Rudolf Steiner, Paris. May 23, 1924: [Lecture 1 of 3]
Friday, September 30, 2011
Life After Death
Rudolf Steiner, Paris. May 23, 1924: [Lecture 1 of 3]
In these three lectures I want to speak of how Anthroposophy can live as knowledge of the spiritual in the world and in man — knowledge that is able to kindle inner forces and impulses in the moral and religious life of soul. Because this will always be possible, Anthroposophy can bring to mankind something altogether different from anything produced by the civilization of the last few centuries. This civilization has actually suffered from the diffusion of brilliant forms of knowledge: natural science, economics, philosophy. But all this knowledge is a concern of the head alone, whereas moral-religious impulses must spring from the heart. True, these impulses have existed as ideals; but whether these ideals and the feelings associated with them are also powerful enough to create worlds of the future when the present physical world has passed away is a question unanswerable by modern science. What has sprung from modern science is the widespread doubt that is characteristic of the present age and the age just past.
To begin with I want to consider three aspects of man's life. We ourselves, our destiny, are inextricably connected with this life from birth to death. Birth, or rather conception, is the boundary in one direction; death is the boundary in the other. Birth and death are not life; they are merely the beginning and the end of physical life. And the question is this: Can birth and death in themselves be approached with the same mental attitude with which we contemplate our own life, or the life of others, between birth and death, or must our approach to the actual boundaries of birth and death be from a different vantage point? Therefore the aspect of death, which so significantly sets a boundary to human life, shall be the first object of our study today.
At the end of a man's earthly life he is divested by death of the physical body we see before us. The Earth takes possession of it, either through its own elements as in burial, or through fire as in cremation. What can the Earth do with the part of man we perceive with physical senses? The Earth can do no other than subject it to destruction. Think of the forces in nature around us. They build up nothing when the human corpse is given over to them; they simply destroy it. The nature forces around us are not there for the purpose of upbuilding, for the human body disintegrates when it passes into their grasp. Hence there must be something different which builds up the human body, something different from earthly forces, for they bring about its disintegration.
If, however, human death is studied with forces of cognition activated in the soul through the appropriate exercises, everything presents a different aspect. With ordinary faculties of cognition we see the corpse and nothing else. But when, by means of these exercises, we develop Imagination — the first stage of higher knowledge described in my books — then death is completely transformed. In death man tears himself from the grasp of the Earth; and if we cultivate Imagination we see in direct vision, in living pictures, that in death man rises from his corpse — he does not die. At the stage of Imaginative knowledge, physical death is transformed into spiritual birth. Before death, man stands there as earthly man. He can say: “I am here, at this place; the world is outside me.” — But the moment death occurs, the man himself is not where his corpse lies. He is beginning his existence in the wide spaces of the Universe; he is becoming one with the world at which he has hitherto only gazed. The world outside his body now becomes his field of experience and therewith what hitherto was inner world becomes outer world, what hitherto was outer world becomes inner world. We pass out of our personal existence into world-existence. The Earth — so it appears to Imaginative cognition — makes it possible for us to undergo death. The Earth is revealed to Imaginative cognition as the bearer of death in the Universe. Nowhere except on Earth is death to be found in any sphere frequented by man, whether in physical or spiritual life. For the moment man passes through death and becomes one with the Universe, the second aspect presents itself — the aspect in which the widths of space appear to be everywhere filled with cosmic thoughts. For Imaginative vision and for the man himself who has passed through death, the whole Cosmos now teems with cosmic thoughts, living and weaving in the expanse of space. The space aspect becomes the great revealer. Having passed through death man enters a world of cosmic thoughts; everything works and weaves in cosmic thoughts. This is the second aspect.
When we confront a man in earthly life, he is there before us in the first place as a personality. He must speak if we are to know his thoughts. So we say: “The thoughts are within him; they are conveyed to us through his speech.” But nowhere within the perimeter of earthly life do we discover thoughts which stand alone. They are present only in men, and they come out of men. When we pass from the earthly sphere of death to the space sphere of thoughts, to begin with we encounter no beings in the widths of space — neither gods nor men — but everywhere we encounter cosmic thoughts. Having undergone death and passed into the expanse of universal space it is as though in the physical world we were to meet a man and perceive only his thoughts without seeing the man himself. We should see a cloud of thoughts. After death we do not at first encounter beings; we encounter thoughts: the universal World Intelligence.
In this sphere of cosmic Intelligence man lives for a few days after his death. And in the weaving cosmic thoughts there appears as it were a single cloud in which he sees the record of his last earthly life. This record is inscribed into the cosmic Intelligence. For a few days he beholds his whole life in one great, simultaneous tableau. During these few days what is inscribed into the cosmic Intelligence becomes steadily fainter and fainter. The record expands into cosmic space and vanishes. Whereas at the end of earthly life the aspect of death appears, a few days after the end of this experience there comes the vanishing into cosmic space. Thus, after the first aspect, which we may call the aspect of death, we have the second aspect, which may be called the aspect of the vanishing of earthly life. After death there is actually for every human being a moment of terrible fear that he may lose himself, together with all his earthly life, in cosmic space.
If we wish for more understanding of man's experiences after death, Imaginative knowledge will be found to be inadequate; we must pass on to the second stage of higher knowledge, to Inspiration. Imaginative knowledge has pictures before it — pictures that are in the main like dream pictures, except that we can never feel convinced of any reality behind the latter, whereas the pictures of Imagination, through their own inherent quality, always express reality. Through Imagination we live in a picture world that is nevertheless reality. This picture world must be transcended if we are to see what a man experiences after death when the few days during which he reviewed his life have passed.
Inspiration, which must be acquired after or during the stage of Imagination, presents no pictures; instead of pictures there is spiritual hearing. Knowledge through Inspiration absorbs cosmic Intelligence, cosmic thoughts, in such a way that they seem to be spiritually heard. From all sides the cosmic word resounds, indicating distinctly that there is reality behind it. First comes the proclamation; then, when a man can give himself up to this Inspiration, he begins, in Intuition, to perceive behind the cosmic thoughts the beings of the Universe themselves. Pictures of the spiritual are perceived in Imagination; in Inspiration the spiritual speaks; Intuition perceives the beings themselves. I said that the world is filled with cosmic thoughts. These in themselves do not at once point to beings; but we eventually become aware of words behind the thoughts, and then of beholding, through Intuition, the beings of the Universe.
The first aspect of man's existence is the aspect of death; it is the earthly aspect. The second aspect leads us out into cosmic space, into which, as earthly men, we otherwise gaze without any understanding; this is the aspect of the vanishing of man's life. The third aspect presents the boundary of visible space; this is the aspect of the stars. But the stars do not appear as they do to physical sight. For physical sight the stars are points of radiance at the boundaries of the space in the direction towards which we are looking. If we have acquired the faculty of Intuitive knowledge, the stars are the revealers of cosmic beings, spiritual beings. And with Intuition we behold in the spiritual Universe, instead of the physical stars, colonies of spiritual beings at the places where we conceive the physical stars to be situated. The third aspect is the aspect of the stars. After we have learnt to know death, after we have recognized cosmic Intelligence through the widths of space, this third aspect leads us into the spheres of cosmic spiritual beings and thereby into the sphere of the stars. And just as the Earth has received man between birth and death, so, when he has crossed the abyss to cosmic Intelligence a few days after his death, he is received into the world of stars. On Earth he was a man of Earth among Earth beings; after death he becomes a being of Heaven among heavenly beings.
The first sphere into which man enters is the Moon-sphere; later on he passes into the other cosmic spheres. At the moment of death he still belongs to the Earth-sphere. But at that moment, everything within the range of earthly knowledge loses its significance. On the Earth there are different substances, different metals, and so on. At the moment of death all this differentiation ceases. All external solid substances are earthy; at the moment of death man is living in earth, water, air, and warmth. In the sphere of cosmic Intelligence he sees his own life; he is between the region of Earth and the region of Heaven. A few days after death he enters the region of Heaven: first, the Moon-sphere.
In this Moon-sphere we meet cosmic beings for the first time. But these cosmic beings are still rather like human beings, for at one time they were together with us on the Earth. In my books you can read how the physical Moon was once united with the Earth and then separated from it to form an independent cosmic body. It was, however, not the physical Moon alone that separated from the Earth. At one time there were among men on Earth great, primeval teachers; it was they who brought the primordial wisdom to mankind. These great teachers were not present on Earth in physical human bodies, but only in etheric bodies. When a man received instruction from them, he absorbed it inwardly. After a time, when the Moon separated from the Earth, these ancient teachers went with it and formed a colony of Moon beings. These primeval teachers of mankind, long since separated from the Earth, are the first cosmic beings to be encountered a few days after death.
The life spent with the Moon beings during this period after death is related in a remarkable way to earthly existence. It might be imagined that man's life after death is more fleeting, less concrete, than earthly life. In a certain respect, however, this is not the case. If we are able to follow a man's experiences after death with supersensible vision we find that for a long time they have a much stronger effect upon him than anything in the earthly life, which in comparison is like a dream. This period after death lasts for about a third of the time of life on Earth What is now experienced differs with different individuals. When a man looks back over his earthly life he succumbs to illusion. He sees only the days, and pays no heed to what he has experienced spiritually in sleep. Unless he is particularly addicted to sleep a man will, as a general rule, spend about a third part of his life in that state. After death he goes through it all in conscious connection with the Moon beings. We live through these experiences because the great primeval teachers of mankind pour the essence of their being into us, live in and with us; we live through the unconscious experiences of the nights on Earth as reality far greater than that of the earthly life.
Let me illustrate this by an example. Perhaps some of you know my Mystery Plays and will remember among the characters a certain Strader. Strader is a figure based upon a personality who is now dead but was alive when the first three Plays were written. It was not a matter of portraying his earthly life, but the character was founded on the life of a man who was exceptionally interesting to me. Coming from comparatively simple circumstances, he first became a priest, then abandoned the Church and became a secular scholar with a certain rationalistic trend. The whole of this man's inner struggle interested me. I tried to understand it spiritually and wrote the Mystery Plays while watching his earthly life. After his death the interest I had taken in him enabled me to follow him during the period of existence he spent in the Moon-sphere. Today (1924) he is still in that sphere. From the moment this individuality broke through to me with all the intense reality of the life after death, whatever interest I once had in his earthly life was completely extinguished. I was now living with this individuality after his death, and the effect upon me was that I could do no other than allow the character in the fourth Mystery Play to die, because he was no longer before me as an earthly man. This is quoted merely in corroboration of the statement that experience of the life after death has far greater intensity, greater inner reality, than the earthly life; the latter is like a dream in comparison.
We must remember that after death man passes into the great Universe, into the Cosmos. He himself now becomes the Cosmos. He feels the Cosmos as his body — but he also feels that what was outside him during his earthly life is now within him. Take a simple example. Suppose you were once carried away by emotion during your earthly life and had struck someone a blow which caused him not only physical pain but also moral suffering. Under the influence of the Moon beings after death you experience this incident differently. When you struck an angry blow, perhaps with a certain inner satisfaction, you did not feel the suffering of the man you struck. Now, in the Moon-sphere, you experience the physical pain and the suffering he had to endure. In the Moon-sphere you experience what you did or thought during your earthly life, not as you felt it, but as it affected the other person. After death, for a period corresponding to a third part of his lifetime, a man lives through, in backward order, everything that he thought and whatever wrong he did during his earthly life. It is revealed to him by the Moon beings as intense reality. When I was inwardly accompanying Strader, for instance, in his life after death — he died in 1912 and is called Strader in the Mystery Plays although that was not his real name — he was experiencing first what he had experienced last in his earthly life, then the earlier happenings, and so on, in backward order. When he now comes before my soul he is living through in the Moon-sphere what he had experienced in the year 1875. Up to now he has been experiencing backwards the time between 1912 and 1875 and will continue in this way until the date of his birth.
This life after death in the sphere of the Moon beings — who were once Earth beings — is lived through for a third of the time of a man's life. The first seed of what is fulfilled as karma in the following earthly lives arises here. In this life, which corresponds to a third part of his earthly lifetime, a man becomes inwardly aware, through his own feeling and perception, of how his deeds have affected others. And then a strong desire arises within him as spirit man that what he is now experiencing in the Moon-sphere as the result of his dealings with other men on Earth may again be laid upon him, in order that compensation may be made. The resolve to fulfill his destiny in accordance with his earthly deeds and earthly thoughts comes as a wish at the end of the Moon period. And if this wish — which arises from experience of the whole of the earthly life back to birth — is devoid of fear, the man is ready to be received into the next sphere, the Mercury-sphere, into which he then passes. In the Mercury-sphere he is instructed by the beings whose realm he has entered — beings who have never been on Earth, who were always supersensible beings; in their realm he learns how to shape his further destiny. Thus, to learn what a man goes through between death and a new birth, corresponding in his spiritual existence to what he experienced among earthly beings between birth and death, we must follow him through the Mercury-sphere, the Venus-sphere, and the Sun-sphere. For the totality of man's life consists in the earthly existence between birth and death and the heavenly existence between death and a new birth. This constitutes his life in its totality, and of this we will speak in the next lectures.