Monday, March 28, 2011
The Astral World and the Kingdom of Heaven
Theosophy and Rosicrucianism, lecture 4 of 14
Rudolf Steiner, June 19, 1907, from the notes of a member of the audience:
Since it is our task today to continue following man's destinies in the spiritual world, it will be advisable if we first form some idea of what we designate as a world, in the spiritual-scientific meaning.
We are conscious of the world 'round about us, because we have certain capacities and organs which enable us to perceive it. If we had other organs, this world would present an entirely different aspect. For example, if a man had no eyes enabling him to see the light, but an organ enabling him instead to perceive electricity, then he would not see this room flooded with light, but he would perceive electricity in every wire, flashing, streaming through it. — The world 'round about us, what we call our world, is therefore dependent upon our sense-organs.
The astral world, too, is nothing but a sum of phenomena, which the human being experiences in his environment, when he has severed himself from his physical body and from his etheric body, so that he can use forces enabling him to see what he cannot otherwise see. This is the case,when he has discarded his physical body and his etheric body. The perceptive organs for the astral world are the organs of the astral body, analogous to the sense-organs of the physical body.
Let us now contemplate the astral world.
Through methods which will be discussed later, a man endowed with spiritual vision can perceive the astral world even here, in his physical body. The astral world differs greatly from our physical world. You may obtain some idea of what is 'round about you in the astral world, if you summon up before your soul the life of dreams, which is the last trace of that early clairvoyance which man once possessed in times gone by. You all know this life of dreams from your own experience, as a world of chaotic images. How does it come about that man dreams at all? We know that while we dream, the physical body and the etheric body lie on the bed, while the astral body soars above them. In a sound, dreamless sleep, the astral body is completely lifted out of the etheric body; but in a sleep filled with dreams, certain tentacles of the astral body still reach into the etheric body, and this enables man to perceive the more or less confused pictures of the astral world.
The astral world is as transparent as the dream-pictures; it is, as it were, woven out of dreams. But these dreams which constitute the astral world differ from ordinary dreams, for they are the images of a reality, just as “real” a reality as the physical world. We perceive this reality in the same way we perceive dreams, for the astral world, too, is perceived symbolically. You all know that the world of dreams is a symbolical world. Everything from the world outside which enters our sleep takes on a symbolical aspect in our dreams. I will give you a few typical examples of dreams, which will show you how a simple impression from outside constitutes the foundation of a dream's symbolical image.
For example, you may be dreaming that you have caught a frog. You feel its slippery body, and on waking up you find that you are holding the cold end of the sheet in your hand. Or you may dream that you are in a cellar, in a dark hole full of spiders' webs: You wake up ... with a headache. Or you may see snakes in your dream, and when you awake you will find that you have abdominal pains. Or another dream: An academician has a long dream of a duel, beginning with some insult and ending with the pistol-shot: He hears the shot, awakes, and discovers that a chair has fallen.
The whole course of this last dream can also show you that the conditions of time are quite different in dreams. Not only does time run backwards, so to speak, but the whole conception of time loses its meaning in a dream. During a dream, we may pass through a whole life in the fraction of a second, in the same way in which our whole life passes before our soul's eye during the moment of drowning, or crashing. The point to be borne in mind in all these dream-pictures is that the cause which gave rise to them appears in the form of IMAGES.
This is the case in the astral world. Its images can be interpreted. The same astral experience always appears in the form of the same image; there is always regularity and harmony in these pictures of the astral world, whereas our ordinary dreams are chaotic. In the end, we can find our way about in the astral world just as well as in the physical world.
The astral world is woven out of such pictures, but they are the expression of soul-beings. After death all human beings are enveloped in such pictures, which are in part very rich in color and form. Also when we are asleep the astral body can be seen in the midst of streaming, changing forms and colors. If we have the astral power of vision, we can perceive these astral beings in a surging sea of colors.
The astral world has, however, one peculiar quality, which appears strange to one who hears this for the first time. In the astral world everything exists, as it were, in the form of a picture reflected in a mirror, and a pupil of spiritual science must therefore get accustomed little by little to see things in the RIGHT way. For instance, you may see the number 365, but this really corresponds to 563. This applies to everything which we see in the astral world. There, everything that goes out of our own being appears as if it were coming towards us. It is most important to consider this fact.
When astral images arise, for instance, in pathological conditions, we must know how to deal with them. They often appear when people are delirious; a delirious person often sees all kinds of faces and forms rushing towards him, for the astral world becomes accessible to him in this pathological condition. Although these astral pictures seem to be rushing towards him, they are in reality streaming out of him. Progressive doctors should bear this in mind, for in future such symptoms will be more and more frequent, arising out of a concealed religious longing. The subject of a painting such as for instance, the well known “Temptation of Saint Anthony” is based on such astral experiences.
If you think these things through to the very end you will no longer find it strange that time too is reversed in the astral world. An echo of this may be found in dreams. In this connection you should remember the above-mentioned example of the duel in a dream. In the astral world everything is reversed; even time. When we observe the development of a tree astrally, we first perceive its fruit, then its blossoms, and so on backwards to the seed.
After death, during the time in which we must lose our earthly habits, our whole life in the astral world runs backwards. But this process of living through our whole life once more backwards, concluding with our first impressions of childhood, is faster than the one on the physical plane; it lasts about one third of the duration of our life on earth. Thus we live through our life again in a reversed order, but we experience many other things too.
Let us suppose that you were eighty years old when you died, and that now you live through your life backwards as far as your fortieth year. At that time you may, for instance, have boxed someone's ear, thus causing him pain. In the astral world this sensation of pain also appears as if in a mirror, i.e. YOU now experience the pain felt by the other person when you boxed his ear. But this also applies to every pleasant experience.
Only when the human being has thus passed through his whole life backwards is he ready to enter the heavenly world. Religious traditions should always be taken literally. If you bear in mind what I have just now explained to you, you will easily understand that the human being can only enter the spiritual world — and the spiritual world is the one which the Bible designates as “the Kingdom of Heaven” — when he has lived through his whole life backwards as far as infancy. This lies at the foundation of Christ's words: “Unless you become as little children you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven”. For on reaching the stage of childhood in his reversed passage through life, the human being discards the astral body and enters the spiritual world.
Now I must give you a description of the spiritual world. The Kingdom of Heaven differs from the physical world even more than the astral world. But since it is only possible to describe the spiritual world with expressions taken from the physical world, it should be borne in mind even more than for descriptions of the astral world that everything I say about the spiritual world should only be taken comparatively.
In the Kingdom of Heaven we also find a triad, as here on Earth. Even as upon the Earth we find the three aggregate states of solid, liquid, and gaseous, and accordingly divide the Earth into continents, oceans, and atmosphere, so we may also distinguish three similar spheres — but, as stated, only as a comparison — in the spiritual realm. The continental sphere, however, consists of something which differs from our rocks and stones. What constitutes the firm ground of the spirit realm are the archetypal images of the physical world. For everything physical has its archetype, even man. The clairvoyant seer perceives these archetypal images as a kind of negative, that is to say, he sees space as a kind of shadow-form, and round about it radiant light. But corresponding, for instance, to the blood and nerves, these shadows are not uniform. But a stone or a mineral reveal in their archetypal images a uniformly empty space surround by raying light.
Even as you walk on firm ground here on Earth, so in the spiritual realm you walk on the archetypal images of physical things. This forms the continents of the spiritual world.
When the human being first sets foot on these continents, a definite aspect always presents itself to him: It is the moment when he first has a clear perception of his own body lying before him. For he himself is spirit. Normally this takes place about thirty years after death, and this is connected with the fundamental experience: “This is you.” The Vedanta philosophy based one of its fundamental teachings on this knowledge, the “Tat twam asi” — this is you. All such expressions are drawn out of a deep spiritual knowledge.
The second sphere of the spiritual realm is the oceanic sphere. Whatever is life here in the physical world, i.e. everything that possesses an etheric body, exists in the spiritual realm as if it were a liquid element. Streaming, surging life flows through the spirit-realm. It even collects like the waters of the ocean, in a kind of ocean-basin, or to be more precise, like the blood streaming through the veins and collecting in the heart.
And thirdly we have the atmosphere of the spirit realm, consisting of all the passions, instincts, feelings, etc. You have all these sensations up there as an external perception, resembling the atmospheric phenomena here on Earth. All this blows through the atmosphere of Devachan. As a clairvoyant, you can perceive in the spirit-realm all the sufferings and joys experienced on Earth. Every passion, every feeling of hatred and such like, appears in the spirit-realm as if it were a storm. A battle, for example, appears in such a form that in the Devachan world the seer experiences a tremendous storm. The whole spiritual world is thus permeated with wonderful joys which pass through it, but also with terrible passions.
In the same way it is possible to speak of spiritual ears. When you have advanced to the stage of having an insight into the Devachan world, you may both see and hear these floating phenomena, and what you thus hear is the HARMONY OF THE SPHERES.
We have thus characterized the spiritual region up to this stage. But there is a fourth region in Devachan. Up to now we have found in it:
1. The prototypes of all physical forms; as the continents
2. The prototypes of all life, as the oceans
3. The prototypes of all soul-life, feelings, etc., as the atmosphere
Now, there is something in human life which cannot have its origin in the external world, and its spiritual content constitutes the fourth sphere of Devachan. There we find every original idea, going as far as the creative productions of genius. All that is original — that is to say, all that man puts into the world, thus enriching the world — the prototypes of all these creations form the fourth sphere of Devachan. This concludes the description of the lower parts of Devachan.
Beyond this there are three higher spheres, but during his physical life man can only reach them through a higher initiation. They are only accessible to an initiate, and after death they can only be perceived by more highly developed individuals.
What does such an advanced initiate experience when he penetrates into the next higher sphere of Devachan? At first he experiences that which is designated in Occult Science as the Akasha Chronicle. Everything that occurs in the world and that has ever occurred in it in the past is preserved as an impression in a fine substantiality, which is imperishable.
Let me illustrate this through at example: Now I am speaking to you, but you would not hear me if my voice were not able to produce vibrations in the air. Thus every word which I utter exists in the air in the form of fine movements. These fine movements of course vanish, but everything which occurs here on Earth becomes impressed in that fine substantiality which we experience when reaching the spiritual world. This impression is everlasting. Every word, every thought, everything which has ever taken place in humanity can be read in the Akasha Chronicle. This entails either initiation, or that moment after death when the human being enters the higher devachanic sphere, that is to say, when he has developed so far as to perceive this high sphere of Devachan after death. In that case he is able to look into the past.
The Akasha Chronicle is a writing which preserves everything that has ever occurred. But it is not really a writing in the ordinary physical meaning, for it consists of images. You see, for example, Caesar in every situation of his life — you do not see what he has done, but the inner impulses which led him to his deeds. These Akasha pictures possess a high degree of life, and if we cannot interpret them in the right way they can give rise to great delusions. The source of many spiritistic aberrations is, for example, the appearance of an Akasha picture at one of these seances. If you summon Goethe, and the Akasha picture of November 25, 1797 appears before you, giving you information concerning some question, this picture will reply as Goethe would have replied had he been asked that question on November 25, 1797. Only those who really know the spiritual world can judge whether they are dealing with a reality or with a shadow. These descriptions can show you what aspect the higher spheres of the spiritual world present.
The first experience is therefore the perception of one's own body, and this experience is the starting point for all other experiences. The human being feels strongly that he has emancipated himself from his bodily involucres, for the most blissful of moment is the one in which he discards the last body, the astral corpse. Even as a plant wedged in the fissure of a rock would experience it as bliss to be freed, so this feeling of blissfulness becomes a fundamental sensation of the human being. It permeates him and transfigures the other feelings which were once experienced in an earthly manner, for instance, feelings of friendship, which may perhaps undergo certain transformations here on Earth, but which are deepened and purified in the spiritual realm.
Also a mother's love for her child undergoes such a purification, and vice versa. The originally animal feeling of belonging to one another, which even here upon the Earth took on a moral character, unfolds a still higher moral power in Devachan, Every tie on Earth becomes deepened in the spiritual realm, and all connections interpenetrate.
Through love man works his way up from the narrowness of egotism to the encompassing experience of cosmic life. There nothing is divided or severed; each one works for the others, for even in the spiritual world activity and work constitute the element which carries, furthers, and unites the souls. But love is the inexhaustible source of all life.