An Esoteric Cosmology. Lecture 12 of 18.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Devachan (Heaven). Part 2
An Esoteric Cosmology. Lecture 12 of 18.
Notes of an audience member of a lecture given by Rudolf Steiner in Paris on June 8, 1906:
Devachan (the abode of the Gods) corresponds to the heaven of the Christians, the spiritual world of the occultists.
These regions of existence are beyond the range of our physical senses, although they are intimately connected with this world. In attempting to describe them, we must have recourse to allegories and symbols. The words of human language are only adapted to express the world of sense.
There are seven distinct stages or degrees of Devachan. The seven stages are not definite ‘localities’ but conditions or states of the life of soul and spirit. Devachan is everywhere present; it envelops us as does the astral world, only it is invisible. By dint of training, the initiate acquires, one by one, the faculties necessary for beholding it.
At the first stage of clairvoyance, greater order enters into dreams; man sees marvelous forms and hears words that are pregnant with meaning. It becomes more and more possible to decipher the meaning of dreams and to relate them to actuality. We may dream, for example, that a friend's house is on fire and then hear that he is ill. The first faint glimpses of Devachan give the impression of a sky streaked with clouds which gradually turn into living forms.
At the second stage of clairvoyance, dreams become precise and clear. The geometrical and symbolic figures employed as the sacred signs of the great religions are, properly speaking, the language of the creative Word, the living hieroglyphs of cosmic speech. Among such symbols are the cross, the sign of life; the pentagram or five-pointed star, the sign of sound or word; the hexagram or six-pointed star (two interlaced triangles), the sign of the macrocosm reflected in the microcosm, and so forth. At the second stage of clairvoyance, these signs — which we today delineate in abstract lines — appear full of color, life, and radiance on a background of light. They are not, as yet, the garment of living beings, but they indicate, so to say, the norms and laws of creation. These signs were the basis of the animal forms chosen by the earliest initiates to express the passage of the Sun through the Zodiacal constellations. The initiates translated their visions into such signs and symbols. The most ancient characters employed in Sanskrit, Egyptian, Greek, and Runic scripts — every letter of which has ideographic meaning — were the expressions of heavenly ciphers.
At this stage of his seership, the disciple is still at the threshold of Devachan. His task is to penetrate into Devachan, to find the path leading from the astral world to the first stage of the devachanic world proper. This path was known to all the occult schools, and even during the first centuries Christianity contained esoteric teaching of which traces can be found. The ancient methods of initiation, however, were abandoned from the beginning.
In the Acts of the Apostles, mention is made of Dionysius the Areopagite. He was an initiated disciple of St. Paul and taught an esoteric Christianity. Later on, at the Court of Charles the Bald in the ninth century, John Scotus Erigena again taught the esoteric doctrines. Esoteric Christianity was then gradually obscured by dogma. When the initiate has penetrated into Devachan, however, he finds that the descriptions given by Dionysius of this world are correct.
The rhythmic breathing practiced in Yoga was one of the methods by means of which man was enabled to penetrate the world of Devachan. A certain sign that this entrance has been made is a conscious experience indicated in Vedic philosophy by the words: tat twam asi (Thou art That).
In dream, man beholds his own bodily form from without. He sees his body stretched on the couch but merely as an empty sheath. Around this empty form shines a radiant, ovoid form — the astral body. It has the appearance of an aura from which the body has been eliminated. The body itself seems like a hollow, empty mould. It is a vision where everything is reversed as in a photographic negative. The soul of crystal, plant, and animal is seen as a kind of radiation, whereas the physical substance appears as an empty sheath. But it is only the phenomena of Nature that so appear — nothing that has been made by the hands of men. At the first stage of Devachan, we are contemplating the astral counterparts of the phenomena of the physical world. This region has been spoken of as the ‘continents’ of Devachan — the ‘negative’ forms of the valleys, mountains, and physical continents.
If he enters into deep meditation while the breath is held, man reaches the second stage of Devachan. The moulds which represent physical substance are seen to be filled with spiritual currents — the currents of life universal. This is the ocean of Devachan. At this stage the initiate enters the wellspring of all life. This life has the appearance of a network of vast streams with their tributaries. At the same time there is a strange and new experience of living within the metals. Reichenbach, the author of L'Od, speaks of this phenomenon in connection with sensitive subjects who were able to detect different metals wrapped in paper.
The beings living in the region which becomes perceptible at the second stage of clairvoyant vision are called by Dionysius the Areopagite, the Archangels. [In German, Erzengel, — Erz = ore, mineral.] They represent the living soul of the minerals.
To attain the third stage of Devachan, thought must be freed from bondage to the things of the physical world. Man can then live consciously in the world of thought, quite independently of the actual content of thought. The pupil must experience the function of pure intellect, apart from its content. A new world will then be revealed. To the perception of the ‘continents’ and ‘waters’ of Devachan (the astral soul of things and the streaming currents of life) will be added the perception of its ‘air’ or ‘atmosphere.’ This atmosphere is altogether different from our own; its substance is living, sonorous, sensitive. Waves, gleams of light and sounds arise in response to our gestures, acts, and thoughts. Everything that happens on Earth reverberates in colors, light, and sound. Whether it be in sleep or after death, the echoes of Earth can be experienced in these ‘airs’ of Devachan. It is possible, for example, to experience the effects of a battle. We do not actually see the battle, nor hear the cries of the soldiers and the booming of the cannons. Strife and passions appear in the form of lightning and thunder. Thus Devachan does not separate us from the Earth, but reveals it to us from outside, as it were. We do not experience sorrow and joy as if they were arising in ourselves; we behold them objectively, as a spectacle. Devachan is a school of apprenticeship where we learn to regard sorrows and joys from a higher point of view, where we strive to transmute suffering into joy, failures into renewed efforts, death into resurrection.
This has nothing in common with the passive contemplation and more or less egotistic bliss of heaven conceived of by certain writers on religion who think that the sufferings of the damned are part of the bliss of the elect. Devachan is a living heaven, where the overwhelming urge to sympathy and action contained in the human soul is faced with a boundless field of activity and a vista of infinity.
At the fourth stage of Devachan, the archetypes of things arise — not the ‘negatives’ but the original types. This is the laboratory of the Cosmos wherein all forms are contained, whence creation has proceeded; it is the home of the Ideas of Plato, the ‘Realm of the Mothers’ of which Goethe speaks in Faust in connection with Helena. In this realm of Devachan, the Akashic Record of Indian philosophy is revealed. In our modern terminology we speak of this Record as the astral impression of all the events of the world. Everything that passes through the astral bodies of men is ‘fixed’ in the infinitely subtle substance of this Record as in a sensitive plate. To understand the images which hover in the astral nimbus of the Earth, we must have recourse to analogies. The human voice pronounces words which set up waves of sound, penetrating by the ears into the brains of others, where images and thoughts are evoked. Each of these words is a wave of sound with an absolutely definite form which — if we could see it — is distinct from all others. Let us imagine these words congealing somewhat as water congeals to ice by sudden, intense cold. In such a case the words would descend to Earth as congealed air and we could recognize each word by its form.
And now, instead of a process of densification, let us imagine the reverse. We know that matter can pass through the most solid to the most rarified states: solid, liquid, gaseous. Matter can be subtilized to a point at which we are led over to ‘negative’ matter — Akasha. Events on Earth impress themselves into this akashic substance and can be rediscovered there — even those which occurred in far remote ages of the past.
Akashic pictures are not static and immobile. They unroll before the eye of the seer as living tableaux where objects and persons move and even speak. The astral form of Dante would speak as he spoke in his own milieu. It is almost invariably this kind of image that is seen in spiritualistic séances, where it is thought to be the spirit of the dead.
Our task is to learn how to decipher the pages of this book of living images and to unroll the innumerable scrolls of the ‘Chronicle’ of the universe. This can only be done if we are able to distinguish between appearance and reality, between the human sheath and the living soul. Daily discipline and long training are necessary if false interpretations are to be prevented. Definite answers to questions, for example, might be received from the form of Dante thus perceived. But they do not emanate from the individuality of Dante, for the individuality continues to evolve; they emanate from the ancient figure of Dante, ‘fixed’ in the etheric milieu of his time.
The fifth realm of Devachan is the sphere of heavenly harmony. The higher regions of Devachan are characterized by the fact that all sounds have a greater clarity, brilliance, and richness. In a mighty harmony we hear the voice of all beings. This harmony was called by Pythagoras the ‘Music of the Spheres.’ It is the living, Cosmic Word. To the clairvoyant who has now become clairaudient, each being communicates his true name in a definite sound or tone. In Genesis, Jehovah takes the hand of Adam and Adam gives all beings their names. On Earth, the individual is lost among the crowd of other beings. In the highest sphere of Devachan, each being has his own particular sound; yet at the same time the initiate is united with all beings, becomes one with his environment.
The initiate who has attained to this degree is called the ‘Swan.’ He hears the sounds through which his master speaks to him and then communicates them to the world. The singing swan of Apollo brings to the ears of men the tones of the Beyond. The swan is said to come from the land of the Hyperboreans — that is to say from the world where the Sun sinks to rest, from heaven.
At this point, the initiate passes to a sphere beyond the world of stars. He no longer reads the Akashic Records from the side of the Earth but from the side of the heavens. The Akashic Record becomes the occult script of the stars and the initiate experiences the primal source of the universe, of the Logos.
In the myths, we find indications of this degree of the Swan, notably in the Middle Ages in the Grail stories which give expression to experiences in the devachanic world. All the exploits there described are by knights of the Grail, who represent the great spiritual impulses given to mankind by command of the masters.
The time when the legend of the Grail was composed, under the inspiration of high initiates, is the age when the reign of the bourgeoisie began and when the movement connected with the freedom of great cities had its rise, coming from Scotland into England and thence to France and Germany. When he is a free citizen, man aspires unconsciously to truth and divine life. In the legend of Lohengrin, Elsa represents the soul of man in the Middle Ages, striving to develop what is always expressed in occultism by a female figure. Lohengrin, the knight who comes from an unknown country, from the Castle of the Holy Grail, to deliver Elsa, represents the master who is the bearer of truth. He is the messenger of the initiate and is borne by the symbolic swan. The messenger of the great initiates is a “Swan.” None may ask his true name nor whence he comes. His authority may not be doubted. By his words he must be believed; by the truth shining in his countenance he must be recognized. He who has not this faith is incapable of understanding, unworthy to listen. That is why Lohengrin forbids Elsa to ask his name and whence he comes. The Swan is the chela who bears the master.
The disciple who has reached the fifth degree of initiation is sent by the master into the world. The legend of Lohengrin is a description of events occurring in the higher worlds. The light of the Logos — the solar and planetary Word — shines through the myths and legends of the ages.