earthly life—which means finding the necessary strength for eternal life, for this can be found only when real contact with the previous earthly life is achieved.

Any possibility of this meeting with the Bodhisattvas, who descend to Earth from certain spiritual regions, ceased at a definite time in human evolution, in world-evolution. And to-day a man would have been unable, when after death he had gone back to his last birth and conception, to go further and make contact with his previous earthly lives. The way to this could be found by a man during the first millennia of earthly evolution before the Mystery of Golgotha, when, in going back, he came to the time of the last Bodhisattva. Today, however, he will find the way only if he makes the journey under the leadership of that Being who united Himself with the Earth through the Mystery of Golgotha; if, in other words, he enters into such a relation with the Mystery of Golgotha that Christ can become his guide. For the Christ gathers into Himself all those powers of leadership for life between death and rebirth which used to belong to the Bodhisattvas who appeared on Earth.

Thus the event of the Mystery of Golgotha, with its particular bearing on our experience between death and rebirth, is one of the most important facts in the whole evolution of the Earth. If anyone wishes to learn about the spiritual evolution of the Earth and the place it takes in the spiritual evolution of the Cosmos, and if moreover he wishes to understand what a man goes through in connection with this spiritual evolution of Earth and Cosmos during his life between death and a new birth, then he must give the Mystery of Golgotha its right place in the whole evolution of the world. For people to-day, therefore, a way must be found that will lead attention over from the evolution of man to the evolution of the world, so that the Mystery of Golgotha is seen in all its fundamental significance for the course of events in the evolution of the Earth and in the evolution of man within the earthly.

With these matters, as far as modern Initiation-knowledge can reveal them—matters relating to the later experiences of human beings after death, when they have gone back in memory through their night-experiences—we will deal further tomorrow, in connection with the evolution of the world.