Rudolf Steiner, June 18, 1907:
There is a “holiest of holies” in man which we may designate as his self-consciousness. Those who see this in the right way have no difficulty in perceiving that this word “self-consciousness” expresses at the same time the true meaning of human life. Self-consciousness is the capacity for transmitting the knowledge that one is an EGO.
You may clearly obtain an idea of this if you bear in mind that there is one name in the whole language which fundamentally differs from all the others: it is the word “I”. Anyone can designate the table, but “I” is a designation which can only be applied individually to one's own self. To every other person one is a “you”. Never can the word “I” resound from outside, if it is to designate my own being. Spiritual science has always experienced this.
In the Jewish religion, for instance, when speaking of man's inner being, it was referred to as the unspeakable name of God. For the Hebrews said: When the “I” is to be pronounced, it must resound from the central point of our being. No being outside can utter this name: A kind of shudder therefore passed through the whole congregation when the priest uttered the word JAHVE, “I am the I am”. The God within man begins to speak — this is the pure, original, meaning of the Jewish name of God. You will also learn to know other names, but they all stand in some kind of relationship to this one name.
With this word “I” we designate the fourth member of man's being. Through the Ego, and from this center, man works upon the other members of his being, upon his astral body, etheric body, and physical body. No matter how far we go back into the history of human development, we find that man always possessed these four members, and it is this which distinguishes him from the animals.
Let us now form an idea of the relationship between developed and undeveloped men in regard to these four members. Consider under this aspect one of the most savage men, who eats up his fellow-men, and compare him with an average European, and the latter again with a highly developed individual — Goethe, for example, or Schiller, or Francis of Assisi. The savage blindly follows the instincts and passions contained in his astral body. He has an Ego, but this Ego still lives completely under the sway of the astral body. An average man of the present time is already able to distinguish good and evil, and this is due to the fact that he has worked upon his astral body. He has worked upon it and even transformed certain instincts into so-called ideals. Man reaches an ever higher stage of development the more he transforms his astral body through his Ego. The modern average European has transformed a good part of this astral body. An individuality such as Schiller or Goethe has already transformed the greater part of the astral body. But a human being who has subjugated all his passions through his will, as for instance Francis of Assisi, has an astral body which is entirely transformed by his Ego; there is nothing left in this astral body which is not completely under the sway of the Ego.
That part of the astral body which man has been able to transform we designate as “Manas” or “Spirit-Self”. This is the fifth member of his being. We may the say: The Ego contains the seed for the transformation of the astral body into Manas, Spirit-Self.
Now, man has the possibility to transform not only his astral body but also his etheric body, so that the Ego also becomes the sovereign of the etheric body. But you must realize that this is a far more difficult and slower work. The difference between the transformation of the astral body and of the etheric body is the following: —
Consider what you knew when you were eight years old, and what you have learned since your youth. The bearer of all these transformations is the astral body. Consequently it changes essentially every day through the external impressions which you take in. But this:is not the case with the etheric body. If you wish to have an idea of this, imagine the following: — If you were a choleric child at the age of eight, you will probably still lose your temper even today. Only a few people succeed in transforming themselves to such an extent as to change also their habits, inclinations, temperament, and character. This does not in any way contradict what I have explained above. The astral body is indeed connected with pleasure and pain and the other sensations, but when these have become habitual and so-called character traits, then they are rooted in the etheric body; and if we wish to transform these habits, then the etheric body must be transformed, for it is the bearer of every habit and character-trait.
I have frequently compared the transformations of astral body and etheric body with the progress of the minute and second hands of the clock.
Later on we shall speak of the development of the more advanced pupil. He is not a pupil in the meaning of ordinary life, not only one who learns something. Undoubtedly such a pupil must also learn a lot, but far more important than learning is the above-mentioned work upon the etheric body: He must succeed, for instance, in transforming a choleric disposition into gentleness of character. Spiritual science in particular gives him indications for this.
He who succeeds in transforming from one day to the other at least one of his habits — that is to say, some quality of his etheric body — has attained a high stage of development. Such a transformation of the etheric body should go hand in hand with the other things which the disciple of occult science learns. But even if a man knows nothing of such a training, he nevertheless transforms his etheric body of his own accord — though slowly and gradually, and throughout many incarnations And that part of his etheric body which he has been able to transform we designate as Buddhi, or Life-Spirit, which constitutes the sixth member of human nature.
Then there is the stage lying far, far above the others, upon which man learns to work upon his physical body and to transform it. That part of his physical body which he has learned to control we designate as Atman, or Spirit-Man. It is the seventh member of his being. Atman is connected with the German word atmen, "to breathe," for the process of transformation goes out from the breathing process.
We can only form an idea of what it means to control one's physical body consciously, through the Ego, if we bear in mind how little we really know of our physical body. This knowledge has nothing to do with the assertions of modern anatomy concerning man's physical body. Long before modern anatomy existed, there were ancient teachings, which of course were not known publicly but which contained a knowledge concerning man's inner being. This knowledge enabled the wise men of ancient times to follow, for instance, the currents of life and of the blood, and they were thus able to observe themselves inwardly, to observe the physical body and all its organs. When we shall have reached this stage of development, not one portion of our body will move without the conscious participation of our will. This is the transformation into Atman, the Spirit-Man.
Now, someone might object: The physical body is the lowest member of human nature; how is it possible that its transformation should constitute the highest member? Just because the physical body is the lowest member, man's highest effort is needed in order to gain control over this body. The transformation of the physical body is intimately connected with the acquisition of power over forces which permeate the whole cosmos. And the sway over these cosmic forces is what we designate as magic.
Man's true inner nature thus consists of seven parts. But those seven parts are completely intermingled. A true idea of this intermingling can only be obtained if we compare it with the seven colors of the rainbow, which are all contained in the light of the Sun. Even as the light consists of these seven colors, so man consists of his seven members.
Let us now consider the significance of this structure of man's being in connection with the knowledge of man's whole life-path. Yesterday we learned to know the nature of sleep. The physical body and the etheric body lie in the bed; respiration and blood-circulation remain, as life-expression of the etheric body, but — together with the Ego — everything pertaining to the astral body is lifted out of the physical body and the etheric body.
When death arises, something else appears, in contrast to this. Whereas the physical body and the etheric body remain united throughout the life between birth and death, death separates the etheric body also, and not only the astral body, as in sleep, from the physical body. But the physical body is so complicated (let us bear in mind yesterday's explanations) that it must decay if obliged to rely upon its own forces.
Let us now observe clairvoyantly the human being after death: Before us lies only the physical body, and above it soar the astral body and the etheric body ... Immediately after death, the deceased human being experiences a peculiar manifestation: At the moment of death, the course of his whole life appears in the field of human memory, like a spread-out picture. Every event, even the most insignificant, passes before him in the form of an image. This is the natural result of the fact that the etheric body, besides having the above-mentioned quality of preventing the decay of the physical body, is also the bearer of memory. As soon as it loses its first task, it devotes itself intensely to this second task. Since every event in life, whether pleasure or suffering, is connected with joy or pain, owing to the permeation of the etheric body with the astral body, now that the astral body is also severed from him man experiences those memory pictures — that is to say, he experiences his whole past life, without any sensations or feelings, as if it were a great panorama.
As long as the etheric body remains connected with the physical body, the instrument which it must use, the brain renders our memories incomplete; we only retain fragments of life impressions in our memory. The deficiency of the physical brain is responsible for this; but as soon as the etheric body becomes emancipated from the physical brain, it can remember everything.
An analogy may even bo found in ordinary life, during the shock which one experiences, for instance, at the moment of drowning, or crashing, etc. This is simply due to the fact that at such a moment the etheric body becomes forcefully severed from the physical body, which also takes place, for example, in a slight degree when an extremity falls asleep (pins and needles), or in hypnosis. In the case of a hypnotized person, the clairvoyant can see his etheric body hanging out at both sides of the head. Materialistic physiology objects that in hypnosis there is a physical change in the blood, but people simply mix up cause and effect.
Man's first experience after death is therefore this retrospection of his past life, which differs in length, but averages about three and a half days.
Then comes a second kind of death, when the etheric body completely severs itself also from the astral body, so that a kind of etheric corpse remains behind. But this corpse soon dissolves, more or less quickly in each individual case, and becomes part of the universal cosmic ether. Yet it does not dissolve altogether; a kind of essence remains from the past life. The Ego takes this essence along with it as an imperishable treasure, which remains for all the subsequent incarnations. After every incarnation a new leaf is added, so to speak, to the preceding one. In Theosophy this essence of the etheric body is called the Causal Body, and the quality of the causal body determines the way in which the future incarnations take place.
Now the astral body remains alone ... What is the difference between this condition, in which it is severed from the other members, from the physical body and the etheric body, and that of sleep, in which it also remains alone? The forces which it had to use during sleep in order to elaborate and improve the physical body have now become emancipated, through the fact that the physical body has definitely been laid aside. The astral body now uses those forces for its own self, and is conscious of this. In this state of self-consciousness the astral body now passes through a time which can be understood best of all if we consider the following: —
Imagine that you are enjoying a specially tasty dish — you eat it and enjoy its taste. This pleasure is not rooted in the physical body but in the astral body, but it can only arise because it has the required organ, namely a tongue and a palate. Thus the physical body supplies the instrument for the gratifications of the astral body.
Now, what takes place after death, when the physical body has been discarded? The instrument is lacking, the transmitter of enjoyment, but the astral body has not lost the longing and desire for some special pleasure. Now imagine this state as vividly as possible. It resembles the condition of a man who is thirsting in the midst of a desert. After death the astral body still feels the desire for certain enjoyments, in the same measure in which it was accustomed to feel this during the past life on Earth, and for this reason the time after death is for so many people a time of unsatisfied desires.
This condition is named Kamaloka (Kama means desire, and locus place). It is the same condition which we find described in many myths — for instance, the tortures of Tantalus, or purgatory. Of course, this condition is not only a torturing one; it tortures us until the astral body has lost the habit of desiring enjoyments. The more needs the astral body feels during physical life the longer does this condition of Kamaloka last.
But you may gather from the above that, according to the quality of these needs experienced by a human being during his past life on Earth, the astral body may encounter in Kamaloka experiences which are not only torturing, but under circumstances very good and pleasant. The astral body will, for instance, feel pleasure in every moment of joy given to him by Nature and its beauty. In order to experience this enjoyment of Nature and its beauty we must indeed have eyes to see, but beauty is something that transcends the physical, and therefore this condition is in Kamaloka the source of increased enjoyment. These things produce great joys and wonderful experiences even during the Kamaloka period.
Thus we may render this Kamaloka time more beautiful by emancipating ourselves from purely physical enjoyments. If you consider this, you will be able to understand several things in life, for instance, everything which constitutes art. The more ideal art is, the more the ideal essence manifests itself through art, the stronger and the more uplifting will be the influence of the work of art, an influence transcending physical life. The Spirit is the real element of art. The materialistic short-sightedness alone has led to naturalism in art.
After passing through this Kamaloka period, we therefore reach the stage where we have lost the habit of physical enjoyments, and this means that we must now pass through an entirely different condition. The soul now discards all those parts of the astral body which man — that is to say, the Ego — has not yet transformed. The discarded astral sheath now constitutes the third corpse which we leave behind.
Now that the Ego has united itself with that which it has gained from the other bodies — viz.with the above-mentioned essence of the etheric body and with that of the astral body — it passes on to the Spirit-realm. There it lives until the time of a new birth.
We shall speak of this tomorrow. Today I only wish to emphasize once more that all these spiritual worlds exist continually 'round about us, and not in a “Beyond” which is spatially separated from us. One who can look into the spiritual worlds can at any time perceive the above-mentioned corpses, as shadows or spectres. It is these corpses which so frequently intrude themselves in spiritistic seances. But if such an astral corpse is mistaken for the individuality in question it is just as foolish a mistake as that of taking the physical corpse for the living human being. Thus the astral corpse frequently reveals very ridiculous traits, for it possesses the very qualities which the Ego has discarded.