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Man lives upon the earth not once, but three times. His first stage of life is a continuous sleep; the second is an alternation between sleeping and waking; the third is an eternal waking.
In the first stage man lives alone in darkness; in the second he lives with companions, near and among others, but detached and in a light which pictures for him the exterior; in the third his life is merged with that of other souls into the higher life of the Supreme Spirit, and he discerns the reality of ultimate things.
In the first stage the body is developed from the germ and evolves its equipment for the second; in the second the spirit unfolds from its seed-bud and realizes its powers for the third; in the third is developed the divine spark which lies in every human soul, and which, already here through perception, faith, feeling, the intuition of Genius, demonstrates the world beyond man — to the soul in the third stage as clear as day, though to us obscure.
The passing from the first to the second stage is called birth; the transition from the second to the third is called death.
The way upon which we pass from the second to the third stage is not darker than that by which we reach the second from the first. The one leads to the outer, the other to the inner aspect of the world.
But as the child in the first stage is still blind and deaf to all the glory and joy of the life of the second, and his birth from the warm body of his mother is hard and painful, with a moment when the dissolution of his earlier existence feels like death, before the awakening to the new environment without has occurred, — so we in our present existence, in which our whole consciousness lies bound in our contracted body, as yet know nothing of the splendor and harmony, the radiance and freedom of the third stage, and easily hold the dark and narrow way which leads us into it as a blind pitfall which has no outlet. But death is only a second birth into a freer existence, in which the spirit breaks through its slender covering and abandons inaction and sloth, as the child does in its first birth.
Then all, which with our present senses only reaches us as exterior and, as it were, from afar, we become penetrated with and possessed of in all its depth of reality. The spirit will no longer wander over mountain and field, or be surrounded by the delights of spring, only to mourn that it all seems exterior to him; but, transcending earthly limitations, he will feel new strength and joy in growing. He will no longer struggle by persuasive words to produce a thought in others, but in the immediate influence of souls upon each other, no longer separated by the body, but united spiritually, he will experience the joy of creative thought; he will not outwardly appear to the loved ones left behind, but will dwell in their inmost souls, and think and act in and through them.
The unborn child has merely a corporeal frame, a forming principle. The creation and development of its limbs by which it reaches full growth are its own acts. It has not yet the feeling that these parts are its possession, for it needs them not and cannot use them. A fine eye, a beautiful mouth, are to him only objects to be secured unconsciously, so that they may sometime become serviceable parts of himself. They are made for a subsequent world of which the child as yet knows nothing : it fashions them by virtue of an impulse, blind to him, which is clearly established alone in the organization of the mother. But when the child, ripe for the second stage of life, slips away from the organ representing the provision for his former needs, it leaves it behind, and suddenly sees itself an independent union of all its created parts. This eye, ear, and mouth now belong to him; and even if acquired only through an obscure inborn sense, he is learning to know their precious uses. The world of light, color, tone, perfume, taste, and feeling is only now revealed as the arena in which the functions acquired to that end are to operate for him, if he makes them serviceable and strong.
The relation of the first stage to the second recurs in a higher degree in the relations of the second to the third. Our whole action and will in this world is exactly calculated to procure for us an organism, which, in the next world, we shall perceive and use as our Self. All spiritual influences, all results of the manifestations which in the lifetime of a man go forth from him, to be interwoven with humanity and nature, are already united by a secret and invisible bond; they are the spiritual limbs of the man, which he exercises during life while still bound to a spiritual body, to an organism full of unsatisfied, upreaching powers and activities, the consciousness of which still lies outside him, though inseparably interwoven with his present existence, yet, only in abandoning this, can he recognize it as his own.
But in the moment of death, when the man is separated from the organ upon which his acquisitive efforts were bent here, he suddenly receives the consciousness of all, which as a result of his earlier exterior life in the world of ideas, powers, and activities, still survives, prevails, flowing out as from a wellspring, while still bearing also within himself his organic unity.
This, however, now becomes living, conscious, independent, and, according to his destiny, controls mankind and nature with his own completed individual power.
Whatever any one has contributed during his life, of creation, formation, or preservation, to the sum of human idealism, is his immortal part, which, in the third stage, will continue to operate even if the body, to which, in the second, this working power was bound, were long since destroyed. What millions who have died have acquired, performed, and thought, has not died with them — nor will it be undone by what the next millions shall have acquired, performed, and thought, but continues its power, unfolds itself in them spontaneously, impels them towards a great goal which they do not themselves perceive.
This ideal survival seems indeed to us only an abstraction, and the continued influence of the soul of the dead in the living but an empty fancy.
But it only appears so to us because we have no power to perceive in them spirits in the third stage, to comprehend a predestined and permanent existence; we call only recognize the connecting link of their existence with ours, the portion of increase within us, appearing under the form of those ideas which have been transmitted from them to us. Although the undulating circle which a sinking stone leaves behind it in the water creates, by its contact, a new circle around every rock which still projects above the surface, it still retains in itself a connected circumference which stirs and carries all within its reach; but the rocks are only aware of the breaking of the perfect line. We are just such ignorant objects, only that we, unlike fixed rocks, while even still in life, shed about us a continuous flow of influence which extends itself not only around others but within them.
Already, in fact, during his lifetime, every man with his influence grows into others through word, example, writing, and deed. While Goethe lived, contemporary millions bore within them sparks from his soul, and were thereby newly kindled. In Napoleon's life nearly the whole period was penetrated by the force of his spirit. With their death these tributary sources of life did not also die; only the motive power of a new earth-born channel expired, and the growth and manifestation of this, emanating from an individual, and in their totality again forming an individual, production now takes place with a similar indwelling consciousness, incomprehensible indeed to us, as was its first inception. A Goethe, a Schiller, a Napoleon, a Luther, still live among us, thinking and acting in us, as awakened creative individuals, more highly developed than at their death — each no longer restrained by the limitations of the body, but poured forth upon the world which in their lifetime they moulded, gladdened, swayed, and in their personality far surpassing the influences which we still discern as coming from them.
The greatest example of a mighty soul which still lives on actively in after-ages is Christ. It is not an empty saying that Christ lives on in his followers; every true Christian holds him not only relatively but absolutely within his heart. Every one is a partaker in him who acts and thinks in obedience to his law, for it is the Christ that prompts this thinking and acting in each. He has extended his influence through all the members of his Church and all cling together through his Spirit, like the apple to its stem, the branches to the vine. "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body : so also is Christ." (1 Cor. xii. 12.) Yet not only the greatest souls, but every strong man awakes in the next world in conscious though incomplete possession of an organism which is a union of eternal spiritual acquirements and influences, with a greater or smaller extent of realization, and more or less power to unfold further, according as the soul of the man himself in his lifetime has advanced and gained ground. But he who has clung to the earth, and has only used his powers in pursuit of the material life, the pleasures and needs of the body, will find but an insignificant remnant of life surviving. And so the richest will become the poorest if he has only his gold to lean upon, and the poorest the richest if he uses his strength to win his life honestly. For what each does here he will have there, and money there will only count for what it brought the consumer here.
The problems of our present spiritual life, the thirst for the discovery of truth, which here seems to profit us but little, the striving of every genuine soul to accomplish things which are merely for the good of posterity, conscience, and the repentance that arouses in us an unfathomable distress for bad actions, even though they bring us no disadvantage here, rise from haunting presentiments of what all this will bring to us in that world in which the fruit of our slightest and most hidden activity becomes a part of our true self.
This is the great justice of creation, that every one makes for himself the conditions of his future life. Deeds will not be requited to the man through exterior rewards or punishments; there is no heaven and no hell in the usual sense of the Christian, the Jew, the heathen, into which the soul may enter after death. It makes neither a spring upward nor a fall downward, nor comes to a standstill; it does not break asunder, nor dissolve into the universal; but, after it has passed through the great transition, death, it unfolds itself according to the unalterable law of nature upon earth; steadily advancing step by step, and quietly approaching and entering into a higher existence. And, according as the man has been good or bad, has behaved nobly or basely, was industrious or idle, will he find himself possessed of an organism, healthy or sick, beautiful or hateful, strong or weak, in the world to come, and his free activity in this world will determine his relation to other souls, his destiny, his capacity and talents for further progress in that world.
Therefore be active and brave. For the idler here will halt there, the earthbound will be of a dull and weak countenance, and the false and wicked will feel the discord which his presence makes in the company of true and pure spirits as a pain, which, even in that world, will still impel him to amend and cure the evil which he has committed in this, and will allow him no peace nor rest until he has wiped out and atoned for his smallest and latest evil deed.
And if his companion spirits have for long rested in God, or rather lived as partakers in His thoughts, he will still be pursued by the tribulation and restlessness of the earthly life, and his spiritual disorder will torment men with ideas of error and superstition, lead them into vice and folly, and while he himself is retarded on his way to achievement in the third stage, he also will hold back those in whom he survives, upon their path from the second to the third.
But however long the false, the evil, and the base may still prevail and struggle for its life with the true, the beautiful, and the good, — yet through the ever-increasing power of truth, and the growing force of evil's own self-destructive results, it will at last be conquered and abolished; and so of all falsehood, all evil, all impurity in the soul of man, there will at last be nothing left. That alone is the eternal, imperishable part of a man that is to him true, beautiful, and good. And if only a grain of mustard-seed of it is in him — there could be no one without it — so, purged of chaff and dross through the purgatory of life, afflicting only the imperfect, it will survive in the third stage, and, even if late, be able to grow into a noble tree.
Rejoice then, even you whose soul is here tried by tribulation and sorrow; the discipline will avail much, which in the brave struggle with obstacles in the path of progress you have experienced in this life, and, born into the new life with more strength, you will more quickly and joyfully recover what fate has denied you here.
Man uses many means to one end; God one means to many ends.
The plant thinks it is in its place for its own purpose, to grow, to toss in the wind, to drink in light and air, to prepare fragance and color for its own adornment, to play with beetles and bees. It is indeed there for itself, but at the same time it is only one pore of the earth, in which light, air, and water meet and mingle in processes important to the whole earthly life; it is there in order that the earth may exhale, breathe, weave for itself a green garment and provide nourishment, raiment and warmth for men and animals. Man thinks that he is in his place for himself alone, for amusement, for work, and getting his bodily and mental growth; he, too, is indeed there for himself; but his body and mind are also but a dwelling place into which new and higher impulses enter, mingle, and develop, and engage in all sorts of processes together, which both constitute the feeling and thinking of the man, and have their higher meaning for the third stage of life.
The mind of man is alike indistinguishably his own possession and that of the higher intelligences, and what proceeds from it belongs equally to both always, but in different ways. Just as in this figure, which is intended not for a representation but only a symbol, the central, colored, six-rayed star (looking black here) can be considered as independent and having unity in itself; its rays proceeding from the middle point are all thereby dependently and harmoniously bound together; on the other hand, it appears again mingled together from the concatenation of the six single colored circles, each one of which has its own individuality. And as each of its rays belongs as well to it as to the circles, through the overlapping of which it is formed, so is it with the human soul.
Man does not often know from whence his thoughts come to him: he is seized with a longing, a foreboding, or a joy, which he is quite unable to account for; he is urged to a force of activity, or a voice warns him away from it, without his being conscious of any special cause. These are the visitations of spirits, which think and act in him from another centre than his own. Their influence is even more manifest in us, when, in abnormal conditions (clairvoyance or mental disorder) the really mutual relation of dependence between them and us is determined in their favor, so that we only passively receive what flows into us from them, without return on our part.
But so long as the human soul is awake and healthy, it is not the weak plaything or product of the spirits which grow into it or of which it appears to be made up, but precisely that which unites these spirits, the invisible centre, possessing primitive living energy, full of spiritual power of attraction, in which all unite, intersect, and through mutual communication engender thoughts in each other, this is not brought into being by the mingling of the spirits, but is inborn in man at his birth; and free will, self-determination, consciousness, reason, and the foundation of all spiritual power are contained herein. But at birth all this lies still latent within, like an unopened seed, awaiting development into an organism full of vital individual activity.
So when man has entered into life other spirits perceive it and press forward from all sides and seek to add his strength to theirs in order to reinforce their own power, but while this is successful, their power becomes at the same time the possession of the human soul itself, is incorporated with it and assists its development.
Excerpted from The Little Book of Life After Death by Gustav Theodor Fechner, Mary C. Wadsworth. Copyright © 2013 Gustav Theodor Fechner. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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