[RSArchive Icon]
Rudolf Steiner Archive Section Name Rudolf Steiner Archive and e.Lib

At the Gates of Spiritual Science

Schmidt Number: S-1364

On-line since: 15th June, 2008



How does man spend the period between death and a new birth? To call death the elder brother of sleep is not unjustified, for between sleep and death there is a certain relationship; but even so there is a great, decisive difference between them. Let us consider what happens to a man from the moment when he falls asleep to the moment when he wakes up. This stretch of time appears to us as a kind of unconsciousness; only a few memories of the dream-state, sometimes confused and sometimes fairly clear, emerge from it. If we want to understand sleep properly, we must recall the separate members of the human entity.

We have seen that man consists of seven members. Four are fully developed, the fifth only partly so, and of the sixth and seventh only the seed and outline so far exist. Thus we have:

  • The physical body, which we can perceive with our ordinary senses.
  • The etheric body, which permeates the physical body with a delicate luminosity.
  • The astral body.
  • The Ego-body or consciousness body.
  • This “Ego-body” contains:
  • Spirit-Self, or Manas, partly developed, party still in embryo.
  • Life-Spirit, or Buddhi.
  • Spirit-Man, or Atma.
  • These last two are present only as seeds.

    In the waking state a man has the first four of these bodies around him in space. The etheric body extends a little beyond the physical body on all sides. The astral body extends about two-and-a-half times the length of the head beyond the physical body, surrounds it like a cloud and fades away as you go from the head downwards. When a man falls asleep, the physical and etheric bodies remain on the bed, united as in the daytime. The astral body loosens its hold, and the astral body and Ego-body raise themselves out of the physical body. Now since all perceptions, concepts and so on are dependent on the astral body, which is now outside the physical body, man loses consciousness in sleep, for in this life he needs the physical brain as an instrument of consciousness; without it he cannot be conscious.

    What does the loosened astral body do during the night? A clairvoyant can see that it has a specific task. It does not, as some Theosophists will tell you, merely hover above the physical body, inactive, like a passive image; it works continuously on the physical body. During the day the physical body gets tired and used up, and the task of the astral body is to make good this weariness and exhaustion. It renovates the physical body and renews the forces which have been used up during the day. Hence comes the need for sleep, and hence also its refreshing, healing effect. The question of dreams we will deal with later.

    When a man dies, things are different. The etheric body then leaves him, as well as the astral body and Ego. These three bodies rise away and for a time remain united. At the moment of death the connection between the astral body and etheric body, on the one hand, and with the physical body, on the other, is broken, particularly in the region of the heart. A sort of light shines forth in the heart, and then the etheric body, the astral body and the Ego can be seen rising up from out of the head.

    The actual instant of death brings a remarkable experience: for a brief space of time the man remembers all that has happened to him in the life just ended. His entire life appears before his soul in a moment, like a great tableau. Something like this can happen during life, in rare moments of great shock or anger — for instance a man who is drowning, or falling from a great height, when death seems imminent, may see his whole life before him in this way.

    A similar phenomenon is the peculiar tingling feeling we have when a limb “goes to sleep”. What happens here is that the etheric body is loosened. If a finger, for example, goes to sleep, a clairvoyant would see a little second finger protruding at the side of the actual finger: this is a part of the etheric body which has got loose. Herein also lies the danger of hypnotism, for the brain then has the same experience as the finger has when it goes to sleep. The clairvoyant can see the loosened etheric body hanging like a pair of bags or sacks on either side of the head. If the hypnotism is repeated, the etheric body will develop an inclination to get loose, and this can be very dangerous. The victims become dreamy, subject to fainting fits, lose their independence, and so on.

    A similar loosening of the etheric body occurs when a person is faced with a sudden danger of death. The cause of this similarity is that the etheric body is the bearer of memory; the more strongly developed it is, the stronger a person's faculty of memory will be. While the etheric body is firmly rooted in the physical body, as normally it is, its vibrations cannot act on the brain sufficiently to become conscious, because the physical body with its coarser rhythms conceals them. But in moments of deadly danger the etheric body is loosened, and with its memories it detaches itself from the brain and a man's whole life flashes before his soul. At such moments everything that has been inscribed on the etheric body reappears; hence also the recollection of the whole past life immediately after death. This lasts for some time, until the etheric body separates from the astral body and the Ego.

    With most people, the etheric body dissolves gradually into the world-ether. With lowly, uneducated people it dissolves slowly; with cultivated people it dissolves quickly; with disciples or pupils it dissolves slowly again, and the higher a man's development, the slower the process becomes, until finally a stage is reached when the etheric body dissolves no longer.

    In the case of ordinary men, then, we have two corpses, of the physical and etheric bodies; we are left with the astral body and the Ego. If we are to understand this condition we must realise that in his earthly life a man's consciousness depends entirely on his senses. Let us think away everything that comes to us through our senses: without our eyes, absolute darkness; without our ears, absolute silence; and no feeling of heat or cold without the appropriate senses. If we can clearly envisage what will remain when we are parted from all our physical organs, from everything that normally fills our daytime consciousness and enlivens the soul, from everything for which we have to be grateful to the body all day long, we shall begin to form some conception of what the condition of life is after death, when the two corpses have been laid aside. This condition is called Kamaloka, the place of desires. It is not some region set apart: Kamaloka is where we are, and the spirits of the dead are always hovering around us, but they are inaccessible to our physical senses. What, then, does a dead man feel? To take a simple example, suppose a man eats avidly and enjoys his food. The clairvoyant will see the satisfaction of his desire as a brownish-red thought-form in the upper part of his astral body. Now suppose the man dies: what is left to him is his desire and capacity for enjoyment. To the physical part of a man belongs only the means of enjoyment: thus we need gums and so forth in order to eat. The pleasure and the desire belong to the soul, and they survive after death. But the man no longer has any means of satisfying his desires, for the appropriate organs are absent. And this applies to all kinds of wishes and desires. He may want to look at some beautiful arrangements of colours — but he lacks eyes; or to listen to some harmonious music — but he lacks ears.

    How does the soul experience all this after death? The soul is like a wanderer in the desert, suffering from a burning thirst and looking for some spring at which to quench it; and the soul has to suffer this burning thirst because it has no organ or instrument for satisfying it. It has to feel deprived of everything, so that to call this condition one of burning thirst is very appropriate. This is the essence of Kamaloka. The soul is not tortured from outside, but has to suffer the torment of the desires it still has but cannot satisfy.

    Why does the soul have to endure this torment? The reason is that man has to wean himself gradually from these physical wishes and desires, so that the soul may free itself from the Earth, may purify and cleanse itself. When that is achieved, the Kamaloka period comes to an end and man ascends to Devachan.

    How does the soul pass through its life in Kamaloka? In Kamaloka a man lives through his whole life again, but backwards. He goes through it, day by day, with all its experience's, events and actions, back from the moment of death to that of birth. What is the point of this? The point is that he has to pause at every event and learn how to wean himself from his dependence on the physical and material. He also relives everything he enjoyed in his earthly life, but in such a way that he has to do without all this; it offers him no satisfaction. And so he gradually learns to disengage himself from physical life. And when he has lived through his life right back to the day of his birth, he can, in the words of the Bible, enter into the “kingdom of Heaven”. As Christ says, “Unless ye became as little children, ye cannot enter the kingdom of Heaven.” All the Gospel sayings have a deep meaning, and we come to know their depth only by gradually entering into the divine wisdom.

    There are some particular moments in Kamaloka which must be singled out as specially important and instructive. Among the various feelings a man can have as part of his ordinary life is the sheer joy of being alive, of living in a physical body. Hence he feels the lack of physical body as one of his worst deprivations. We can thus understand the terrible destiny and the horrible torments which have to be endured by the unfortunates who end their lives through suicide. When death comes naturally, the three bodies separate relatively easily. Even in apoplexy or any other sudden but natural form of death, the separation of these higher members has in fact been prepared for well in advance, and so they separate easily and the sense of loss of the physical body is only slight. But when the separation is as sudden and violent as it is with the suicide, whose whole organism is still healthy and firmly bound together, then immediately after death he feels the loss of the physical body very keenly and this causes terrible pains. This is a ghastly fate: the suicide feels as though he had been plucked out of himself, and he begins a fearful search for the physical body of which he was so suddenly deprived. Nothing else bears comparison with this. You may retort that the suicide who is weary of life no longer Has any interest in it; otherwise he would not have killed himself. But that is a delusion, for it is precisely the suicide who wants too much from life. Because it has ceased to satisfy his desire for pleasure, or perhaps because some change of circumstances has involved him in a loss, he takes refuge in death. And that is why his feeling of deprivation when he finds himself without a body is unspeakably severe.

    But Kamaloka is not so hard for everyone. If a man has been less dependent on material pleasures, he naturally finds the loss of his body easier to endure. Even he, however, has to shake himself free from his physical life, for there is a further meaning in Kamaloka. During his life a man does not merely do things which yield pleasure; he lives also in the company of other men and other creatures. Consciously or unconsciously, intentionally or unintentionally, he causes pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, to animals and men. All such occasions he will encounter again as he lives through the Kamaloka period; he returns to the place and moment when he was the cause of pain to another being. At that time he made someone else feel pain; now he has to suffer the same pain in his own soul. All the torment I ever caused to other beings I now have to live through in my own soul. I enter into the person or the animal and come to know what the other being was made to suffer through me; now I have to suffer all these pains and torments myself. There is no way of avoiding it. All this is part of the process of freeing oneself — not from the working of karma, but from earthly things. A vivisectionist has a particularly terrible life in Kamaloka.

    It is not for a Theosophist to criticise what goes on in the world around him, but he can well understand how it is that modern men have come to actions of this kind. In the Middle Ages no one would have ever dreamt of destroying life in order to understand it, and in ancient times any doctor would have looked on this as the height of madness. In the Middle Ages a number of people were still clairvoyant; doctors could see into a man and could discern any injury or defect in his physical body. So it was with Paracelsus, for example. But the material culture of modern times had to come, and with it a loss of clairvoyance. We see this particularly in our scientists and doctors; and vivisection is a result of it. In this way we can come to understand it, but we should never excuse or justify it. The consequences of a life which has been the cause of pain to others are bound to follow, and after death the vivisectionist has to endure exactly the same pains that he inflicted on animals. His soul is drawn into every pain he caused. It is no use saying that to inflict pain was not his intention, or that he did it for the sake of science or that his purpose was good. The law of spiritual life is inflexible.

    How long does a man remain in Kamaloka? For about one-third of the length of his past life. If for instance he has lived for seventy-five years, his time in Kamaloka will be twenty-five years. And what happens then? The astral bodies of people vary widely in colour and form. The astral body of a primitive kind of man is permeated with all kinds of shapes and lower desires: its background colour is a reddish-grey, with rays of the same colour emanating from it; in its contours it is no different from that of certain animals. With a highly educated man, or an idealist such as Schiller or a saint such as St. Francis of Assisi, things are quite different. They denied themselves many things; they ennobled their desires and so forth. The more a man uses his Ego to work on himself, the more rays will you see spreading out from the bluish sphere which is his Ego-centre. These rays indicate the forces by means of which a man gains power over his astral body. Hence one can say that a man has two astral bodies: one part has remained as it was, with its animal impulses; the other results from his own work upon it.

    When a man has lived through his time in Kamaloka, he will be ready to raise the higher part of his astral body, the outcome of his own endeavours, and to leave the lower part behind. With savages and uncultivated people, a large part of the lower astral body remains behind; with more highly developed people there is much less. When for example a Francis of Assisi dies, very little will be left behind; a powerful higher astral body will go with him, for he will have worked greatly on himself. The remaining part is the third human corpse, consisting of the lower impulses and desires which have not been transmuted. This corpse continues to hover about in astral space, and may be a source of many dangerous influences.

    This, too, is a body which can manifest in spiritualistic seances. It often survives for a long time, and may come to speak through a medium. People then begin to believe that it is the dead man speaking, when it is only his astral corpse. The corpse retains its lower impulses and habits in a kind of husk; it can even answer questions and give information, and can speak with just as much sense as the “lower man” used to display. All sorts of confusions may then arise, and a striking example of this is the pamphlet written by the spiritualist, Langsdorf, in which he professes to have had communication with H. P. Blavatsky. To Langsdorf the idea of reincarnation is like a red rag to a bull; there is nothing he would not do to refute this doctrine. He hates H.P.B. because she taught this doctrine and spread it abroad. In his pamphlet he purports to be quoting H.P.B. as having told him not only that thedoctrine of reincarnation was false but that she was very sorry ever to have taught it. This may indeed be all correct — except that Langsdorf was not questioning and quoting the real H.P.B. but her astral corpse. It is quite understandable that her lower astral body should answer in this way if we remember that during her early period, in her Isis Unveiled, she really did reject and oppose the idea of reincarnation. She herself came to know better, but her error clung to her astral husk.

    This third corpse, the astral husk, gradually dissolves, and it is important that it should have dissolved completely before a man returns to a new incarnation. In most cases this duly happens, but in exceptional cases a man may reincarnate quickly, before his astral corpse has dissolved. He has difficulties to face if, when he is about to reincarnate, he finds his own astral corpse still in existence, containing everything that had remained imperfect in his former life.

    The Rudolf Steiner Archive is maintained by:
    The e.Librarian: elibrarian@elib.com