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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Original Impulses for the Science of the Spirit
GA 96

XII. Karma Technique

22 October 1906 evening, Berlin

The ways of karma are easier to understand if we consider what happens to the human soul between death and a new birth. Today we’ll therefore discuss different prospects that open up along the road which the soul has to follow between death and a new birth. A picture should unfold of what happens to the soul after death. And as we can only gradually enter into these regions in our thoughts and get accustomed to them, it would indeed be useful to let such thoughts pass through the mind on more than one occasion.

To look at what happens to the soul after death we have to understand above all that the relationship the human being has to the worlds around him is then completely different. It is always good to draw the parallel between death and sleep. Human beings as we now have them before us are made up of different parts. First of all we have the physical body. The ether body is like an archetype behind it. In a way, this ether body is the creator of the physical body. There is relative justification in saying that the ether body resembles the physical body. It is mainly in its head region, the upper region, that the ether body is a kind of double of the physical body. The ether body is the basis of our temperament, and also of the ideas that become established in the mind. If an idea becomes a permanent part of a person, so that it is always to hand, this means it has imprinted itself in the ether body. The ether body provides the basis for memory, and the densest part of the ether body is the basis for our conscience.

The third part of the human being is the astral body, the basis for appetites and passions and wishes that arise from human needs. There is no sharp dividing line between the ether body and astral body.

The fourth part of essential human nature is the I. It holds the germ of the immortal human being, the spirit human being or atman, the life spirit or buddhi, and the spirit self or manas.

When a human being lies asleep in bed, the ether body and the physical body remain connected. The astral body is lifted out. During the night, pain and pleasure and all other sensations vanish because the astral body has separated from the physical body and so there can be no perception of them. It is different when a person goes through the gate of death. We then have a physical body that has just been left by the ether body. In sleep, the ether body does not leave the physical body, but it does do so in death.

After death the physical body dissolves either by decay or by being burned, and its parts are given back to the physical world. The astral body and the ether body remain connected for a time. This is an important moment in life after death. At the moment when the ether body separates from the physical body but remains connected with the astral body, the whole of life presents itself to the human soul as in a tableau of memories. This happens because the ether body sustains memory. For as long as the ether body remains connected with the physical body, our memory is tied to the powers of the physical body. When the ether body has been lifted out of the physical body after death, all of it comes up at once in the soul, like a tableau of memories.

To our ordinary way of thinking it is difficult to imagine how such a long span of time can be apparent to the soul in one and the same moment. But another element also plays an important role here. In the physical world, every event in life brings pain and pleasure, eagerness or reluctance. And when we look back on our lifetime, eagerness and reluctance come back to mind again. After death, however, pain and suffering have gone. The images are objective and do not cause pain; they do not evoke personal feelings. A tableau of memories of this kind can also come up in life on exceptional occasions, for instance in individuals who are about to die of drowning or are in danger of their life in some other way. The best people to cite as witnesses for this are those who don’t want to know about spiritual investigation in any real sense, for instance the Viennese criminal anthropologist Moriz Benedikt.77Benedikt, who by the way was a passionate mountaineer, had this experience not on a climbing trip but when he was about to drown. His description goes like this: 'From my childhood I had been very fond of water, and many of the things I experienced in connection with it stayed in my mind. I wanted to be a natural swimmer, and in the open-air Danube baths it happened that I went down. Fortunately I bumped into a post put there as a marker for bathers. It was no doubt scarcely 30 seconds that I had the feeling: I am drowning now. And I made the peculiar observation on myself that all life's memories passed before me at a tremendous speed within this short period. This observation is known in psychiatry, but few have had firsthand experience of it. I was 12 years old at the time.' Moriz Benedikt, Aus meinem Leben, Wien 1906, S. 35. He has told in his memoirs how on one occasion he was close to death on a mountaineering trip and how the whole of his life went through his mind at that moment. The phenomenon arises because something happens to the ether body when someone gets a major shock in life.

You know what it feels like when your hand goes to sleep. This is because the ether body has loosened. A clairvoyant is then able to see the fingers which have gone to sleep hang down limply from the hand, like a glove. Something like this also happens when you hypnotize someone. The clairvoyant then sees the ether head hang out of the physical head to the left and the right. When someone suffers a shock that touches the vitals, as in the case of drowning, his whole ether body is lifted out of the physical body. This then causes such a tableau of memories to appear.

A second death comes when the soul has lived in this memory picture for some time after death. The astral body with the I separates from the ether body. The ether body becomes part of the cosmic ether or the world of cosmic life in general, just as the physical body merges with the elements of the physical world. When the ether body first separates, it retains the form of the physical body for a time. You can see the ether body like a kind of spectre near the grave or somewhere else where the person has been. It has a tendency to stay close to the physical body.

We now need to see what happens to the astral body with the human being’s self-awareness. A particular kind of conscious awareness develops soon after the ether body has separated from the astral body. This is more powerful than ordinary dreaming. It enters into the reality of the astral world in a condition called kama loka, literally ‘desire world’. This does not refer to a place beyond the physical world, however. The worlds only differ in that one world is perceived with a different kind of organ from another. In the astral world, the human beings then lives surrounded by his astral body. It is a strange life he lives at this time. We can best understand it if we consider how the individual has lived until then.

Let us assume an average citizen of today has his favorite dish, something he really enjoys. This pleasure in his favourite dish is not in his physical body, for that merely takes in the food, in physical processes. Such physical processes may be chemical changes. But that is not the enjoyment of the food. The enjoyment is in the gourmet’s soul. It is the same with all pleasure and pain known to the soul. When the soul delights in beautiful colours or other things, a physical eye is needed if pleasure in the colour is to enter into the soul. The element in the soul that demands to be satisfied through the senses is kama. In the kama loka, the soul still thirsts for the pleasure but it no longer has the organs for this after death. The soul then develops an inner feeling of a particular kind. It may be compared to what happens in the soul if one walks through a desert where there is no well and suffers raging thirst. The condition after death is therefore due to the fact that one does not have the organs to satisfy one’s desires. The individual then experiences a raging thirst which will continue until all desire has gone. The more he has managed to free himself from the need to have his senses satisfied during life on earth, and the more he has made the beauty and the good of the world his own, things that are pure and independent of the body, the sooner will the time in kama loka be over. If he has already found his way into the world of the spirit, if the ideas and thoughts that are behind the world perceived by the senses have entered into his soul, the time in kama loka will be short.

Everything goes back to front on the astral plane, and things are the other way round, mirror images. Thus the figure 641 has to be read as 146 there. A passion which you produce comes towards you as an image, a wild animal, for example. In reality, however, this image comes from you yourself.

Human beings thus live once more through the physical life they have left behind, and do so in reverse. They live through the things that happened before death in reverse. This will take them back to childhood and they finally come free of all the things that tied them to physical life. The words ‘Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as does a child, there is no doubt that he shall not enter it,78Matth. 18:3; Mark 10: 15; Luke 18: 17. are fulfilled. The individual has reached the point where he was before he incarnated. He will be as a child again. With this, he is ready to return to the devachan.

There are two ideas we must make our own. We have to consider an inner sensation that becomes very intense at the moment of death. At the same time as they have the memory picture, the individuals feel themselves growing larger and larger. The images that surround them, images of their past life, also enlarge. Still being in their ether body, they grow into their environment, as it were. When the human being is in his ether body and has relived an event that happened fifty miles away, it will be as if he expanded as far as the scene of that event. If he’s been in America, he’ll feel himself expand as far as America. Human beings feel themselves growing larger and larger in their ether body.

In their astral body, on the other hand, they feel themselves to be divided up into many different parts. They do not experience the astral body as something that is connected in space. There are gall wasps, for instance, where the front part of the body and the abdomen are only connected by a very thin stalk.79Cynipidae, usually small or indeed tiny, dark hymenopters that lay their eggs in plant parts, causing them to produce galls. That is an example of how even in the physical world two parts that belong together may be connected by a very tenuous link. In the astral world it can happen that there is no link at all between two parts and yet the one belongs to the other and there is a definite feeling of their belonging together. In the astral body, human beings can be in all kinds of different places at once. If an individual going through kama loka has caused another person physical or mental pain at some time during life on earth, he will feel himself to be inside the other individual when he reaches that time in his journey back through life’s experiences and he will feel the pain of the other individual in his own astral body. All events and actions of the past life come up a second time in this mirror of inner sensations. This, too, is part of life in kama loka.

Let us sum up what has been said so far about life after death. The first thing is that everything we have experienced in life on earth passes before us without the individual feeling pleasure or pain. The second thing is that he goes through the suffering he has caused in reverse order. Two things remain for him. The substance of the ether body leaves him. but the powers of the ether body remain; an extract of all life’s experiences remains like a kind of residue. This extract absorbs the things he has done. He takes the experiences from the kama loka with him up into the devachan. The substance of which the human being must rid himself before entering into the higher life now separates off. The astral plane all around is full of astral corpses. This is the element the human being cannot take with him into the devachan. The astral corpse dissolves in the astral world.

To understand what a human being does in the devachan one must first of all consider the way life goes here on earth. The way we deal with life’s experiences here on earth is such that only an extremely small part is extracted; one could gain a great deal more from every event. This can be most clearly seen if we look at the matter the other way round. Remember, for instance, how you learned to write. This involved all kinds of experiences. They all condense into one thing—the ability to write. Something which initially occurred in an outward way in the world is transformed into an ability. All of life’s experiences hold that potential, that opportunity; they can later become abilities. Such is the transformation which takes place after death. When the individual is born again, much will show itself as ability or potential. The basic inner feeling on the devachan plane is that all life’s experiences are transformed into abilities. This gives a feeling of blessedness. A stream of blessedness then passes through the human being. The feeling may be compared to the one that goes through a hen’s soul when she hatches an egg. A soul always experiences a feeling of blessedness when it brings something forth. The higher the production, the higher the state of blessedness felt. This devachan feeling is no illusion. The relationships developed in this world are much more intense in the devachan than they are here. The barriers of space and time have gone. In this world one can truly enter wholly into another human being. The feeling a mother has for her child evolves from an animal level of feeling to become a moral relationship. Everything that is animal by nature drops away like scales during kama loka, and everything spiritual fills both entities in the devachan. All relationships that have developed here will be transformed with greater intensity in the devachan. When the human being has developed all that is necessary in the devachan, he is ready for a new birth.

All kinds of different forms and configurations exist in the astral world. One gets to know many different inhabitants on the astral plane. Thus there are forms that hasten through astral space at tremendous speed; they whirr through the astral world like bell—shapes. These are human beings on their way back to being born. When a human being has transformed all life's experiences into abilities in the devachan, he goes down to the astral world again. Just as a magnet attracts iron shavings, so do human beings gather the ether body for their next life as they return to the astral space. This happens with the help of other spirits. At the same time human beings are guided towards the parents who will be more or less right for the new incarnation. They can only be given the best possible body. Entering into the physical body happens not only from this one point of view, for the place and environment in which people develop is also determined. All this is determined by the things which they have done in the previous life on earth. The astral substance coming to them consists in the abilities they have gained. The ideas which have become an established part of the soul influence the configuration of the ether body. The ether body in its turn determined the nature of the physical body.

Now how do human beings come to be taken exactly into the situation into which they are taken when they incarnate again? Here we have to speak of mysterious influences around human beings. When someone has a thought, a wish, a sensation, these are initially experiences in the astral body. Inner feelings and thoughts that come to expression in the aura, are also forms on the astral plane. Anything human beings experience in the soul during physical life has a corresponding form in astral space. Physical experiences not only exist on the physical plane but also continue on the astral plane. Everything human beings experience deep down in the soul has its mirror image on the astral plane. Anything that is a quality of the ether body continues on the devachan plane. Just as every thought creates a form on the astral plane, so does every quality of the ether body evoke its counter image on the devachan plane. Our actions also have their counter images in higher worlds, and that means on the buddhi plane. Thus thoughts have their counter image on the astral plane, habits on the devachan plane, actions on the buddhi plane.

thoughts—astral plane
inclinations—devachan plane
actions—buddhi plane

Human beings are all the time populating the astral plane with thought forms, the devachan plane with forms that are their inclinations, the buddhi plane with reflections of their actions. All this is then around us all the time on the higher planes. That is one side of it. There is also another side. Imagine you have done something to someone, an action that has done him harm. During kama loka you experience this in yourself. The pain you then take with you as the pain you have experienced in the other individual becomes a power that is recorded on the buddhi plane. The unfolding of this power is prepared by being inscribed on the buddhi plane. Human beings are guided towards everything inscribed on the buddhi plane. Through the experiences that have come to them in kama loka they connect again with the consequences of their actions on the buddhi plane. Human beings are not yet able to live on the buddhi plane and therefore cannot do this themselves. They need guides. These are the Lipikas, the destiny gods.80See Steiner R. At the Gates of Spiritual Science (GA 95), lecture of 26 August 1906. Tr. E. Goddard, C. Davy. London: Rudolf Steiner Press 1986. They guide human beings to their destiny because they are not yet able to take hold of it themselves.