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Akasha (Sanskritआकाश ākāśa, from kash "to shine, radiate, shine, be visible") means, according to the ancient Indian view, as much as heaven, ether or space. Especially according to the Indian elemental theory of Vaisheshika, Akasha is equated with the ether and thus corresponds to the quintessence of Aristotle. Strictly speaking, the Akasha substance is the subtle primordial substance from which everything is formed and in which thought can directly express itself. As such, it also forms the basis for the world memory, the so-called Akasha chronicle.

To the question: "Is the Akasha substance etheric or astral?" Rudolf Steiner answered:

„The astral substance is the higher substance. The Akasha substance stands between physical and astral matter. It is the finest physical matter, the very finest matter in which thought can directly express itself.“ (Lit.:GA 53, p. 230)

In another place Steiner states:

„The whole earth was formerly in a much finer, thinner etheric state. Akasha is the finest form in which, before primeval times, everything was in the etheric state that now confronts us on earth as solid, liquid and so on. The solid granite of our primeval mountains, all metals, all salts, all types of lime, everything that is on our earth today - also all vegetable and animal forms - were present at that time in this fine Akasha. Akasha is the finest form of matter.

The human body that man has today is composed of all the substances of the earth. All kinds of matter are found in some chemical composition in the human body. At that time all these substances were in the Akasha state and the spiritual being of man incarnated into this Akasha matter. It was a completely different form from the human being of today. In this Akasha matter everything was still undifferentiated that later became differentiated. It contained everything that later became mineral, plant and animal forms. In that in which the pure divine human being incarnated, in this Akasha matter, all animal forms were still contained, as well as everything that later became human form.“ (Lit.:GA 53, p. 217)

Space or ether, even heaven, is that in which movement takes place. By space, however, is meant not only the outer sensually perceptible three-dimensional space, but a sequence of multidimensional spaces of consciousness, of which the sensually perceptible space is only the lowest level, and also the movement is not merely an outer one, but also includes all soul and spiritual movements. Behind these, however, stands Prana as the spiritual principle of all movements, the living breath, the sounding rhythm of the whole cosmos, which, according to Rudolf Steiner, ultimately points to the life ether, in which the formative world word, the Christ himself, expresses himself. What lives creatively as movement in Prana is held in forms in Akasha. Thus Akasha becomes the basis of the world memory, the Akasha chronicle, in which the traces of the process of creation are preserved. Prana is in this sense the forming principle, Akasha is that which is formed, similar to what Aristotle later indicated by the two principles of substance and form. Akasha is life manifested in form:

"The first, from which everything else emerged, is the unmanifested divinity. From this then came forth the second, the life or also the unmanifested creative substance. This life then passes through the most manifold forms and is named in the forms Akasha or Mahat. This Akasha or Mahat contains all the forms of life that exist in the world. The whole hierarchy of thrones, cherubim, seraphim, powers, elemental forces, archangels and angels came forth through life and form the forms under which this one life appears.

The first power, the unmanifested Godhead, is also called the Father; the second power is the Son, who is both life and creative substance, and the third power is the Spirit. Together, then, these three primordial forces appear as Father, Son and Spirit, as Consciousness, Life and Form. The power of life is under the direction of Michael, who belongs to the sun, the power of form is under the direction of Samael, who belongs to the volcano, where all life will be transformed into living forms. The power of consciousness is under the direction of Anael, who embraces all that is there. So the top three are:

Unmanifested Deity
Creative Substance
Manifested Life
Akasha. Mahat

(Lit.: GA 89, p. 255)

Akasha can also be conceived of as negative matter:

„We know that every body can pass from a more solid to a more immaterial state: from the solid to the liquid and to the gaseous state. The refinement of the material state can reach a degree which, if exceeded, ends in a negative matter; it is called Akasha. In it all events are expressed in a definitive way, - and one can find them all again, even those from the deepest past.“ (Lit.:GA 94, p. 83)

Akasha is also particularly connected with the music of the spheres. Akasha is the fine fabric in which the tones of the harmony of the spheres resound:

„In ancient Pythagorean philosophy, as you know, music of the spheres was spoken of. By 'sphere' is meant the space of the world, the space in which the stars float. This is not an imagined, spun-out image, not a poetic comparison, but it is a reality. When man has practised sufficiently according to the indications of the secret teacher, then he learns to see inwardly not only an illuminated, transilluminated space, which is the expression of wisdom, but he also learns to hear the music of the spheres which floods the space of the world. And when the space begins to resound, then man is said to be in the heavenly world, in the Devachan. It is true that space resounds, but it is not a physical sound, but these are spiritual sounds which do not live in the air, but in a much higher, finer substance, in the Akasha substance. Continually space is filled with such music, and there are certain fundamental tones in this music of the spheres.“ (Lit.:GA 101, p. 150)

„That which stands behind the physical, out of which the physical is made and born, chaos - all have known it. Whether the Greeks called it chaos, whether Genesis describes it to us in the way we have seen it, or whether Indian philosophy speaks of the Achaos, the Akasha: it is always the same, which from the secret schools is to remind us how that which was in the beginning continues to work through all times.

Only by connecting with his true origin can progress take place. To him who is bound to the world of the senses, chaos appears confused and desolate. To the knower it is not so. He who penetrates it in the spiritual sense hears how it is sounded by the harmony of the spheres of which the Pythagoreans spoke, and the translation of which into words is that which is transmitted to the public today in the Theosophical World Movement, just at the right time.“ (Lit.:GA 284, p. 87)

In all other substances, from the coarsest solid matter up to the finest ethereal substances, Prana and Akasha work together in a very specific relationship of forces. And in all substances, even in the coarsest matter, are inscribed the traces of the process of creation and all the movements that follow from it.

„According to the ancient Indian view, the universe reveals itself in two fundamental qualities: as movement and as that in which this movement takes place, namely space. This space is called the Akasha (Tib.: nam-mkhah) and is that through which things appear, i.e. have extension, corporeality. As that which encompasses all things, Akasha corresponds to the three-dimensional space of our sense experience and as such is called "mahakasha". However, the nature of akasha is not exhausted in this three-dimensionality; it encompasses all possibilities of movement, not only physical but also spiritual, i.e. infinite dimensions.

At the level of mental activity, Akasha is called "space of consciousness" or dimension of consciousness "cittakasha", while at the highest level of spiritual experience, where the duality of subject and object is abolished, it is called "cidakasha".

Akasha comes from the root kash, "to shine", "to radiate" and therefore also has the meaning "ether", which serves as the medium of movement. The principle of movement, however, is Prana (Tib.: sugs), the living breath, the all-powerful rhythm of the universe, in which world origins and world perishings follow each other like inhalation and exhalation in the human body, and in which the course of the suns and planets is just as decided as the circulation of the blood and the currents of psychic energies. All the forces of the universe as well as of the human spirit, from the highest consciousness to the depths of the subconscious, are modifications of prana. The word "prana" cannot, therefore, be equated with the physical breath, although breath (Prana in the strict sense) is one of the many functions in which this universal primal force manifests itself.

Although in the highest sense akasha and prana cannot be separated from each other, but are mutually dependent like "above" and "below" or "right" and "left", it is possible to observe and distinguish the predominance of one or the other principle in the field of practical experience.

Everything shaped, extended, appearing in space reveals the nature of the Akasha. Therefore, the four gross elements (mahabhuta; Tib.: hbyun-ba) or states of solid ("earth"), liquid ("water"), flaming or heating ("fire") and gaseous ("air") are understood as modifications of the Akasha, the space ether.

Everything that is moving, dynamic, change-producing, transforming reveals the nature of Prana. All bodily and mental processes, all physical and psychic forces, from the functions of respiration, blood circulation and the nervous system to those of consciousness, thought and all higher mental functions are modifications of Prana.

Akasha in its grossest form presents itself as matter; in its subtlest forms it passes imperceptibly into the energetic.“ (Lit.: Govinda, p. 157f)


References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
Email: verlag@steinerverlag.com URL: www.steinerverlag.com.
Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English.
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold
steinerbooks.org - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.