Wednesday 4 June 2014

The doctrine of pre-mortal existence


I find that the doctrine of pre-mortal existence, that we were alive and sentient before this mortal earthly life, takes a larger and larger place in my cosmology as its implications sink-in.

When I first encountered it, the doctrine of pre-mortality seemed like just 'kicking the can further back up the road' - but this is not so. It is a profoundly different perspective from (say) that we (our selves) were created from nothing at the time of conception, in embryo or at birth; and profoundly different too from the various theories of cyclical reincarnation and transformation.


Indeed, this doctrine of pre-mortal existence is coming to seem like a key - the necessary first piece of a jigsaw of inference that makes sense of mortal life, and gives meaning to it; and enables a positive attitude towards it.

I have found that rival doctrines cannot explain the necessity and desirability of our mortal life - this actual life we are living here-and-now; so that there is a tendency to regard mortality as a misfortune we would wish to be over as soon as possible, a trial to be endured as a punishment, or simply trivial - swallowed-up by the eternity of post-mortal life or rendered insignificant by the round of reincarnations, or a momentary spark in an infinite universe and duration of nothingness.

But to perceive mortal life as a discrete episode, sandwiched between the two open-ended and unmeasurable eternities of pre- and post-mortal existence - is to change this earthly life from being just an infinitesimally-brief mere-prelude to Heaven or Hell or extinction or a roundabout of similar incarnations - into a infinitely precious - because unique and bounded - era of our existence.


And pre-mortality enables us to consider mortal life as a choice; and for each person to understand himself as a volunteer rather than a conscript in this spiritual and bodily warfare amidst which we find ourselves; because at some level and in some way and with some precision (although not pre-destined) we chose this actual mortal life.

Thus pre-mortality is a way-out from what seems like the logical necessity of this whole business of mortality being an accident, an unfortunate accident - the notion that we were born here-and-now and as who-we-are for no reason at all but simply as the unrepeatable outcome of roll-upon-iterated-roll of genetic dice - and that we are (it seems, in such a mood) nothing-but this combination of randomness, genetics and contingent circumstance...


However, pre-mortal existence locates our essential selves outside of earthly chance and contingency - our essence is prior to randomness, genetics, and environment; our real selves are independent of contingency; and therefore there is meaning and necessity to our basic situation.

Pre-mortal existence is one key part of the doctrinal pre-requisites we require to understand that this actual earthly mortal life of ours is ultimately part of an eternal narrative and striving, with which we personally have already and previously aligned-ourselves.


Note: These thoughts were crystallized by watching a video of the late Elder Neal A Maxwell speaking on the subject of "A wonderful flood of light" - - h/t 'Zen' at Correction: the poetic quotation Elder Maxwell attributes to CS Lewis was actually by JRR Tolkien (from Mythopoeia) - and was rather addressed-to CS Lewis.


lightsearcher1 said...

When one perceives the actuality of our existence prior to our births, it leads almost ineluctably to the idea (and fact) of repeated earth lives...

[I.] - Investigations Into Life Between Death and Rebirth - Milan, October 26, 1912


...the more man seeks the divine within himself, the more he will lose the understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha.

The whole tendency of modern thinking is to seek the reflection of the divine exclusively in man. Because of this, ever greater obstacles prevent recognition that the Divine was incarnated within one personality...

In our present period there is only one way of maintaining a clear consciousness during the third phase after death, that is, by carrying certain memories from the previous life into our existence after death. In fact, during this period we would have to forget everything unless we were able to hold on to one particular recollection.

If we have experienced on earth an understanding of Christ and the Mystery of Golgotha and have established a relationship to them, this will implant into us thoughts and forces that maintain our consciousness during this period after death. The facts clearly show that there is the possibility of remembering after death what has been understood on the earth in relation to the Mystery of Golgotha.

Once we have gained ideas and feelings about the Mystery of Golgotha, we shall be able to remember these after death, and also what is connected with them.

In other words, after death we must carry our consciousness across an abyss, and this is done by means of the understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha that we have gained on earth.


[II.] - Phases of Memory and the Real Self
Dornach, Switzerland - 10th February 10, 1924

Start at Paragraph 7: "Let us now study memory from yet another point of view..."



[III.] - The Inner Nature of Man and Life Between Death and Rebirth
Vienna, 13th April, 1914

Lecture 5: Between Death and the `Cosmic Midnight Hour'



[IV.] - Supersensible Man (Lecture 2)
The Hague, 14th November, 1923

A conceptually difficult (and detailed) but beautifully symphonic lecture that almost points to Rudolf Steiner as a type of Dante of the 20th century (whether deluded or not).



lightsearcher1 said...

Lawrence Auster wrote the month prior to his death:

I've always believed that we exist somewhere before this life, and exist somewhere after this life. That's always been evident to me. A human self at birth comes from somewhere, because he is born with definite tendencies, personality, talents, character, he is not a blank slate; those tendencies come from someplace.


Extract on premortal/prebirth existence (Rudolf Steiner; citation at bottom):

...As physical man, I repeat the shape of my forbears. What do I repeat as spiritual man?

Anyone who claims that what comprises my biography needs no further explanation but must be accepted just as it stands, is also forced to maintain that he has seen an earth-mound somewhere on which lumps of matter have integrated themselves quite unaided into a living man.

As physical man I spring from other physical men because I have the same shape as the whole human species. The qualities of the species, accordingly, could thus be acquired only within the species.

As spiritual man I have my own shape just as I have my own biography. I can have obtained this shape, therefore, from no one but myself.

I did not enter the world with undefined, but with defined soul-predispositions, and since the course of my life as it comes to expression in my biography is determined by these predispositions, my work upon myself cannot have begun with my birth.

That is to say, I must have existed as spiritual man before my birth. I certainly did not exist in my forebears because as spiritual human beings, they differ from me. My biography is not explainable through theirs.

On the contrary, as a spiritual being I must be the repetition of someone through whose biography mine can be explained.

The only conceivable alternative at the moment would be that I owe the character of the content of my biography to a spiritual life in which I existed prior to birth or, more correctly, to conception...

Anyone who penetrates into these matters, arrives at the conception of earth-lives which must have preceded this present one. He cannot in his thinking stop at purely spiritual experiences preceding this present earth-life.

The physical form which Schiller bore, he inherited from his forefathers. But just as little as Schiller's physical form can have grown directly out of the earth, as little can his spiritual being have arisen directly out of a spiritual environment.

He must himself be the re-embodiment of a spiritual being, through whose life-history his own will be explicable, just as his physical human form is explicable through human propagation.

In the same way, therefore, as the physical human form is again and again a repetition, a re-embodiment, of the distinctively human species, so too the spiritual human being must be a re-embodiment of the same spiritual human being. For, as spiritual human being, each one is in fact his own species.


From: Re-embodiment of the Spirit and Destiny - (Chapter 2 of THEOSOPHY: An Introduction to the Supersensible Knowledge of the World and the Destination of Man)

Bruce Charlton said...

@l - Too big a comment!

I have been reading some Rudolf Steiner recently in relation to Owen Barfield.

I think reincarnation is possible but exceptional, not usual - and multiple reincarnations are a nightmarish notion - and not logically implied.