The Three Worlds
(Excerpt from Theosophy: An Introduction to the Spiritual Processes in Human Life and in the Cosmos, Rudolph Steiner, 1904
(Previous Section: The Spirit Land)
4. The Spirit in Spiritland after Death
When the human spirit has passed through the worlds of souls on its way between two incarnations, it enters the land of spirits to remain there until it is ripe for a new bodily existence. One can only understand the meaning of this sojourn in spiritland when one is able to interpret in the right way the aim and end of the pilgrimage of man through his incarnation. While man is incarnated in the physical body he works and creates in the physical world as a spiritual being. He imprints on the physical forms, on corporeal materials and forces what his spirit thinks out and develops. As a messenger of the spiritual world he has, therefore, to embody the spirit in the corporeal world. Only by being embodied, incarnated, can man work in the world of bodies. He must take on the physical body as his tool so that through the body he can act on other bodies and they on him. What acts through this physical corporeality of man is the spirit. From this spirit flow the purposes, the direction its work is to take in the physical world.
Now as long as the spirit works in the physical body, it cannot as spirit live in its true form. It can, as it were, only shine through the veil of physical existence because as a matter of fact, the thought life of man really belongs to the spiritual world. As it appears in physical existence its true form is veiled. It can also be said that the thought life of the physical man is a shadow, a reflection 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. Although one of the tasks of the human spirit, as long as it proceeds from incarnation to incarnation, is to work upon the physical corporeal world, it could by no means fulfill this task in a proper manner if it lived merely in embodied existence. The purposes and goals of the earthly task are just as little developed and determined within the earthly incarnation, as the plan of a house comes into existence on the site where the laborers work. Just as this plan is worked out in the office of the architect, so are the aims and purposes of earthly creative activities worked out and developed in the land of spirits. The spirit of man has to live again and again in this land between two incarnations in order to be able, equipped with what he takes with him on his departure, to approach the work in the physical life. Just as the architect, without working with brick and mortar, works out the plan of the house in his drafting room in accordance with architectural and other laws, so too does the architect of human creation, the spirit or higher self, develop its capacities and aims in spiritland in accordance with the laws of that land, in order to bring them over into the earthly world. Only when the human spirit sojourns again and again in its own region, will it also be able by means of the physical corporeal instruments to bring the spirit 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 regarding the demands made by the physical world on anyone wishing to work on it. He learns to know there, as it were, 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. In the spiritland, what has been learned is then transformed into living faculties of the spirit. One can carry the above comparison farther in order to make the matter clearer. The architect designs a house. His plans are carried out. In doing this he gains the most varied experiences. All of these experiences enhance his capacities. When he works out his next design, all these experiences flow into it, and this next design, when compared to 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 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 itself in every direction and works into this development the fruits of its experiences in former earthly careers. Thus its attention is always directed to the scene of its earthly tasks. Thus it works continually at following the earth insofar as that is its field of action, through its necessary development. It works upon itself in order to be able in each incarnation to carry out its service during that life in accordance with the condition of the earth at that time. This is, of course, only a general outline of successive human lives. Reality will never quite correspond with it, but only to a certain degree. Circumstances may decree that a man’s subsequent life be much less perfect than a previous one, but taken as a whole such irregularities equalize themselves in the succession of lives within definite limits.
The development of the spirit in spiritland takes place in consequence of man’s entering completely into the life of the various regions of this land. His own life dissolves, as it were, into these regions successively and he takes on, for the time being, their characteristics. Through this they penetrate his being with theirs in order that the may be able to work, strengthened by theirs, in his earthly life.
In the first region of spiritland man is surrounded by the spiritual archetypes of earthly beings. During life on earth he learns to know only the shadows of these archetypes that he grasps in his thoughts. What is merely thought on 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 acts on him now in its thought form. The thought, however, does not appear as the shadow hiding 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 fashioned, because 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 constructive. We see how what we have experienced during the earthly existence is constructed. Just as in the physical body we experience the things of the senses as reality, so now, as spirit, we experience the spiritual, constructive forces as real.
Among the thought beings to be found in spiritland is also the thought of our own physical corporeality. We feel removed from the latter. 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. We consequently no longer distinguish our own corporeality from the rest of the external world as something more closely 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 man here looks upon the archetypes of the physical corporeal reality as a unity to which he has belonged himself. He learns, therefore, gradually to know his relationship, his unity with the surrounding world by observation. He learns to say to it, “What is here spread out around thee, thou wert that.” This 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, the 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 the spirit it is an immediate fact, one that grows ever clearer to us through spiritual experience, and man himself comes to know ever more clearly in this land that in his own inner being he belongs to the spirit world. He perceives himself to be a spirit among spirits, a member of the primordial spirits, feeling within himself the word of the primordial spirit, “I am the Primal Spirit.” The wisdom of the Vedanta says, “I am Brahman,” that is, I belong as a member 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 spiritland an immediate experience. Indeed it is only thought during earth life because it is a fact in spiritual existence.
Thus man during his spiritual existence sees as if from outside from a high watch tower the relationships and facts in the midst of which he stands during his earthly life. During his life in the lowest region of spiritland, he lives in regard to the earthly relationships immediately connected with physical corporeal reality. On earth man is born into a family, a folk; he lives in a certain country. His earthly existence is determined by all these relationships. He finds this or that friend because relationships within the physical world bring it about. He carries on this or that business. All this decides the conditions of his earthly life. All this presents itself to him during his life in the first region of spiritland as living thought being. 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 exercised, the friendship he has produced, become alive and quick from within, and his capacities in this direction are enhanced. That element in the spirit of man that acts as the force of love of family and friend is strengthened. He later enters on his earthly existence again as a more perfect man in these respects. It is to a certain extent the everyday relationships of earth life that ripen as the fruit of this lowest region of spiritland. 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 its life between two incarnations. We find again in the spiritual world the people with whom we have lived in the physical world. Just as everything loosens and falls away from the soul that was peculiarly its own through the physical body, so also does the bond that in physical life linked soul with soul loosen itself from those conditions that have meaning and effectiveness only in the physical world. Yet all that soul was to soul in physical life is carried over beyond death into the spiritual world. It is natural that words coined for physical conditions can only reproduce inaccurately what takes place in the spiritual world. If this is taken into account, it must be described as quite correct when it is said that those souls that belong together in physical life find each other again in order to continue in a corresponding manner their joint lives in the spiritual world.
In the second region the common life of the earth world flows as thought being, as a fluid element, so to speak, of spiritland. As long as one observes the world during physical embodiment, life appears to be confined within separate living beings. In spiritland it is liberated from them and, like life-blood, flows as it were through the whole land. It exists there as the living unity that is present in all things. Of this also only a reflection appears to man during earthly life, and this reflection expresses itself in every form of reverence that he pays to the whole, to the unity and harmony of the universe. The religious life of man is derived from this reflection. He becomes aware of how far the all-embracing meaning of existence does not lie in what is transitory and separate. He regards the transitory as a similitude, a likeness of an eternal, harmonious unity. He looks up to this unity in a mood of reverence and worship. He performs before it religious rites and ceremonies. In spiritland, not the reflection but the real form appears as living thought being. Here man can really join himself to the unity that he has reverenced on earth. The fruits of religious life and all connected with it make their appearance in this region. Man now learns through spiritual experience to recognize that his individual destiny 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, all that has already during life striven after a pure and noble morality, will draw strength out of this region during a great part of the spiritual life between incarnations, and a man will reincarnate with enhanced capacities in this direction.
While in the first region we are in company of those souls with whom we have been linked by the closest ties of the physical world during the preceding physical life, in the second region we enter the domain of all those things with whom we felt united in a wider sense, that is, through a common reverence, through a common religious confession, and so on. It must be emphasized that the spiritual experiences of the preceding regions continue to persist through the subsequent ones. Thus man is not all torn away from the ties knitted by family, friendship, and so on, when he enters upon the life of the second and following regions. Moreover, the regions of spiritland do not lie like sections one beside the other. They interpenetrate each other, and man experiences himself in a new region not because he has externally entered upon it in any form whatever, but because he has attained in himself the inner capacities for now perceiving what he previously lived within, but without perceiving it.
The third region of spiritland contains the archetypes of the soul world. All that lives in this world is here present as living thought being. We find in it the archetypes of desires, wishes and feelings, but here in the spirit world nothing self-seeking clings to the soul. Just as all life forms a unity in the second region, so in this third region all longings, wishes, all likes and dislikes form a unity. The desire and wish of others 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 spiritland. All 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 because through this service, through this self-giving, he has lived in a reflection of the third region of spiritland. The great benefactors of the human race, the self-sacrificing natures, those who render great services to communities, have gained their ability to render them in this region after having acquired for themselves the readiness for a special relation to it during their previous earthly careers.
It is evident that the three regions of spiritland just described stand in a certain relation to the worlds below them, to the physical and soul worlds, because they contain the archetypes, the living thought beings, that take up corporeal or soul existence in those worlds. Only the fourth region is the pure spiritland, but even this region is not quite 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 that man finds existing in the physical and soul worlds before he himself begins to participate in them. The circumstances of everyday life link themselves with the things and beings that man finds already present in the world. The transitory things of this world direct his gaze to their eternal primal foundation, and his fellow creatures also, to whom he selflessly devotes himself, do not owe their presence to him. It is, however, through him that there are in the world all the creations of the arts, sciences, engineering, states and governments — in short, all that he has embodied in the world as original creations of his spirit. Without his activity these could not manifest themselves in the physical world. The archetypes of these purely human creations are in the fourth region of the spiritland. All that we develop during earthly life in the way of scientific discoveries, of artistic ideas and forms, of technical conceptions, bears fruit in this fourth region. It is out of this region therefore that artists, scientists and inventors draw their impulses and enhance their genius during their stay 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 spiritland possesses importance only for specially prominent human beings. It has great importance for all men. All that occupies us in our physical life outside the sphere of everyday living, wishing and willing has its source in this region. If we did not pass through it in the period between death and a new birth, we would in our subsequent life have no interests leading out beyond the narrow circle of our personal life-conduct to what is common to all humanity.
It has already been said above that even this region cannot be called pure spiritland in the full sense of the word. This is the case because the stage at which men have left civilization 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 talents and the stage of development of the folk, state and nation 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, that the spirit set itself to accomplish by means of the earthly life. All that has been already realized in the earthly world brings into existence only a more or less weak copy of the highest intentions and aims. Each crystal, each tree, each animal, and all that is being realized in the domain of human creation — all this gives only copies of what the spirit intends, and man during his incarnations can only link himself with these imperfect copies of the perfect intentions and aims. Thus during one of his incarnations he himself can only be an image of what, in the kingdom of the spirit, he is intended to be. What he really is as spirit in spiritland comes, therefore, into view only when he rises to the fifth region of spiritland in the interval between two incarnations. What he is here is really he himself — the being who receives an external existence in the numerous and varied incarnations. In this region the true self of man can freely live and expand in all directions, and this self is thus the being who appears ever anew in each incarnation as the one. This self brings with it the faculties that have developed in the lower regions of the spiritland. It consequently carries 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 kingdom of intentions and purposes. Just as the architect learns from the imperfections that have come to light in his work, and just as he brings into his new designs only what he was able to change from imperfections to perfections, so does the self in the fifth region discard from the results of its former lives whatever is bound up with the imperfections of the lower worlds, and with these results it impregnates the purposes of the spiritland — purposes with which it now lives. It is clear that the force that 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 taken up into the world of purposes. The self that has sought to realize 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 upon this region. The self that has expended its efforts entirely on the events of everyday life, that has lived only in the transitory, has sown no seeds that can be fruitful in the purposes of the external world order. Only the small portion of its activities that extended beyond the interests of everyday life can unfold as fruit in these higher regions of the spiritland. It must not be supposed that what comes into consideration here is chiefly earthly fame or anything akin to it. No, the important thing to realize here is that in the narrowest walks of life even the least event has its significance in the eternal progressive course of existence.
We must make ourselves familiar with the thought that in this region our judgments must be different from those in the physical life. For instance, if a man has acquired little that is related to this fifth region, the craving arises in him to imprint an impulse upon himself for the following life that will cause that life to run its course in such a way that in its destiny (karma) the corresponding effect of that deficiency will come to light. Experiences, which in the following earth life appear as a painful destiny, seen from that life — and perhaps deeply bewailed as such — are, nevertheless, the very experiences that a man in this region of 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 lives in the governing power of the intentions that prevail during these incarnations, and that he grafts into his own self. He looks back on his own past and feels that all he has experienced in it will be brought into service in the intentions he has to realize in the future. There flash forth a kind of remembrance of his earlier, and a prophetic vision of his future lives. We see, therefore, that what we call in this book spirit self lives in this region, as far as it is developed, in the reality that is appropriate to it. It develops itself still further and prepares itself to make possible in a new incarnation the fulfillment of the spiritual intentions in the realities of earthly life.
If, during a succession of sojourns in spiritland, the spirit self has evolved so far that it can move about quite freely there, it will evermore seek there its true home. Life in the world of spirit will be as familiar to it as life in physical reality is to the earthly man. The view-points of the spirit world operate from now on as the dominating ones, which it makes its own more or less consciously or unconsciously for its succeeding earth lives. The self can feel itself to be a member of the divine world order. The limitations and laws of the earthly life do not affect it in its innermost being. Power for all that it carries out comes to it from this spiritual world. The spiritual world, however, is a unity. He who lives in it knows how the Eternal has worked creatively upon the past. Out of the Eternal he can determine the direction for the future. * (See Addendum 12.) His view over the past widens into a perfect one. The man who has reached this stage sets before himself aims that he intends to carry out in a coming incarnation. From out the spiritland he influences his future so that it runs its course in harmony with the true and spiritual. Such a person during the stages between two incarnations finds himself in the presence of all those exalted beings before whose gaze divine wisdom lies spread out unveiled, because he has climbed up to the stage at which he can understand it.
In the sixth region of the spiritland a man will fulfill in all his actions what is most in accord with the true being of the world. He cannot seek after what profits himself, but only after what ought to happen according to the right course of the world order.
In the seventh region of the spiritland the limit of the three worlds is reached. Man stands in the presence of the life-kernels, which are transplanted from higher worlds into the three already described in order that in them they may fulfill their tasks. When a man has reached the boundary of the three worlds, he recognizes himself in his own life-kernel. This implies that for him the problems of these three worlds have been solved. He has a complete view of the entire life of these worlds. In physical life the powers of the soul, through which it obtains the experiences in the spiritual world 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 for this world. The eye, too, does not see itself because forces are at work in it that make other things visible. If one would judge to what extent a human life running its course between birth and death can be the result of preceding earth lives, one must take into consideration the fact that a point of view that lies within this same life, and at the outset is the natural one, can yield no possibility of correct judgment. For such a point of view, for instance, an earth life could appear full of suffering, imperfect. Yet, seen from an extra-earthly view-point, this very configuration of the earth life with its suffering, its imperfections, would prove to be the result of previous earth 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 that it undergoes between death and a new birth. Perception of this kind makes it possible to describe what happens in spiritland as has been done here in but little more than outline. Only when we do not neglect to hold before our minds the fact that the whole disposition of the soul is different in the physical body from its disposition during purely spiritual experiences, only then shall we see the description given here in the right light.