III. Sleep and Death
It is not possible to penetrate into the nature of waking consciousness without observing the state through which the human being passes during sleep, and it is impossible to solve the riddle of life without considering death. For a human being in whom there is no feeling for the significance of supersensible knowledge, doubts may arise in regard to such knowledge because of the way in which it carries on its considerations regarding sleep and death. Supersensible knowledge is able to understand the motives that give rise to such a distrust. For it is quite comprehensible when someone says that man is here for an active, purposeful life and his accomplishments are based upon his devotion to it; furthermore, that the occupation with states such as sleep and death can only result from an inclination to idle dreaming and can only lead to empty imaginings. The rejection of what is thus held to be “fantastic” may readily be looked upon as the expression of a healthy soul, and an inclination toward “idle dreaming” of this kind as something unhealthy, characteristic of persons lacking in vital energy and the joy of life, and who are incapable of “real accomplishment.” It is wrong to declare forthwith that such an opinion is false, for it contains a certain kernel of truth. It is a quarter-truth that must be supplemented by the other three-quarters belonging to it, and a person who sees the one-quarter very well, but who has no conception of the other three-quarters, will only be made distrustful by our combating the true one-quarter. It must, in fact, be acknowledged without question that a consideration of what lies concealed in sleep and death is unhealthy if it leads to a weakening, to an estrangement from real life, and we must admit that much that has called itself occult science in the world from time immemorial, and is practiced also today under that name, bears a character unhealthy and hostile to life. But this unsound element does not spring from true supersensible knowledge. On the contrary, the real fact is the following. Just as man cannot always be awake, he also cannot, in regard to the real conditions of life in its widest sense, get along without what the supersensible is able to offer. Life continues during sleep, and the forces that are active and creative during the waking state receive their strength and renewal from what is given to them by sleep. Thus it is with what can be observed in the manifest world. The domain of the world is greater than the field of this observation, and what is known about the visible universe must be supplemented and fructified by what can be known about the invisible. A human being who does not continually draw strength for his weakened forces from sleep must of necessity destroy his life. Likewise, a world concept that is not fructified by a knowledge of the hidden world must lead to desolation. It is similar with death. Living beings succumb to death in order that new life may arise. It is precisely the knowledge of the supersensible that can shed clear light upon the beautiful words of Goethe: “Nature has invented death that she might have abundant life.” Just as there could be no life in the ordinary sense of the word without death, so can there be no true knowledge of the visible world without insight into the supersensible. All knowledge of what is visible must plunge again and again into the invisible in order to evolve. Thus it is evident that the science of the supersensible alone makes the life of revealed knowledge possible. It never weakens life when it appears in its true form. When, having been left to itself, life becomes weak and sickly, supersensible knowledge strengthens it and makes it, ever and again, fresh and healthy.
When man sinks into sleep, there is a change in the relationship of his members. That part of the sleeping man that lies in bed contains the physical and ether bodies, but not the astral body and not the ego. Because the ether body remains united with the physical body in sleep, the life-activities continue; for, the moment the physical body were left to itself, it would have to crumble to dust. What, however, is extinguished in sleep includes the mental images, pain and pleasure, joy and sorrow, the capacity to express a conscious will, and similar facts of existence. The astral body is the bearer of all this. An unbiased point of view can naturally never entertain the thought that in sleep the astral body is destroyed along with all pleasure and pain and the world of ideas and will. It simply exists in an other state. In order that the human ego and astral body not only be filled with joy and sorrow and all the other facts of existence mentioned above, but also have a conscious perception of them, it is necessary that the astral body be united with the physical and ether bodies. In the waking state, all three are united; in the sleeping state, the astral body withdraws from the physical and ether bodies. It assumes a different kind of existence from the one that falls to its lot during its union with the physical and ether bodies. It is the task of supersensible knowledge to consider this other kind of existence in the astral body. Observed from the standpoint of the outer world, the astral body disappears in sleep; supersensible perception must follow its life until it again takes possession of the physical and ether bodies on awakening. Just as in all cases where it is a matter of knowledge of the hidden things and events of the world, so supersensible observation is necessary for the discovery of the facts of the sleeping state in their particular form. If, however, what can be discovered by means of supersensible observation has once been uttered, it is comprehensible to truly unbiased thinking, for the processes of the hidden world reveal themselves in their effects in the manifest world. If it is seen how the revelations of supersensible perception make the sensory processes comprehensible, such a corroboration by means of life itself is the proof that can be required for such things. Anyone not desiring to employ the means for acquiring supersensible perception, indicated later on in this book, can have the following experience. He may at first accept the evidence of supersensible perception and then apply it to the manifest facts of his experience. He may, in this way, find that life has thereby become clear and comprehensible, and the more exact and thorough his observations of ordinary life are, the more readily will he come to this conviction.
Although the astral body, during sleep, experiences no mental pictures and also no pleasure and pain, it does not remain inactive. On the contrary, it is just in the sleep state that a lively activity is incumbent upon it. It is an activity into which it must again and again enter in rhythmical succession, if it has been for a time active in connection with the physical and ether bodies. Just as the pendulum of a clock, after having swung to the left and returned again to the center, must swing to the right because of the momentum gathered in its left swing, so the astral body and the ego living within it, after having been active for a time in the physical and ether bodies must, as a result of this, unfold a subsequent activity, body-free, in a surrounding world of soul and spirit. For the ordinary conditions of human life, unconsciousness occurs during this body-free condition of the astral body and ego because it presents the antithesis of the state of consciousness developed in the waking state through union with the physical and ether bodies, just as the swing of the pendulum to the right is the antithesis of the swing to the left. The necessity of entering into this state of unconsciousness is experienced by the soul-spirit nature of man as fatigue. But this fatigue is the expression of the fact that the astral body and ego, during sleep, prepare themselves to transform, during the following waking state, what has arisen in the physical and ether bodies through purely organic formative activity when freed from the presence of the spirit and soul elements. This unconscious formative activity and what takes place in the human being during and by means of consciousness are antitheses that must alternate in rhythmic succession. — The physical body can retain the form and stature suitable for man only by means of the human ether body, which in turn receives its proper forces from the astral body. The ether body is the builder, the architect, of the physical body, but it can only build in the right way if it receives the impulse for this purpose from the astral body. In the astral body reside the prototypes according to which the ether body gives form to the physical body. During the waking state, the astral body is not filled with these prototypes of the physical body, or at least only to a certain degree, for, during the waking state, the soul puts its own images in the place of these prototypes. When man directs the senses toward his environment he forms, by means of perception, thought images that are likenesses of the world about him. These likenesses are at first disturbances for the images that stimulate the ether body to maintain the physical body. Were the human being able, through his own activity, to bring to his astral body the images that are required to give the right impulse to the ether body, then there would be no such disturbance. This very disturbance, however, plays an important role in human existence. It expresses itself in the fact that the prototypes for the ether body do not act to the full extent of their power during waking life. The astral body carries on its waking activity within the physical body. In sleep, it works upon the physical body from without.1Concerning the nature of fatigue, see “Details from the Domain of Spiritual Science” at the end of this book, Chapter VII
Just as the physical body, for example, needs the outer world, which is of like nature to itself, to supply it with the means of subsistence, something similar is also the case with the astral body. Just imagine a physical human body removed from its surrounding world. It would have to perish. This demonstrates that without the whole physical environment it is not possible for the physical body to exist. In fact, the entire earth must be as it is, if human physical bodies are to exist upon it. The whole human body is, in reality, only a part of the earth; indeed, in a wider sense, a part of the whole physical universe. In this respect its relationship is similar, for example, to that of a finger to the entire human body. If the finger is severed from the hand, it can no longer continue to be a finger; it withers. This would also happen to the human body were it removed from the organism of which it is a member, from the life conditions offered it by the earth. If we were to lift it a sufficient number of miles above the earth's surface, it would perish just as the finger perishes that has been severed from the hand. If less consideration has been given to this fact in respect of the physical body and the earth than in respect of the finger and the body, it is simply because the finger cannot stroll about on the body in the way that the human being walks about on the earth, and because in the former case the dependence is more obvious.
Just as the physical body belongs to the physical world in which it is embedded, so does the astral body belong to its own world; during waking life, however, it is torn out of this world of its own. What happens there may be illustrated by an analogy. Imagine a vessel filled with water. A drop within this whole mass of water is not something isolated. Let us, however, take a little sponge and with it absorb a drop from the whole. Something similar occurs with the human astral body on awaking. During sleep it is in a world like itself; in a certain sense it constitutes something that belongs to this world. On awaking, the physical and ether bodies suck it up; they fill themselves with it. They contain the organs through which the astral body perceives the outer world. But in order that it may acquire this perception, it must separate itself from its own world. From this world it can only receive the prototypes that it needs for the ether body. — Just as the physical body receives its food, for example, from its environment, so during the sleep state the astral body receives the images from the world about it. It lives there actually in the universe, separated from the physical and ether bodies, in the same universe out of which the entire human being is born. The source of the images through which the human being receives his form lies in this universe. During sleep he is harmoniously inserted into it, and during the waking state he lifts himself out of this all-encompassing harmony in order to gain external perception. In sleep, his astral body returns to this cosmic harmony and on awaking again brings back to his bodies sufficient strength from it to enable him to dispense with his dwelling within the cosmic harmony for a certain length of time. The astral body, during sleep, returns to its home and on awaking brings back with it renewed forces into life. These forces that the astral body brings with it on awaking find outer expression in the refreshment that healthy sleep affords. Further descriptions of occult science will show that this home of the astral body is more encompassing than that which belongs to the physical body of the physical environment in the narrower sense. Whereas the human being is physically a part of the earth, his astral body belongs to worlds in which still other cosmic bodies besides our earth are embedded. Therefore he enters, during sleep, into a world to which other worlds than the earth belong, a fact that will only become clear from later descriptions.
It ought to be superfluous to call attention to a misunderstanding that can easily arise in regard to these facts, but to do so is not out of place in our age in which certain materialistic modes of thought are prevalent. Those who hold such thoughts can naturally say that it is only scientific to investigate the physical conditions of such a thing as sleep. They maintain that although scholars are not yet in agreement concerning the physical causes of sleep, yet one fact is certain: that definite physical processes must be assumed as lying at the foundation of this phenomenon. Oh! if people would only acknowledge the fact that supersensible knowledge in no way contradicts this assertion! It agrees with everything that is said from this point of view just as one agrees that in the physical erection of a house one brick must be laid upon another, and when it is finished, its form and cohesion can be explained by purely mechanical laws. In order that the house may be built at all, however, the thought of the builder is necessary. This thought is not to be discovered when merely the physical laws are investigated. — Thus, just as the thoughts of the builder of the house lie behind the physical laws that make the house comprehensible, so behind what physical science presents in an absolutely correct way lies the spiritual content of which supersensible knowledge speaks. It is true, this comparison is often presented when it is a matter of justification of a spiritual background of the world and it may be considered trivial. But in these things the point is not whether there is a familiarity with certain concepts, but rather whether they are properly evaluated in arguing the question. Opposing theories can have so great an effect on the power of judgment that the possibility of arriving at a proper evaluation is entirely excluded.
Dreaming is an intermediate state between waking and sleeping. What dream experiences offer to thoughtful consideration is a multi-colored interweaving of a picture world that conceals within it certain rules and laws. This world of dreams seems to display an ebb and flow, often in confused succession. In his dream life, the human being is freed from the law of waking consciousness that fetters him to sense-perception and to the rules governing his power of reason. Yet dreams have certain mysterious laws that are fascinating and alluring to man's prescience, and that are the deeper reason why the beautiful play of fantasy underlying artistic feeling is readily likened to “dreaming.” It is only necessary to call to mind certain characteristic dreams to find this corroborated. Someone dreams, for example, that he drives away a dog that is rushing upon him. He awakens and finds himself in the act of unconsciously throwing off a part of the bedclothes that had pressed upon an unaccustomed part of his body and had, therefore, become burdensome. What does dreaming here make out of the sense-perceptible process? What the senses would perceive in the waking state, the life of sleep allows to remain in complete unconsciousness. It retains, however, something essential, namely the fact that the sleeping person wishes to ward off something. Around this fact sleep weaves a pictorial process. The images, as such, are echoes of waking-day life. The manner in which they are borrowed from it has something arbitrary about it. Every person has the feeling that under the same external provocation, the dream could conjure up different pictures in his soul, but they express symbolically the feeling that the person has something he wishes to ward off. Dreams create symbols; they are symbol-makers. Inner processes, too, can transform themselves into such dream symbols. A person dreams that a fire is crackling near him; in his dream he sees the flames. He awakens and finds that he has been too heavily covered and has become too warm. The feeling of too much warmth is symbolically expressed in the dream picture. Quite dramatic experiences can be enacted in dream. For example, a person dreams that he is standing at an abyss. He sees a child running toward it. In his dream he experiences all the agony of the thought: Oh! if the child would only take heed, would only pay attention and not fall into the abyss! He sees it falling and hears the dull thud of its body below. He awakens and becomes aware that an object hanging on the wall of his room had become loosened and, in falling, has made a dull sound. Dream life expresses this simple occurrence in an event that is enacted in exciting pictures. — For the present we do not need to enter into a consideration of why, in the last example, the moment of the dull thud of the falling object should spread out into a series of events that seem to extend over a certain period of time. We need only keep in mind how the dream transforms into a picture what sense-perception would offer were we awake.
We see that as soon as the senses cease their activity, something creative asserts itself in man. This is the same creative element that is also present in completely dreamless sleep and there presents the soul state that appears as the antithesis of the soul's waking state. If this dreamless sleep is to take place, the astral body must be withdrawn from the ether and physical bodies. During the dream state, it is separated from the physical body in so far as it no longer has any connection with this body's sense organs, but it still retains a certain connection with the ether body. That the processes of the astral body can be perceived in pictures is due to this connection with the ether body. The moment this connection ceases, the pictures sink down into the darkness of unconsciousness, and we have dreamless sleep. The arbitrary and often absurd character of dream pictures rests upon the fact that the astral body, because of its separation from the sense organs of the physical body, cannot relate its pictures to the proper objects and events of the external environment. This fact becomes especially clear if we consider a dream in which the ego is, as it were, split up; when, for example, a person dreams that, as a pupil, he cannot answer a question put to him by his teacher, while directly afterwards the teacher, himself, answers the question. Because the dreamer cannot make use of the organs of perception of his physical body he is unable to relate the two occurrences to himself, as the same individual. Thus, in order to recognize himself as an enduring ego, he must be equipped with the external organs of perception. Only if a person had acquired the capacity of becoming conscious of his ego otherwise than through these organs of perception, would the enduring ego become perceptible to him outside his physical body. Supersensible consciousness must acquire these capacities, and the means of accomplishing this will be considered later on in this book.
Even death occurs only because there is a change in the relationship of the members of man's being. What supersensible perception has to say about death can also be observed in its effects in the outer world, and by unbiased reason the communications of supersensible knowledge can be verified on this point also through observation of external life. The expression of the invisible within the visible is, however, less obvious in these facts. It is more difficult fully to feel the importance of what, in the events of external life, corroborates the communications of supersensible knowledge in this realm. Even more than in the case of many things already mentioned in this book it would be quite natural here to declare that these communications are simply figments of the imagination, if no heed is paid to the knowledge of how a clear indication of the supersensible is contained in the sensory.
In passing over into sleep, the astral body only severs its connection with the ether and physical bodies, the latter remaining bound together; in death, the physical body, however, is severed from the ether body. The physical body is left to its own forces and must, for that reason, disintegrate as a corpse. When death occurs, the ether body enters into a state that it never experienced during the time between birth and death, except under rare conditions that will be spoken of later. It is now united with its astral body, without the presence of the physical body, for the ether body and astral body do not separate immediately after death. For a time they remain together by means of a force whose existence is easily to be understood. If it did not exist, the ether body could not sever itself from the physical body, for it is bound to it. This is seen in sleep when the astral body is unable to tear these two members of the human organism apart. This force begins its activity at death. It severs the ether body from the physical, with the result that the ether body is now united with the astral body. Supersensible observation shows that after death this union varies in different people. Its duration is measured by days. For the present this duration is only mentioned by way of information. — Later the astral body separates from its ether body also and continues on its way bereft of it. During the union of the two bodies man is in a condition that enables him to perceive the experiences of his astral body. As long as the physical body is present, the work of refreshing the worn out organs must begin from the moment the astral body is severed from it. With the severance of the physical body this work ceases. The force that is employed for this work when the human being sleeps remains after death and can now be used to make the astral body's own processes perceptible.
An observation that clings to the externals of life may say that these are statements that are clear to those endowed with supersensible perception, but there is no possibility of anyone else ascertaining the truth about them. This is not a fact. What supersensible perception observes in this realm, removed from ordinary perception, can be comprehended by ordinary thought power after it has once been discovered. This thought power must consider in the right way the relationships of life that are present in the manifested world. Thinking, feeling, and willing stand in such a relationship to each other and to the experiences of man in the outer world, that they remain incomprehensible if the manner of their revealed activity is not considered as the expression of an unrevealed activity. This manifest activity becomes clear to the judgment only when it can be looked upon, in its course within physical human life, as the result of what supersensible knowledge establishes for the non-physical. In regard to this activity we are, without supersensible knowledge, much like a man in a dark room without light. Just as the physical objects around us are perceived only in the light, so will what takes place through the soul-life of man be explicable only by means of supersensible knowledge.
During the union of the human being with his physical body, the outer world enters his consciousness in images; after casting off this body, what the astral body experiences when it is not bound to the outer world by means of physical sense organs becomes perceptible. It has at first no new experiences. Union with the ether body prevents it from experiencing anything new. What it does possess, however, is a memory of the past life. The still present ether body allows this memory to appear as a comprehensive, living picture. This is the first experience of the human being after death. He perceives the life between birth and death in a series of pictures spread out before him. During physical life, memory exists only during the waking state when man is united with his physical body. Memory is present only to the extent allowed by this body. Nothing is lost to the soul that makes an impression upon it during life. Were the physical body a perfect instrument for this, it would be possible at every moment of life to conjure up before the soul the whole of life's past. This hindrance disappears at death. As long as the human being retains the ether body, a certain perfection of memory exists, and it disappears to the degree that the ether body loses the form it had during its sojourn in the physical body, when it resembled the physical body. This is also the reason why the astral body after a time separates from the ether body. It can remain united with the latter only as long as the ether form, which corresponds to the physical body, endures. During life between birth and death, a separation of the ether body from the physical body takes place only in exceptional cases, and then only for a short time. If, for example, a person presses heavily upon one of his limbs, a part of the ether body may separate from the physical. When this occurs we may say that the limb has “gone to sleep.” The peculiar feeling one has at that time comes from the severance of the ether body. (Naturally, here also a materialistic mode of thought may deny the existence of the invisible within the visible and say that all this simply comes from the physical disturbance caused by the pressure.) In such a case, supersensible perception is able to observe how the corresponding part of the ether body passes out of the physical. If a person experiences an unusual shock, or something of the kind, a separation of the ether body from a large part of the physical body may result for a short time. This happens if a person for one reason or another sees himself suddenly near death; if, for example, he is on the verge of drowning, or if, on a mountaineering trip, he is in danger of a precipitous fall. What is told by people who have experienced such things comes very near the truth and may be corroborated by supersensible observation. They state that in such moments their entire life passed before the soul in a great memory-picture. Of the many examples that could be cited here, only one will be referred to because it originates with a person to whose mode of thinking all that has been said here about these experiences must appear as idle fancy. For anyone who takes a few steps in supersensible observation, it is always useful to become acquainted with the statements of those who consider this science as something fantastic. Such statements cannot be so lightly attributed to the prejudice of the observer of the supersensible. (Spiritual scientists may well learn a great deal from those who consider their endeavors nonsense, and they need not be disconcerted if there is no reciprocal “affection” in this respect on the part of the critics. To be sure, for supersensible perception itself there is no need of verification of its results through such experiences. It does not desire to prove anything by these references, but to elucidate its findings.) The eminent criminologist and well known researcher in many other fields of natural science, Moritz Benedict, relates a personal experience in his memoirs. Once, when he was near being drowned while bathing, he saw in memory his whole life before him as though in a single picture. — If others describe differently the pictures experienced under similar circumstances, even in a way that lets them appear to have little to do with the events of their past, this does not contradict what has been said. For the pictures that occur in the quite unusual condition of the separation of the ether body from the physical are often not readily explicable in regard to their relation to life. Proper consideration will always recognize this relationship. Neither is it an objection if someone, for example, once came near drowning and did not have the experience described. It must be remembered that this can only occur when the ether body is actually separated from the physical and at the same time remains united with the astral body. If through the shock a loosening of the ether and astral bodies also takes place, then the experience does not occur, because there exists complete unconsciousness, as in dreamless sleep.
In the period immediately following death the experiences of the past appear summarized in a memory-picture. After the separation of the ether body and the astral body, the latter is left to itself in its further journey. It is not difficult to see that, within the astral body, everything remains that it has made its own through its own activity during its sojourn in the physical body. To a certain degree, the ego has developed spirit self, life spirit, and spirit man. As far as they are developed, they receive their existence, not from what exists as organs in the bodies, but from the ego. The ego is the very member that needs no external organs for self-perception; it also needs none in order to remain in possession of what it has united with itself. The objection can be made, “Why, then, is there no perception in sleep of this spirit self, life spirit, and spirit man, which have been developed?” There is none, because the ego is fettered to the physical body between birth and death. Even though in sleep the ego, united with the astral body, is outside the physical body, it remains, nevertheless, in close union with the latter, for the activity of the astral body is directed toward this physical body. Thus the ego with its perception is relegated to the external sense world and cannot therefore receive the revelations of the spirit in its direct form. Only at death does the ego receive these revelations because, at death, the ego is freed from its connection with the physical and ether bodies. Another world can flash up for the soul the moment it is withdrawn from the physical world that chains the soul's activity to itself during life. There are reasons why even at this moment all connections between man and the external sense world do not cease. Certain desires remain that maintain this connection. These are desires that the human being creates because he is conscious of his ego, the fourth member of his being. Those desires and wishes arising out of the nature of the three lower bodies can only be active within the external world, and when these bodies are laid aside the desires cease. Hunger is caused by the external body; it is silenced as soon as this outer body is no longer united with the ego. If the ego possessed no other desires than those arising from its own spiritual nature, it could at death draw complete satisfaction from the spiritual world into which it is translated. But life has given it still other desires. It has enkindled in the ego a longing for enjoyments that can only be satisfied through physical organs, although the desires do not have their origin in these organs themselves. Not only do the three bodies demand their satisfaction through the physical world, but the ego itself finds enjoyments within this world for which the spiritual world offers no means of satisfaction. For the ego there are two kinds of desires in life: the desires that have their source in the bodies, and therefore must be satisfied within these bodies, ceasing with the disintegration of these bodies, and the desires that have their source in the spiritual nature of the ego. As long as the ego is within the bodies, these desires also are satisfied by means of bodily organs, for in the manifestations of the bodily organs the hidden spirit is at work, and in all that the senses perceive they receive at the same time something spiritual. This spiritual element exists also after death, although in another form. All spiritual desires of the ego within the sense world exist also when the senses are no longer present. If a third kind of desire were not added to these two, death would signify merely a transition from desires that can be satisfied by means of the senses to those that find their realization in the revelation of the spiritual world. This third type of desire is produced by the ego during Its life in the sense world because it finds pleasure in this world also in so far as there is no spirit manifest in it. — The basest enjoyments can be a manifestation of the spirit. The gratification that the hungry being experiences in taking food is a manifestation of spirit because through the eating of food something is brought about without which, in a certain sense, the spirit could not evolve. The ego can, however, transcend the enjoyment that this fact of necessity offers. It may long for good tasting food, quite apart from the service rendered the spirit by eating. The same is true of other things in the sense world. Desires are created thereby that would never have come into being in the sense world had the human ego not been incorporated in it. But neither do these desires spring from the spiritual nature of the ego. The ego must have sense enjoyments as long as it lives in the body, also in so far as it is spiritual; for the spirit manifests in the sense world and the ego enjoys nothing but spirit when, in this world, it surrenders itself to that medium through which the light of the spirit radiates. It will continue to enjoy this light even when the sense world is no longer the medium through which the rays of the spirit pass. In the spirit world, however, there is no gratification for desires in which the spirit has not already manifested itself in the sense world. When death takes place, the possibility for the gratification of these desires is cut off. The enjoyment of appetizing food can come only through the physical organs that are used for taking in food: the palate, tongue, and so forth. After throwing off the physical body man no longer possesses these organs. But if the ego still has a longing for these pleasures, this longing must remain ungratified. In so far as this enjoyment is in accord with the spirit, it exists only as long as the physical organs are present. If it has been produced by the ego, without serving the spirit, it continues after death as desire, which thirsts in vain for satisfaction. We can only form an idea of what now takes place in the human being if we think of a person suffering from burning thirst in a region in which water is nowhere to be found. This, then, is the state of the ego, in so far as it harbors, after death, the unextinguished desires for the pleasures of the outer world and has no organs with which to satisfy them. Naturally, we must imagine the burning thirst that serves as an analogy for the conditions of the ego after death to be increased immeasurably, and imagine it spread out over all the other still existing desires for which all possibility of satisfaction is lacking. The next task of the ego consists in freeing itself from this bond of attraction to the outer world. In this respect the ego has to bring about a purification and emancipation within itself. All desires that have been created by it within the body and that have no inherent rights within the spiritual world must be rooted out. — Just as an object takes fire and is consumed, so is the world of desires, described above, consumed and destroyed after death. This affords us a glimpse into the world that supersensible knowledge designates as the “consuming fire of the spirit.” All desires of a sensual nature, in which the sensual is not an expression of the spirit, are seized upon by this “fire.” The ideas that supersensible knowledge must give in regard to these processes might be found to be hopeless and awful. It might appear terrifying that a hope, for whose realization sense organs are necessary, must change into hopelessness after death; that a desire, which only the physical world can satisfy, must turn into consuming deprivation. Such a point of view is possible only as long as one does not consider the fact that all wishes and desires, which after death are seized by the “consuming fire,” in a higher sense represent not beneficial but destroying forces in life. By means of such destructive forces, the ego tightens the bond with the sense world more strongly than is necessary in order to absorb from this very sense world what is beneficial to it. This sense world is a manifestation of the spirit hidden behind it. The ego would never be able to enjoy the spirit in the form in which it is able to manifest through bodily senses alone, did it not want to use these senses for the enjoyment of the spiritual within the sense world. Yet the ego deprives itself of the true spiritual reality in the world to the degree that it desires the sense world without the spirit. If the enjoyment of the senses, as an expression of the spirit, signifies an elevation and development of the ego, then an enjoyment that is not an expression of the spirit signifies the impoverishing, the desolation of the ego. If a desire of this kind is satisfied in the sense world, its desolating effect upon the ego nevertheless remains. Before death, however, this destructive effect upon the ego is not apparent. Therefore the satisfaction of such desires can produce similar desires during life, and man is not at all aware that he is enveloping himself, through himself, in a “consuming fire.” After death, what has surrounded him in life becomes visible, and by becoming visible it appears in its healing, beneficial consequences. A person who loves another is certainly not attracted only to that in him which can be experienced through the physical organs. But only of what can thus be experienced may it be said that it is withdrawn from perception at death; just that part of the loved one then becomes visible for the perception of which the physical organs were only the means. Moreover, the only thing that then hinders that part from becoming completely visible is the presence of the desire that can only be satisfied through physical organs. If this desire were not extirpated, the conscious perception of the beloved person could not arise after death. Considered in this way, the picture of frightfulness and despair that might arise in the human being concerning the events after death, as depicted by supersensible knowledge, must change into one of deep satisfaction and consolation.
The first experiences after death are different in still another respect from those during life. During the time of purification man, as it were, lives his life in reverse order. He passes again through all that he has experienced in life since his birth. He begins with the events that immediately preceded death and experiences everything in reverse order back to childhood. During this process, everything that has not arisen out of the spiritual nature of the ego during life passes spiritually before his eyes, only he experiences all this now inversely. For example, a person who died in his sixtieth year and who in his fortieth year had done someone a bodily or soul injury in an outburst of anger will experience this event again when, in passing through his life's journey in reverse order after death, he reaches the place of his fortieth year. He now experiences, not the satisfaction he had in life from his attack upon the other person, however, but the pain he gave him. From what has been said above, it is at the same time also possible to see that only that part of such an event can be experienced painfully after death that has arisen from passions of the ego having their source only in the outer physical world. In reality, the ego not only damages the other person through the gratification of such a passion, but itself as well; only the damage to itself is not apparent to it during life. After death this whole, damaging world of passion becomes perceptible to the ego, and the ego then feels itself drawn to every being and every thing that has enkindled such a passion, in order that this passion may again be destroyed in the “consuming fire” in the same way it was created. Only when man in his backward journey has reached the point of his birth have all the passions of this kind passed through the fire of purification, and, from then on, nothing hinders him from a complete surrender to the spiritual world. He enters upon a new stage of existence. Just as, at death, he threw off the physical body, then, soon after, the ether body, so now that part of the astral body falls away that can live only in the consciousness of the outer physical world. For supersensible perception there are, thus, three corpses: the physical, the etheric, and the astral corpse. The point of time when the latter is thrown off by man is at the end of the period of purification, which lasts about a third of the time that passed between birth and death. The reason why this is so can only become clear later on, when we shall consider the course of human life from the standpoint of occult science. For supersensible observation, astral corpses are constantly present in the environment of man, which have been discarded by human beings who are passing over from the state of purification into a higher existence, just as for physical perception there are physical corpses in the world in which men dwell.
After purification an entirely new state of consciousness begins for the ego. While before death the outer perceptions had to flow toward the ego in order that the light of consciousness might fall upon them, now, as it were, a world flows from within of which it acquires consciousness. The ego lives in this world also between birth and death. There, however, this world is clothed in the manifestations of the senses, and only there where the ego, taking no heed of all sense-perceptions, perceives itself in its innermost sanctuary is what otherwise appears veiled by the sense world revealed in its real form. Just as before death the self-perception of the ego takes place in its inner being, so after death and after purification the world of spirit in its plenitude is revealed from within. This revelation, in fact, takes place immediately after the stripping off of the ether body. But, like a darkening cloud, the world of desires, which are still turned toward the outer world, spreads out before it. It is as though dark demoniacal shadows, arising out of the passions “consuming themselves in fire,” intermingled with a blissful world of spiritual experience. Indeed, these passions are now not mere shadows, but actual entities. This becomes at once apparent when the physical organs are removed from the ego and it, therefore, can perceive what is of a spiritual nature. These creatures appear like distortions and caricatures of what the human being previously knew through sense-perception. Supersensible perception says about the world of the purifying fire that it is inhabited by beings whose appearance for the spiritual eye can be horrible and painful, whose pleasure seems to be destruction and whose passion is bent upon a spiritual evil, in comparison with which the evil of the sense world appears insignificant. The passions indicated, which human beings bring into this world, appear to these creatures as food by means of which their power receives constant strengthening. The picture thus drawn of a world imperceptible to the senses can appear less incredible if one for a moment observes a part of the animal world with unprejudiced eyes. For the spiritual gaze, what is a cruel, prowling wolf? What manifests itself in what the senses perceive in it? Nothing but a soul that lives in passions and acts through them. One can call the external form of the wolf an embodiment of these passions, and even if a person had no organs with which to perceive this form, he would still have to acknowledge the existence of the being in question, if its passions showed invisibly in their effects; that is, if a power, invisible to the eye, were prowling around by means of which everything could happen that occurs through the visible wolf. To be sure, the beings of the purifying fire do not exist for sensory, but for supersensible consciousness only; their effects, however, are clearly manifest: they consist in the destruction of the ego when it gives them nourishment. These effects become clearly visible when a well-founded pleasure increases to lack of moderation and excess, for what is perceptible to the senses would also attract the ego only in so far as the pleasure is founded in its own nature. The animal is impelled to desire only by means of that in the outer world for which its three bodies are craving. Man possesses nobler pleasures because a fourth member, the ego, is added to the three bodily members. But if the ego seeks for a gratification that serves to destroy its own nature, not to maintain and further it, then such craving can be neither the effect of its three bodies, nor that of its own nature. It can only be the effect of beings who, in their true form, remain hidden from the senses, beings who can set to work on the higher nature of the ego and arouse in it passions that have no relationship to sense existence, but can only be satisfied through it. Beings exist who are nourished by desires and passions that are worse than any animal passions, because they do not have their being in the sense world, but seize upon the spiritual and drag it down into the realm of the senses. For that reason the forms of such beings are, for supersensible perception, more hideous and gruesome than the forms of the wildest animals, in which only passions are embodied that originate in the sense world. The destructive forces of these beings exceed immeasurably all destructive fury existing in the visible animal world. Supersensible knowledge must, in this way, enlarge the human horizon to include a world of beings that, in a certain respect, stand lower than the visible world of destructive animals.
When man, after death, has passed through this world, he finds himself confronted by a world that contains the spirit, producing a longing within him that finds its satisfaction only in the spirit. Now too, however, he distinguishes between what belongs to his ego and what forms the environment of this ego, that is, its spiritual outer world. Only, what he experiences of this environment streams toward him in the way the perception of his own ego streams toward him during his sojourn in the body. While in the life between birth and death his environment speaks to him through his bodily organs, after all bodies have been laid aside the language of the new environment penetrates directly into the “innermost sanctuary” of his ego. The entire environment of the human being is filled with beings of like nature with his ego, for only an ego has access to another ego. Just as minerals, plants, and animals surround him in the sense world and compose that world, so after death he is surrounded by a world that is composed of beings of a spiritual nature. — Yet he brings with him into this world something that does not belong to his environment there, namely, what the ego has experienced within the sense world. Immediately after death, and as long as the ether body was still united with the ego, the sum of these experiences appeared in the form of a comprehensive memory picture. The ether body itself is then, to be sure, cast off, but something from this memory picture remains as an imperishable possession of the ego. What has thus been retained appears as an extract, an essence made from all the experiences that the human being has passed through between birth and death. This is life's spiritual yield, its fruit. This yield contains everything of a spiritual character that has been revealed through the senses. Without life in the sense world, however, it could not have come into existence. After death the ego feels this spiritual fruit of the sense world as its own inner world with which it enters a world composed of beings who manifest themselves as only his ego can manifest itself in its innermost depths. Just as the plant seed, which is an extract of the entire plant, develops only when it is inserted into another world — the earth, so what the ego brings with it out of the sense world unfolds like a seed upon which the spiritual environment acts that has now received it. If the science of the supersensible is to describe what occurs in this “land of the spirits,” It can indeed only do so by portraying it in pictures. Still, these pictures appear as absolute reality to supersensible consciousness when it investigates the corresponding occurrences imperceptible to the physical eye. What is to be described here may be illustrated by means of comparisons with the sense world, for although it is wholly of a spiritual nature, it has, in a certain respect, a similarity to the sense world. For example, just as in the world of the senses a color appears when an object impresses the eye, in the “land of the spirits,” when a spiritual being acts upon the ego, an experience is produced similar to one made by a color. But this experience is produced in the way in which, in the life between birth and death, only the perception of the ego can be produced in the soul's inner being. It is not as though the light struck the human inner being from without, but as though another being were acting directly upon the ego, causing it to portray this activity in a colored picture. Thus all beings of the spiritual environment of the ego express themselves in a world of radiating colors. Since their origin is of a different kind, these color experiences of the spirit world are, naturally, of a character somewhat different from the experiences of physical color. The same thing can be said of other impressions that the human being receives from the sense world. The impressions that resemble most those of the sense world are the tones of the spiritual world, and the more the human being becomes familiar with this world, the more will it become for him an inwardly pulsating life that may be likened to tones and their harmonies in sensory reality. These tones, however, are not experienced as something reaching an organ from outside, but as a force streaming through the ego out into the world. The human being feels the tone as he feels his own speaking or singing in the sense world, but he knows that in the spiritual world these tones streaming out from him are at the same time manifestations of other beings poured out into the world through him. A still higher manifestation takes place in the land of spirit beings when the tone becomes “spiritual speech.” Then not only the pulsing life of another spirit being streams through the ego, but a being of this kind imparts its own inner nature to this ego. Without that separation which all companionship must experience in the physical world, two beings live in each other when the ego is thus permeated by “spiritual speech.” The companionship of the ego with other spirit beings after death is really of this kind.
Three realms of the land of spirits appear before supersensible consciousness that may be compared with three regions of the physical sense world. The first region is the “solid land” of the spiritual world, the second, the “region of oceans and rivers,” the third, the “atmospheric region.” — What assumes physical form on earth so that it may be perceived by means of physical organs is perceived in its spiritual nature in the first realm of the land of spirit beings. For example, the force that gives the crystal its form may be perceived there, but what thus appears is the antithesis of the form it assumes in the sense world. The space, which in the physical world is filled with the stone mass, appears to spiritual vision as a kind of cavity. Around this cavity, however, the force is visible that gives form to the stone. The color the stone possesses in the physical world is experienced in the spiritual world as the complementary color. Thus a red stone appears greenish in the spirit land and a green stone, reddish. The other characteristics also appear In their complementary forms. Just as stones, earth masses, and so forth, make up the solid land — the continental regions — of the physical world, so the structures described above compose “the solid land” of the spirit world. — Everything that is life within the sense world is the oceanic region in the spirit world. Life to the physical eye is manifest in its effects in plants, animals, and men. Life to spiritual vision is a flowing entity that permeates the land of spirits like seas and rivers. A still better analogy is that of the circulation of the blood in the body, for whereas oceans and rivers appear irregularly distributed within the physical world, there is a certain regularity, like that of the circulation of the blood, in the distribution of this streaming life of the land of spirit beings. This flowing life is heard simultaneously as a spiritual entoning. — The third realm of the spirit land is its “atmosphere.” What appears in the sense world as sensation exists in the spiritual realm as an all-pervading presence like the earth's air. Here we must imagine a sea of flowing feeling. Sorrow and pain, joy and delight flow through this realm like wind or a raging tempest in the atmosphere of the sense world. Imagine a battle raging upon earth. Not only human forms confront each other there, forms that can be seen with the physical eyes, but feelings stand forth opposing feelings, passions opposing passions. The battlefield is filled with pain as well as with human forms. Everything that is experienced there of the nature of passion, pain, joy of conquest, is present not alone in its effects perceptible to the senses, but the spiritual sense becomes conscious of it as atmospheric processes in the land of spirits. Such an event in the spirit is like a thunder storm in the physical world, and the perception of these events may be likened to the hearing of words in the physical world. Therefore it is said that just as the air surrounds and permeates the earth beings, so do “wafting spiritual words” enclose the beings and processes of the spirit land.
There are still other perceptions possible in this spiritual world. What may be compared to warmth and light of the physical world is also present. What permeates everything in the spirit land, like warmth permeating earthly things, is the thought world itself, only here, thoughts must be imagined as living, independent entities. What is apprehended as thoughts in the physical world is like the shadow of what exists in the land of spirits as thought beings. If we imagine thought, as it exists in human beings, withdrawn from man and endowed as an active entity with its own inner life, then we have a feeble illustration of what permeates the fourth region of the spirit land. What man perceives as thoughts in his physical world between birth and death is only the manifestation of the thought world as it is able to express itself through the instrumentality of the bodies. But all such thoughts entertained by human beings, which signify an enrichment of the physical world, have their origin in this region. One need not think here merely of the ideas of the great inventors, of the geniuses. It can be seen how every person has sudden ideas that he does not owe merely to the outer world, but with which he transforms this outer world itself. Feelings and passions whose causes lie in the outer world have to be placed in the third region of the spirit land. But everything that can so live in the human soul as to make him a creator, causing him to transform and fructify his surroundings, is perceptible in its primeval, essential form in the fourth sphere of the spiritual world. — What exists in the fifth region may be compared with physical light. It is wisdom revealing itself in its innermost form. Beings belonging to this region shed wisdom upon their environment, just as the sun sheds light upon physical beings. What is illuminated by this wisdom appears in its true significance and meaning for the spiritual world, just as a physical object displays its color when it is shone upon by the light. — There exist still higher regions of the land of the spirits, descriptions of which will be found in a later part of this work.
After death, the ego is immersed in this world, together with the harvest that it brings with it from its life in the sense world. This harvest is still united with that part of the astral body that has not been thrown off at the end of the period of purification. Only that part falls away which after death was inclined with its desires and longings toward physical life. The immersion of the ego in the spiritual world, together with what it has acquired in the sense world, may be compared with the insertion of a seed into the ripening earth. Just as this seed draws substances and forces from its environment in order to develop into a new plant, so, too, unfolding and growth is the very essence of the ego being embedded in the world of spirit. — Within what an organ perceives lies hidden the force by means of which the organ itself is created. The eye perceives the light, but without the light there would be no eye. Beings that pass their lives in darkness develop no organs of sight. In this manner the whole bodily organism of the human being is created out of the hidden forces lying within what is perceived with these bodily members. The physical body is built up by the forces of the physical world, the ether body by those of the life world, and the astral body is formed out of the astral world. When the ego is now transplanted into the spirit land, it encounters those forces that remain hidden to physical perception. In the first region of the spirit land the spiritual beings are perceptible who always surround the human being and who have also fashioned his physical body. Thus in the physical world, man perceives nothing but the manifestations of those spiritual forces that have also formed his own physical body. After death, he is himself in the midst of these formative forces that now appear to him in their own, previously concealed, form. Likewise, in the second region he is in the midst of the forces composing his ether body. In the third region, forces stream toward him out of which his astral body has been organized. The higher regions of the spirit land also now impart to him what composes his form in his life between birth and death.
These beings of the spirit world now co-operate with what man has brought with him as fruit from the former life and what now becomes a seed. By means of this cooperation man is built up anew as a spiritual being. In sleep the physical and ether bodies continue their existence; the astral body and ego are, to be sure, outside of these two bodies, but still united with them. Whatever influences the astral body and the ego receive in this state from the spiritual world can only serve to restore the forces exhausted during the waking period. When the physical and ether bodies have been laid aside, however, and when, after the period of purification, those parts of the astral body that are still connected with the physical world through their desires are also laid aside, all that streams toward the ego from the spirit world now becomes not only a perfector, but a recreator. After a certain length of time, which will be discussed in later parts of this work, an astral body has formed itself around the ego; the former can again dwell in ether and physical bodies befitting the human being between birth and death. He can again pass through birth and appear in a new earth existence into which the fruit of the previous life has been incorporated. Up to the time of re-forming a new astral body, man is a witness of his own re-creation. Since the powers of the spirit land do not reveal themselves to him by means of outer organs, but from within, like his own ego in self-consciousness, he is able to perceive this revelation as long as his mind is not yet directed to an outwardly perceptible world. The moment, however, the astral body is newly formed, his attention turns outward. The astral body once more requires an external ether and physical body. It therefore turns away from the revelations of the inner world. For this reason an intermediate state now begins, during which man sinks into unconsciousness. Consciousness can only reappear in the physical world when the necessary organs for physical perception have been formed. During this period in which consciousness, illuminated by inner perception, ceases, the new ether body begins to attach itself to the astral body and the human being can then again enter into a physical body. Only an ego that has of itself produced life spirit and spirit man, the hidden, creative forces in the ether and physical bodies, would be able to take part consciously in the attachment of these two members. As long as man is not developed to this point, beings who are further advanced than he in their evolution must direct the attachment of these members. The astral body is led by such beings to certain parents, so that he may be endowed with the proper ether and physical bodies. — Before the attachment of the ether body is completed, something extraordinarily significant occurs for the human being who is re-entering physical existence. He has, in his previous life, created destructive forces that became evident when he experienced his life in reverse order after death. Let us take again the example suggested above. A person had caused someone pain in an outburst of anger in the fortieth year of his previous life. After death, he met this pain of the other person in the form of a force destructive to the development of his own ego. So it is with all such occurrences of his previous life. On re-entering physical life, these hindrances to evolution confront the ego anew. Just as at death a kind of memory picture of the past life arose before the human ego, now a pre-vision of the coming life presents itself. Again he sees a tableau, which this time displays all the hindrances he must remove if his evolution is to make further progress. What he thus sees becomes the starting point of forces that he must carry with him into a new life. The picture of the pain that he has caused another person becomes the force impelling the ego, on re-entering life, to make reparation for this pain. Thus the previous life has a determining effect upon the new life. The actions of this new life are in a certain way caused by those of the previous life. This orderly connection between a former and a later existence must be considered as the law of destiny. It has become the custom to designate this law by the name karma, a term borrowed from oriental wisdom.
The fashioning of a new corporeal organization is not the only activity that is required of the human being between death and a new birth. While this building up is taking place, man lives outside the physical world. But during this time the earth proceeds in its evolution. Within relatively short periods of time the earth changes its countenance. How did those regions, which at present are occupied by Germany, appear a few millennia ago? When man reappears in a new life, the earth as a rule presents quite a different appearance from the one it had in his previous life. While he was absent from the earth all sorts of changes have occurred. Hidden forces also are at work in this transformation of the face of the earth. Their activities proceed from the same world in which man dwells after death, and he himself must co-operate in this transformation of the earth. He can do so only under the guidance of higher beings, as long as he has not acquired, through the development of life spirit and spirit man, a clear consciousness concerning the relationship between the spirit and its expression in the physical. But he helps to transform the earthly conditions. It can be said that human beings, during the period between death and a new birth, transform the earth in such a way that its conditions harmonize with their own development. If we observe a particular spot on the earth at a definite point of time and observe it again after a long span, finding it in a fully changed condition, the forces that have wrought this change are the forces of the human dead. In this way men have a relationship with the earth also during the period between death and a new birth. Supersensible consciousness sees in all physical existence the manifestation of a hidden spirituality. For physical observation, it is the light of the sun, climatic changes, and similar phenomena that bring about the transformation of the earth. For supersensible observation, the forces of the human dead are active in the rays of light that fall upon the plants from the sun. By observing supersensibly one becomes aware of how human souls hover above the plants, how they change the surface of the earth, and so forth. The attention of the human being is not only turned upon himself and upon the preparation for his own new earth life; indeed, he is called upon to work spiritually upon the outer world, just as he is called upon to work physically in the life between birth and death.
Not only from the land of spirit beings does human life affect the conditions of the physical world, however, but, vice versa, all activity in physical existence has its effects in the spiritual world. An example will illustrate what happens in this respect. A bond of love exists between mother and child. This love arises out of an attraction between the two that has its roots in the forces of the sense world. But it changes in the course of time; a spiritual bond is formed more and more out of the sensory, and this spiritual link is fashioned not merely for the physical world, but also for the land of spirits. This is also true for other relationships. What has been spun in the physical world through spiritual beings remains in the spiritual world. Friends who have become closely united in life belong together also in the land of spirits and, after laying aside their bodies, they are in much more intimate communion than in physical life. For as spirits they exist for each other through the manifestation of their inner nature in the same way that the higher spiritual beings manifest their existence to one another through their inner nature, as we have described above, and a tie that has been woven between two people brings them together again in a new life. Therefore, in the truest sense of the word, we must speak of people finding each other again after death.
What has once taken place with a person, during the period from birth to death and then from death to a re-birth, repeats itself. Man returns to earth again and again when the fruit that he has acquired in one physical life has reached maturity in the land of the spirits. Yet, we must not think here of repetition without beginning and end, for the human being passed, at some time, from other forms of existence into those that take place in the manner described, and he will in the future pass on to others. A picture of these transitional stages will be presented when, subsequently, the evolution of the cosmos — in relation to man — is described from the standpoint of supersensible consciousness.
The processes that occur between death and a new birth are, naturally, still more concealed for outer sensory observation than the spiritual element that underlies manifest existence between birth and death. This sensory observation can see the effects of this part of the concealed world only where they enter into physical existence. The question for sensory observation is, whether the human being who passes through birth into life brings with him something of the processes described by supersensible cognition as taking place between a previous death and birth. if someone finds a snail shell in which no trace of an animal is to be seen, he will nevertheless acknowledge that this snail shell has come into existence through the activity of some animal and will not believe that it has been constructed in its form purely by means of physical forces. Likewise, a person who observes a living human being and finds something that cannot have its origin in this life, can admit with reason that it originates in what the science of the supersensible described, if thereby a clarifying light is thrown upon what is otherwise inexplicable. Thus intelligent sensory observation would be able to find that the invisible causes are comprehensible through their visible effects, and to anyone who observes this physical life entirely without prejudice, the above will appear — with every new observation — more and more convincing. It is only a question of finding the right standpoint for observing the effects in outer life. For example, where are the effects of what supersensible cognition describes as processes of the time of purification? How do the effects of the experiences that man undergoes manifest themselves after this time of purification in the purely spiritual realm, according to the evidence of spiritual research?
Problems enough force themselves into every earnest and deep consideration of life in this field. We see one person born in need and misery, equipped with only meager ability, and he appears to be predestined to a pitiable existence because of the conditions prevailing at his birth. Another will, from the first moment of his life, be cherished and cared for by solicitous hands and hearts; brilliant capacities unfold in him, he is cut out for a fruitful, satisfactory existence. Two contrasting points of view can be asserted in respect of such problems. The one adheres to what the senses perceive and what the intellect, bound to the senses, can grasp. This point of view sees no problem in the fact that one person is born to good fortune, the other to misfortune. Although such a point of view may not wish to use the word “chance,” still those who hold it are not ready to assume an interrelated web of laws that causes such diversities, and with respect to aptitudes and talents, this way of thinking adheres to what is said to be “inherited” from parents, grandparents, and other ancestors. It will refuse to seek the causes in spiritual events that man himself has experienced before his birth, and through which he has formed his capacities and talents, quite apart from the hereditary descent from his ancestors. — Another point of view will not feel satisfied with such an interpretation. It will hold that even in the outer world nothing occurs at a definite place or in definite surroundings without the necessity of presupposing a reason for the cause of it. Although in many instances these causes have not yet been investigated, yet they exist. An Alpine flower does not grow in the lowlands; there is something in its nature that unites it with the Alpine regions. Likewise, there must be something in a human being that causes him to be born in a definite environment. This is not to be explained by causes that lie merely in the physical world. To a serious thinker this must appear as though a blow dealt another should be explained not by the feelings of the aggressor, but rather by the physical mechanism of his hand. — Those who have this point of view must also be dissatisfied with all explanations of aptitude and talents as mere inheritance. Yet it may be said in this connection that obviously certain aptitudes continue to be inherited in families. During two and a half centuries musical aptitudes were inherited by the members of the Bach family. Eight mathematicians, some of whom in their childhood were destined for quite different professions, have appeared in the Bernoulli family. The “inherited” talents have always impelled them to take up the family profession. Furthermore, it can be shown through exact investigation of the line of ancestry of an individual that, in one way or another, the talents of this individual have appeared in the ancestors and that they present only a summation of inherited tendencies. The one having the second point of view mentioned will certainly not disregard such facts, but they cannot mean the same thing to him as to the other who rests his explanations solely upon the processes of the sense world. The former will point out that it is just as impossible for the inherited traits to sum themselves up into an entire personality as it is for the metal parts of a clock to form themselves into a clock. If the objection is made that the united activity of the parents can bring about the combination of traits and that this, as it were, takes the place of the clock-maker, he will reply, “Just look with impartiality at the completely new element in every child's personality; this cannot come from the parents for the simple reason that it does not exist in them.”
Unclear thinking can cause great confusion in this realm. The worst is if those having the first point of view previously stated look on those having the second as opponents of what is based upon “sure facts.” But these latter may not even think of denying the truth or the value of these facts. They also see quite clearly, for example, that a definite spiritual predisposition, even a spiritual direction, is “inherited” in a family, and that certain capacities summarized and combined in one descendant result in a remarkable personality. They are ready to admit that the most illustrious name seldom stands at the beginning, but at the end of a blood relationship. But those holding this view should not be blamed if they are forced to draw conclusions from these findings quite different from those of the persons who merely hold to the facts of the senses. The latter may be countered by saying that the human being certainly displays the attributes of his ancestors, for the soul-spirit element, which enters into physical existence through birth, takes its physical form from what heredity gives it. But by this, nothing else is said than that a being bears the qualities of the medium in which it is immersed. The following is certainly a strange and trivial comparison, but the unprejudiced mind will not deny its justification when it is said that the fact that a human being appears clothed in the traits of his forebears gives no more evidence of the origin of his personal characteristics than the fact that he is wet because he fell into the water gives evidence of his inner nature. It can be said further that if the most illustrious name stands at the end of a blood relationship covering many generations, it shows that the bearer of this name needed this blood relationship in order to form the body required for the development of his entire personality. It is, however, no proof whatsoever of the “inheritance” of the personal element itself; in fact, for a healthy logic, this fact proves just the opposite. If indeed the personal gifts were inherited, they would have to stand at the beginning of this series of generations and be transmitted to the descendants. But the appearance of a great endowment at the end of a human series proves that it is not inherited.
It is not to be denied that those who speak of spiritual causation in life often add to the confusion. They often speak too much in general, indefinite terms. When it is declared that the inherited attributes are summed up into the personality of a human being, this can certainly be compared with the statement that the metal parts of a clock have assembled themselves. But it must also be admitted that many statements about the spiritual world are similar to the declaration that the metal parts of a clock cannot assemble themselves so that the hands move forward; therefore something spiritual must be present that takes care of the forward movement of the hands. In respect of such an assertion, he builds on a firmer foundation who says, “Oh, I shall not trouble about such ‘mystical beings’ who advance the hands of the clock; I am trying to learn to understand the mechanical relationships that bring about this forward movement of the hands.” For it is not a question of merely knowing that behind such a mechanism as the clock, for example, there stands something spiritual — the clock-maker — but it is of significance only to learn to know the thoughts in the mind of the clock-maker that have preceded the construction of the clock. These thoughts can be found again in the mechanism.
All mere dreaming and imagining about the supersensible brings only confusion for they are incapable of satisfying the opponents. The latter are right when they say that such general references to supersensible beings are not an aid to the understanding of the facts. These opponents, it is true, may say the same thing about the definite indications of spiritual science. In this case, however, it can be shown how the effects of hidden spiritual causes appear in outer life. The following can be maintained: Suppose that what spiritual research has established by means of observation is true, namely, that man after death has passed through a period of purification and that he has experienced psychically during that time how a definite act, which has been performed in a previous life, is a hindrance to further evolution. While he was experiencing this, the impulse developed in him to rectify the consequences of this act. He brings this impulse with him into a new life, and it then forms the trait of character that places him in a position where this rectification is possible. Consider the totality of such impulses, and you have a reason for the destined environment in which a person is born. — The same may apply to another supposition. Again assume that what spiritual science says is true, namely, that the fruits of a past life are incorporated in the spiritual human seed, and that the land of the spirits in which this seed exists between death and rebirth is the realm in which these fruits ripen in order to appear again in a new life changed into talents and capacities, and to form the personality in such a way that it appears as the effect of what has been gained in a former life. — Anyone who makes these assumptions and, with them, observes life without prejudice will see that through them all facts of the sense world can be acknowledged in their full significance and truth, while at the same time everything becomes comprehensible that must remain forever incomprehensible to the one who, while relying only on physical facts, directs his attitude of mind toward the spiritual world. Above all, every illogical assumption will disappear, for instance the one mentioned above, that because the most important name stands at the end of a blood relationship series, the bearer of that name must have inherited his talents. Life becomes logically comprehensible by means of the supersensible facts communicated by spiritual science.
The conscientious truth-seeker who, without personal experiences in the supersensible world, wishes to find his way within the facts will, however, still be able to raise an important objection. For it can be asserted that it is inadmissible to assume the existence of any fact whatever simply for the reason that something that otherwise is inexplicable can thereby be explained. Such an objection is surely wholly without meaning for the one who knows the corresponding facts from supersensible experience. In the subsequent chapters of this work, the path will be indicated that can be traveled for the purpose of becoming acquainted, not only with other spiritual facts to be described here, but also with the law of spiritual causation as an individual experience. However, the above objection can, indeed, have significance for the person who is not willing to tread this path, but what can be said in refutation of this objection is also valuable for the one who has decided to take this path. For a person who accepts this in the right way has made the best initial step that can be taken on the path. — It is absolutely true that we should not accept something, the existence of which we do not otherwise know, simply because something, which otherwise remains incomprehensible, can be explained by it. In the case of the spiritual facts mentioned, however, the matter is quite different. If they are accepted, this has not only the intellectual consequence that life becomes comprehensible through them, but by the admission of these assumptions into our thoughts something else is experienced. Imagine the following case. Something happens to a person that arouses in him a feeling of distress. He can take this in two different ways. He can experience distress over the occurrence and yield himself to its disturbing aspects, even perhaps sink into grief. He can, however, take it in another way. He can say, “In reality, I have in a past life developed in myself the force that has confronted me with this event; I have, in fact, brought this thing upon myself,” and he can arouse in himself all the feelings that can result from such a thought. Naturally, the thought must be experienced with the utmost sincerity and all possible force if it is to have such a result for the life of feeling and sensation. Whoever achieves this will have an experience that can best be illustrated by a comparison. Let us suppose that two men get hold of a stick of sealing wax. One makes intellectual observations concerning its “inner nature.” These observations may be very clever; if there is nothing to show this “Inner nature,” one might easily reply that this is pure fantasy. The other, however, rubs the sealing wax with a cloth and then shows that it attracts small particles. There is a tremendous difference between the thoughts that have passed through the head of the first man, arousing his observations, and those of the second man. The thoughts of the first have no actual results; those of the second, however, have aroused a force, that is, something actual, from its concealment. — This is also the case with the thoughts of the human being who imagines that, through a former life, he has implanted into himself the power to encounter an event. This mere thought arouses in him a real force by means of which he can meet the event quite differently from the way he would have met it had he not entertained this thought. The inherent necessity of this event, which otherwise he might have considered merely due to chance, dawns upon him, and he will at once understand that he has had the right thought, for it had the force to disclose to him the facts. If a person repeats such inner processes, they become the means of an inner supply of strength and thus they prove their truth through their fruitfulness, and this truth becomes manifest gradually and powerfully. These processes have a healthy effect in regard to spirit, soul, and body; indeed, in every respect they act beneficially upon life. Man becomes aware that in this way he enters in the right manner into the relationships of life, whereas he is on the wrong path when he considers only the one life between birth and death. His soul becomes stronger because of this knowledge. — Such purely inner proof of spiritual causation can only be produced by each person himself in his own intimate soul life, but everyone can have such proof. Anyone who has not produced this proof cannot, of course, judge its power. Anyone who has produced it can no longer have any doubt about it. It is not surprising that this is so, for it is only natural that what is so intimately connected with man's innermost nature, his personality, can also be satisfactorily proved only by means of the most intimate experience. — The objection cannot be made, however, that each person must deal personally with such matters since they have to do with an inner experience of this kind, and that they cannot be the concern of spiritual science. It is true that each person must have the experience himself, just as each person must himself understand the proof of a mathematical problem. The means by which the experience can be attained, however, holds good for everyone, just as the method of proving a mathematical problem holds good for everyone.
It should not be denied that — aside from supersensible observations, of course — the proof by means of the forceproducing power of the corresponding thoughts just referred to, is the only one that holds its own if viewed with impartial logic. All other considerations are certainly important, but they all will possess something that offers a point of attack. To be sure, anyone who has acquired a sufficiently unprejudiced point of view will find something in the possibility and actuality of the education of man that has logically effective power of proof for the fact that a spiritual being is struggling for existence within the bodily sheath. He will compare the animal with the human being and say to himself that in the former, its normal characteristics and capacities appear at birth as something definite, which shows clearly how it is predestined by heredity and how it will develop in the outer world. See how the tiny chick from birth carries out vital functions in a definite way. In the human being, however, something enters into relationship with his inner life, through education, that can exist without any connection whatsoever with heredity, and he can make the effects of such outer influences his own. Anyone who teaches knows that forces from the inner being must come to meet such influences. If this is not the case, then all schooling, all education is meaningless. For the unprejudiced educator, there exists a clear-cut boundary between inherited characteristics and those inner human forces that shine through these characteristics originating in former earth lives. True, it is impossible to adduce “weighty” proofs for these things in the same way that certain physical facts may be demonstrated by means of the scales. But then, these things are the intimacies of life, and for the person who has a sense for such things, these impalpable evidences are likewise conclusive, even more conclusive than the obvious reality. That animals can be trained, that is, that they acquire qualities and faculties through education, offers no objection for the one who is able to see the essential thing. Aside from the fact that everywhere in the world transitions are to be found, the results of animal training do not fuse in like manner with the animal's personal nature, as is the case with human beings. It is even emphasized that the abilities the domestic animal acquires through training during its life with man, are inheritable, that is, that they have their effects in the species, not in the individual. Darwin describes how dogs fetch and carry without having learned to do so or having seen it done. Who would assert a similar thing in regard to human education?
There are thinkers who through their observation pass beyond the opinion that the human being is constructed from without purely through the forces of heredity. They rise to the idea that a spiritual being, an individuality, precedes physical existence and forms it. Many of them do not find it possible to comprehend that there are repeated earth lives, and that in the intervening existence between lives the fruits of the previous ones act cooperatively as formative forces. Let us mention one out of the list of such thinkers. Immanuel Hermann Fichte, son of the great Fichte, in his work Anthropology 2Hermann Fichte, Anthropologie, p. 528. Brockhaus, Leipzig, 1860. cites his observations that bring him to the following comprehensive conclusion:
The parents are not the producers of the child in the fullest sense of the word. They offer the organic substance, and not alone that, but at the same time the median, sensory soul element that expresses itself in temperament, in special soul coloring, in definite specification of impulses, and the like, the general source of which is ‘fantasy’ in that broader sense already proved by us. In all these elements of personality the mixture and peculiar union of the parent souls is unmistakable; there are good reasons, therefore, to explain these as purely a product of procreation; all the more so, if procreation is understood to be an actual soul process. We had to come to this conclusion. But the actual conclusive central point of the personality is lacking just here. For by means of a deeper, more penetrating observation we see that even those characteristics of mind and soul are only vestures and instruments for embracing the real spiritual, ideal aptitudes of man, capable of furthering or retarding them in their development, but in no way capable of bringing them into existence out of themselves.
And we read further:
Each person existed previously in accordance with his spiritual fundamental form, for spiritually considered, no individual resembles another any more than one species of animal resembles another. (see Note #3) 3Immanuel Hermann Fichte, Anthropologie
These thoughts only go so far as to permit a spiritual being to enter the physical corporeality of man. Since, however, this spiritual being's formative forces are not derived from the causes of a former life, each time that a personality comes into existence a spiritual being of this kind would have to emerge out of a divine primal fount. Assuming this to be true, there would be no possibility of explaining the relationship that exists between the aptitudes struggling forth out of the human inner being and what approaches this inner being in the course of life from the outer earthly environment. The human inner being, which in every individual would have to spring from a divine primal source, would have to stand as a complete stranger before what confronts it in earth life. Only then will this not be the case — and so it is indeed — if this human inner nature had already been united with the external world — in other words, if it is not living in this world for the first time. The unbiased educator can clearly make the observation, “I bring something to my pupil from the results of earth life that is indeed foreign to his merely inherited characteristics, yet is something that makes him feel as if he had already been connected with the work in which these results of earth life have their source.” Only repeated earth lives, in connection with the facts in the spiritual realm between these earth lives as presented by spiritual research, can give a satisfactory explanation of the life of present day humanity, considered from every point of view. — The expression, “present day” humanity, was intentionally used here, for spiritual research finds that there was a time when the cycle of earth lives began, and that at that time conditions different from those of the present existed for the spiritual being of man as it entered into the corporeal sheath. In the following chapters we shall go back to this primeval state of the human being. When it will have to be shown, from the results of spiritual science, how this human being has attained his present form in relation to the evolution of the earth, we shall then be able to point out still more exactly how the spiritual essential core of man penetrates into the physical body from supersensible worlds, and how the spiritual law of causation — “human destiny” — is developed.