Monday, November 12, 2012

Buddha's Eightfold Path : Jñana Yoga : Right Thinking


The Gospel of Luke. Lecture 3.
Rudolf Steiner, September 17, 1909:

Buddha's message to men was among the very greatest of teachings and will remain so for long, long ages. Hence the soul of a Bodhisattva, the soul of one enlightened to such a supreme degree, was needed in order that this teaching should for the first time become a living power in a human being. Only the highest degree of enlightenment could enable the soul to give birth to what was to become a universal endowment of mankind — namely, the lofty doctrine of compassion and love. Buddha's message had to be presented in words familiar to the humanity of that time, especially to the people of his homeland. Reference has already been made to the fact that at the time of Buddha the Sankhya and Yoga philosophies were being taught in India. From them were derived the terminologies and concepts in use at the time. Anyone who brought a new message had necessarily to use current parlance, and Buddha too clothed what was living within him in concepts familiar to his contemporaries. True, he recast these concepts into completely new forms, but he was obliged to use them. The principle of all evolution must be that the future is based on the past. And so Buddha clothed his sublime wisdom in expressions customary in the Indian teachings of that time.

We must now try to picture what Buddha experienced during the seven-day period of his ‘Enlightenment’ under the Bodhi tree. This teaching was to become the deepest, most intimate concern of mankind. Let us therefore try to conceive, even if with thoughts only approximately adequate, what profound experiences were undergone by Buddha under the Bodhi tree and then came to expression in his soul.

He might have said that there were times in the ancient past when many human beings were dimly clairvoyant and that in an even more distant past this was the case with everyone. What does it mean — to be ‘dimly clairvoyant’, or ‘clairvoyant’? To be clairvoyant means to be able to use the organs of the etheric body. When a man is able to use the organs of his astral body only he can, it is true, inwardly feel and experience profound mysteries, but there can be no actual vision. Clairvoyance cannot arise until what is experienced in the astral body makes its ‘impress’ in the etheric body. Even the old, dim clairvoyance originated from the fact that in the etheric body, which had not yet passed completely into the physical body, there were organs which it was still possible for ancient humanity to use. What, therefore, was it that men lost in the course of time? They lost the capacity to use the organs of the etheric body! They were obliged to make use of the external organs of the physical body only, experiencing in the astral body, in the form of thoughts, feelings, and mental pictures, what the physical body transmitted. All this passed through the soul of the great Buddha as the expression of what he experienced. He said to himself: ‘Men have lost the capacity to use the organs of their etheric bodies. They experience in their astral bodies what they learn from the outer world through the instrumentality of their physical bodies.’

Buddha now concerned himself with this significant question: ‘When the eye perceives the color red, when the ear hears a sound, a tone, when the sense of taste has received some impression, under normal conditions these impressions become concepts and ideas, are inwardly experienced in the astral body. If they were experienced in this way alone they could not, in normal circumstances, be accompanied by pain and suffering. Were man simply to abandon himself to the impressions of the outer world as the latter with its light, colors, sounds, and so forth, affects his senses, he would pass through the world without experiencing pain and suffering from the impressions made upon him. Only under certain conditions can pain and suffering be experienced by man.’

Hence the great Buddha sought to discover the conditions under which man experiences pain, suffering, cares, and afflictions. When and why do the impressions of the outer world become fraught with suffering? Then he said to himself: Looking back into ancient times it is revealed that in men's earlier incarnations on the Earth certain beings worked into their astral bodies from two sides. In the course of incarnations through the epochs of Lemuria and Atlantis the Luciferic beings penetrated into human nature, and their influences took actual effect in the human astral body. Then, from the Atlantean epoch onwards, man was also worked upon by beings under the leadership of Ahriman. Thus in the course of his earlier incarnations man was subjected to the influences of both the Luciferic and Ahrimanic beings. Had these beings not worked upon him he could have acquired neither freedom nor the capacity to distinguish between good and evil, nor free will. From a higher point of view, therefore, it is fortunate that these influences were exercised upon him, although it is true that in a certain respect they led him from divine-spiritual heights more deeply into material existence than he would otherwise have descended.

The great Buddha could therefore say that man bears within himself influences due to the invasion of Lucifer on the one side and Ahriman on the other. These influences have remained with him from earlier incarnations. When, with his old clairvoyance, man was still able to gaze into the spiritual world, he perceived the influences of Lucifer and Ahriman and could clearly distinguish them. He could say: This particular influence comes from Lucifer, this other from Ahriman. And inasmuch as with his vision of the astral world he perceived the harmful influences of Lucifer and Ahriman, he could reckon with and protect himself from them. He knew, too, how he had come into contact with these beings. There was a time — so said Buddha — when men knew whence came the influences they had borne within themselves from incarnation to incarnation since bygone ages. But with the loss of the old clairvoyance this knowledge was also lost; man is now ignorant of the influences that have worked upon his soul through the series of incarnations. The earlier clairvoyant knowledge has been replaced by ignorance. Darkness now envelops man; he cannot perceive whence come these influences of Lucifer and Ahriman — but they are there within him! He has within him something of which he knows nothing. It would be folly to deny the reality and effectiveness of something that exists even though people are ignorant of it. The influences that have penetrated into man from incarnation to incarnation are working in him. They are there and they work through his whole life — only he is unaware of them!

What effect have these influences in man? Although he cannot actually recognize them for what they are, he feels them; there is a power within him that is the expression of what has continued from incarnation to incarnation and has entered into his present form of existence. These forces, the nature of which man cannot recognize, are represented by his desire for external life, for experience in the world, by his thirst and craving for life. Thus the ancient Luciferic and Ahrimanic influences work within man as the thirst, the craving, for existence. This ‘thirst for existence’ continues from incarnation to incarnation. This, in effect, is what the great Buddha said. But to his intimate pupils he gave more detailed explanations.

How he presented what he thus felt can be understood only if there has been a certain preparation through Anthroposophy. We know that when a man dies his astral body and his ego leave the physical and etheric bodies. Then he has before him, for a certain time, the great memory-tableau of his last life in the form of a vast picture. The main part of his etheric body is then cast off as a second corpse and something like an extract or essence of this etheric body remains; he bears this extract with him through the periods of Kamaloka and Devachan and brings it back again into his next incarnation. While he is in Kamaloka there is inscribed into this life-extract everything he has experienced through his deeds, everything that has been incurred in the way of human karma and for which he has to make compensation. All this unites with the extract of the etheric body which passes on from one incarnation to another, and man brings it with him when he again comes into existence through birth. The term in Oriental literature for what we call ‘etheric body’ is ‘Linga Sharira’. Thus it is an extract of Linga Sharira that man takes with him from incarnation to incarnation.

Buddha was able to say: At birth, the human being brings with him, in his Linga Sharira, everything it contains from his former incarnations; it is inscribed there everything of which man, in the present epoch, knows nothing and over which spreads the darkness of ignorance, although it asserts itself as the ‘thirst for existence’, the ‘craving for life’. In what is called the ‘craving for life’ Buddha saw everything that comes from previous incarnations and drives man to long avidly for enjoyment in the world, so that he does not merely move though the world of colors, tones, and other impressions, but yearns for this world. This force exists in man from previous incarnations. Buddha's pupils called it ‘Samskara’. Buddha spoke to his intimate pupils to the following effect. — What is characteristic of man is his ignorance, his ‘non-perception’ of something very significant that is in him. Because of this ignorance, this non-perception, everything that confronts man from the Luciferic and Ahrimanic beings and to which he might otherwise adopt an effective attitude is transformed into the ‘thirst for existence’, into slumbering forces which rumble darkly within him from previous incarnations. Man's present thinking has developed from ‘Samskara’ and this is why, in the present cycle of human evolution, nobody is able, without further effort, to think objectively.

Mark well the fine distinction made clear by Buddha to his pupils: the distinction between objective thinking, which has nothing but the object in view, and thinking influenced by the forces arising from the Linga Sharira. Consider how you acquire your opinions about things; ask yourselves how much you acquire from these things because they please you and how much because you observe them objectively. Everything acquired as an apparent truth not as the result of objective thinking but because old inclinations have been brought from previous incarnations — all this, according to Buddha, forms an ‘inner organ of thought’. This organ of thought comprises the sum-total of what a man thinks because certain experiences in former incarnations remain in his Linga Sharira as a residue. Buddha saw in the inner being of man a kind of inner organ of thought formed from Samskara, and he said: ‘It is this thought-substance that forms in man what is called his ‘present individuality’ — in Buddhism, ‘Name and Form’, or ‘Kamarupa’. ‘Ahankara’ is the term used in another philosophy.

Buddha spoke to his pupils somewhat as follows. In primeval times, when men were still clairvoyant and beheld the world lying behind physical existence, they all, in a certain sense, saw the same, for the objective world is the same for everyone. But when the darkness of ignorance spread over the world, each man brought with him individual capacities which distinguished him from his fellows. This made him into a being best described as having a particular form of soul. Each human being had a name which distinguished him from another — each had an ‘Ahankara’. What is thus created in man's inner nature under the influence of what he has brought with him from former incarnations and accounts for his ‘Name and Form’, his individuality — this builds in him, from within outwards, Manas and the five sense-organs, the so-called ‘six organs’.

Note well that Buddha did not say: ‘The eye is merely formed from within outwards’; but he said: ‘Something that was in Linga Sharira and has been brought over from previous stages of existence is membered into the eye.’ Hence the eye does not see with pure, unclouded vision; it would look into the world of outer existence quite differently if it were not inwardly permeated with the residue of earlier stages of existence. Hence the ear does not hear with full clarity, but everything is dimmed by this residue. The result is that there is mingled into all things the desire to see this or that, to hear this or that, to taste or perceive in one way or another. Into everything man encounters in the present cycle of existence there is insinuated what has remained from earlier incarnations as ‘desire’. If this element of desire were absent — so said Buddha — man would look out into the world as a divine being; he would let the world work upon him and no longer desire anything more than is granted to him, nor wish his knowledge to exceed what was bestowed upon him by the divine powers; he would make no distinction between himself and the outer world, but would feel himself membered into it. He feels himself separated from the rest of the world only because he craves for more and different enjoyment than the world voluntarily offers him. This leads to the consciousness that he is different from the world. If he were satisfied with what is in the world he would not distinguish himself from it; he would feel his own existence continuing in the outer world. He would never experience what is called ‘contact’ with the outer world, for, not being separate from it, he could not come into ‘contact’ with it. The forming of the ‘six organs’ was responsible for the gradual establishment of ‘contact with the outer world’; contact gave rise to feeling, and feeling to the urge to cling to the outer world. But it is because man tries to cling to the outer world that pain, suffering, cares, and afflictions arise.

This is what Buddha taught his pupils regarding the ‘inner man’ as the cause of pain, suffering, cares, and afflictions. It was a delicately woven, sublime theory — but a theory that sprang directly from life, for an ‘Enlightened One’ had experienced it as a profound truth concerning the humanity of his time. Having guided humanity as Bodhisattva for thousands and thousands of years in accordance with the principles of love and compassion, there dawned in him, when he became Buddha, knowledge of the true nature and the causes of suffering. He was able to know why man suffers, and explained this to his intimate disciples. And when his development was so advanced that he could experience the very essence and meaning of human existence in the present cycle of evolution, he summarized it all in the famous sermon at Benares with which he inaugurated his work as Buddha. There he presented in a popular form what he had previously communicated to his disciples in a more intimate way.

He spoke somewhat as follows. — Whoever knows the causes of human existence realizes that life, as it is, must be fraught with suffering. The first teaching I have to give you concerns suffering in the world. The second teaching concerns the causes of suffering. Wherein do these causes lie? They lie in the fact that the thirst for existence insinuates itself into man from what has remained in him from previous incarnations. Thirst for existence is the cause of suffering. The third teaching concerns the question: How is suffering eliminated from the world? By eliminating its cause; by extinguishing the thirst for existence proceeding from ignorance! Men have lost their former clairvoyant knowledge, have become ignorant, and it is this ignorance that conceals the spiritual world from them. Ignorance is to blame for the thirst for existence, and this in turn is the cause of suffering and pain, cares and afflictions. Thirst for existence must disappear from the world if suffering is to disappear. The old knowledge has passed away from the world; men can no longer use the organs of the etheric body. But a new knowledge is now possible, the knowledge acquired when man immerses himself completely in what his astral body, thanks to its deepest forces, can give him, and with the help of what his outer sense-organs enable him to observe in the external physical world. What is thus kindled in the deepest forces of the astral body and is developed with the cooperation of the physical body — although not actually derived from it — this alone can help man to begin with, and give him knowledge; for this knowledge is at first bestowed upon him as a gift. It was to this effect that Buddha spoke in his great inaugural sermon.

He knew that he must transmit to humanity the kind of knowledge that is attainable through the highest development of the forces of the astral body. Hence he had to teach that through deep and penetrating understanding of the forces of the astral body man acquires knowledge that is both appropriate and possible for him but is at the same time untouched by influences from earlier incarnations. Buddha wished to impart to men a kind of knowledge that has nothing to do with what slumbers in the darkness of ignorance within the human soul as Samskara. Such knowledge is acquired by waking to life all the forces contained in the astral body in one incarnation. ‘The cause of suffering in the world’ — so said Buddha — ‘is that something of which man knows nothing has remained behind from earlier incarnations. This legacy from earlier incarnations is the cause of man's ignorance concerning the world; it is the cause of his suffering and pain. But when he becomes conscious of the nature of the forces in his astral body he can, if he will, acquire a knowledge that has remained independent of all influences from earlier times — a knowledge that is his very own!’

This was the knowledge that the great Buddha wished to impart to men, and he did so in the form of what is known as the ‘Eightfold Path’. There he indicates the capacities and qualities which man must develop in order to attain, in the present cycle of human evolution, knowledge that is uninfluenced by the ever-recurring births. Thus by the power he had himself acquired, Buddha raised his soul to the heights attainable by means of the strongest forces of the astral body, and in the ‘Eightfold Path’ he showed humanity the way to a kind of knowledge uninfluenced by Samskara. He described the path as follows. —

Man attains this kind of knowledge about the world when he acquires a right view of things, a view that has nothing to do with sympathy or antipathy or preference of any sort. He must strive as best he can to acquire the right view of each thing, purely according to what presents itself to him outwardly. That is the first principle: the right view of things. Secondly, man must become independent of what has remained from earlier incarnations; he must also endeavor to judge in accordance with his right view of a thing and not be swayed by any other influences. Thus right judgment is the second principle. The third is that he must strive to give true expression to what he desires to communicate to the world, having first acquired the right view and right judgment of it; not only his words but every manifestation of his being must express his own right view — that and that alone. This is right speech. The fourth principle is that man must strive to act not according to his sympathies and antipathies, not according to the dark forces of Samskara within him, but in such a way that he lets his right view, right judgment, and right speech become deed. This is right action. The fifth principle enabling a man to liberate himself from what is within him is that he should acquire the right vocation and station in the world. We may best understand what Buddha meant by this if we remember how many people are dissatisfied with the tasks devolving upon them, believing that some other position would be more advantageous. But a man should be able to derive from the situation into which he is born or into which fate has placed him the best that is possible, i.e. to acquire the right ‘occupation’ or ‘vocation’. Whoever finds no satisfaction in the situation in which he is placed will not be able to derive from it the power to unfold right activity in the world. This is what Buddha called right vocation. The sixth principle is that a man should make increasing efforts to ensure that what he acquires through right views, right judgment, and so forth shall become habit in him. He is born into the world with certain habits. A child gives evidence of this or that inclination or habit. But man's endeavors should be directed not toward retaining the habits proceeding from Samskara but toward acquiring those that gradually become his own as the result of right views, right judgment, right speech, and so on. These are the right habits. The seventh principle is that a man should bring order into his life through not invariably forgetting yesterday when he has to act today. He would never accomplish anything if he had to learn his skills anew each time. He must strive to develop recollectedness, mindfulness, regarding everything in his life. He must always turn to account what he has already learnt, he must link the present with the past. Thus along the Eightfold Path man must acquire right mindfulness in the sense of Buddha's teaching. The eighth quality is acquired when, without partiality for one view or another and without being influenced by any element remaining in him from former incarnations, he surrenders himself with pure devotion to the things of the world, immerses himself in them and lets them alone speak to him. This is right contemplation.

This is the Eightfold Path, of which Buddha said to his disciples that if followed it would gradually lead to the extinction of the thirst for existence with its attendant suffering, and impart to the soul something that brings liberation from elements enslaving it from past lives.

We have now been able to grasp something of the spirit and origin of Buddhism. We know too what significance lies in the fact that the Bodhisattva of old became Buddha. The Bodhisattva had always allowed everything connected with his mission to flow into humanity. In very ancient times, before Buddha came into the world, men were not able to apply even their inner forces in such a way that they themselves could have developed the attributes of the Eightfold Path. Influences flowing from the spiritual world were necessary to make this possible, and it was the Bodhisattva of old who enabled these influences to stream down upon mankind. It was therefore an event of unique significance when this Bodhisattva became Buddha and now gave forth in the form of teaching what in earlier times he had caused to flow down upon men from above. He had now brought into the world a physical body able to unfold out of itself forces that formerly could flow down from higher realms only. The first body of this kind was brought into the world by Gautama Buddha. Everything he had formerly caused to flow down from above became reality in the physical world at that time. It is a happening of great and far-reaching importance for the whole of Earth evolution when forces that have streamed down upon humanity from epoch to epoch are present one day in the bodily nature of a human being on Earth. A power that can pass over into all men is then engendered.

In the body of Gautama Buddha lie the causes enabling men in all ages to develop in their own being the powers of the Eightfold Path. Buddha's existence ensured for men the possibility of right thinking! And whatever comes to pass in the future in this respect, until the principles of the Eightfold Path become reality in the whole of mankind, will all be thanks to that existence. What Buddha bore within himself he surrendered to men for their spiritual nourishment.


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