The Inner Nature of Man and Our Life Between Death and Rebirth.
The sixth of six lectures to members of the Anthroposophical Society.
Rudolf Steiner, Vienna, April 14, 1914:
In this, my last lecture, I should like to continue from where we left off yesterday. We were speaking of what I described as the great ‘Midnight Hour of our spiritual existence between death and rebirth’, that Midnight Hour when our human inner experience is most intense and when that which we may call spiritual companionship, our connection with the outer spiritual world, has reached its lowest ebb, so that in a certain respect during this Midnight Hour of our spiritual existence spiritual darkness surrounds us. We said also that the longing for the outer world again becomes active within us, that this longing arises through the Spirit which works in spiritual worlds, and that it enkindles a new soul-light in us, so that it becomes possible for us to see an external world of a particular kind. The external world we then see is our own past, which has run its course through previous incarnations, and the intervening periods between deaths and re-births: this we then survey as an outer world, through looking back upon what we have received from, and enjoyed in worldly existence, and upon that for which we are indebted to the world. When we thus survey our previous experiences, two things come before us with particular intensity. We have enjoyed certain things and this is shown us by spiritual vision; we have had certain joys and sorrows in life. We can survey these joys and sorrows, but we see what we have experienced in such a way that it is its spiritual value which appears to us; we see it with respect to what it has made of us.
Let us take a concrete example. We look back upon some enjoyment, some satisfaction we have had at some time in our past life. We then feel: this is not something that is past; the time when we enjoyed it does indeed lie behind us, but it is not something that is absolutely past. It is something which continues its activity into all future time and it continues it in such a manner that it still awaits what we are going to make out of it. When we have experienced some enjoyment, some satisfaction, in our soul we feel somewhat as follows when we survey it: ‘This must become a force within thee, a force in thy soul, and thou canst allow this force to act within thee in two ways. In this spiritual existence in which thou art after the Midnight of the World two things are possible; the spiritual world simply gives thee the power to bring about one of these possibilities; thou canst change this past enjoyment, this past inward satisfaction into a capacity, so that through the past enjoyment thou art able to develop a certain power in thy soul, whereby thou canst accomplish something in the world, small or great, that is of value to the world. That is one thing. The other we may express to ourselves thus: ‘I have had the enjoyment, I shall be satisfied with it, I shall take it into my soul and refresh myself through this past enjoyment.’ When we do this with much of what we have enjoyed and has given us pleasure, we produce a power within us through which we gradually degenerate and suffocate spiritually. This is one of the most important things we can learn in the spiritual world, that through enjoyment, through that which has given us pleasure, we have also become debtors to the world. There rises before our spiritual eyes the prospect of our suffocating in the after-effects of these past satisfactions and enjoyments, if we do not decide at the right time to create capacities from them which can produce something of value to life. From this you see once more, spiritual events interact with what takes place on the physical plane.
When a person fills himself more and more with the knowledge of Spiritual Science as outlined in the lecture before the last, this will pass into the instinctive life of his soul and in respect to the pleasures he has upon the physical plane will develop a feeling, like the stimulus of an inner conscience, that he must not give himself up to certain enjoyment, pleasure or joy for its own sake, but he must fill this joy with a feeling of thankfulness to the universe, to the spiritual powers of the universe; for he will know that through every pleasure, through every enjoyment he becomes a debtor to the universe. We arrive most easily and most certainly at the right attitude, in the transformation of those enjoyments and pleasures which are of a spiritual nature. Enjoyments and pleasures which can only be satisfied through the body, or through having a body on the physical plane, confront us in this period between death and rebirth as something that must be transformed if we do not wish to be slowly suffocated in them. We feel the necessity for this transformation, but we also feel that in the first place it will require many incarnations, that we must be in the spiritual world again and again between these incarnations, so that at length we may be able to bring about this transformation.
Then we discover something else in the spiritual world. We find that in our present cycle of humanity we have enjoyments and pleasures on the physical plane in which our soul-spiritual nature is entirely submerged, that the enjoyment or the pleasure, assumes a sub-human, I will not say animal character; for pleasure and enjoyment may assume a sub-human character. We find that with enjoyments such as these, we really prepare infinite pain for certain beings in the spiritual world with whom we only meet when we enter this world. And the sight of the pain we cause these beings is so extremely disturbing, so oppressive, filling our soul with such forces, that we cannot well arrive at the harmonious upbuilding of the things necessary for our next incarnation.
As regards what we experience in a different way, as pain and sorrow, it is seen on the spiritual plane that the pain and sorrow we have borne on the physical plane work on and permeate our soul with such force on the spiritual plane that this force becomes will-power. Our soul thereby becomes stronger, and we are able to transform this strength into moral power which we are able to bring back with us again to the physical plane, in order that we may not only have certain capacities, through which we are able to produce something of value to the world around us, but that we may also have the moral power to develop these capacities into character.
We have experiences such as these and many others, directly after the spiritual Midnight Hour of existence. We feel and experience what our value has become through our previous life; we also feel and experience to what capacities we may attain in the future. And after we have lived for a time longer in the spiritual world, there appears from the twilight of our spiritual environment a clear vision, not only of our own past life, but also of all the human beings with whom we were closely connected in that life; people appear in spiritual relations, with whom we have been connected in some way in former stages of existence. It is not as if we had not been with these human beings before — we are always together with those who have been near us in life, in by far the greater portion of the time between death and rebirth — but now, when we meet them again after the Midnight Hour of our spiritual existence, we see clearly in these human beings what we owe to them or they to us. Our point of view is now not merely: such and such was thy relation to these people at such and such a time — we knew this before — but these people are now for us the expression of the compensation for our previous experiences with them. By the manner in which they come before us, we see by what new experience on the physical plane we may have to repay that for which we are indebted to them, or such like. When we confront the souls of these human beings we see, as it were, the activities which in the future must reproduce the relationships we have had with them in the past. This will be best understood if we take an example which is as concrete as possible, an application of what has already been mentioned in previous lectures.
Let us again suppose that we have lied to some one. Then comes the time, when in the spiritual world the possibility arises of our being tormented by the truth, the opposite to our lie. Our relation to this person to whom we have lied so changes during this time, that as often as we see him (and we see him often enough with our spiritual eyes) he causes the truth, the opposite to the lie we have told, to rise within us and this torments us. Thereby arises from deep down within us a tendency which causes us to say: ‘Thou must meet this person again on the earth below and thou must do something that will compensate the wrong thou hast done in telling the lie; for here in the spiritual world thou canst not compensate what has been brought about through thy lie, here thou canst only see quite clearly the effect of a lie in the cosmos. What has been done upon the earth in this way must be made good again upon the earth. We know that in order to make compensation we need forces which can only develop in us when we again possess an earthly body. From this a tendency arises in our soul to take once more on ourselves an earthly body which will give us the opportunity to perform the actions whereby the imperfections we have caused upon earth may be repaired; otherwise, when we have gone through death once more this person will again appear to call forth the torment of the truth.
Thus you see the whole spiritual technique; how in the spiritual world there is produced within us the impulse karmically to make compensation for various things. These compensations occur also in other connections; but of course I should have to enumerate many thousands of cases if I were to speak of all that comes into consideration in respect of this important subject of karma. For example, let us take the following case: Let us suppose we are in the period after the Midnight Hour of existence in the spiritual world, so that we look back at certain pleasures we have had and say: ‘We can change the effects of these experiences into capacities to which we can give expression when we are re-embodied.’ But the following may also happen. We may observe that when we are changing these past experiences into capacities, in this our present condition, certain elemental beings disturb us (this can happen); these elemental beings do not allow us to acquire these capacities. We may then ask ourselves: ‘What can I do now? If I yield to these elemental beings which approach and will not suffer capacities to arise in me, I shall not be able to develop these capacities. But I must develop them. I know that I shall only be able to give the service due to certain people in my next incarnation if I have these capacities.’ As a rule in such cases we decide to acquire these capacities; but we thereby injure the elemental beings which are around us: in a certain way they feel that they are attacked by us. When we acquire these capacities, they feel that their own life is thereby darkened, as if something were taken away from their wisdom. One of the consequences often springing from this is, that when we are reborn we find that one or more human beings are possessed by these elemental beings and are inspired with particularly hostile intentions towards us.
Think how deeply this enables us to see into human experience, how profoundly it teaches us to comprehend human life and really to acquire the right instinct to comport ourselves correctly on the physical plane. But this does not mean that we should ever say, when on the physical plane: ‘At that time I had to protect myself. I have thereby made this person a sworn enemy; I must now give in to him.’ The case might arise where it would be good to yield, but, on the other hand, it might happen that if we yield, these hostile elemental beings who act through one person or another might, through what they now do on the physical plane, compensate themselves abundantly for the loss they suffered through our self-protection. They might go beyond what was taken away from them, and the consequence of this would be that we should not be able to save ourselves from them, when we again enter the corresponding period in the stream of time between death and rebirth, and they would then give the death blow to certain of our capacities.
The world becomes ever more and more complicated when we get real insight into it; but we cannot wonder at this. I might give you other examples of the karmic connections between life on earth and life between death and rebirth. Let us take the case of a person who through illness dies earlier than another who enters into ‘time’, as it were, after a normal length of human life. His illness brings him to an early death; but he really retains certain forces within him which he would have expended if he had reached the normal length of human life. The man would have used these forces, which remain within him as a reserve of strength, if he had not died early, and when the life after death is examined, the spiritual investigator finds that these forces are added to the man's forces of will and feeling, strengthening them. Such a person is in the position so to use, after the Midnight Hour of existence, what has accrued to him through these forces before the Midnight Hour of existence, that he enters earthly life as a man of stronger will and of much more character than if he had not died so early. It is, however, previous karma that determines this and naturally it would be the greatest folly if a person were to think that he would gain what has just been described by bringing about an early death artificially; he would not gain it thus. What happens when an early death is brought about artificially, you will find described in my bookTheosophy, so far as it is necessary to explain it. I also referred there to the case where a person meets with an early death through an accident. When he is torn away from the experiences of the physical plane through an accident, while his forces would have still been sufficient to enable him to reach old age, there remains to him a surplus of force and when the Midnight Hour of existence has passed he can use this to strengthen his intellectual powers. We find through spiritual investigation that great inventors are often people who in former incarnations died through an accident. If we really wish to survey these things with understanding, we have to realise that in the spiritual world the standpoint of life is really quite different from what it can be in the physical world.
It will grow more and more comprehensible to you, that in order to understand the spiritual worlds one has first to acquire the necessary conceptions and ideas, because the spiritual worlds are so very different from the physical world. Hence no one should wonder when something relating to the spiritual worlds is described, that when the ideas of the physical world are directed to this description, it should at first be felt to be unsatisfactory. For example, it is a fact, which is confirmed by spiritual investigation into many cases, that if a person dies a thorough materialist, with a materialistic frame of mind, and leaves others behind who are also materialistically inclined, he at first suffers a certain loss in the spiritual world. When he has passed through the portal of death without spiritual inclinations, and wishes to look back at his loved ones on the earth, he cannot see them directly if in their souls there is no spiritual thought; he has knowledge of them only up to the time when he passed through death. His spiritual eyes cannot see what they are now experiencing below upon the earth, because there is no spiritual life in their souls; for only spiritual experience throws light up into the spiritual worlds. Before such a person can see the matter quite clearly, he has to wait until in the spiritual world itself he has developed the necessary forces with which to see clearly that the souls he has left behind are materialistically inclined because they have succumbed to Ahriman. Were he to experience this immediately after death he would be unable to bear it. He has first to grow into the knowledge that materialistically inclined souls are possessed by Ahriman; then he may begin to have vision of these souls, until they have passed the portal of death and in the spiritual world have liberated themselves from their materialistic tendencies. It is only later that he experiences union with them.
Someone might say: These conditions which you describe as taking place after death are not at all consoling. That, my dear friends, is an idea which is gained on the physical plane; it is not an idea that is filled with the understanding of the spiritual worlds. A person living between death and rebirth, comes to a point where he says: ‘Oh, how impossible, how comfortless it would be directly after death to see those souls who are materialistically inclined!’ How infinitely better it is for these souls to pass first through this period of probation! They would lose themselves, they would be unable to reach what they ought to reach if the matter were not arranged in this way. The point of view becomes entirely different when the things of the world are considered from the spiritual side, and a time will come when it will be necessary for man, while still on the physical plane, to have a correct understanding of the truths of Spiritual Science.
Spiritual Science has come into the world because the evolution of humanity requires that the knowledge of the spiritual world and its conditions should enter more and more into human souls, instinctively at first, then consciously. I will draw your attention to a purely external thing which is very important, in order that you may see how we shall be able more and more to judge the true contents of our life on the physical plane through understanding the laws of spiritual existence. It is something external and as an external thing is extremely important. When we consider nature, the remarkable spectacle is presented to us of a small number of seeds being used in every case to continue the same kind of life, but that an extremely large number of seeds come to nothing. We observe myriads of fish eggs in the ocean, a few only of which become fishes, the rest perish. We look out over the fields and see vast quantities of grains of wheat, only a few of which grow into plants, the rest are ground up into flour for human food and for other purposes. A great deal more has to be produced by nature than really becomes fruit and again seed in the regular course of existence. This is a wise regulation of nature; for in nature order and law exist and demand that what thus deviates from its own deeply founded routine of existence and fruiting, should be so used, that it serves the other continuing stream of existence. The various creatures would not be able to live if all seeds actually bore fruit and attained the development possible to them. Beings have to exist, which are used to form the ground-work from which other beings can grow. It is only in appearance that anything is lost, only in maya; in reality nothing is lost in the works of nature. Spirit rules in nature and the fact that something is apparently lost from the continuous stream of evolution is based upon the wisdom of the spirit, it is a spiritual Law, and we must consider this matter from the standpoint of the spirit; we then soon find that what apparently is turned aside from the straight forward stream of events, has its own well justified place in existence. This is founded in the spirit. Hence it may also be of value on the physical plane, in so far as we here live a spiritual life.
Let us consider a case which concerns us very closely. Public lectures have to be given on the subject of Spiritual Science. These are given to a public that is gathered together simply through advertisement. Something happens here which is somewhat similar to the case of the seeds of corn, a part only of which are used in the straight forward stream of existence. One must not be discouraged when, in such circumstances, one has to bring the stream of spiritual life apparently without choice before many, many people, and when only a few separate themselves and really enter into this spiritual life, become anthroposophists, and join the direct stream. Under these circumstances, it still happens that these scattered seeds come to many who, after a public lecture, go away and say, for example, ‘What mad nonsense the fellow talked!’ Seen with respect to external life, this is like the germs — shall we say — like the fish-germs that come to nothing in the ocean; but from the standpoint of a deeper investigation it is not so. Souls who through their karma come to a lecture and who then go away and say: ‘What foolish nonsense the fellow talked!’ — these souls are not yet ready to receive the truth of the spirit; but it is necessary for their souls in their present incarnation to feel the approach of the power contained in Spiritual Science. However much they may scold, it remains a force in their souls for their next incarnation. Thus the germs have not been lost; they find a way. Life with respect to spiritual things is under the same laws, whether we follow the spirit in the order of nature, or in the case which we consider to be our own.
Now let us suppose we wished to carry this over into external material life, and were to say: ‘But this is just what happens in outer life.’ Yes, my dear friends, it is exactly because this is happening, that I say that we are living towards a future when this will appear in ever greater degree. More and more articles will be produced, more and more factories will be built. No one now asks, ‘How many articles are needed?’ as was formerly the case, when the tailors in the town only made a suit when someone ordered it. The need then determined the numbers to be made; but now they are produced for the market; the various wares are piled up as much as possible. Production works entirely according to the principle upon which nature works. Nature is carried into the social order, and this will at first gain the upper hand more and more. But here we are considering the material realm. The spiritual law has no application in external life, simply because it is suited only to the spiritual world; and something very remarkable results. As we are speaking among ourselves we may say these things, but at the present day the world will not agree with us in this. Things are now produced for the market regardless of the amount required, not according to what was explained in my essay on Theosophy and Social Life — all that is produced is piled up in warehouses and governed by the money market, and then the producers wait to see how many are bought. This tendency will grow greater and greater until it destroys itself and when I say the following you will know the reason. One who spiritually observes social life, sees the germ of frightful social abscesses springing up everywhere. That is the great social problem confronting those who understand life; that is the frightful fact which is so depressing and which — even if we could suppress all our enthusiasm for Spiritual Science and the impulse which makes us long for it — yet makes us cry out for the remedy for this world disease that is already so far advanced and which will become ever worse and worse. That which in one field, in one sphere, must work as nature works, is seen by one who seeks to spread abroad spiritual truths to become a cancer when it enters the sphere of culture, as we have just described.
It will only be possible to recognise this and find the remedy, when Spiritual Science lays hold of and fills the hearts and minds of men. When one sees these things, one would fain fill one's words with the most intense fire, so that the attention of as many of our contemporaries as are able to understand them may be attracted to the times we are approaching. We can perceive these things when we make ourselves acquainted with the different points of view that exist in one and another spheres of life. These different points of view confront a person, when experiencing the life between the Midnight Hour of existence and rebirth, for it is from them that he must work creatively on himself.
When he has formed the tendencies for the fulfilment of his karma in respect of his more intimate experiences, others rise before his soul which are not so intimate. He experiences the religious and other societies to which he has belonged in such a way that they reveal to him certain things he must do in his following incarnation in order not to become one-sided. In short, this life flows on in such a way that it still alternates between spiritual companionship and spiritual solitude, but its essential task is that the human being then constructs the archetype for his new earthly life in a purely spiritual form.
Long, long before the human being descends to earthly life he has constructed out of the spiritual world the spiritual etheric archetype, which has within it forces, which we might call spiritual magnetic forces. These draw him down to parents in respect of whom he feels that they give him the hereditary attributes which enable him to enter upon a new earthly life. I have already mentioned that the normal time for this is when we have the feeling that we are uniting with that which withdrew from us as the fruit of our last earthly life. But the human being does not always reach this point. When we do come to this point the course of our life is such that we fully feel the connection between the bodily part and the spiritual part, but often the man enters into life too soon. Most people are prematurely born, spiritually, and this is only compensated for later through experiences with which we feel entirely in harmony.
One thing is of very special importance which I mentioned in the last lecture. When our longing for an outer world has reached its greatest intensity because we have entered most deeply into solitude, then it is that the Spirit, which only lives and moves in spiritual worlds, approaches us and changes our longing into a kind of soul-light. Up to this point we must keep our connection with our ‘I’. We must, as it were, preserve the remembrance: Upon earth thou wast this ‘I’; this ‘I’ has to remain to thee as a memory. That man is able to do this in our age depends upon the fact that Christ brought into the earth's aura the power by which we can maintain our memory up to the Midnight Hour, when we again have this ‘I’. Otherwise this could not at the present time have been brought over from our earthly life. If the Christ-impulse had not entered the earth, an interruption would have occurred, a break, in the middle of the period between death and rebirth which would have made our existence inharmonious. Long before the Midnight Hour we should have forgotten that we were an ‘I’ in our last life; we should have felt connection with the spiritual world, but we should have forgotten ourselves. We have to develop our Ego so powerfully on earth, that we gain this Ego-consciousness ever more and more. This has become necessary since the Mystery of Golgotha. But because on earth we attain to an ever great consciousness of our Ego, we thereby exhaust the forces we have need of after death in order that we should really not forget ourselves up to the Midnight Hour of existence. In order to be able to retain this remembrance, we have to die in Christ. For this the Christ-impulse is necessary. It preserves for us up to the Midnight Hour of existence the possibility of not forgetting our ‘I’.
Then at the Midnight Hour of existence the Spirit approaches us. We have now retained the memory of our ‘I’. If we carry this on into the Midnight Hour of existence, to where the Holy Ghost approaches and gives us the vision and the connection with our own inner world, as if with an outer world — if we have kept this connection, the Spirit can then lead us further to our re-embodiment, which we bring about through having formed our archetype in the spiritual world. In reality, however, things do not take place in such a way that one does only what is necessary, but just as a pendulum never rests, but swings to one side so as to swing again to the other, and as it is right this should be so, so is it also with the spiritual life. The Christ-impulse supplies us with more than barely sufficient force just to make the connection, it gives us sometimes so much, that if the Spirit should not come to us, the Christ-impulse would be able to bear us quickly over. We should not be able to make the connection with our memory, but the Christ-impulse would carry us over. This is of great importance; and as we develop on into the future, it will be increasingly necessary for man that he should receive more than merely a bare amount of the Christ-impulse. Even at the present time, it is necessary that man should experience during his earthly life not merely what is absolutely necessary regarding Christ, but that the Christ-impulse should enter into his soul as a mightier impulse, so that it will sweep him rapidly beyond the Midnight Hour of existence. For the force of the Spirit is strengthened through the impulse of Christ, and we feel the force of the Spirit more strongly throughout the second half of our life between death and rebirth, than would be the case if the Christ-impulse were not there.
The surplus of the Christ-impulse that remains with us, strengthens the impulse of the Spirit. Otherwise the Spirit would only be active for the Spirit, and it would cease working when we were born. As we fill ourselves with the Christ-impulse it strengthens the impulse of the Holy Ghost, and thereby such a spiritual impulse is introduced to our souls that, when we enter earthly incarnation, it is not exhausted in this incarnation as are the other forces we bring with us at birth. I have already mentioned that we transform the forces we bring over from the spiritual world into our inner organisation, but the surplus which we gain in this way through the Christ-impulse strengthening the impulse of the Spirit — this we bring over with us into existence, but it does not need to be transformed during our life on earth. The further we advance into the future, the more necessary will human beings be for the development of the earth, human beings who, because they are filled with the Christ-impulse and the impulse of the Spirit, bring something into earthly life with them when they enter their new incarnation. The Spirit must work with greater power, so that it does not only work up to the time of birth, when everything that is brought from the spiritual world is transformed, so that only the tiny amount of consciousness endures which informs us of our physical environment, and of what can be understood by the intellect connected with the brain. If, as we develop towards the future we did not gradually bring with us as human beings a surplus of spirit, as has just been described, humanity would gradually reach the point where it would have no idea that there was a Spirit, then during earthly life only the unspiritual Spirit, Ahriman, would rule, and humanity would only be able to know of the physical world that is perceived by the senses, and of what is comprehended by the intellect that is connected with the brain. In the onward development of mankind, all these things are even now being experienced to a certain extent, even now humanity is in danger of losing the Holy Ghost.
But it will not lose it. Spiritual Science will be the watcher which will see that humanity does not lose the Holy Ghost, this Spirit which approaches the soul at the Midnight Hour of existence, in order to waken within it the longing to see itself in its past and recognise its value. Spiritual Science will have to speak more and more impressively of the Christ-impulse, so that more and more Spirit shall enter into physical existence through birth, in more and more human beings, and so that in this physical existence there shall be more and more human beings who feel: ‘I have certainly within me forces which have to be transformed into organising forces, but there is something also dawning in my soul which need not be transformed. I have brought with me into this physical world some of the Spirit which appertains only to the spiritual worlds, although I am living in my body.’ — This is the Spirit which will enable people to see what is spoken of by Theodora in the Mystery Drama, The Portal of Initiation, namely, the etheric form of Christ. The power of the Spirit which thus enters people's bodies will open spiritual eyes through which to see and understand the spiritual worlds. First, people will have to understand them, and then they will begin with understanding to behold them; vision will come, because the Spirit so lays hold of people's souls that they will be able to bring this Spirit into their bodies, and the Spirit will shine out even in their earthly incarnations; it will dawn first in a few, and then in a larger number. So we may say: Through the Spirit, through the Holy Ghost we are awakened in the great Midnight Hour of existence. So also from another side we may say — when we bear in mind what the Spirit provides for earthly evolution in the future: — the best part of the soul, that by which we are enabled to see into the spiritual worlds, will be awakened more and more by the Holy Ghost even when in the physical body. As man is awakened by the Holy Ghost in the Midnight Hour of existence, so also will he be awakened while living in his physical body on the physical plane. He will waken inwardly through the Spirit rousing him out of the sleep of sense; otherwise through mere sense-perception and through the intellect that is connected with the brain, man would always remain asleep. The Spirit will shine into this human sleep, which as it developed toward the future would otherwise gradually overcome humanity. The spirit in man will shine into this sleep even during physical existence. In the midst of the decline of spiritual life, in the midst of spiritual death, caused by an outlook based merely on sense-perception and a brain-bound intellect, the souls of men will be awakened by the Holy Ghost — even now during physical existence:
PER SPIRITUM SANCTUM REVIVISCIMUS
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