Between Death and Rebirth
1 April 1913, Berlin
We have undertaken to study the life between death and rebirth from certain points of view and the lectures given during the Winter 1As well as referring to Chapter III in the book Theosophy: An Introduction to the Supersensible Knowledge of the World and the Destination of Man in connection with this lecture, students are advised to turn to Occult Science — an Outline, Rudolf Steiner Press 1963 edition, Chapter III, pp. 74–101. (Note by translator.) endeavoured to present many aspects of this life; moreover it has been possible to make important additions to the more general descriptions contained in the books Theosophy and Occult Science — an Outline Today we shall occupy ourselves chiefly with the question: How is the information given, for example, in the book Theosophy on the subject of the life between death and rebirth related to what has been said in the course of the lectures given during the Winter?
In the book Theosophy there is a description of the passage of the soul after death through the Soul-World. This Soul-World is divided into a region of ‘Burning Desires’ (Begierdenglut), a region of ‘Flowing Susceptibility’ (fliessende Reizbarkeit), a region of ‘Wishes’ (Wunsche), a region of ‘Attraction and Repulsion’ (Lust und Unlust), and then into the higher regions of ‘Soul-Light’ (Seelenlicht), of ‘Active Soul-Force’ (tatige Seelenkraft), and the true ‘Soul-Life’ (das eigentliche Seelenleben). That was how the Soul-World through which the soul has to pass after death was described. Thereafter the soul has to pass through what is described as the Spiritland and this sphere, too, with its successive regions, is described in the book Theosophy by using certain earthly images: the ‘continental’ region of Spiritland, the ‘oceanic’ region, and so forth.
In the course of these lectures descriptions have been given of how the soul, having passed through the gate of death, lays aside the physical body, then the etheric body, and then expands and expands, lives through regions which for reasons that were explained may be called the region of the Moon, then that of Mercury, of Venus, of the Sun, of Mars, of Jupiter, of Saturn, and then of the starry firmament itself. The soul or, let us say, the actual spiritual individuality of the human being concerned, continually expands, lives through these regions which enclose ever more extensive cosmic spaces and then begins to contract, becoming smaller and smaller, in order finally to unite with the seed which comes to it from the stream of heredity. And through this union of the human seed which the individual acquired through heredity with what has been absorbed from the great macrocosmic spheres, there arises the human being who is to embark on the course of earthly life, the being who is to live through his existence between birth and death.
Now as a matter of fact, what was said in the book Theosophy and in the lectures was fundamentally the same, and your attention has been called to this. In Theosophy the description was given in certain pictures more closely related to inner conditions of the soul. In the lectures given here during the Winter the descriptions dealt with the great cosmic relationships connected with the functions of the several planets. It is now a matter of harmonising the two descriptions.
During the first period after death the soul has to look back upon what was experienced on Earth. The period of Kamaloka, or call it what you will, is a period during which the soul's life is still concerned entirely with earthly conditions. Kamaloka is fundamentally a period during which the soul feels bound to disengage itself gradually from any direct connections still persisting from the last incarnation on Earth. In the physical body on Earth the soul has experiences which depend upon the bodily life, indeed very largely upon sense-impressions. If you ‘think away’ everything that sense-impressions bring into the soul and then try to realise how much still remains in it, you will have a picture of a very meagre content indeed! And yet on final consideration you will be able to say: When the soul passes through the gate of death, everything given by the senses comes to an end and whatever is left can at most only be memories of earlier sense-impressions. If, therefore, you think about how much of what is yielded by sense-impressions is left in the soul, it will be easy for you to form an idea of what remains of these impressions after death. Recall any sense-impressions experienced, for example, yesterday, while they are still comparatively vivid, and you will realise how pale they have already become compared with their former vividness; that will give you some idea of how little of what the sense-impressions have conveyed is left to the soul as remembrance. This shows you that basically all the soul's life in the world of the senses is specifically earthly experience. When the sense-organs fall away at death, all significance of the sense-impressions falls away as well. But because the human being still clings to his sense-impressions and retains a longing for them, the first region through which he passes in the life after death is the region of Burning Desires. He would like still to have sense-impressions for a long time after death, but this is impossible because he has discarded the sense-organs. The life spent in longing for sense-impressions and being unable to enjoy them is life in the region of Burning Desires. It is a life that does actually burn within the soul and is part of the existence in Kamaloka; the soul longs for sense-impressions to which it was accustomed on Earth and — because the sense-organs have been laid aside — cannot have them.
A second region of the life in Kamaloka is that of Flowing Susceptibility. When the soul lives through this region it has already ceased to long for sense-impressions but still longs for thoughts, for thoughts which in life on Earth are acquired through the instrumentality of the brain. In the region of Burning Desires the soul gradually realises that it is nonsense to wish for sense-impressions in a world for the experience of which the necessary sense-organs have been discarded, a world in which no being can possibly have sense-organs formed entirely of substance of the Earth. The soul may long since have ceased to yearn for sense-impressions but still longs to think in the way that is customary on Earth. This earthly thinking is discarded in the region of Flowing Susceptibility. There the human being gradually recognises that thoughts such as are formed on Earth have significance only in the life between birth and death.
At this stage, when the human being has weaned himself from fostering thoughts that are dependent upon the physical instrument of the brain, he is still aware of a certain connection with the Earth through what is contained in his Wishes. After all, wishes are connected with the soul more intimately than thoughts. Wishes have their own distinctive colouring in every individual. Whereas thoughts differ in youth, in middle life and in old age, a particular form of wishing continues throughout a man's earthly life. This form and colouring of wishes are only later discarded in the region of Wishes. And then finally, in the region of Attraction and Repulsion, man rids himself of all longing to be connected with a physical body, with the physical body which was his in the last incarnation. While a man is passing through these regions, of Burning Desires, of Flowing Susceptibility, of Wishes, of Attraction and Repulsion, a certain longing for the last earthly life is still present. First, in the region of Burning Desires the soul still longs to be able to see through eyes, to hear through ears, although eyes and ears no longer exist. When the soul has finally cast off any such longing, it still yearns to be able to think by means of a brain such as was available on Earth. Having got rid of this longing too, there still remains the desire to wish with a heart as on Earth. Finally, the human being ceases to long for sense-impressions or for thoughts formed by his brain or for wishes of his heart, but a hankering for his last incarnation on Earth taken as a whole, still lingers. Gradually, however, he then rids himself of this longing too.
You will find that all the experiences in these regions correspond exactly with the passage of the expanding soul into the region called the Mercury sphere, an expansion through the Moon sphere into the Mercury sphere. On approaching the Mercury sphere, however, the soul encounters conditions described in the book Theosophy as a kind of spiritual region of the Soul-World. Read the description of the passage of the soul through this region and you will see from what is said about the kind of experiences undergone there that what is generally called the unpleasant element of Kamaloka already comes to an end in the region of Soul-Light. This region of Soul-Light corresponds with what I have said about the Mercury sphere. If you compare what was said about the life of the soul when it has expanded to the Mercury sphere with what is contained in the book Theosophy about the region of Soul-Light, you will realise that endeavours were made to describe this region first from the aspect of inner influences of the soul and then from the aspect of the great macrocosmic conditions through which the soul passes.
If you read what is said in Theosophy about the ‘Active Soul-Force’, you will realise that the inner experiences undergone in that region are in keeping with what is decisive during the passage through the Venus sphere. It has been said that if the soul is to pass in the right way through the Venus sphere it must have developed certain religious impulses during earthly life. In order to progress through the Venus sphere with companionship and not in compulsory isolation, the soul must be imbued with certain religious concepts. Compare what was said about this with the description given in the book Theosophy of the region of Active Soul-Force and you will find that they agree, that in one case the inner aspect of the conditions was described, in the other, the outer aspect.
The highest region of the Soul-World, the region of pure Soul-Life, is experienced by the soul in passing through the region of the Sun. So we can say that the sphere of existence in Kamaloka extends to and somewhat beyond the Moon sphere; then the more luminous regions of the Soul-World begin and extend to the sphere of the Sun. The soul experiences in the Sun sphere the region of true Soul-Life. We know that in the Sun sphere after death the soul comes into contact with the Light-Spirit, with Lucifer, who on Earth has become the tempter, the corrupter. When the soul has expanded into the cosmos it comes more and more closely into contact with those forces which now enable it to develop what is needed for the next incarnation on Earth. Not until the soul has passed through the region of the Sun has it finished with the last earthly incarnation. As far as the region of Attraction and Repulsion is concerned, that is to say the region between the Moon and Mercury, the soul is still burdened inwardly with yearning for the last life on Earth; moreover even in the regions of Mercury, Venus and the Sun the soul is not yet completely free from the ties of the last incarnation. But then it must finally have finished even with everything that transcends merely personal experience; in the Mercury region with whatever moral concepts have or have not been acquired, in the region of Venus with whatever religious conceptions have been developed, in the region of the Sun with whatever understanding has been acquired of the ‘human-universal’ quality in existence — that which is not confined to any particular religious creed but is concerned with a religious life befitting all mankind. Thus it is even the higher interests that can develop in the further evolution of humanity with which the soul has finished by the time it enters into the region of the Sun.
Then the soul passes into cosmic-spiritual life and finds its place in the Mars region. This region corresponds with what is described in Theosophy as the first sphere of the ‘Spiritland’. This description portrays the inner aspect of the fact that the soul is spiritual to the extent of being able to behold as something external to itself the ‘archetype’, as it were, of the physical bodily organisation and of physical conditions on the Earth in general. The archetypes of physical life on Earth appear as a kind of ‘continental’ mass of the Spiritland. The external configurations of a man's different incarnations are inscribed in this ‘continental’ region. There we have a picture of what, in terms of cosmic existence, the human soul has to experience in the Mars region. It might seem strange that this Mars region which has repeatedly been described in these lectures as a region of strife, of aggressive impulses until the beginning of the seventeenth century, should be said to be the first region of Devachan, of the true Spiritland. Nevertheless this is the case. Everything that on Earth belongs to the actual material realm and causes the mineral kingdom to appear as a purely material realm is due to the fact that on Earth the forces are engaged in perpetual conflict among themselves. This also led to the result that at the time when materialism was in its prime and material life was assumed to be the sole reality, the ‘struggle for existence’ was regarded as the only valid law of life on Earth. That is, of course, an error, because material existence is not the only form of existence evolving on Earth. But when the human being assumes embodiment on Earth he can only enter into the form of existence that has its archetypes in the lowest region of what is, for the Earth, the Spiritland. Read the description of the lowest region of Spiritland as given in the book Theosophy. I want to quote this particular chapter today in connection with our present studies. Towards the beginning of the description of the Spiritland you will find the following passage. 2See Section III.4 in Theosophy: An Introduction to the Supersensible Knowledge of the World and the Destination of Man, Rudolf Steiner Press, London, 1963.
“The development of the spirit in Spiritland takes place through the man throwing himself completely into the life of the different regions of this land.”
Thus as the result of our studies in the course of the Winter we could now say that from the Mars region onwards the human soul begins to live more deeply into spiritual conditions of existence.
“His own life as it were dissolves into each region successively; he takes on, for the time being, their characteristics. Through this they permeate his being with theirs, in order that his being may be able to work, strengthened by theirs, in his earthly life. In the first region of the Spiritland, man is surrounded by the spiritual archetypes of earthly things. During life on earth he learns to know only the shadows of these archetypes which he grasps in his thoughts. What is merely thought on the earth is in this region experienced, lived. Man moves among thoughts; but these thoughts are real beings.”
Again, a little later:
“Our own embodiments dissolve here into a unity with the rest of the world. Thus here we look upon the archetypes of the physical, corporeal reality as a unity, to which we have ourselves belonged. We learn, therefore, gradually to know our relationship, our unity, with the surrounding world, by observation. We learn to say to it: ‘That which is here spread out around thee, thou art that.’ And that is one of the fundamental thoughts of ancient Indian Vedanta wisdom. The sage acquires, even during his earthly life, what others experience after death, namely, ability to grasp the thought that he himself is related to all things, the thought, ‘Thou art that’. In earthly life this is an ideal to which the thought-life can be devoted; in the Land of Spirit it is an immediate reality, one which grows ever clearer to us through spiritual experience. And man himself comes to know more and more clearly in this realm that in his own inner being he belongs to the spirit-world. He is aware of himself as a spirit among spirits, a member of the Primordial Spirits, and he will feel in his own self the word of the Primordial Spirit: ‘I am the Primal Spirit.’ (The Wisdom of the Vedanta says, ‘I am Brahman’, i.e. ‘I belong to the Primordial Being in Whom all beings have their origin’.)”
From this passage it is clear that when, during the life between death and rebirth man enters into the Mars region, he grasps the full significance of the saying, ‘Tat tvam asi’, ‘Thou art that’, and of the other saying, ‘I am Brahman’. ‘Tat tvam asi’, ‘Thou art that’, is only an earthly rendering of what is a self-evident experience in the Mars region, the lowest region of Spiritland. If we now ask whence the wisdom of ancient India derived the deeply significant affirmations, ‘Tat tvam asi’, ‘Thou art that’, ‘I am Brahman’, we have now identified the region in question and those Teachers in ancient India are revealed to us as beings belonging to the Mars region but transferred to the Earth. To what was said years ago in the book Theosophy about the Mars region, the lowest region of Devachan, there can now be added what we have heard in these lectures. Namely, that at the dawn of the modern age the Buddha was transferred to this same region, the Mars region. Half a millennium before the Mystery of Golgotha, the Buddha — regarded as one who was to prepare spiritually for this Mystery — had come to the Earth, to the territory where Mars wisdom had been proclaimed since times primeval. And centuries after the Mystery of Golgotha he was, as we know, sent by an act of Rosicrucian wisdom to the Mars region in order to continue working there. (See Lecture Five.) In ancient times Brahmanism belonged intrinsically to the Mars region of the Cosmos. At the beginning of the seventeenth century after the Mystery of Golgotha, Brahmanism passed over into the Buddha-impulse and the reflection of this on Earth was the absorption of Brahmanism into Buddhism in the cultural life of India.
What takes place on Earth, therefore, is in a wide and ample sense an image of happenings in the Heavens.
If you have read the chapter in Theosophy which deals with what you now know to be the Mars region and in which a self-evident expression is the ‘I am Brahman’, you will be able, if you read that chapter again, to picture how an event here on Earth is also an event in a region of the Cosmos, how this event can be understood, and how the Buddha-impulse as a cosmic happening is related to the circumstances described in the relevant chapter of that book. We shall realise that our studies during the Winter were closely linked with the theosophical work we began more than ten years ago. We then described the ‘Spiritland’ and a ‘continental’ mass of Spiritland; the lowest region of Spiritland was characterised in relation to the inner life of the soul. The description given was such that if you have understood it, you will realise that the Buddha-impulse has its place in the lowest region of Spiritland as described in these lectures. Here is an example of how the details of spiritual research harmonise with each other.
If we now pass on to consider the cosmic aspects of the second region of Spiritland as described from the inner point of view of the soul, we shall find that this second region, the ‘oceanic’ region of Spiritland corresponds with the Jupiter region. Further, if we pass to the third region of Devachan, the ‘Airy’ region of Spiritland, we shall find that it corresponds with the influences of the Saturn region. What was described in Theosophy as the fourth region of Spiritland already extends beyond our planetary system. There the soul expands into still wider spaces, into the starry firmament itself. From the descriptions that were given from the inner standpoint of the soul, it will be quite clear to you that the experiences of the soul in the fourth region of Spiritland could not be undergone in any realm where the spatial relationship to the Earth is still the same as that of the planetary system. There is something so utterly foreign in what is conveyed by the fourth region of Spiritland that it can never correspond with what can be experienced even within the outermost planetary sphere, the Saturn sphere.
Therefore the soul passes into the starry firmament, that is to say into distances more and more remote both from the Earth and also from the Sun. These distant realms are described in the account of the three highest regions of Spiritland traversed by the soul before it begins to draw together again and to pass, in the reverse order, through all the preceding conditions. On this journey the soul acquires the forces by means of which it can build up a new life on Earth.
In general it can be said that when the soul has passed through the Sun region it has finished with every element of ‘personality’. What is experienced beyond the Sun region, beyond the region of Soul-Life in the true sense, is spiritual; it transcends everything that is personal. What the soul then experiences as ‘Thou art that’ — and especially in our time as the Buddha-impulse in the Mars region — is something that seems strange here on Earth, though it is not so on Mars; it is the impulse denoted by the word ‘Nirvana’. This means liberation from everything that is significant on the Earth, for the soul begins to realise the great cosmic significance of universal space. In living through all this the soul emancipates itself entirely from the element of personality. In the Mars region, the lowest region of Spiritland, where the soul acquires understanding of the ‘Thou art that’, or, as we should put it today, receives the Buddha-impulse, it frees itself from everything that is earthly. After the soul has become inwardly free of this — and the Christ Impulse is needed here — it also liberates itself spiritually by recognising that all ties of blood are forged on Earth and therefore belong by nature to the Earth. But the soul then passes on to new conditions.
In the Jupiter region, conditions which force the soul into some particular creed are dissolved. We have heard that the soul can pass through the Venus region with companionship only if it had adopted a creed; without religion in some form it would be lonely and isolated. We have also heard that the soul can pass through the Sun region only when it has learnt to understand the creeds of all religions on the Earth. In the Jupiter region, however, the soul must liberate itself entirely from the particular creed to which it belonged during life on Earth. This was not an essentially personal attachment but something into which it was born and was shared in company with other souls. Thus the soul can pass through the Venus region only if it has acquired religious ideas in earthly life; it can pass through the Sun region only if it has developed some measure of understanding of all such beliefs. The soul can pass through the Jupiter region only if it is able to liberate itself from the particular confession to which it belonged on Earth; merely to understand the others is not enough. For during the passage through the Jupiter region it will be decided whether in the next life the soul will have to be connected with the same creed as before, or whether it has experienced everything that can be offered by one particular creed. In the Venus sphere the soul garners the fruits of a particular faith; in the Sun sphere the fruits of an understanding of all forms of religious life; but when it reaches the Jupiter region the soul must be able to lay the foundation for a new relationship to religion during the next life on Earth.
These are three stages experienced by the soul between death and the new birth: first it experiences inwardly the fruits of the faith to which it belonged in the last life; then the fruits of having developed the capacity to appreciate the value of all other religious beliefs; and then it must free itself so completely from the beliefs held in the last life that it can wholeheartedly adopt a different religion. This cannot be achieved by attaching equal value to all creeds; and we know that on its return journey through these regions the soul comes once again into the Jupiter region and there prepares the traits enabling it to live in the fullest sense in a different religion in the next life. In this way the forces which the soul needs in order to shape a new life are gradually impressed into it.
If you now read what is said in the book Theosophy about the third region of the Spiritland, the ‘airy’ or ‘atmospheric’ region, you will find again what has been said here in connection with the Saturn region. In this region, companionship and the avoidance of terrible loneliness is possible only for souls already able to exercise a certain degree of genuine self-knowledge, of completely unbiased self-knowledge. Only by being able to put self-knowledge into practice can the soul find entrance to the regions beyond Saturn, therefore even beyond our solar system and leading into that cosmic life from which souls must bring the qualities that ensure progress on the Earth. If souls were never able to live in companionship in realms beyond the Saturn region progress on Earth would not be possible. Think, for example, of the individuals sitting here today. If the souls incarnated in the world at the present time had never passed beyond the Saturn region between death and rebirth, culture on Earth would still be at the stage reached, for example, in the epoch of Ancient India. The Ancient Indian culture was able to progress to that of ancient Persia only because in the intervening periods souls had passed beyond the Saturn region; and again, the progress from Ancient Persian culture to Egypto-Chaldean culture was made possible by impulses for progress brought into the Earth from the realms beyond the Saturn region. What human beings have contributed to the progress of culture on Earth has been gathered by their souls from realms beyond the Saturn region.
The external progress of mankind originates in the new impulses brought from beyond the Saturn region; in this way the various culture-epochs progress and new impulses take effect. But as well as this there is the stream of inner experiences which is to be distinguished from the progress of external culture and has its ‘centre of gravity’ in the Mystery of Golgotha. When we know that the stream of experiences in man's inner life of soul on Earth has its centre of gravity in the Mystery of Golgotha, while on the other hand this Mystery of Golgotha is connected with the Sun region, a question arises; it is a question that might well occupy our minds for a very long time but we will at least consider it today. It is good that on the basis of what can already be found in lectures and lecture-courses, we should be able to form our own thoughts about such questions — thoughts which can then be rectified by reports of investigations given here.
On the one hand we have the fact that Christ is the Sun Spirit who united Himself with the life of the Earth through the Mystery of Golgotha. You will find the most detailed account of this in the lecture-courses entitled The Gospel of St. John — in its Relation to the Other Three Gospels, particularly to the Gospel of St. Luke, given in Kassel, and From Jesus to Christ. And now we have heard of the other fact, namely that all external progress on Earth from one culture-epoch to the next is dependent upon influences from beyond the Saturn region. A question arises here: Progress on Earth from one culture-epoch to another is dependent upon influences connected with a world beyond the Saturn sphere — a world altogether different from the one where progress is brought about by the stream of spirituality that flows through the evolution of humanity, that approached humanity in ancient times, has its centre of gravity in the Mystery of Golgotha and thereafter took its course in the way often described. How do these two facts harmonise? The truth is that they harmonise completely.
You need only picture to yourself that our Earth evolution as it is today was preceded by the earlier incarnation of the Earth, namely Old Moon. Now think of Old Moon as we have often described it, followed by the present Earth. Midway in the process of evolution between Old Moon and Earth something like a condition of cosmic sleep took place. During the transition from Old Moon to Earth, everything that had existed on Old Moon passed into a kind of germinal state from which, at a later stage, everything in existence on Earth came forth. But all the planetary spheres also came forth from that cosmic sleep. During the epoch of Old Moon, therefore, the planetary spheres were not in the state in which they exist today. Old Moon passes into the cosmic sleep and out of this condition the planetary spheres develop into what they now are. Everything that evolved in the Cosmos between the era of Old Moon and that of the Earth is contained within the range of the Saturn sphere. The Christ Impulse, however, does not belong to what evolved in the Cosmos during the period of transition from Old Moon to Earth, but it already belonged to the Old Sun and remained in the Sun sphere when Old Moon eventually separated from it. The Christ Impulse continued to evolve onwards towards the Earth but remained united with the Sun sphere after the Saturn sphere, the Jupiter sphere and so forth, had separated from it. And so, in addition to what the human soul was, before the Mystery of Golgotha, it now has within it something that is more than all that is contained in the planetary spheres, something that is founded in the depths of the Cosmos, that does indeed come over from Sun to Earth but belongs to far deeper regions of the spiritual world than do the planetary spheres. For these planetary spheres are a product of what took place when Old Moon evolved to become Earth. What streams to us from the Christ Impulse, however, comes from Old Sun which preceded Old Moon.
From this we realise that external culture on Earth is connected with the Cosmos, whereas the inner life of soul is connected in a much deeper sense with the Sun. Thus in all these connections — in their spiritual aspect too — there is something of which the following can be said: When we look out into the stellar spheres there is revealed to us, as it were outspread in space, a world that is embodied in culture on Earth because souls of men have entered into these stellar spheres between death and rebirth; but when we gaze at the Sun we behold something that has become what it is today because behind it there is an infinitely long period of evolution. In an age when it was not yet possible to speak of a connection between culture on Earth and the stellar worlds as can be done today, even then the Sun was already united with the Christ Impulse. Thus everything brought from the stellar worlds for the promotion of culture on the Earth is to be regarded as a kind of Earth-body which needed to be — and actually was — ensouled by what came to the Earth from the Sun, namely by the Christ Impulse. The Earth was ensouled when the Mystery of Golgotha took place; it was then that culture on Earth received its ‘soul’.
The death on Golgotha was only seemingly a death; in reality it was the birth of the Earth-Soul. And everything that can be brought to the Earth from cosmic expanses, also from beyond the Saturn sphere, is related to the Earth-Sphere as the Earth-Body is related to the Earth-Soul.
These reflections can show us that the presentation given in the book Theosophy — in rather different words and from a different point of view — contains what has been described as the cosmic aspect in the lectures given this Winter. You need only be reminded that in the one case the account is given from the point of view of the soul, and in the other from that of the great cosmic conditions, and you will find that the two descriptions are in complete harmony.
The conclusion which I should like to be able to draw from these lectures is that you realise how vast is the range of Spiritual Science and that its method must be to gather from every possible side whatever can throw light on the nature of the spiritual world. Even when additions are made to what had been said years ago, there need be no contradiction, for what is said is not the outcome of any philosophical argument or reflective thinking, but of occult investigation. Yellow today will still be yellow ten years hence, even though the essential quality of yellow as a colour is grasped for the first time ten years later. What was said years ago still holds good, although light is shed upon it from the new points of view which it has been possible to contribute during last Winter.