Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, February 5, 1918:
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Earthly Death and Cosmic Life. Lecture 3: The Living and the Dead
Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, February 5, 1918:
The fact we have so repeatedly set forth from different points of view — that the alternation of waking and sleeping has a more profound significance in human life than appears to outer observation — should form a subject for a comprehensive study of the universe and a practical grasp of the world in the ideal sense. To ordinary observation the apparent fact is that man with his consciousness alternates between the conditions of waking and sleeping. We know that this is only apparent, for we have often agreed from various points of view that the so-called sleep-condition lasts not only from falling asleep to waking, but that in a certain part of our being it also continues from waking to sleeping. We must really say that we are never completely, thoroughly ‘awake’ with our whole being. Sleep extends into our waking hours. With one part of our being we are always asleep.
We might ask ourselves: With what part of our being do we really keep awake during the so-called ‘waking’ time?
In the world of sense we are awake as regards our perceptions, as regards all that we perceive by means of our senses from waking to falling asleep. The characteristic of ordinary perception is precisely that from a condition of detachment from the external sense-world we pass over on waking to one of amalgamation with it; then our senses soon begin to be active and this wrests us from that dull condition which we know in ordinary life as ‘sleep.’ Thus with our sense-perception we are awake in the true sense of the word. We are already less awake in respect of our life of ideas, as accurate self-observation will prove, but sufficiently so to call it being awake. We must distinguish the life of perception from that of actual thought and ideas. When withdrawn from sense-perception, that is, not outwardly related to it, we meditate, we are thereby awake, both in the ordinary sense of the word and the higher; although this ‘being awake’ purely in the life of ideas has always a shade of dreaming — in the case of one man, more, of another, less. Although with many people dreaming may well be intermixed with the life of ideas, yet taken as a whole we can say that when we form concepts we are awake.
We are not ‘awake’ when we feel. Certainly, feeling wells up from an undefined, undifferentiated soul-life, and because we ‘realize’ feeling, because ideas — that is, waking activities — are mingled with it, we suppose that we are awake in our feeling; yet this is not really the case. In reality, the activity of our feeling is exactly the same as in ordinary dreaming. There is a profound relation between the dream-condition and the actual condition of feeling. If we were always able to illumine with ideas what we dream (the greater part of our dream-life is lost to us), we should be as well acquainted with the dream-life as with the life of feeling; for, indeed, feelings and passions are actually present in the soul in the same manner as the dream. No one can tell by his waking life what actually takes place when he feels, or in that which he feels. It surges up, as I said, from the undefined, undifferentiated life of the soul and is illumined by the light of the concepts, but it is a dream-life. This relationship of emotion and feeling to dreaming is well known even to those who are not occultists; for example, the prominent philosopher Frederick Theodor Vischer has often emphasized the profound relationship between dreaming and feeling in the soul-life of man.
Still ‘deeper down’ in the soul-life is the real life of will. What does man know about what actually takes place in his inner being when he says ‘I will take up a book’ and, stretching out his arm, does so? Of what takes place between muscle and nerve, of what goes on in the organism and even in the soul, by which an impulse of will passes into movement, into action, man is even less conscious than he is of the events of deep, dreamless sleep. It is a fact that the actual essence of our life of will is, in its turn, illumined by the life of ideas; thus it appears to us as though we were conscious of it, but the real entity of the will remains, even from waking to falling asleep, in a condition of profound sleep.
Thus we see that, in the true sense of the word, we are really ‘awake’ only as regards our perception in the world of sense and in our life of ideas; even in the waking condition, as regards the life of feeling we are actually asleep, we really dream; and as regards the life of will we are always fast asleep. Thus the sleep-condition extends into that of waking. Let us picture to ourselves how we pass through the world: what we experience with our waking consciousness is but the perception of the sense-world and our world of ideas; and, imbedded in this experience, is a world in which our impulses of feeling and will float, a world which surrounds us like the air, but does not enter the ordinary consciousness at all. Anyone who thus approaches the matter will, indeed, not be very far from recognizing a so-called supersensible world around him.
Now, all this has more pregnant consequences. Behind what has been related are significant facts of life as a whole. Anyone who knows the life of the human soul between death and rebirth (made known in a more abstract form by the lectures on ‘The Inner Nature of Man, and Life Between Death and Rebirth,’ given in Vienna in the spring of 1914) will see that in this world through which we wander in a sleeping condition, we are living together with the so-called dead. The dead are always present. They move and have their being in a supersensible world. We are not separated from them by our ‘real being,’ only by our condition of consciousness. We are only separated from them as in sleep we are separated from the things around us; we sleep in a room and do not see the chairs and other things. Though we do not describe it thus, yet as regards our feeling and will, we ‘sleep’ in the so-called waking condition among the dead, just as we do not perceive the physical objects around us when we sleep. Thus we do not live separated from the world ruled by the forces of the dead; we are together with them in one common world. In our ordinary consciousness we are only separated from them by the state of that consciousness.
This knowledge of our common life with the dead will be one of the most important elements which Spiritual Science is to implant in the general human consciousness, in the general civilization of mankind for the future; for those who believe that what takes place around them occurs only through the forces perceived in the life of the senses know nothing of the reality; they do not know that the forces of the dead are always at work, always present. Bearing in mind what I said in the first lecture — that, in this material age, man has really quite a false view of historical life because history in its actual impulses is only dreamt or slept away — we shall be able to form an idea that the forces of the dead may live in what we dream or sleep away of historical life. In a future time a study of history will come which will reckon with the forces of those who have passed through the gate of death, whose souls live in the world between death and rebirth. A consciousness of the unity of all mankind, including the so-called ‘dead,’ will have to give human civilization quite a new coloring.
The method of observation employed by the spiritual investigator, who can make a practical application of what has been said, will disclose many concrete details of this joint life of the living and the so-called dead. If by his thoughts a man could throw light upon the nature of his feeling and impulses of will, he would have a continuously living consciousness of the existence of the dead. This he does not at present possess. The ordinary consciousness does not possess it because these things are remarkably distributed within our conscious life. We might say that for the ‘conception’ of a higher cosmic relationship, there is a third consciousness, much more important than the perception of the waking condition or the sleep condition. What is this?
It is something lying between these, and for the man of today is only momentary and passes him by; it is the moment of waking and that of falling asleep. Today, man does not pay attention to his waking and falling asleep; yet in the general human consciousness they are extremely important. How important they are is disclosed when the unconscious experiences of the ordinary consciousness are illumined by the experiences of clairvoyant consciousness. Having studied in this way through many years of preparation, we can quite impartially illumine such things by supersensible facts.
It is quite possible for clairvoyant consciousness not only to become acquainted ‘in general’ with the facts of the supersensible world, in which, for instance, we abide between death and rebirth, but also to come in contact, into correspondence, with individual souls of the dead (although this is not so easy as the former). This we know. I shall only add that this observation is more difficult (to the ordinary scientific understanding of supersensible relations) merely because there are more obstacles to overcome. Although few today succeed in attaining general scientific results of the supersensible world, it cannot be said that it is extremely difficult to do so, for it is not beyond the ordinary capacities of the human soul. It is more difficult to come into individual relations with souls of the dead because those who strive for it overlook the fact that in the spiritual world the lower impulses of man can be wakened.
I have often described the reason. The higher faculties of the supersensible beings are connected with the lower human impulses (not with the higher impulses of incarnate beings) as the lower impulses of supersensible beings are related to the higher spiritual qualities of man. I described this as a significant mystery in the intercourse with the spiritual world, a mystery by contact with which a man may easily be shipwrecked; but if he can steer safely past this rock, if he is able to have intercourse with the supersensible without being diverted from the world of spiritual experiences, such intercourse is quite possible.
It proves, however, to be very, very different from what is usually regarded as ‘intercourse’ here in the world of sense. Speaking quite in the concrete: if we talk to one another here in the world of sense, we speak and the other answers. We know that we produce our words through the vocal organs; the words come from our thoughts. We feel that we are the creator of our words; we know that we hear ourselves speaking, and when someone answers we hear him; we listen and we hear him.
We are profoundly accustomed to such a connection because we are only conscious of having intercourse in the physical world with other human beings. Intercourse with discarnate souls is not like this. Strange as it may sound, intercourse with discarnate souls is exactly reversed. If we impart our own thoughts to the discarnate, we do not speak, but he speaks. It is exactly as though when talking with someone he were to say what we were about to communicate; we do not say it, but he does. The reply of the so-called dead does not come to us from outside but arises from our inner being; we experience it as inner life. Clairvoyant consciousness has to get accustomed to this. We have to get accustomed to the idea that we ourselves are in the other as the questioner, and the one who replies is in us. This complete reversal of the entities is necessary.
Anyone acquainted with such things knows that this reversal is not easy; it contradicts everything to which man is accustomed; for habits are formed in the course of life. Not only that — it contradicts all that is inborn in man, for it is inborn in us to believe that we ourselves speak when we ask a question, and that the other is silent when we answer him. Yet what has been said is the case in intercourse with supersensible beings. From this reversal of one's being which clairvoyant consciousness experiences, we shall be able to observe that a good proportion of the non-perceptibility of the dead rests upon the fact that they have intercourse with the living in a way which appears to the living as quite impossible, but to which they are only unaccustomed. The living simply do not hear what the dead say to them from the depths of their own beings and they do not pay attention when another being says what they themselves are thinking, what they themselves desire.
Now, it is a fact that of the two conditions of consciousness which rush so quickly past the man of today — those of waking up and of falling asleep — the one is adapted for the question only, the other only for the reply. The peculiarity is that the moment of falling asleep is specially favorable for putting the question to the dead; that is, for the hearing of the question which we put to him. As we fall asleep, we are in a receptive condition to put the question to the dead, that is, to hear from him the question we wish to ask. We are specifically disposed for this on falling asleep. In our ordinary consciousness we fall asleep immediately after; the consequence of which is, that we ask the dead hundreds of questions and talk with them of hundreds of things, but know nothing of it, because we immediately fall asleep. This fleeting moment of falling asleep is of tremendous consequence for our intercourse with the dead.
So, too, the moment of waking especially disposes us to receive the answers of the dead. If we did not immediately pass over into sense-perception, but were able to linger through the moment of waking, we should be specially adapted to receive their messages. These messages would appear as though arising from our own inner being.
Thus, there are two reasons why in both cases the ordinary consciousness does not pay attention to intercourse with the dead. The first is that immediately on awaking or falling asleep we meet a condition which is calculated to obliterate what we have experienced; the second, that when we fall asleep, let us say, unusual, really ‘impossible’ things occur. The hundred questions we can put to the dead — and do put — vanish in sleep-life because we are quite unaccustomed to ‘hear’ what we ask instead of ‘uttering’ it. Again, what the dead say to us on awaking, we do not judge as coming from them, because we do not recognise it; we take it as something arising within ourselves. This is the second reason why people are not familiar with intercourse with the dead.
These general phenomena are, however, sometimes broken through in the following way. What a man experiences on falling asleep, as putting the question to the dead from himself, continues, in a sense, during sleep. During sleep we look back unconsciously to the moment of falling asleep, and through this fact, dreams can be regulated. Such dreams can really be a reproduction of the questions we put to the dead. Far closer than we suppose do we approach the dead in our dreams, although what was experienced in the dream was said at the moment of falling asleep. The dream draws it up from the undifferentiated depths of the soul.
A man may, however, easily misconstrue this; he does not take the dreams — if later he recollects them as dreams — for what they really are. Dreams are really always a previous companionship with the dead springing from our life of feeling. We have moved towards them, and the dream often gives us the questions we have put to them. True, it gives us our subjective experience, but as though coming from outside. The dead speak to us, but we really utter what they say ourselves. It only appears as though they spoke. As a rule, it is not messages from the dead that come to us in our dreams, but the expression of our need of being with them, of our need of coming to them at the moment of falling asleep.
The moment of waking conveys to us messages from the dead. This moment is obliterated by the subsequent life of the senses; but the fact does occur that, in waking, we have something rising, as it were, from the inner being of the soul, of which we could well be aware if our self-observation were more accurate; it does not come from our ordinary ego, it is often a message from the dead.
We shall succeed in understanding these ideas if we do not form wrong thoughts about a connection I shall now bring before your soul. You will say: The moment of falling asleep is adapted for putting the question, that of waking for receiving the answer from the dead; they lie far apart! We can only judge rightly of this when we keep in view the relations of time in the supersensible world. There the saying is true, spoken with remarkable intuition by Richard Wagner: ‘Time becomes space.’ In the supersensible world, time really does become space — one point of space here, another there. Time is not past, but only a point of space, near or far; time actually becomes supersensibly space. The dead only gives his answer when he stands somewhat further from us. That, again, is an unaccustomed thought; but the past is not ‘past’ in the supersensible world. It is there, it remains, and with respect to the present, it is only a question of placing oneself in another place as regards the past. In the supersensible world, the past is just as little done away with as the house we left to come here tonight. It is in its place; so, too, in the supersensible world, the past is not gone but is in its place. It depends upon ourselves, and upon how far we got with them, how near or far we are from the dead. We can be very far or very near.
Thus, because we not only sleep and wake but wake up and fall asleep, we are in a continuous correspondence and contact with the dead. They are always among us, and we do not only act under the influence of those living around us as physical men, but under that of those connected with us who have passed through the gate of death. I shall today bring forward facts which from a certain point of view may lead us farther and farther into the spiritual world.
We can distinguish between various souls who have passed through the portal of death, as soon as we have understood that there is such continuous contact with them. Since, really, we always pass through the field of the dead, either on falling asleep, when we ask them questions, or on awaking, when we receive answers from them, our connection with them must also be affected according as they died young or old. The facts underlying the following are only evident to clairvoyant consciousness. That, however, is only the ‘knowledge’ of it; the reality always takes place. Every man is related to the dead, as shown by clairvoyant consciousness. When the young — children or juveniles — pass through the gate of death, it is seen that the connection between the living and the dead is different from that of older people, those dying in the twilight of their life. There is a decisive difference. When we lose children, when the young are apparently taken from us, they do not really leave us at all, but remain with us. This is seen by clairvoyant consciousness by the fact that the messages we receive on awakening are forceful and vivid when the dead concerned died as children or young people. The connection between those remaining behind and the dead is then such that we can only say that a child or young person is not lost at all; he really remains present. The young remain above all, because after death they show a forceful need to work into our waking moments and to send us messages. It is very remarkable, yet true, that human people who died young have a very great deal to do with all connected with waking. To clairvoyant consciousness it is specially interesting that it is due to those who died in youth that a man in outer life feels a certain devoutness, a certain religious inclination. A tremendous amount in respect of devoutness is effected by the messages of those who died early.
It is different with the souls of the old, those advanced in physical years. What clairvoyance shows us concerning these can be described differently. We may say that they do not lose us; our souls remain with them. Observe the contrast. The souls of the young we do not lose, they remain with us; the souls of the old do not lose us, they take something of our souls with them, as it were — if we may use such a comparison. The souls of the old draw us more to themselves, whereas the souls of the young draw, rather, to us. Therefore at the moment of falling asleep we have much to say to the souls of those who died old, and we can weave a special bond with the spiritual world by adapting ourselves to address the souls of the old. We can really do something with regard to these things.
Thus we see that we stand in continuous relation to the dead; we have a sort of ‘interrogation and reply,’ a mutual intercourse, with the dead. To qualify ourselves for questioning and, as it were, to approach the dead, the following is the right course: Ordinary abstract thoughts, those taken from materialistic life, bring us but little in relation to the dead. The dead, if they belong to us in any way, even suffer through our distraction in purely material life. If we stand firm against it and cultivate what will bring us in relation to them in conformity with our life of will and feeling, we prepare ourselves well to put the appropriate questions at the moment of falling asleep. These connections are particularly available in so far as the dead were related to us in life. The relationship in life forms and establishes what follows as relationship after death. There is, of course, a difference whether I speak with another with apathy or with sympathy, whether I speak as one who loves him or as one who does not care. There is a great difference whether I talk with someone as at a five o'clock tea, or whether I am specially interested in what I know of him. When intimate relations are formed between soul and soul, based on impulses of feeling and will, and if one can retain such interest after the one has passed through the gate of death, such eagerness to know what answer he will give, or if one has the impulse to be something to that soul, if one can live in these reminiscences of the other soul, reminiscences which do not flow to it from the content of the life of ideas but from the relations between one soul and another, then one is specially fitted for putting questions to that soul at the moment of falling asleep.
On the other hand, for the reception of answers, messages, at the moment of waking, we are specially adapted if we were capable and inclined to enter consciously into the being of the dead person during his life. Let us reflect how, especially at the present time, one man passes another by without really learning to know him. What do we know of one another? There are striking examples of marriages lasting for ten years without either knowing the other. This is so; yet it is possible (not depending on talent but on love) to enter the being of another with understanding, and thereby to bear within one a real world of ideas from the other. This is a specially good preparation for receiving answers from the dead themselves at the moment of waking. That is why we are even sooner able to receive answers from a child or young person, because we more easily learn to know a young person than those who have become more individualized and grown old.
Thus we can do something towards establishing a right relation between the living and the dead. Our whole life is, in reality, permeated with this relation. We, as souls, are imbedded in the same sphere in which the dead live. The degree to which we are religious is very strongly connected, as I have said, with the influence of those who have died young; and were it not that such work into life, there would probably be no religious feeling at all. The best relation to the souls of those who died young is to keep our thoughts of them more on what is general than individual. Funeral services for children or young people should have a ritualistic, universal character. The Roman Church, which colors everything with the youthful, the child-life, and which, generally speaking, would have liked to have only to do with children, to guide child-souls, therefore, does not, as a rule, give ‘individual’ addresses for the young life closing with death. This is specially good.
We mourn for children in a different way than we do for older people. Our grief for a child I should prefer to call a sympathetic sorrow, for the sorrow that we feel for a child that has passed from us by death is really in many respects the reflection of the attitude of our own soul towards the being of the child, which remains near us. We share in the life of the child; the child itself takes part with his entity in our sorrow; it feels a sympathetic sorrow.
Our grief for an older person is different; it cannot be called a sympathetic grief, it is ‘egoistic;’ it is best borne by the reflection that an older dead person really ‘takes us with him;’ he does not lose us if we try to prepare ourselves to join him. Hence we form more ‘individualixed’ memories of our older dead, we bear them rather in thought, we can remain united with them in thought, in the thoughts we shared with them if we try not to behave as an uncomfortable companion. When we have thoughts which he cannot accept, our dead friend retains us, but in a peculiar way. We remain with him, but we can be a burden to him if he has to drag us along without our entertaining any thoughts in which he can unite with us, which he can perceive spiritually.
Let us reflect how concrete our relations to the dead appear in the light of Spiritual Science, if we are able to have in view the whole relationship of the living to the dead. This will become very important to the humanity of the future. Trivial as it may sound, for every age is a ‘time of transition,’ yet our own age really is a period of transition. It must pass into a more spiritual age. It must know what comes from the kingdom of the dead, it must know that we are surrounded by the dead as by the air.
In time to come there will be a real perception that when an older person dies we must not become an incubus to him, as we shall be if we have thoughts which he cannot entertain. Just think how rich our times may become if we accept this life with the dead as real. I have often said that Spiritual Science does not wish to found a new religion, or to introduce anything sectarian into the world; to think otherwise is entirely to misconstrue it. On the other hand, I have often emphasized that the religious life can be deepened by it, because it provides real foundations. Certainly, remembrance of the dead, the service for the dead, has a religious side. On this side a foundation for the religious life will be created, if that life is illuminated by Spiritual Science.
When seen in the right light, these things will be lifted out of the abstract. For instance, it is not a matter of indifference to life whether a funeral service held is the right one for a young person, or whether it is more suited for an old one. It is of far greater importance for the general life of man whether right or wrong funeral services are held than all the regulations of town councils or parliament — strange as that may sound — for the impulses working in life come from the human individuals themselves when they are in right relation to the dead. Today people wish to regulate everything by an abstract structure of the social order. They are pleased when they do not need to think much over what they are to do. Many, even, are glad if they are not obliged to reflect upon what they ought to think. It is quite different when one has a living consciousness, not merely of a vaguely pantheistic connection, but of a concrete one with the spiritual world.
One can foresee a permeation of the religious life with concrete ideas when it is deepened by Spiritual Science. ‘Spirit’ was eliminated (as I have often related) from Western humanity in the year 869 at the Eighth Ecumenical Council in Constantinople. The dogma was then drawn up that Christians must not regard man as consisting of body, soul, and spirit, but of body and soul only, though certain spiritual qualities were to be ascribed to the soul. This abolition of the spirit is of tremendous significance. It was dogma — that in the year 869 in Constantinople it was decided that man must not be regarded as endowed with ‘anima’ and ‘spiritus,’ but only ‘unam animam rationalem et intellectualem.’ The dogma that ‘The soul has spiritual qualities’ was spread over the spiritual life of the West in the twilight of the ninth century.
This must be overcome. Spirit must again be recognized. Trichotomy — body, soul, and spirit — regarded as heresy in the Middle Ages, must again be recognized as the true and exact view of man's nature. Several things will be necessary to this end for those who today naturally challenge all ‘authority,’ yet swear that man consists of body and soul alone. Such are not only to be found in particular religious persuasions, but also among the ranks of those who listen to professors, philosophers, and others. Philosophers, as can everywhere be read, distinguish only body and soul, omitting the spirit. This is their ‘unprejudiced’ philosophy of life; but it rests upon the decision of the Church Council in the year 869 not to recognize spirit — that, however, they do not realize. A well-known philosopher, Wilhelm Wundt — a great philosopher by favor of his publisher, but at the same time renowned — of course divides man into body and soul, because he regards it as ‘unprejudiced’ science to do so — and does not know that he is simply following the decision of the Council of 869. We must look into the actual facts if we wish to see what takes place in the world of reality. If a man looks at the actual facts in the domain especially mentioned today, his consciousness will be opened concerning a connection with that world only dreamed of and slept away in history. History, historical life, will only be seen in the right light when a true consciousness of the connection of the so-called living with the so-called dead can be developed.