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Sketch of Rudolf Steiner lecturing at the East-West Conference in Vienna.

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chapter iii


4. The Spirit in the Spiritland After Death

When the human spirit on its way between two incarnations has passed through the “World of Souls” it enters the “Land of Spirits” to remain there until it is ripe for a new bodily existence. We can only understand the meaning of this sojourn in “Spiritland” if we are able to interpret in the right way the aim and end of the pilgrimage of man during his incarnations. While man is incarnated in the physical body he works and creates in the physical world. And he works and creates in it as a spiritual being. He imprints on the physical forms, on the corporeal materials and forces, what his spirit thinks out and elaborates. He has therefore as a messenger of the spiritual world to embody the spirit in the corporeal world. Only by being incarnated can a man work in the corporeal world. He must take on the physical body as his instrument, that through the body he can work upon the other bodies around and they can work upon him. But what works through this physical corporality of man is the spirit. From this flow the purposes, the directions its work is to take in the physical world. Now as long as the spirit works in the physical body it cannot as spirit five in its true form. It can only shine through the veil of the physical existence. For as a matter of fact the thought-life of man really belongs to the spiritual world; and as it appears in the physical existence its true form is veiled. One can also say that the thought-life of the physical man is a shadow, a reflection of the activity of the true, spiritual being to whom it belongs. Thus, during physical life the spirit working through the physical body interacts with the earthly corporeal world. Now although it is in working on the physical corporeal world that one of the tasks of the spirit of man lies as long as he is proceeding from incarnation to incarnation, yet this task could not be carried out as it ought to be, were the spirit to lead an embodied existence only. For the purposes and goals of the earthly task are just as little elaborated or gained within the earthly incarnation, as the plan of a house comes into existence on the site on which the labourers work. Just as this plan is worked out in the offices of the architect, so are the aims and purposes of earthly creative activities worked out and elaborated in the “Land of Spirits.” The spirit of man has always to live again in this realm between two incarnations in order, equipped with what he brings with him from there, to be able to tackle the work in the physical life. As the architect, without working with brick and mortar, designs the plan of the house in his workroom in accordance with architectural and other laws, so has the architect of human activity, the spirit or Higher Self, to develop in the “Spiritland” its capacities and aims in accordance with the laws of that land, in order then to bring them over into the physical world. Only if the human spirit sojourns over and over again in its own region, will it also be able to bring the spirit, by means of the physical corporeal instruments, into the earthly world.

On the physical scene of action man learns to know the qualities and forces of the physical world. During his creative activity he gathers experiences there regarding the demands made by the physical world on anyone wishing to work in it. He there learns to know the qualities of the matter in which he wishes to embody his thoughts and ideas. The thoughts and ideas themselves he cannot extract from matter. Thus the physical world is both the scene of his creating and of his learning. What has been learned is then transmuted, in the “Spiritland,” into living faculties of the spirit. The above comparison can be carried farther, in order to make the matter clearer. The architect designs the plan of a house. It is carried out. While this goes on he gains a number of the most varied experiences. All of these experiences enhance his capacities. When he works out his next plan, all these experiences flow into it. And this next plan, when compared with the first, is seen to be enriched with all that was learned through the first. It is the same with the successive human lives. In the intervals between the incarnations, the spirit lives in its own sphere. It can give itself up entirely to the requirements of the spirit-life; freed from the physical body, it develops in every direction, and works into this development the fruits of its experiences in former earthly lives. Thus its attention is always directed to the scene of its earthly tasks; thus it works continually at following the earth, in so far as that is its present field of action, through its necessary development. It works upon itself, so as to be able in each incarnation to carry out its service during that life in accordance with the then condition of the earth.

This is of course only a general outline of the course of successive human lives. The reality will never be quite the same but will only more or less correspond with it. Circumstances may bring it about that a subsequent life of a man is much less perfect than a previous one. But taken as a whole such irregularities equalise themselves within definite limits in the succession of lives.

The development of the spirit in “Spiritland” takes place through the man throwing himself completely into the life of the different regions of this land. His own life as it were dissolves into each region successively; he takes on, for the time being, their characteristics. Through this they permeate his being with theirs, in order that his being may be able to work, strengthened by theirs, in his earthly life. In the first region of the “Spiritland,” man is surrounded by the spiritual archetypes of earthly things. During life on earth he learns to know only the shadows of these archetypes which he grasps in his thoughts. What is merely thought on the earth is in this region experienced, lived. Man moves among thoughts; but these thoughts are real beings. What he has perceived with his senses during life on earth works on him now in its thought-form. But the thought does not appear as the shadow which hides itself behind the things; it is on the contrary the life-filled reality producing the things. Man is, as it were, in the thought-workshop in which earthly things are formed and constructed. For in the “Land of Spirit” all is vital activity and mobility. Here, the thought-world is at work as a world of living beings, creative and formative. We see how what we have experienced during the earthly existence is shaped. Just as in the physical body we experience the things of the senses as reality, so now as spirit we experience the spiritual formative forces as real. Among the thought-beings to be found there, is also the thought of our own physical corporality. We feel separated from this. We feel only the spiritual being as belonging to ourselves. And when we perceive the discarded body as if in memory, no longer as physical but as thought-being, then its relation to the external world becomes a matter of direct perception. We learn to look at it as something belonging to the external world, as a member of this external world. Consequently we no longer separate our own corporality from the rest of the external world, as something more nearly related to ourselves. We feel the unity in the whole external world including our own bodily incarnations. Our own embodiments dissolve here into a unity with the rest of the world. Thus here we look upon the archetypes of the physical, corporeal reality as a unity, to which we have ourselves belonged. We learn therefore gradually to know our relationship, our unity, with the surrounding world by observation. We learn to say to it “That which is here spread out around thee, thou wert that.” And that is one of the fundamental thoughts of ancient Indian Vedanta wisdom. The “sage” acquires, even during his earthly life, what others experience after death, namely, ability to grasp the thought that he himself is related to all things, the thought, “Thou art that.” In earthly life this is an ideal to which the thought-life can be devoted; in the “Land of Spirit” it is an immediate reality, one which grows ever clearer to us through spiritual experience. And man himself comes to know more and more clearly in this realm that in his own inner being he belongs to the spirit-world. He is aware of himself as a spirit among spirits, a member of the Primordial Spirits, and he will feel in his own self the word of the Primordial Spirit: “I am the Primal Spirit.” (The Wisdom of the Vedanta says, “I am Brahman,” i.e., I belong to the Primordial Being, in Whom all beings have their origin.) We see that what is grasped during earthly life as a shadowy thought, towards which all wisdom strives, is, in the “Spiritland,” an immediate experience. Indeed, it is only thought during the earth-life because it is a fact in the spiritual existence.

Thus during his spiritual existence man sees the relationships and facts in the midst of which he stands during his earthly life, from a high watch-tower, as if from outside. And during his life in the lowest region of “Spiritland,” he lives thus in respect of the earthly relationships immediately connected with the physical corporeal reality. On earth man is born into a family, a race: he lives in a certain country. His earthly existence is determined by all these relationships. He finds this or that friend because relationships in the physical world bring it about. He carries on this or that business. All this decides the conditions of his earthly life. All this now presents itself to him during his life in the first region of “Spiritland” as living thought-reality. He lives it all through again in a certain way. But he lives it through from the active spiritual side. The family love he has extended, the friendship he has offered, become alive from within, and his capacities in this direction are enhanced. That element in the spirit of man which works as the power of love of family and friend is strengthened. He enters again on his later earthly existence a more perfect man in these respects.

It is to a certain extent the everyday relationships of the earth-life which ripen as the fruitage of this lowest region of “Spiritland.” And that element in man, which in its interests is wholly absorbed by these everyday relationships will feel itself in affinity with this region for the greater part of the life between two incarnations. The people with whom we have lived in the physical world, we find again in the spiritual world. Just as everything falls away from the soul which was peculiarly its own through the physical body, so also does the bond that in physical life linked soul and soul, loosen itself from those conditions which have meaning and reality only in the physical world. Yet there is carried over beyond death — into the spiritual world — all that soul was to soul in the physical life. It is natural that words coined from physical conditions can only reproduce inaccurately what takes place in the spiritual world. But if this is taken into account, it must be described as quite correct when it is said: souls who belong together in physical life find each other again in the spiritual world so as to continue their lives together there.

The next region is that in which the common life of the earth-world flows as thought-being, as the fluid element, so to speak, of “Spiritland.” As long as we observe the world during physical embodiment, fife appears to be confined within separate living beings. In “Spiritland” it is loosed from them and, like life-blood, flows as it were through the whole realm. It is there the living unity that is present in everything. Of this also only a reflection appears to man during the earthly fife. And this reflection expresses itself in every form of reverence that man pays to the whole, to the unity and harmony of the universe. The religious life of man is derived from this reflection. Man becomes aware that the all-embracing meaning of existence does not fie in what is transitory and separate. He regards the transitory as a “semblance” a likeness of an eternal, of a harmonious unity. He looks up to this unity in reverence and worship. He offers up to it religious acts and rites. In “Spiritland” there appears, not the reflection, but the real form, as living thought-being. Here man can really unite with the unity that he has reverenced on earth. The fruits of the religious life and everything connected with it make their appearance in this region. Man now learns through spiritual experience to recognise that his individual fate is not to be separated from the community to which he belongs. The capacity to know oneself as a member of a whole, develops here. The religious feelings, everything that has already during life striven after a pure and noble morality, will draw strength from this region during a great part of the spiritual life between incarnations. And the man will reincarnate with enhanced capacities in this direction.

Whereas in the first region we are together with those souls with whom we have been linked by the closest ties during the preceding physical life, in the second region we enter the domain of all those with whom we felt ourselves to be united in a wider sense: through a common reverence, through a common religious confession, and so on. It must be emphasised that the spiritual experiences of the preceding regions persist through the subsequent ones. Thus a man is not torn away from the ties knit by family, friendship and so on, when he enters upon the life of the second and following regions. Moreover the regions of the “Spiritland” do not he like “divisions” apart from each other; they interpenetrate each other, and man experiences himself in a new region not because he has outwardly “entered upon” it in any form whatever, but because he has attained in himself the inner capacities for perceiving that within which he previously lived without perceiving it.

The third region of “Spiritland” contains the archetypes of the soul-world. All that lives in that world is present here as living thought-being. We find here the archetypes of desires, wishes, feelings, etc. But here, in the spirit-world, no element of self-seeking clings to the soul. Like all life in the second region, in this third region all longings, wishes, all likes and dislikes form a unity. The desire and wish of another are not separable from my desire and wish. The sensations and feelings of all beings are a common world enclosing and surrounding everything else, just as the physical atmosphere surrounds the earth. This region is, as it were, the atmosphere or air of the “Spiritland.” Everything that a person has carried out in his life on earth in the service of the community, in selfless devotion to his fellowmen, will bear fruit here. For through this service, through this self-giving, he has lived in a reflection of the third region of the “Spiritland.” The great benefactors of the human race, the self-sacrificing natures, those who render great services to communities, have acquired their capacity to render them in this region, after having prepared themselves for a special relationship with it during their previous earthly lives.

It is evident that the three regions of “Spiritland” just described stand in a certain relation to the worlds below them, to the physical world and the soul-world. For they contain the archetypes, the living thought-beings that take corporeal and soul-existence in those worlds. Only the fourth region is the “pure Spiritland.” But even this region is not that in the fullest sense of the word. It differs from the three lower regions owing to the fact that in them we meet with the archetypes of those physical and soul-relations, which man finds existing in the physical world and soul-world, before he himself begins to take any part in them. The circumstances of everyday life are linked to the things and beings which man finds already present in the world; the transitory things of this world direct his gaze to their eternal, primal foundation: and man's fellow creatures also, to whom he selflessly devotes himself, do not owe their presence there to man. But it is through him that there are in the world all the creations of the arts and sciences, of technology, of the State, and so on; in short all that he has embodied in the world as original works of his spirit. Without his co-operation none of the physical reproductions of all these would be in the world. The archetypes of these purely human creations are in the fourth region of the “Spiritland.” What man develops during his earthly life in the way of scientific discoveries, of artistic ideas and forms, of technology, bears fruit in this fourth region. It is out of this region therefore that artists, scientists, great inventors, draw their impulses and enhance their genius during their sojourn in “Spiritland,” in order during another incarnation to be able to assist in fuller measure the further evolution of human culture. But we must not imagine that this fourth region of the “Spiritland” has importance only for particularly outstanding men. It has importance for all men. Everything that occupies man in his physical life outside the sphere of everyday living, wishing and willing, has its primal source in this region. If a man did not pass through it in the period between death and a new birth, then in his subsequent life he would have no interests leading out beyond the narrow circle of his personal life-conduct to what is common to all humanity.

It has been said above that even this region cannot be called the “pure Spiritland” in the full sense of the word. This is because the state in which men have left civilisation on earth continues to influence their spiritual existence. They can enjoy in “Spiritland” only the fruits of what it was possible for them to carry out in accordance with their gifts and the stage of development of the race, State, etc., into which they were born.

In the still higher regions of the “Spiritland” the human spirit is now freed from every earthly fetter. It rises to the pure “Spiritland” in which it experiences the intentions, the aims, which the spirit set itself to accomplish by means of the earthly life. Everything that has already been achieved in the world brings into existence only a more or less feeble copy of the highest intentions and aims. Each crystal, each tree, each animal, and all that is being achieved in the domain of human creation — all these are merely reflections of what the spirit intends. And man, during his incarnations, can only form a connection with these imperfect reflections of the perfect intentions and aims. Thus during one of his incarnations he himself can only be a reflection of what, in the kingdom of the spirit, he is intended to be. What he, as spirit in “Spiritland,” really is, therefore, comes into view only when he rises in the interval between two incarnations, to the fifth region of “Spiritland.” What he is here is really he himself: the being who maintains an external existence in the numerous and varied incarnations. In this region the true Self of man can freely live. And this Self is therefore that which appears ever anew in each incarnation as the one Self. This Self brings with it the faculties which have developed in the lower regions of the “Spiritland.” Consequently, it bears the fruits of former lives over into those following. It is the bearer of the results of former incarnations.

When the Self lives in the fifth region of the “Spiritland” it is in the realm of intentions and aims. As the architect learns from the imperfections which show themselves in his work, and as he brings into his new plans only what he was able to change from imperfections to perfections, so the Self, in the fifth region, casts off from its experiences in former lives whatever is bound up with the imperfections of the lower worlds, and fertilises the purposes of the “Spiritland” — purposes with which it now lives — with the results of its former lives. It is clear that the force which can be drawn from this region will depend upon how much the Self, during its incarnation, has acquired in the form of results fit to be received into the world of purposes. The Self that has sought to fulfil the purposes of the spirit during earthly life through an active thought-life or through wise love expressed in deeds, will establish a strong claim to be received into this region. The Self that has expended itself entirely on the events of the everyday life, that has lived only in the transitory, has sown no seeds that can play a part in the purposes of the eternal World Order. Only that small portion of its activities which extended beyond the interests of everyday life can unfold as fruitage in these higher regions of the “Spiritland.” But it must not be supposed that what chiefly comes into consideration here is “earthly fame” or anything akin to it. No: it is rather a question of bringing into consciousness the fact that in the very narrowest circles of life each single thing has its significance in the eternal progress of existence. We must make ourselves familiar with the thought that in this region a man must judge otherwise than he can in physical life. For instance: if he has acquired little that is related to this fifth region, there arises in him the urge to instil into himself for the following life an impulse, which will cause that life so to run its course that in its destiny (Karma) the consequential effect of that deficiency shall come to light. That which then, in the following earth-life, appears as painful destiny from the point of view of that life — nay, is perhaps deeply bewailed as such — is the very thing the man in this region of the “Spiritland” finds absolutely necessary for himself. Since a man in the fifth region lives in his own true Self, he is lifted out of everything from the lower worlds that envelops him during his incarnations. He is what he ever was and ever will be during the course of his incarnations. He is at one with the purposes which prevail during these incarnations, and which he members into his own Self. He looks back on his own past, and feels that everything he has experienced in it will be brought into the purposes he has to bring to realisation in the future. A kind of remembrance of his earlier lives and prophetic vision of his future lives flash forth. We see therefore that what in this book is called “Spirit-self” fives, in this region, as far as it is developed, in the reality that is appropriate to itself. It develops still further and prepares itself to make possible in a new incarnation the fulfilment of the spiritual purposes in earthly reality.

If this “Spirit-self” has evolved so far during a succession of sojourns in “Spiritland” that it can move about quite freely in this land, it will more and more seek its true home there. Life in the spirit will be as familiar to it as life in physical reality is to earthly man. The view-points of the spirit-world are from now on the dominating ones, which it makes its own more or less consciously or unconsciously for the succeeding earthly lives. The Self can feel itself to be a member of the divine World Order. The limitations and laws of the earthly life no longer affect the man in his innermost being. Power for everything he carries out comes to him from this spiritual world. But the spiritual world is a Unity. He who lives in it knows how the Eternal has worked creatively upon the past and from out of the Eternal he can determine the direction for the future. [See also under Addenda.] The survey of the past widens into a perfect one. A man who has reached this stage sets before himself aims to be carried out in a coming incarnation. From out of the “Spiritland” he influences his future so that it runs its course in harmony with the True and the Spiritual. During the stage between two incarnations such a man finds himself in the presence of all those exalted Beings before whose gaze the Divine Wisdom lies outspread. For he has climbed to the stage at which he can understand them.

In the sixth region of the “Spiritland,” man will fulfil in all his doings that which is most in accord with the true being of the world. For he cannot seek for what profits himself, but only for what ought to happen according to the rightful course of the World Order.

The seventh region of the “Spiritland” leads to the boundary of the “three worlds.” The man stands here in the presence of the “Life-kernels,” which are transplanted from higher worlds into the three which have been described, in order that in them they may fulfil their tasks. Therefore when a man is at the boundary of the three worlds he recognises himself in his own life-kernel. This means that for him the problems of these three worlds have been solved. He has a complete survey of the life of these worlds. In physical life, the powers of the soul through which it has in the spiritual world the experiences here described, remain unconscious under ordinary circumstances. They work in their unconscious depths upon the bodily organs, which bring about the consciousness of the physical world. That is precisely the reason why these powers remain imperceptible to this world. The eye too does not see itself, because forces are at work in it which make other things visible. If we would judge as to how far a human life running its course between birth and death can be the result of preceding earthly lives, we must take into consideration the fact that a point of view which itself lies within this same life, and which we should naturally accept in the first instance, can yield no possibility of judgment. For such a point of view, for instance, an earth life might appear full of suffering, imperfect, and so on, while precisely in this form it would be seen, from a point of view lying outside this life, to be in its suffering, in its imperfection, the natural outcome of previous lives. By treading the path of knowledge, as this is described in the next chapter, the soul sets itself free from the conditions of bodily life. Thus it can perceive in a picture the experiences which it undergoes between death and a new birth. Perception of this kind makes it possible to describe what happens in the “Spiritland,” as has here been done in outline. Only when we keep in mind the fact that the whole disposition of the soul is different in the physical body from what it is in periods of purely spiritual experience, only then shall we rightly understand the description here given.

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