Sunday, March 20, 2011
From Buddha to Christ. Manu and the seven rishis of ancient India; Zarathustra, Hermes, and Moses; Pythagoras
A lecture given by Rudolf Steiner at the International Congress of the Federation of European Sections of the Theosophical Society in Budapest, May 31, 1909:
I do not wish to offer you here an observation about the philosophy of religion or a treatise on literary history, nor do I wish to give you a scientific lecture about the subject matter. I simply want to tell you what Spiritual Science or occultism have to say about such great individualities as Buddha and Christ — more precisely, what knowledge they can offer from the vantage point of Rosicrucian occultism.
In a lecture intended for more advanced theosophists, I presume you will permit me to speak more intimately of such truths. I shall present to you broad outlines, and I will incorporate certain details into them. Rosicrucian occultism presents one of the great principles of occult theosophical investigation, from which spiritual life should flow into our hearts. Even though the goals and ideals of theosophy can also be found outside the Theosophical Society, there is nevertheless a difference in the means employed by anyone seriously trying to struggle for the attainment and right application of knowledge and truth, for occult investigation can and must flow directly into life.
Allow me to illustrate this point with a trivial example. The human soul is like a stove that does not need to be persuaded to heat a room, because heating is its function. The stove does this on its own, provided we put wood into it and light it. It could be objected that the appearance of the wood does not suggest to us that it can generate heat, and yet it does precisely that. By putting some firewood, the appearance of which is so different from the stove, into it and lighting it, we bring warmth into our house. Similarly, by getting used to spiritual scientific concepts, we also become accustomed to our ability to make judgments and to orient ourselves freely in this world. It is not our task to preach ideals but rather to provide human souls with the fuel that can generate spiritual wisdom, genuine brotherliness, and true humanity. To realize this is our goal.
What we designate as the Rosicrucian stream arose in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries when the spiritual stream of Christianity was already obscured since it had taken on an external form. At a time when Christianity in the outer world increasingly was taking on an external form and when its true original meaning had faded, Rosicrucianism received the task to cultivate ancient wisdom and to preserve the treasures of primordial wisdom. In the outside world, wherever people deemed only external forms and hardened dogmas to be important, they abjured and cursed anything that was venerated in the mysteries as the highest and holiest truths. One frequently heard the words: “I curse Skythianos; I curse Boddha; I curse Zarathas.” These are the three names that were venerated in greatest secrecy in the mysteries and in the Rosicrucian mystery schools as sacred names of the masters.
Zarathas is the same individual as Zarathustra — not the Zarathustra known to history, but the exalted individual who founded ancient Persian culture and who was the teacher in the occult schools of that time. Skythianos was a highly developed individual of ancient times. In one of his subsequent incarnations he led the occult schools of Central Asia, and later he also became the teacher of esoteric schools in Europe. Boddha and Buddha are one and the same person.
In order to understand what an initiate felt when he heard these three names and in order to gain some idea of what they could give him, we have to go back in human evolution and examine the character of Rosicrucian occultism more closely. Let us gain an understanding through listening and through looking back into the past. There have always been highly advanced personalities who stood out from the masses and to whom average people looked up in reverence as one would to high ideals. To look up to the individuals who had reached such a lofty stage of wisdom and intellectual power had the effect of animating the average person's moral sense and vital energies. Even today the forces of these lofty spirits flow into our finer bodies.
Let us look back into the past to all the spiritual individualities of whom I want to speak to you, all the way back to the ancient Indian culture. If we went further back in human evolution to the remote age of Atlantis and its end, this would lead us to the event that separates us from an even more ancient epoch of humanity where our souls led lives greatly different from the ones they lead in our present physical bodies. However, rather than dealing in detail with a description of life and culture in those ancient times, let us today be content to illuminate the answer to the question: How was humanity guided in ancient times, and where did the forces that influenced it come from?
When a seer whose spiritual eye is opened so that he knows how to read the fine script of the Akasha Chronicle looks back into the spiritual worlds, he discovers the sites from which the culture and all spiritual life of those times emanated. Our souls can discover the sites where the masters and their disciples assembled in the mystery schools of that time. There were many such Mystery Centers on the ancient Atlantean continent, and they differed from those of today and were given a different name. They were not just churches and not just schools, but rather a combination of both. Those who searched for truth could find both religion and wisdom in the mystery schools; here, religion and wisdom were one. Using a modern word, we can characterize the concept of those cultic centers, the mystery schools, by the term “Atlantean Oracles.” This is the name given to them by the European mystery schools, but originally they were called something entirely different.
In the Atlantean Oracles and their centers of wisdom, spiritual life was differentiated in the same way that external knowledge and the areas of trade and professions are subdivided in external life today. There were various branches of spiritual investigation and occult wisdom in ancient Atlantis, but everything in those times depended on different conditions. Wisdom varied from one oracle to another according to the capacities of the human beings and their external environment. A connection existed between certain human capacities and certain planets — that is, certain mystical occult capacities were connected with special planets. Therefore, on the Atlantean continent we should distinguish between oracles of the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.
Our present capacities, too, developed out of the cosmos, as did our Earth, and they are in each case tied to different planets and their influences. On Atlantis, people who were suited to develop this or that cognitive capacity were chosen from the population and assigned to one of the seven oracles. Of the seven oracles, which were named after the seven planets in ancient Atlantis, the Sun Oracle stood out from all the others, but next to it the Vulcan Oracle prepared itself in secrecy for its future task.
Each of these oracles had emanated from the cosmos according to its capacity, but there was one center in which the capacities of all seven oracles flowed together, and it was here that the wisdom of the seven oracles in Atlantis coalesced. The adepts of this center, of the Holy Sun Oracle, had been initiated into the mystery and service of what we today know as the Sun. We should not forget that the physical Sun is only the external expression or physiognomy — the body and garment — of the spiritual life of the exalted Sun-Being.
All of you have heard of the time when the Sun separated from the Earth, and along with the physical Sun those beings abandoned the earthly arena who had advanced through the human state and, therefore, could no longer use the Earth for their development. After the Moon too had left, the Earth was able to realize its destination of becoming the abode of humanity. If the Sun alone had influenced the Earth, the latter would have gone through such a rapid development that human beings would have become old soon after birth. By contrast, if our Earth had been only under the influence of the Moon, human beings would have been stiffened and become mummies. Development would have been too slow, and their bodies would have reached a state of rigidity and lignification. However, through a wise guiding force, Sun and Moon maintained a balance in the external influence they exert on the Earth; and this enabled Earth and human beings to develop at a speed suitable to them. The beings of Mars, Mercury, Venus, and so on, who did not need the forces that had left with the Moon and Earth for their development, departed with the Sun to take up their own abode. Yet they continued to be connected with the Earth and sent their beneficial forces down to it in the sunlight.
During the ancient Atlantean epoch, the adepts of the Sun Oracle had been initiated into the deeds of this lofty Sun-Being. The Great Initiate who was the leader of this highest oracle had been initiated in the most comprehensive ways into these mysteries. The entire ancient Atlantean and, as we shall see, also the post-Atlantean culture proceeded from him. The “Manu,” as this leader of the Sun Oracle was called — although the name doesn't really matter all that much — did not choose the main representatives of the post-Atlantean culture from among the so-called scholars and scientists, nor from the clairvoyants and Magi of that time. The people who were endowed with spiritual and psychic knowledge and who in those days were approximately comparable to the scientists and scholars of our time were not considered suitable by him; rather, plain people who had begun gradually to lose the clairvoyant faculty were chosen. Our present state of consciousness began to develop only at the end of the Atlantean epoch. That was the time when the old clairvoyant consciousness was waning, gradually giving way to a full consciousness of self, to the ability to address the “I” in oneself. The great Manu gathered about him those who were able to function intellectually, not the clairvoyants and Magi but those who absorbed and developed the rudiments of arithmetic. They were the despised who knew nothing in the opinion of the leading people, and in this they were not unlike the theosophists today. Yet it was they with whom the great Manu journeyed to the sanctuary in Asia from which the post-Atlantean culture was to emanate.
Disregarding America for this purpose, let us say that Europe, Asia, and Africa have all been populated by the descendants of the ancient Atlanteans who had moved to these continents under Manu's leadership. This initiate of the Sun Oracle now had to take care that the founding of this post-Atlantean culture and the evolution of its human beings would proceed under the proper influence. From the very beginning he had to take care that everything that was valuable for a future development should be carried forward. This preservation of values from the past is a law of occultism, of spiritual economy, but it is also a law that can only be known through spiritual wisdom.
Now, the Great Initiate took something very valuable with him when he journeyed from ancient Atlantis to Europe. To accomplish this, he had — let me put it this way — traveled to and inspected the other oracles. You all know that in the case of ordinary people the etheric body separates from the astral body and the ego soon after death and gradually dissolves in the universal ether. The same happens with the astral body after a certain time — but this law is sometimes broken in the interest of spiritual economy. This is what happened in the case of the etheric bodies of the seven greatest initiates who were the leaders of the ancient Atlantean oracles.
What does it mean when we say we work on ourselves? It means that we purify the etheric body and the astral body. Now, once purified, the spiritualized etheric and astral bodies do not dissolve after death but are preserved in accordance with the law of spiritual economy. In short, it was known in the mysteries how to preserve the valuable etheric and astral bodies developed by the great initiates, but it would lead me too far afield to speak about this in detail. Suffice it to say that these bodies were kept by the preservers of the mystery schools.
It is for this reason that the Great Initiate of the Sun Oracle journeyed to the other Atlantean oracles to collect and take with him the seven etheric bodies of the greatest Atlantean initiates. And then he attracted through his wisdom a number of human beings who were to become fit for their coming culture. He taught these humans who were gathered around him so that they became increasingly more capable and pure. What followed may be called an art. After some time had elapsed, it became possible to incorporate the seven more important etheric bodies of the seven greatest initiates of the ancient Atlantean oracles into seven human beings. In regard to their egos, their power of judgment, and so on, they were simple people whose existence had no significance from an external point of view. However, they carried within them the seven most highly developed etheric bodies of the seven most significant initiates. These etheric bodies had streamed into these people, thereby enabling them to exude the great, powerful visions and truths of evolution through inspiration from above. Thus, they were able to speak of all this exalted wisdom.
The Great Initiate sent these seven bearers of wisdom to India, where people still had a sense and an understanding of the spiritual and of spiritual worlds. In India human beings still had the feeling and the consciousness of having at one time emanated from a primordial spiritual world and of having been born from the womb of the Godhead. Therefore, the whole physical world appeared to them as maya, as illusion, and they longed to return to this world of the gods, to those divine-spiritual beings with whom they had once lived. To such people the seven bearers of wisdom could speak. They were called the Holy Rishis, and it was they who inaugurated the dawn of our post-Atlantean culture. The people who had preserved for themselves the consciousness of and the longing for the spiritual world with its divine-spiritual beings were thus given the opportunity to learn more about this world and to find the way back to it.
Subsequent ages gave birth to not only peoples who were destined to look into the spiritual worlds, but also to those who wanted to contribute to the founding of a new culture. They were meant to become fond of the physical world and to see it not only as maya or illusion. Rather, they began to understand that this physical world is but the expression or physiognomy of the spiritual world that lies behind it. This was the second epoch, the ancient Persian or Zarathustran culture. Ordinary history records only a relatively late Zarathustra because historians are unaware that it was customary in ancient times for a successor to receive the name of a great leader from the past. I am here referring to the greatest of all Zarathustras, who was one of the most intimate disciples of the Initiate of the Sun Oracle. His task was to find the connection between the physical and the spiritual world. He had to teach his disciples that the physical sphere of the Sun is the body of spiritual beings who have their abode on the Sun and that this whole physical world should be viewed as the members and limbs of the physical body of divine-spiritual beings. Just as the Sun is surrounded by a great aura, so the human being is surrounded by his or her own small aura, which is a microcosmic expression of the Sun's great aura. The Sun is the body of the Sun Spirit, who revealed himself in the Sun Oracle of the ancient Atlantean epoch. Zarathustra beheld this spirit in clairvoyant vision. He also designated the aura of the Sun as Sun Spirit, and this is the same being whom he also called Ahura Mazdao. Occultists of later ages called it Ormuzd.
Zarathustra taught his disciples to see Ahura Mazdao in the physical Sun and not to be led astray by Ahriman. Ahriman has lived in the physical world since the last third of the Atlantean epoch and attacks the human soul through sense perception, that is to say from the outside. By contrast, Lucifer attacks the soul from within. Zarathustra had to kindle in the hearts of humans the love for the great Sun Spirit, and he did this in powerful words that cannot be adequately rendered in our modern languages. All the magnificent words that you find in the Vedas and Gathas, no matter how beautiful, are but a feeble superficial expression of the great and lofty words originally uttered by Zarathustra. In our language, they can be approximated by the following:
“I wish to speak, now hearken and listen to me, you from near and from afar, who are filled with longing for these words. I want to speak about that which is the highest truth to me in this world and what was revealed to me by the great and mighty Ahura Mazdao. Hearken and listen to me now and mark my words carefully: No longer shall the teacher of falsehoods, the evil one whose lips bore witness to an evil faith, lead you astray, for He — the mighty Ahura Mazdao—has manifested himself! Those who do not want to listen to the words as I say them and to the meaning that I give to them will experience evil things when the course of time reaches its end.”
And at other times Zarathustra said this: “So great and mighty is He who revealed Himself to me in the Sun that I surrender everything for him. I rejoice in sacrificing to Him the life of my body, the etheric existence of my senses, and the expression of my deeds” — the astral body. Such was the vow that Zarathustra made a long time ago.
Zarathustra had two disciples. To one of them he revealed through spiritual means everything that one can perceive with clairvoyant astral organs. This disciple was reincarnated under the name Hermes, the Egyptian Hermes. To the second disciple he imparted truths that one can know through the clairvoyant etheric body: the wisdom of the Akasha Chronicle. This second disciple was Moses, and you can find the wisdom imparted to him in the Book of Moses of the Old Testament.
When the first disciple was reincarnated as Hermes, he bore within him the astral body of Zarathustra, who had revealed to him not only his teachings but also his own nature. Such a transfer is possible, for what Hermes had received was nothing else but the astral body Zarathustra had sacrificed for him. Hence it was Zarathustra's wisdom that Hermes, the founder of the third post-Atlantean epoch, proclaimed.
The other disciple, to whom Zarathustra had given wisdom through the etheric body, was also born again. When he reincarnated, the etheric body that Zarathustra had sacrificed was woven into him. This disciple was Moses. You can find such facts recorded in religious documents, but in a veiled manner only. Read the story of the birth of Moses. What happened then? The child was placed into an ark of bulrushes which was then put into the water. What does that mean? It means that he was completely cut off from the world. His ego and astral body were not to become manifest until they were permeated by the principle of the etheric body. How can this take place? During the time when Moses lay isolated in the ark on the water, the etheric body that had been woven into him became illuminated. Only then could the astral body and the ego begin to work in him. Are not the powerful images of Genesis, which will occupy humanity for a long time to come, images taken from the Akasha Chronicle? These things cannot be understood without the aid of occultism.
We now come to the fourth epoch of the post-Atlantean culture, to the Graeco-Roman epoch. Up to this point, human beings were developed in such a way that they should learn to love the Earth. Yet there were also those who had been the companions of the gods in the Atlantean age, and it is therefore justified to ask what had become of the egos of the great initiates of that time. Atlantean egos had dwelt in a softer and finer body, and for them existence on Earth was such that individualities had to go through an incarnation only for the time necessary to maintain the connection between the world's primordial spiritual wisdom and humanity.
The great Buddha is one of the individualities who was actually able to imbue the Oriental writings with that deep wisdom and spiritual force that we find in them now. As occultists, we are able to understand the communications relating to him, and we may even take them literally. For example, it is true when we read about him: “At his birth he shone like the bright light of the Sun.” We can also take it literally when Buddha says: “I have entered my last incarnation and need not return to Earth unless I do it of my own free will.” During the post-Atlantean epoch he also toiled to pass through stages of intellectual insights, and we can understand him when he says that the lines of incarnations and different stages of initiations through which he had passed flashed up before him:
Before me stood the splendor of the forms,
But my intuition was not yet pure!
I saw the Spirits of Insight,
But my intuition was not yet pure!
I saw the site of initiation,
But my intuition was not yet pure!
I was the companion among them:
Now my intuition was pure!
This is Buddha's illumination. He was one of those with whom we live in Rosicrucian theosophy.
We have already named three of the Masters: Zarathas, Skythianos, and Boddha or Buddha, and we can see how the lives of these leading personalities extend into our present time. An occultist can test these findings. In the realm of spiritual economy we not only find what these exalted men left behind; everything else that is of value to humanity is preserved.
Take, for example, an individual such as Galileo, who in the sixteenth century achieved such significant results in physics. Galileo had an etheric body that was not allowed to die with him. Far away from the place where Galileo had worked there lived a man in the middle of the eighteenth century who prepared himself for a great task after two decades of a devotional childhood. Deep in Russia, at the White Sea, lived a man in the plainest of circumstances. His name was Michael Lomonosov. Unknown and without means, he hiked to Moscow and subsequently laid the foundations for Russian grammar. Lomonosov bore within him the etheric body of Galileo. And now it happened that a personality, who knew that the etheric body of Galileo had been preserved and who, in fact, had been present when this connection was being investigated occultly, knew nothing about Michael Lomonosov. This is no disgrace, since on the physical plane one cannot know everything. But here we see that valuable elements are preserved and the past is connected with the future through the law of spiritual economy.
In the Rosicrucian mysteries, too, we encounter the individuality who lived in the body of Buddha on the physical plane. During the Atlantean age he had lived only as a bodhisattva, but later on he descended into the physical body of Buddha.
Let us now look at the times of Buddha and Zarathustra and observe what souls had to do in the ages between these two spiritual leaders. On the one hand we have the teachings of Ahura Mazdao; on the other, that side of humanity that increasingly became fond of the Earth. Let us envision once again the Indian, Persian, and Chaldean-Assyrian-Babylonian times, during which the soul gradually lost its connection with the spiritual world. Then, in ancient Greece the soul came to love the Earth so deeply that the statement of a famous Greek, “Better to be a beggar in the upper world than a king in the world of shadows,” was accepted as truth. During this fourth post-Atlantean epoch, the Graeco-Roman epoch, everything in the external world appeared to be beautiful and charming. The seer may, for example, observe the ruins of the Temple of Paestrum with his physical eye and revel admiringly in the beauty of the temple's form and in the intriguing charm of its lines. However, when he takes his eyes off the temple and looks for a similar substance in the spiritual world, he finds nothing. Everything seems to be blotted out. This is what these souls experienced between death and rebirth. They were isolated within the cold circumference of their individuality, cut off from all spiritual things and longing only for the physical world and all its beauty.
Ahura Mazdao himself, the Leader of the Sun, had to descend to Earth to bring light into this icy separateness. He had to become a human being in the physical world in order to help both the living and the dead. He had to be a human among humans! The high and the magnificent that lives in the Sun descended to Earth and revealed itself in and to humanity. Previously, it had revealed itself in the elements, for example to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and in the lightning on Sinai. The Israelites were to make no graven image of their God. Why? Because no external name can be given to “Me,” the Divine Being; only an entirely different name can express the “I am the I am!” The only possibility of discovering the Spirit of the Sun's name is to seek it in the human being. That which lives as “I” in human beings is the Christ-Being.
The Jehova revelation precedes the Christ. That was at the time when the Christ-Being could gradually descend to the Earth. What had Zarathustra once vowed to the high Sun-Being? What sacrifice did he want to make to him? His body, senses, life, and speech. Zarathustra was reincarnated as a contemporary of the great Buddha. He could then build up the etheric and astral bodies that he had sacrificed. He was reborn as Zarathas or Nazarathos, and he became the teacher of Pythagoras, who himself was reincarnated as one of the three Wise Men of the East and became one of the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth. Zarathustra, who had once sacrificed his etheric and astral bodies, was also able to give up his external sheath to Him whose coming he had once announced. As the Jesus of Nazareth of Western occultism, he could place his physical body at the disposal of the Sun Spirit and was then able to say, “I am the Light of the World!”
The Christ-Being was known in all the mysteries. In ancient India, at the time of the Seven Rishis, the being who represented Christ was called Vishva Karman. Zarathustra named him Ahura Mazdao, and in Egypt he was known as Osiris. The Jewish people called him Jahve or Jehova, and then in the fourth cultural epoch this very same being lived for three years on our physical Earth. This is the being who will in the future reunite the Sun with the Earth. Mystically, the Christ united Himself with the Earth when the blood streamed from His wounds at Golgotha. At that time He appears in the aura of the Earth, and He has been in it ever since.
Who was the first man to see Christ in the aura of the Earth? It was St. Paul, who did more than anyone else for the dissemination of Christianity. What caused Saul to become Paul? Neither the teachings nor the events that took place in Palestine, but the event at Damascus, which was of a supersensible nature. Before that experience, Paul could not believe that the one who had died so disgracefully on the cross had been the Christ, but as an initiate of the cabala he knew that the Christ would be visible in the aura of the Earth once He had appeared on Earth. That was the experience of Paul, which transformed him from Saul to Paul. Paul said of himself that he was born prematurely, and the same is also said of the Buddha. This means that such an individuality does not descend too deeply into the physical realm. When Paul became clairvoyant before he came to Damascus, he saw and knew who Christ was.
The Christ was working in Buddha as a bodhisattva, and it was He who was now the planetary spirit of the Earth since the event of Golgotha and who could since be found in the physical aura of the Earth. Through the Christ-Principle a new light has been kindled in this world and beyond. The body of Jesus of Nazareth — the etheric and astral bodies and the ego of Jesus of Nazareth — exist in many copies in the spiritual world. Such a statement expresses something of great significance, and for a better understanding of it we can draw on nature for a number of enlightening examples. Just think of a grain seed that grows into a stalk and multiplies itself many times in the process. This apparently simple natural process is a parable of the events in the supersensible world that are governed by certain laws. Many copies of the etheric and astral bodies and of the ego of Jesus of Nazareth exist in order to be incorporated in the preliminary bearers of the Christ-Principle. Everything connected with the Christ-Principle is so momentous that humanity can grasp it only little by little.
St. Augustine, for example, bore within him a copy of the etheric body of Jesus of Nazareth; and once you know that, you will be able to appreciate his life, his errors, and his accomplishments. His ego and his astral body were left to their own resources, and only in his etheric body did his great mystical gift come to life. St. Francis of Assisi and Thomas Aquinas had copies of the astral body of Jesus of Nazareth woven into their souls, and it is this fact that allowed them to be such dynamic teachers. They worked from a sphere in which Christ had once lived.
In some cases external events such as natural catastrophes or similar things enhance this weaving of spiritual bodies into the soul of the recipient. It is said of St. Thomas Aquinas that lightning struck and killed his little sister in the room where he happened to be standing, but spared him. He interpreted this lightning bolt next to him to the effect that elemental forces were necessary to help him take up the copy of the astral body of Jesus of Nazareth. Elisabeth of Thüringen also had an imprint of the astral body of Jesus of Nazareth in her soul.
Zarathustra, or Jesus of Nazareth, is one of the three Masters of the Rosicrucians. Many copies of his ego — that is, of the ego in which the Christ Spirit Himself had dwelt — can be found in the spiritual world. The copies of the ego of Jesus of Nazareth are waiting for us in the spiritual world to be utilized for the future evolution of humankind. People who endeavor to strive upward to the heights of spiritual wisdom and love are candidates for these copies of the ego of Jesus of Nazareth. They become bearers of Christ, true Christophori. On this Earth they shall be heralds of His Second Coming.
We derive strength for our future work from the knowledge of which individualities are behind the missions of important human beings. It is possible to test these facts. Not everyone is able to investigate what goes on behind the curtains of the physical world, but everyone can examine the results of such investigations by looking at the Holy Scriptures written before and after Christ. These facts can illuminate the way to understanding; and if they do, they change within us and become spiritual life-blood.