Earthly Death and Cosmic Life. Lecture 5
Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, March 12, 1918:
In connection with human souls which have passed through the gate of death, we have endeavored to trace the relations existing between the world in which man lives between birth and death, and that in which he lives between death and rebirth. We shall try to consider these connections from various points of view.
In the course of time humanity will be obliged to approach the spiritual world with discernment — in order to fulfil its mission. In the near future it must learn to know through conviction that a true creative knowledge of the world and its connection with man extends far beyond what can be fathomed by physical science and the intellect connected with it. Man knows but a small part of the real world (viz. the world of that activity in which he himself is active) if he applies himself only to what is perceptible to the senses and the intellect fettered to them.
We have seen how man can, as it were, refine his observation, and extend it to various things which exist but remain unobserved in life — because he only turns his attention to what happens in waking life from morning to evening, leaving out of account what might have happened — what is in a sense prevented. In order to give at least some idea of the things which man must feel rather than think, it has been frequently pointed out that we need only reflect upon how a man might, for instance, be prevented by a visitor from starting out at the time he intended; having intended to start at eleven o'clock, he was delayed half an hour. We realize that under certain circumstances — though obviously only ‘under certain circumstances’ — the course of the day would have been quite different if he had gone out at the hour intended; how something quite different would have befallen him in that half-hour had he not been detained, and he therefore escaped something. If we reflect how many events of a similar kind meet us in the course of a day, we shall gain an idea of all that might have happened. We shall be able, through feeling, to compare the concept of what might have happened between morning and night with what really did occur, according to the connection of cause and effect.
To obtain a really clear idea of these things, it is well to compare them with similar things in nature; for certain things occur in nature which must be judged in the same way. In this connection the great number of seed-forces that are continually being lost is often pointed out as an instance. Reflect too how little the herring spawn becomes herring, and how much of it is lost in the course of a year. If we extend this idea to life as a whole, we should try to realize how many germs organized for life do not come to fruition in course of the seasons, how many fail to attain to fully developed, germinating, thriving life. But we are not to believe that they do not also form part of reality. They belong just as much to reality as does all that comes to full development; only they stop short at a certain point and take a different course, just as do the events in our own lives when anything holds us back; the one kind are life-transactions, the other nature-transactions, which are checked and for that reason continue on a different course. This conception can be extended yet further.
We ask ourselves whether something else, which arises as a puzzling question in human life, does not resemble these two examples. We know that the normal duration of man's life is seventy to ninety years but that by far the greater number die much earlier; that in them the perfection of life is not attained. As in nature some seeds are held back at a certain stage and do not come to full maturity, so also are the life-processes of man; and again we see also that our daily actions do not come to full maturity, for the above-mentioned reasons. All this will call our attention to the fact that there is a great deal ‘between the lines’ of life, that is not observed; which, as it were, instead of passing into the region where it can become physically perceptible, remains in a spiritual sphere.
If we do not regard such things as fancy, but really reflect fruitfully upon them, we find the bridge leading — if not to conclusive proof, yet to the concept of something full of significance. Thus, as we act in life, matters take place in such a way that for the ordinary transactions of life we consider, we reflect upon, our deeds, our impulses of will. We consider what we ought to do and then carry out what we have decided upon. The course of life, however, does not run so simply that we have only to decide what we shall do and then carry it out; on the contrary many things intervene which often appear like a series of ‘accidents,’ or those irregular ‘chance’ happenings which we call ‘Fate.’
To those who think in a materialistic sense, fate is simply made up of events which they encounter from day to day. True, many have an inkling that a certain ‘plan’ underlies this fate; but to develop this perception of a ‘plan’ further, by continuing to notice in what way it is gradually worked out, is not as a rule considered either necessary or important. Today so-called analytical psychology, psycho-analysis, finds out many things which are making themselves felt at the threshold of consciousness; but the representatives of analytical psychology approach these things with inadequate means of knowledge.
Let us repeat a paradoxical example often employed by the psychoanalyst, as a starting point to show clearly that there are various ‘spiritual’ things in life of which the ordinary man has no idea.
A lady was invited to an evening party and took part in it; the party was given because the hostess was about to start on a journey that evening. She was leaving for a health resort. The entertainment went off well. The hostess started for her destination, the guests leaving at the same time. One group walked in the road, and as they went along, a cab came around the corner — I say advisedly a cab, not a motor-car. The cab tore through the street. One of the ladies separated from the others. The rest all got out of its way, but the peculiar idea occurred to her to run along in front of the horse. As she ran on — and the horse was behind her — the thought came to her that she must do something to save herself from this situation. She came to a bridge over the river, and she thought to herself that if she threw herself into the water, she would be safe from the horse. But the other guests, as you may imagine, ran after her and finally seized hold of her. The result was that she was taken back to the house they had just left and was thus able to continue a flirtation with the host, begun at the party.
The psychoanalyst here seeks for ‘hidden provinces of the soul.’ He finds that when this lady was a child, she had had certain adventures with horses, and those now rose from the subconscious depths. Anyone who knows the soul life of man, however, will not be able to accept all this nonsense of psychoanalysis; for if these hidden provinces of the soul exist (which is not to be denied) it is only that they may prepare the experience for which the soul is seeking; they themselves are not involved in this experience. What is really involved is that man — as also the lady here in question — has an instinctive, a ‘sub-conscious,’ consciousness which under certain circumstances is much more keen and subtle than the higher consciousness.
In this instance the consciousness of the lady acted in a somewhat, as it were, clumsy way, but her lower instinctive consciousness worked far more subtly. In this latter arose the thought: Today the lady of the house has gone away; I must see how I can manage to meet the husband. I must think of something, and take the first opportunity that occurs. The lower consciousness was even a little prophetic; it divined in advance what would happen if she ran before the horse. All this could be arranged with great cunning by the lower consciousness. The higher consciousness was not so clever; but the lower had this cunning, which is greatly enhanced when a certain prophetic gift steps in.
This instance is cited as a particular case of something which exists universally. Everyone hears within him something which works in many different directions in a far more comprehensive and intense manner than does his ordinary consciousness. If a man were conscious of what he actually knows in his lower consciousness, he would be exceedingly clever and able to plan with great subtlety.
We might now ask: Is what lives in the lower consciousness of man quite inactive? For those who understand how to observe the world spiritually, it is not inactive. On the contrary, it is continually active. In the case of this lady — and in similar cases — it only comes to light in an abnormal way under the influence of certain special experiences, impulses, and inclinations — but what in her case came to light in a special way, is always present in man in certain spheres, and accompanies him through his whole waking life. How is this? That it came to light in this way in her case rested upon the fact that this subconscious knowledge of life which man possesses sometimes exceeds its bounds. It even happens with ordinary consciousness that a man does something which is really unusual, which is really exceptional: So too in the subconscious life. In these cases however, it is only something particular coming out of that which is always active in man. How is it active?
What we call our destiny is really a very complicated matter. It appears to approach us in such a way that events ‘befall’ us. Let us take a striking example, one known to many. Suppose someone makes acquaintance with another who later becomes friend, husband, or wife. The higher consciousness would explain this as ‘befalling’ us; and declare that we ourselves have done nothing to bring the other person into our own life. That, however, is not the fact; the truth is quite otherwise.
With that force which rests in the subconscious depths, already described, we lay out our life from the moment we are born into this Earth existence — and even more when we begin to say ‘I’ — so directing our life's course that at a definite moment it crosses the path of another. A man does not notice what remarkable discoveries he would make if he were to follow a definite path of life, like that of someone who at a definite moment became engaged, for instance. If he were to follow up his life, observing how he developed through his childhood and youth, passing from place to place, until he met the one to whom he was to be betrothed, he would find that events had not taken place without purpose; that things did not merely befall him, but that he moved with purpose towards his meeting with the other. His whole life was pervaded by the quest; his whole destiny was such a quest.
We must of course, realise that this quest does not run its course as do actions undertaken as a result of ordinary reflection. The latter follow a straight line; the actions which arise from the subconsciousness take place strongly and personally. But then they are fraught with meaning and purpose. It is not correct to speak of ‘unconsciousness’; we should say ‘subconsciousness’ or lower consciousness, for it is only ‘unconscious’ to our ordinary consciousness. In the case of the lady who so cunningly contrived to return to the house of her host, the lower consciousness was much more conscious in itself than was the lady herself in her higher consciousness. So too, is it with what leads us in life; so that our destiny is a specially woven tissue which leads us and is very, very conscious.
This does not prevent man from finding constant fault with his destiny; but if he could survey all the factors, he would find that he agreed to everything. The higher consciousness, not being so alert as the lower, judges the facts of the latter falsely, and says to itself: Something which I do not like has befallen me — whereas he has in reality, from a deep deliberation, sought what in his higher consciousness he considers ‘unsympathetic.’ A knowledge of the deeper connections would show that a more intelligent thinker within him sought the things which became his destiny.
Upon what does all this rest?
This is due to the fact that our ordinary head-consciousness, of which many are so vain, is, so to say, a sieve. When we discuss things for which ordinary language has no suitable words we can of course only speak by comparisons, but the ‘comparisons’ correspond to realities. This is a comparison, but an adequate one, and it points to a reality: When one pours water into a sieve it runs through; it does not fill the sieve. Things thought and pondered over, when fulfilled in the web of destiny, pass through our head-consciousness as through a sieve, but the lower consciousness retains them. Now, because they pass through the higher consciousness as through a sieve, the man knows nothing of them; yet they are retained within him.
Some day when Natural Science is studied logically, people will ask themselves: What is the difference between man and the animal as regards this fact? In the case of the animal these experiences go right through it; the whole animal is a sieve. In the case of man they are certainly not retained in the head, yet they are retained by the whole man. Man does not as a rule think these experiences because in ordinary life the head alone thinks and not the whole man. Only when hysteria, for instance, arises, which is due to the other part of man beginning to think — (which in man arises through conditions of illness, but in general ought not to arise) — then exceptional cases may appear when man, so to speak, ‘makes destiny,’ as this lady did. Thus a person does after all retain the experience, and something very remarkable consequently presents itself: — Why does the experience pass through the whole animal and why is it retained by man?
Because the animal has no hands; that is, its limbs — whether legs or wings — are always united with the Earth, which alters the case. Because man had remodelled the limbs which in animals are either legs or wings, his arms and hands are so inserted in his organism that he retains his thoughts within him, in his destiny.
Only — man cannot think with his hands, he can only hold his destiny with them; hence he overlooks his destiny. The hands are just as much ‘organs of thought’ as the etheric part of the head. As regards thought, the latter does something very similar to what man does in life with his hands; with his hands he arrests within himself the stream of actions which traverses his destiny. Man is so organized that only the coarser reasoning activity of hands and arms comes to expression. Everyone knows that in the hands, above all in the fingertips, he has a special sense of perception; though there it only presents its coarsest aspect. Here we refer to something very delicate. The thinking which man there develops and can bring to expression through artistic activity is very faint, scarcely a glimmer; nevertheless the hands are so inserted into man's general organism that they are the organs of thought for his destiny. In the present cycle of evolution, man has not yet learnt to think with his hands. Were he to do so, were he to know their mysteries, they would introduce him to the fundamental laws of the relations of destiny.
This may seem very strange, but it is true. We have here a point where, on the one hand, Spiritual Science says: in the hands, which develop a subconscious thinking, destiny is thought. Natural Science does not yet observe this; since it only observes the human organism very crudely, and naturally comes to the conclusion that man is only a more perfect animal. This he is too, but in what is not observed lies the essential difference between man and the animal.
Let us reflect: What is the position of the head in the animal? Its head rests directly over the Earth. The head is so placed in man that he carries it himself, whereas in the case of the animal it is the Earth which carries it; in man the central line of gravity of the head falls, so to speak, into the human organism before meeting the Earth; it passes through the diaphragm. Man stands in the same relation to himself as the animal stands to the Earth. If we take the central line of gravity of the animal's head, it falls directly to the Earth, without going through the diaphragm of the organism. The orientation of his organism to the whole cosmos is the essential point in man; and with this orientation the fact is connected that his arms and hands are organised differently from the corresponding limbs of the animal.
In future, Natural Science will begin to ask this question: How is man connected with dynamics, with the relation of forces to the universe? That man is not a quadruped but a two-handed being is due to the cosmos. He so deals with himself, when thus organized from the cosmos, that the central line of gravity of his head falls within himself, and he becomes his own Earth. Because in a particular way he has disconnected his hands and arms, he so lives as regards them that the hands on their part can grasp destiny, just as the organization of the head is connected with his upright position. Man has his more perfect brain because the central line of gravity of his head passes through him instead of falling directly to the Earth. In the universe there are forces everywhere, and when something is differently orientated, the whole is differently proportioned. This is admitted as regards inorganic nature, but is not as yet observed with regard to man. How the material works over against the spiritual in man is not at present considered, nor how in him the spiritual everywhere works through the material.
This is one side of the subject. Here we may say: We fix our attention on man, and observe how he rests on his own diaphragm; and when with our subconscious being we think right down to the diaphragm, we are understanding our destiny, whereas in our surface consciousness we live only in the understanding of our considered acts.
But man stands within life in yet another way. For as we have seen — if we do not only consider his head but his whole organism — man does in reality ponder his destiny: subconsciously he ponders his destiny, and so determines it and knows it. There is yet another thing in human life. We perform actions. These actions in our life call forth in us a certain satisfaction — or dissatisfaction. Suppose we have done a good action which has given satisfaction; or suppose we have to embark on an undertaking to guard against something unpleasant. Thus we have various things that man brings about in life by his actions, but we do not only form actions and experience conscious satisfaction or otherwise in so doing.
We can see this best if with Spiritual Science we investigate actions that enter less deeply into our lives, actions that need not even have moral significance, e.g., the act of chopping wood. The action we achieve when we are chopping wood causes us fatigue. Now, people have various ideas about fatigue. We know from the public lecture on ‘Nature and Her Riddles in the Light of Spiritual Research’ (7th March, 1918) that people imagine they fall asleep from fatigue, that the cause of falling asleep is fatigue. Everyone knows that fatigue arises as an attendant phenomenon of actions such as chopping wood; but this fatigue has a far deeper significance when examined in the light of Spiritual Science. It really is not in the least what it appears to us to be. We experience it as what we call fatigue, but it is something quite different.
We can easily realize that the fatigue aroused by such actions is a dual process. (Actions that enter more into our moral or intellectual life are only more subtle in this respect; the thing is not always so easily discerned as is an elemental act such as woodcutting.) It is a dual process. First we must use the springing and thriving forces of life connected with our growth; when these are exhausted a process of destruction takes place in our organism. This process is experienced as fatigue, which is really a stunning of consciousness, the deeper significance of which we experience as something quite other than as a mere consequence — in this case — of wood-cutting. Fatigue, for our ordinary life, is only a stunning of consciousness. What do we really experience?
This, of course, we can only answer from a genuine research of Spiritual Science. When we are fatigued from wood-cutting, we see at those parts which we know belong to man's spiritual organism — also called lotus-flowers (see Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and its Attainment) — a certain radiation, a real radiation of one of them. This is one effect; it does not come to our consciousness; we are not aware of this spiritual effect. What does come to our consciousness is what sends us to sleep; so that the spiritual effect is not in itself perceived — for what rays out is truly something spiritual.
We can understand this even better if, in order to keep in mind the spirituality of this radiation, we observe an action that is exposed to moral judgments. Suppose that instead of cutting wood we have done something to which a moral judgment is applicable. Moral judgments are as a rule thought of only within the narrow spheres of life; but they have in reality a far wider significance. Everything man does has a value for the whole course of human evolution. Even the individual action has a value in the general course of human evolution.
This judgment as to how much an action is worth in the progress of human evolution is usually just as little understood by the head as are the acts of destiny; but instead of allowing this judgment to pass through man's being as through a sieve, man rays it forth through the lotus-flowers, and it becomes a radiation of man's being. Man continually exercises a subconscious judgment, a valuation, of each one of his actions. He may be an ‘angelic’ being and do good to all men. The value of such modes of action as regards the whole evolution of humanity is judged in his subconsciousness — indeed very objectively — and often falls out quite other than one would suppose in the surface consciousness. Again a man may be a thief; while he commits the theft he judges his action quite objectively in its effects on the whole process of human evolution; and this he rays out before him unhesitatingly through the lotus-flower. In the same way as the judgments of our own destiny, which pass through our head as through a sieve, are retained by our arms and hands, so will the judgments which we pass on our actions, and even on the actions of our thoughts, be guided by us with the help of our astral lotus-flower organization; they will ray through our lotus-flower organization as a light going from us — and this light extends very far. It passes over into time, it does not remain in space.
That is why the lotus-flowers are so difficult to imagine, for they are in continual movement, are continually making the transition to time. Space there actually becomes time. Man casts a light before him in such a way that it passes into time, a continuous light which extends far beyond death. Throughout life there is One Who judges in our subconsciousness. As there is One within us Who thinks our destiny, so there is One Who passes judgment on all our actions; and we ray out this judgment as a light.
This again, being an ‘imaginative’ action, is expressed in a picture, but the picture corresponds to a reality. Life is, as it were, irradiated by a searchlight. This must not be imagined spatially but in time. A man of 40 performs some act; his life passes on through the 50's and the 60's, then through death, and further — into the existence between death and rebirth; and as he passes through that existence, he experiences, stage by stage, what during his earthly life continually streamed out into it through his lotus-flowers. He meets with all he rayed into the future. This again, expressed pictorially, is as though he were roused by a searchlight which shines far out, and he follows its course, saying to himself: “All my deeds shine out there; I shall meet them all again.” Only it is the judgment of his deeds which he thus meets in the life between death and rebirth. In this connection man is no sieve — or if a sieve, he only allows to pour through it what he himself subconsciously engenders.
Thus again an entity exists in man as a permanent critic of his own deeds, and of what is thrown forward by him into his own future. Here, too, if we wish, we can approach Natural Science. Because man is so fashioned as to stand upright and his mechanism of ordinary consciousness rests upon himself as upon its own Earth, therefore at the places of the lotus-flowers, that which emanates from his wanderings over the Earth — in the fullest sense of the words — is retained. There it is retained, broken at right angles and sent out into life.
Thus we see that which in a complicated yet fully discernible way is set into life and which is usually comprised in the general term “the unconscious.” Precisely because man is shut off below by his diaphragm, he is linked by his subconsciousness to his destiny.
In the case of the animal this radiation through the lotus-flowers does not come into consideration. Why? This is connected with the orientation of the animal in the universe. Because man's spine is vertical, at right angles to that of the animal, he develops all that the animal cannot develop. For the animal's spine is horizontal and not vertical, and the two things neutralize one another. Hence the animal can set no ‘critic’ by its side, nor send any judgment of its actions in animal life into the future.
Much will transpire when Natural Science realizes that it is required to do more than merely hold the trivial view that the limbs of the animal can be compared in structure and form with those of man, or the head of the animal with that of man. Man has indeed a more perfect brain, but otherwise the human head does not differ so much from that of the animal; therefore the materialistic theory attaches man to the animal kingdom. What does, however, distinguish man from the animal kingdom is his orientation in the universe: were the scientists to study this, they would arrive at something very different from Natural Science. Here Spiritual Science will lead the way, as in all else, by pointing to definite life processes which will only be perceived when one has received appropriate direction from Spiritual Science.
Thus we see how man is so organized that we can say there is, on the one hand, much in him that is far more intelligent — often more subtle than he himself is — in relation to the judgment of destiny, and on the other hand there is in him a more objective critic than he is himself in his conscious life. There is in man, in a complicated way, what may be called ‘another man;’ and this comes to expression in life. As a rule, man does not watch his actions. The critic within him remains subconscious; he only becomes conscious between death and rebirth, when that light already mentioned is discerned step by step. By a logical, incisive consideration of life, however, we can arrive at seeing the different way in which this critic behaves in different individuals.
Let us compare two types of men in life. One type is frequently called a ‘busybody.’ People are to be met with who never have time for anything; they must be continually on the move; their hands — one might even say their noses — must take part in everything. People do not think much about it; they regard it as a mere habit of life which rests on sundry subconscious things. What is connected with this, however, is that the critic in the incarnation in which the man is a busybody is in a peculiar position. These critics also have their own particular individuality. That is discovered after death. In such a case — and it is well to be able to speak of these things with humor, for if humor is allowed to have play when a man enters Spiritual Science he can overcome the mood which is so inharmonious to Spiritual Science, which encroaches very much upon it — in the case of a busybody, this critic is a sort of ‘actor,’ liking very much to be seen, not only by men but by all sorts of spiritual beings; he is pleased that the swarming, teeming life in the spiritual world should always see him when he runs about. This type, in the spiritual world, is one who always runs about and wishes to be seen, and from this desire to be seen, which turns into an unconscious driving force, arises a busybody.
Let us take the opposite character: take a man who fulfils the tasks laid upon him by life, the tasks to which life urges him. He is not to be seen everywhere, but acts where he is not seen, where life requires him to be. In this case, too, the critic occupies a peculiar position. These things are to be discovered when examined by Spiritual Science. The critic occupies a special position, which arises from the unconscious belief that whatever a man does — even if not seen by the swarming spirits, as the busybody would wish — is not unavailing; that no force is unavailing in the world, but has its significance there. This beautiful belief, that ‘Whatsoever I do, even if the result should not appear for a thousand years, will in some way have its significance in the general life of the world’ — this consciousness is at the base of the opposite type to the busybody. A certain tranquility in the world, a certainty, arises from the above belief.
We see from this how life is elucidated when we bear in mind the fact that man's connections in life are not only those visible in the outer world of sense, but that he has real connections in life based on his relation to the spiritual world.
These arguments have been brought forward today chiefly to present two elements in the human being: one, the element so connected with the physical organization of man between birth and death that it reveals itself as a lower consciousness, of which the arms and hands are the organs of thought — organs of thought in this remarkable way, that they give peculiar methods of expression to what passes through the head as through a sieve. In this respect man is a remarkable vessel; as regards his knowledge of destiny his head is a sieve; but when the thoughts which make destiny have run through, they are retained by the hands and arms. The other element in man is that which rays through the lotus-flowers and passes into the life between death and rebirth.
Much of importance depends upon the relations which are set up between these two streams. If we consider the whole man in this way, thinking actually of the plane of the diaphragm, we have him ever there as a dual being; in the one being something, an experience, entering into man, stops short there, at the plane of the diaphragm, arrested by the force of the arms and hands, and this happens because man is a vertical being, not horizontal like the animal.
The other being — strange as it may sound, but the world is full of riddles — reveals himself in such a way that the legs and feet stand to him in the same relationship as do the hands and feet of the first being. This second being is connected with the Earth; for one really sees the rays coming through the Earth and penetrating man, through whom they are conducted by the lotus-flowers and ray out into the future.
These are the two streams, showing man as a dual being. In ordinary life these two streams are separated, and on this fact life rests. Were they united, life would not be as it actually is. For if they flowed together, man could not develop the ego-consciousness, since that depends upon their being kept apart.
And yet, they are only partly separated, for in one sense they do still flow together. It is so indeed. The stream which rays out from man, raying into the life between death and a new birth, can be united by man's own effort and development — outside the human being — with those other, incoming radiations which otherwise pass through the ‘sieve’ and are arrested by the arms. That is to say, it can be united with them before they pass through the ‘sieve.’ The two streams which otherwise pass through the body but cannot come together: if man takes hold of them in this way, they can be united with one another.
It is this union which makes it possible for man to meet with the dead — with those who have passed through the gate of death.
In order that it may be further considered from other standpoints, the description given today of these two streams will form an introduction to this relationship of the living to the dead.