The Gospel of Luke. Lecture 2 of 10.
Rudolf Steiner, Basel, September 16, 1909:
The Gospel of St. Luke: An Expression of the Principle of Love and Compassion. The Missions of the Bodhisattvas and of the Buddha.
Throughout the Christian era the Gospel of St. John was the text that made the strongest impression upon those who were trying to deepen their understanding of the cosmic mysteries of Christianity. This was the Gospel used by all the Christian mystics who were striving to mould their lives in accordance with its presentation of the personality and nature of Christ Jesus.
In the course of the centuries a somewhat different attitude was adopted by Christian humanity to the Gospel of St. Luke — an attitude altogether in keeping with the indications given in the last lecture, from another point of view, regarding the contrast between these two Gospels. Whereas the Gospel of St. John was in a certain sense a text for mystics, the Gospel of St. Luke was always a devotional book for humble folk, for those whose simplicity and innocence of heart enabled them to rise into the sphere of truly Christian feeling. The Gospel of St. Luke has been a book of devotion throughout the centuries. For all those who were bowed down with sorrow or suffering it was a fount of consolation, speaking with such tenderness of the great Comforter, the great Benefactor of mankind, the Savior of the heavy-laden and oppressed. It was a book to which especially those who longed to be filled with Christian love turned their hearts and minds, because the power of love is revealed more clearly in this Gospel than in any other Christian document. Those who were in any way conscious — and strictly speaking this applies to everyone — of having the burden of some guilt upon their hearts, at all times found consolation and edification when they turned to the Gospel of St. Luke and understood its message. They could say to themselves: Christ Jesus came not only for the righteous but also for sinners; He sat with publicans and transgressors. Whereas much preparation is necessary before the full power of St. John's Gospel can be realized, it may be said of St. Luke's Gospel that no nature is too immature to be aware of the warmth streaming from it. From the earliest times this Gospel was an inspiration to the most childlike of men. All that remains childlike in the human soul from tenderest youth to ripest age has always felt drawn to the Gospel of St. Luke. And as regards pictorial representations of Christian truths and what art has acquired from these truths, we find that although much is derived from the other Gospels, the indications for the most intimate messages conveyed to the human heart by forms of art, by paintings, are to be found precisely in the Gospel of St. Luke. The portrayals of the deep connection between Christ Jesus and John the Baptist have their source in this imperishable Gospel. Anyone who allows it to work upon his soul will find that from beginning to end it gives expression to the principle of love, compassion, and innocence — in a certain sense, childlike innocence. Where else do we find such a tender portrayal of the childlike nature as in what is said of the childhood of Jesus of Nazareth in the Gospel of St. Luke? The reason will become clear as we penetrate more deeply into the words of this wonderful text.
It will be necessary now to say certain things that may seem paradoxical to those of you who have heard other lectures or courses of lectures given by me on the same subject. But if you will wait for the explanations to be given in the next lectures, you will realize that what I shall say is in harmony with what you have previously heard from me about Christ Jesus and Jesus of Nazareth. The whole complicated range of truth cannot be presented all at once, and today I shall have to indicate an aspect of the Christian truths that may seem not to tally exactly with what has been said on some previous occasion. Our procedure must be first to show how the separate currents of truth have developed and then the mutual agreement and harmony that finally become apparent. The Gospel of St. John was deliberately our starting-point, and I was naturally unable to indicate more than part of the truth in the various courses of lectures. What was said still holds good, as we shall see, although our attention today must be turned to an unusual aspect of Christian truths.
A wonderful passage in the Gospel of St. Luke describes how an angel appeared to the shepherds in the fields and announced to them that the savior of the world was born. Then come the words: ‘And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host.’ Picture the scene to yourselves: as the shepherds look upward the heavens open and the beings of the spiritual world are revealed in sublime pictures.
What was the proclamation to the shepherds? It was clothed in momentous words, words that resounded through the whole of evolution and have become the Christmas message. Rightly rendered, these words would be as follows: ‘The divine beings manifest themselves from on high, that peace may reign on the Earth below among men who are filled with good will!’ The usual expression, ‘glory,’ is entirely out of place here. The sentence is correct in the form I have now given, and the contrast should be clearly emphasized. What the shepherds saw was the manifestation of spiritual beings from on high, and the revelation occurred when it did in order that peace might pour into human hearts that were filled with a good will. As we shall see, many mysteries of Christianity are embodied in these words, provided only they are rightly understood. But certain preliminaries are necessary if light is to be thrown on this momentous proclamation. Above all we must endeavor to study the accounts available to clairvoyant faculties from the akashic chronicle. With opened eyes of spirit we must contemplate the epoch when Christ Jesus came to humanity, and ask ourselves: What was the historical background and the source of the spiritual impulse poured into Earth evolution at that time?
Currents of spiritual life from many different sides converged and flowed into the evolution of humanity at that point. The very diverse world-conceptions that had arisen in various regions of the Earth in the course of the ages converged in Palestine as though into one central point and came to expression in the events there. We may therefore ask: What are the sources of these streams?
It was indicated yesterday that in the Gospel of St. Luke we have the fruits of Imaginative cognition, and that this knowledge is gained in the form of pictures. In the events just mentioned a picture is placed before us of the manifestation to the shepherds of spiritual beings from on high: first, the picture is of a spiritual being, an angel, who is followed by a ‘heavenly host’. Here we must ask: What does a clairvoyant initiated into the mysteries of existence see in this picture — which he can always evoke again at will — when he gazes into the akashic chronicle? What was it that was revealed to the shepherds? What was this angelic host, and whence did it come?
This picture portrays one of the great spiritual streams that flowed through the process of evolution, gradually rising higher and higher, until at the time of the events in Palestine its light could shine down upon the Earth only from spiritual heights. From the angelic host revealed to the shepherds we are led back, in deciphering the akashic chronicle, to one of the greatest streams of spiritual life in the evolution of humanity, a stream which, several centuries before the coming of Christ, spread far and wide in the form of Buddhism. An investigator of the akashic chronicle who traces back into previous ages the origin of the revelation to the shepherds is led, strange as it will seem to you, to the ‘Enlightenment’ of the great Buddha. The light that shone out in India, setting men's hearts and minds astir as the religion of love and compassion, as a great world-conception, and even today is spiritual nourishment for a very large section of humanity — that light appeared again in the revelation to the shepherds! For it too was to stream into the revelation in Palestine. The account given at the beginning of St. Luke's Gospel cannot be understood unless we consider (again from the vantage-point of spiritual-scientific research) the significance of Buddha and what his revelation actually brought about in the course of human evolution.
When Buddha was born in the East, five to six centuries before our era, there appeared in him an individuality who had lived many times on Earth and in the course of his previous incarnations had already reached the very lofty stage of human development designated by an Oriental expression as that of a ‘Bodhisattva’. Some of you have heard lectures on different aspects of the nature of the Bodhisattvas. In the lecture-course Spiritual Hierarchies and their Reflection in the physical World, given in Düsseldorf some months ago, I spoke of how the Bodhisattvas are related to the whole of cosmic evolution; in Munich, in the lecture-course The East in the Light of the West [ 1 ] they were referred to from a different point of view. Today we shall consider the nature of the Bodhisattvas from still another side and you will gradually perceive the harmony between the single truths.
He who became a Buddha had first to be a Bodhisattva; individual development to the rank of Buddhahood is preceded by the stage of ‘Bodhisattva’. We will now think of the nature of the Bodhisattvas in relation to the evolution of humanity considered from the viewpoint of spiritual science.
The capacities and faculties possessed and developed by human beings in any particular epoch were not always in existence. To believe that the same faculties possessed by man today were also present in primeval times is due to incapacity and unwillingness to see beyond the present. Man's faculties, everything he is able to accomplish and know, vary from epoch to epoch. His faculties today are developed to the point where with his own power of reasoning he is justified in saying: ‘I recognize this or that truth by means of my intelligence and my reason; I can recognize what is moral or immoral, logical or illogical in a certain respect. But it would be a mistake to believe that these capacities for distinguishing the logical from the illogical or the moral from the immoral were always to be found in human nature. They came into existence and developed gradually. What man can accomplish today by means of his own capacities he had at one time to be taught — as a child is taught by its parents or teachers — by beings who though incarnated among men were more highly developed by virtue of their spiritual faculties and could hold converse in the Mysteries with divine-spiritual beings even loftier than themselves. Individualities who, though themselves incarnated in physical bodies, could have intercourse with still higher, non-incarnated individualities, existed at all times. For example, before men acquired the faculty of logical thinking by means of which they themselves are able to think logically today, they were obliged to learn from certain teachers. These teachers themselves were not able to think logically through faculties developed in the physical body itself, but only through their intercourse in the Mysteries with divine-spiritual beings in higher realms. Such teachers proclaimed the principles of logic and morality from revelations they received from higher worlds in times before men themselves were able, out of their own earthly nature, to think logically or discover the principles of morality. The Bodhisattvas are one category of beings who, though incarnated in physical bodies, have intercourse with divine-spiritual beings in order to bring down and impart to men what they themselves learn from their divine teachers. The Bodhisattva is a being incarnated in a human body, whose faculties enable him to commune with divine-spiritual beings.
Before Gautama Buddha became a ‘Buddha’ he was a Bodhisattva, that is to say, an individuality who, in the Mysteries, was able to commune with higher, divine-spiritual beings. In remote, primeval ages of Earth evolution, a being such as the Bodhisattva was entrusted in the higher world with a definite task, a definite mission, which he continues to discharge.
When the Earth was still in early stages of development, even before the Atlantean and Lemurian epochs, the Bodhisattva who was incarnated and became Buddha six hundred years before our era, was assigned a task which he never abandoned. From epoch to epoch, through every age, his work was to impart to Earth evolution as much as the beings concerned enabled it to receive. For each Bodhisattva there comes a time when, with the mission entrusted to him in the primeval past, he reaches a definite point — the point when what he has been able to let flow into humanity ‘from above’ can become a faculty of man's own. A human faculty today was once a faculty of divine-spiritual beings brought down to man from spiritual heights by the Bodhisattvas. Hence there comes a time when a spiritual emissary such as a Bodhisattva can say ‘I have accomplished my mission. Humanity has now received that for which it has been prepared through many, many epochs.’ Having reached this point, the Bodhisattva can become ‘Buddha’. That is to say, the time has come when he, as a being with the particular mission to which I have referred, need no longer incarnate in a human physical body; he has incarnated for the last time in such a body and need not incarnate again as a spiritual emissary in the above sense.
This point of time arrived for Gautama Buddha. The task assigned to him had led him again and again down to the Earth; but he appeared in his final incarnation as Bodhisattva when, after his enlightenment, he became Buddha. He incarnated in a human body that had developed to the highest possible stage those faculties which hitherto had had to be bestowed from above, but were now gradually to become human faculties in the fullest sense. When a Bodhisattva has succeeded through his foregoing development in making a human body so perfect that it can itself evolve the faculties connected with his particular mission, he need not incarnate again. He then hovers in spiritual realms, sending his influence into humanity, furthering and guiding human affairs. Henceforth it is the task of men to develop the gifts formerly bestowed upon them from heavenly heights, saying to themselves: ‘We must now ourselves develop in a way that will further elaborate the faculties acquired in full measure for the first time in the incarnation when the Bodhisattva became Buddha.’
When the being who works through successive epochs as Bodhisattva appears as one into whose human nature every faculty that previously flowed down from heavenly heights has been integrated and can now be expressed through him as an individual — that being is a ‘Buddha’. All this is revealed by Gautama Buddha. Had he, as Bodhisattva, withdrawn earlier from his mission, men could no longer have been blessed by the bestowal of these faculties from on high. But when evolution had progressed so far that these faculties could be present in a single human being on Earth, the seed was laid that would enable men in the future to develop them in their own natures. Thus the individuality who as long as he was a Bodhisattva did not enter fully into the human form but towered upward into heavenly heights — this individuality now for the first time drew completely into human nature and was fully embodied in that one incarnation. But then he again withdrew. For with this incarnation as Buddha a certain quotum of revelations had been given to humanity, thereafter to be developed further in men themselves. Hence the Bodhisattva, having become Buddha, might withdraw from the Earth to spiritual heights, might abide there and guide the affairs of humanity from regions where only a certain power of clairvoyance is able to behold him.
What, then, was the task of that supremely great individuality usually called the ‘Buddha’?
If we want to understand the task and mission of this Buddha in the sense of true esoteriscism, we must realize the following. The cognitive faculty of mankind has developed gradually. Attention has repeatedly been drawn to the fact that in the Atlantean epoch a large proportion of humanity was clairvoyant and able to gaze into the spiritual worlds, and that certain remnants of this old clairvoyance were still present in post-Atlantean times. After the Atlantean epoch, in the periods of the civilizations of ancient India, Persia, Egypt, and Chaldea — even as late as the Graeco-Latin age — there were numbers of human beings, many more than modern man would ever imagine, who possessed the heritage of this old clairvoyance; the astral plane was open to them and they could see into the hidden depths of existence. Perception of man's etheric body was quite usual in the Graeco-Latin age; numbers of people were able to see the human head surrounded by an etheric cloud, which has gradually become entirely concealed within the head. But humanity was to advance to a form of knowledge acquired through the outer senses and through the spiritual faculties connected with the senses. Man was gradually to emerge altogether from the spiritual world and to engage in pure sense-observation, in intellectual, logical thinking. By degrees he was to make his way to non-clairvoyant cognition, because he must pass through this stage in order to regain clairvoyant knowledge in the future. But such knowledge will then be united with the fruits of cognition based upon the senses and the intellect.
At the present time we are living in an intermediate period. We look back to a past when man was clairvoyant, and to a future when this will again be the case. In our present age the majority of human beings are dependent upon what they perceive with their senses and grasp with their intellect. There are, of course, certain heights even in sensory perception and in knowledge yielded by the intellect and reasoning mind; everywhere there are degrees of knowledge. One person in a certain incarnation passes through his existence on Earth with little insight into what is moral, and little compassion for his fellow-men. We say of him that he is at a low stage of morality. Another passes through life with very slightly developed intellectual capacities; we call him a person of low intelligence. But these powers of intellectual cognition are capable of rising to a very lofty level. A man whom, in Fichte's sense, we call a ‘moral genius’ reaches the highest level of moral Imagination, but there are many intermediate stages. Without possessing clairvoyant faculties we can reach this height only by ennobling powers that are at the disposal of ordinary humanity. These stages had to be attained by man in the course of Earth evolution. What man knows today to a certain extent through his own intelligence and also what he attains through his own moral strength, namely the consciousness that he must have compassion with the sufferings and sorrows of others — this consciousness could not have been acquired by a human being in primeval times through his own efforts. It can be said today that such insight is unfolded by a healthy moral sense, even without clairvoyance, and to an increasing extent men will come to realize not only that compassion is the very highest virtue but that without love humanity can make no progress.
Man's moral sense will grow steadily stronger. But there were epochs in the past when he would never have understood by himself that compassion and love belong to a very high stage of development. It was therefore necessary for spiritual beings such as the Bodhisattvas to incarnate in human forms. Revelations of the power of compassion and love came to such beings from the higher worlds and they were able to teach men how to act accordingly. What men have come to recognize today through their own powers as the lofty virtues of compassion and love — this had to be taught, through epoch after epoch, from heavenly heights.
The teacher of love and compassion in times when men themselves did not yet realize the nature of those virtues was the Bodhisattva who incarnated for the last time as Gautama Buddha. Buddha was formerly the Bodhisattva, the teacher of love and compassion. He was the teacher throughout the epochs just referred to, when men still possessed a certain natural clairvoyance. As Bodhisattva he incarnated in bodies endowed with powers of clairvoyance. Then, when he became Buddha and looked back into these previous incarnations, he could describe the experiences of his inmost soul when it gazed into the depths of existence hidden behind sense-phenomena. He possessed this faculty in previous embodiments and was born with it into the family of Sakya, from which his father, Suddhodana, descended. When Gautama was born he was still a Bodhisattva, that is to say he came at the stage of development reached in his previous incarnations. He who is usually called the ‘Buddha’ was born to his father, Suddhodana, and his mother, Mayadevi, as a Bodhisattva and possessed the faculty of clairvoyance in a high degree even as a child. He was always able to gaze into the depths of existence.
Let us realize that in the course of human evolution this capacity to gaze into the depths of existence has assumed very definite forms. It was the mission of humanity in earthly evolution to allow the old, dim clairvoyance gradually to die away; vestiges that persisted did not, therefore, retain the best elements of that ancient faculty. The best elements were the first to be lost. What remained was often a lower form of vision of the astral world, a vision of those demonic forces which drag man's instincts and passions to a lower level. Through initiation we can look into the spiritual world and perceive forces and beings that are connected with the finest thoughts and sentiments of men, but we also perceive the spiritual powers behind unbridled passions, sensuality, consuming egoism. The vestiges of clairvoyance in the majority of human beings — it was different, of course, in the initiates — led to vision of these wild, demonic powers behind the lower human passions. Whoever is able to see into the spiritual world can of course perceive all this himself; true vision depends upon the development of human faculties. But the one vision cannot be attained without the other.
As a Bodhisattva the Buddha had been obliged to incarnate in a body constituted as other human bodies were at that time. The body in which he incarnated provided him with the power to look deeply into the astral substrata of existence, and even as a child he was able to perceive all the astral forces underlying the unbridled passions of men, their consuming lusts and sensuality. He had been protected from witnessing physical depravity in the outer world, with its accompanying sufferings and sorrows. Confined to his father's palace, shielded from every unpleasant experience, he was indulged and pampered in a way considered fitting for his rank. But this seclusion only enhanced his power of vision, and while he was carefully protected and everything indicative of pain and sickness hidden from him, his eyes of spirit were able to gaze at the astral pictures hovering around him of all the wild, degrading passions of men. Whoever can read the external biography of Buddha with genuine esoteric insight will surmise this. It must be emphasized that in exoteric accounts there is often a great deal that cannot be understood without knowledge of the esoteric foundations — and this applies very particularly to the life of Buddha.
It must seem strange to Orientalists and others who study the life of Buddha to read that he was surrounded in the palace by ‘forty thousand dancing-girls and eighty-four thousand women’. That statement is to be found in books sold today for a few shillings, and the writers are obviously not particularly astonished at the existence of such a harem! What is the explanation? It is not realized that this points to the intensity of the experiences that arose in Buddha through his astral visions. Guarded from childhood against all knowledge of sorrow and suffering in the world of physical humanity, he perceived everything as spiritual forces in the spiritual world. He saw all this because he was born into a body such as could be produced at that time; but from the outset he was proof against the delusive pictures around him, having in his previous incarnations risen to the height of a Bodhisattva. Because in this incarnation he was living as the Bodhisattva he felt impelled to go out into the world in order to see the things indicated by the pictures appearing in the astral world around him in the palace. Every picture kindled within him an urge to go out and see the world, to leave his prison. That was the impelling urge in his soul, for as Bodhisattva there was in him the lofty spiritual power connected with the mission of imparting to mankind the teaching of compassion and love, with all its implications. Hence it was necessary for him to become acquainted with humanity in the world in which man can assimilate this teaching through moral insight. Buddha was to acquire knowledge of the life of humanity in the physical world. From Bodhisattva he was to become Buddha — as a man among men. The only possibility of achieving this was to abandon all the faculties that had remained to him from his former incarnations and to turn outward to the physical plane in order to live there among men as a model, an ideal, an example to humanity of the development of these qualities.
Naturally, many intermediate stages are necessary before an advance from the stage of Bodhisattva to that of Buddha can be accomplished in this sense. Such an advance does not take place from one day to the next.
Buddha felt impelled to leave the palace. The story is that on one occasion he escaped from his royal prison and came across an aged man. Hitherto he had been surrounded only by the spectacle of exuberant youth, in order to induce him to believe that nothing else existed. Now, in the old man, he encountered the phenomenon of advanced age on the physical plane. Then he came across a sick man; then he saw a corpse — the manifestation of death on the physical plane. All this came before him. The legend — here once again truer than any external account — goes on to relate something very indicative of Buddha's essential nature: that when he left the palace, the horse by which he was drawn was so saddened by his decision to forsake everything that had surrounded him since his birth that it died of grief and was transported as a spiritual being into the spiritual world. [ 2 ] — A profound truth is expressed here. It would lead too far for me to explain why a horse is taken as a symbol for a spiritual power of man. I will only remind you of Plato, who speaks of a horse led by a bridle when he is using a symbol for certain human capacities that are still bestowed from above and have not been developed by man from his own inmost self. When Buddha departed from the palace he relinquished these faculties, left them in the spiritual world whence they had always guided him. This is indicated in the picture of the horse which dies of grief and is transported into the spiritual world. But it was only gradually that Buddha could attain the rank he was destined to reach in his final incarnation on the Earth. He had first to learn on the physical plane everything that as Bodhisattva he had known only through spiritual vision.
To begin with he encountered two teachers, the one an exponent of the ancient Indian world-conception known as the Sankhya philosophy, the other an exponent of the Yoga philosophy. Buddha steeped himself in what they expounded to him. No matter how exalted a being may be, he has to become acquainted with the external achievements of humanity; and although a Bodhisattva may learn more quickly, he must learn none the less. If the Bodhisattva who lived six hundred years before our era were born today, he would still, like a child at school, first have to learn about happenings on Earth while he was still in spiritual heights. It was essential that Buddha too should have knowledge of what had been accomplished since his previous incarnation.
He learnt the principles of the Sankhya philosophy from the one teacher and of the Yoga philosophy from the other, thereby acquiring a certain insight into world-conceptions which solved the riddles of life for many in those days, and into their effect upon the souls of men. In the Sankhya philosophy he was able to assimilate an intricate system of logical thought, but the more he familiarized himself with it the less it satisfied him, until finally it seemed to him to be utterly devoid of life. He realized that he must seek elsewhere than in the traditional Sankhya philosophy for the sources of what it was his task to achieve in this incarnation.
The second system was the Yoga philosophy of Patanjali, which sought to establish connection with the Divine through certain processes in the life of the soul. Buddha devoted deep study to the Yoga philosophy as well; he assimilated it, made it part of his very being. But it too left him unsatisfied, for he perceived that it was something that had simply been handed down from ancient time. Human beings were meant, however, to acquire different faculties, to achieve moral development themselves. Having put the Yoga philosophy to the test in his own soul, Buddha realized that it could not satisfy the needs of his mission.
He then came into the neighborhood of five ascetics who had striven to approach the mysteries of existence by the path of severest self-discipline, mortification, and privation. Having tested this path too, Buddha was again obliged to admit that it would not satisfy the needs of his mission at that time. For a certain period he underwent all the privations and mortifications practiced by the monks. He starved as they did, in order to eliminate greed and thereby evoke deeper forces which come into action when the body is weakened and then, rising up from the depths of the bodily nature, can lead a man rapidly into the spiritual world. But the stage of development he had reached enabled Buddha to perceive the futility of this mortification, fasting, and starvation. Because he was a Bodhisattva, his development in previous incarnations had enabled him to bring the physical body to the highest pitch of perfection possible in that age. Hence he could experience what any man must experience when he takes this particular path into the spiritual world. Whoever pursues the Sankhya or Yoga philosophy to a certain point without having developed in himself what Buddha had previously acquired, whoever aspires to scale the pure heights of Divine Spirit through logical thinking without having first gained the requisite moral strength, will be subjected to temptation by the demon Mara. This ordeal was undergone by Buddha as a test. At this point the human being is beset by all the devils of pride, vanity, and ambition, as was Buddha when Mara stood before him. But having previously reached the lofty stage of Bodhisattva, he recognized the demon and was proof against him. Buddha could say to himself: If men continue to develop along the old path, without the new impulse contained in the teaching of compassion and love, they are bound, not being Bodhisattvas, to fall prey to the demon Mara, who pours all the forces of pride and vanity into their souls.
This was what Buddha experienced when he had worked through the Sankhya and Yoga philosophies, following them to their final conclusions. While he was with the monks, however, he had had an experience in which the demon assumed a different form, one in which he arrays before the human being an abundance of external, physical possessions — ‘the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them’ — in order to divert him from the spiritual world. Buddha found that this temptation comes precisely on the path of mortification, for the demon Mara approached him, saying: ‘Be not misled into abandoning everything that was yours as a king's son; return to the royal palace!’ Another man would have yielded to what was then presented to him, but Buddha's development was such that he could see through the tempter and his aim, could perceive what would befall humanity if men lived on as hitherto and chose the path of hunger and mortification as the only means of ascent into the spiritual world. Being himself proof against this temptation he could disclose to men the great danger that would threaten them if they chose to penetrate into the spiritual world simply by means of fasting and external measures of the kind, without the foundation of an active moral sense.
Thus while still a Bodhisattva, Buddha had advanced to those two boundary-points in development which a man who is not a Bodhisattva had better avoid altogether. Translating this into words of ordinary parlance, we may say: ‘The highest knowledge is full of glory and of beauty. But see that you approach this knowledge with a clean heart, noble purpose, and purified soul — otherwise the devil of pride, vanity, and ambition will seize you!’ The second teaching is this: ‘Strive not to enter the spiritual world by any external path, through mortification or fasting, until you have purified your moral sense — otherwise the tempter will approach you from the other side!’ — These are the two teachings whose light shines from Buddha into our own age. While still a Bodhisattva he revealed the essential purpose of his mission — which was to impart the moral sense to humanity in an age when men were not yet capable of unfolding it out of their own hearts. Thus when he realized the dangers of asceticism for mankind he left the five monks and went to a place where, by an intense deepening of those faculties of human nature which can be developed without the old clairvoyance, without any capacity inherited from earlier times, he achieved the highest perfection that it will ever be possible for mankind to achieve by means of these faculties.
In the twenty-ninth year of his life, after having abandoned the path of asceticism, there dawned upon Buddha during his seven days of meditation under the Bodhi tree the great truths that can flash up in a man when, in deep contemplation, he strives to discover what his own faculties can impart to him. There dawned upon Buddha the great teachings he then proclaimed as the Four Truths and the doctrine of compassion and love presented as the Eightfold Path. We shall be considering these teachings of Buddha later on. At the moment it will be sufficient to say that they are a kind of portrayal of the moral sense and of the purest doctrine of compassion and love. They arose when, under the Bodhi tree, the Bodhisattva of India became Buddha. The teaching of compassion and love came into existence then for the first time in the history of mankind in the form of human faculties, which man has since been able to develop from his own self. That is the essential point. Therefore shortly before his death Buddha said to his disciples: ‘Grieve not that the Master is departing. I am leaving with you the Law of Wisdom and the Law of Discipline. For the future they will serve as substitutes for the Master.’ These words mean simply: Hitherto the Bodhisattva has taught you what is expressed in the Law; now, having fulfilled his incarnation on Earth, he may withdraw. For men will absorb into their own hearts the teaching of the Bodhisattva and from their own hearts will be able to develop this teaching as the religion of compassion and love. That was what came to pass in India when, after seven days of inner contemplation, the Bodhisattva became Buddha; and that was what he taught in diverse forms to the pupils who were around him. The actual forms in which he gave his teaching will still have to be considered.
It was necessary for us today to look back to what happened six hundred years before our era because we shall neither understand the path of Christianity nor what is indicated about that path, above all by the writer of the Gospel of St. Luke, unless we follow evolution backwards from the events in Palestine to the Sermon at Benares. Since Buddha attained that rank there was no need for him to return to the Earth; since then he has been a spiritual being, living in the spiritual world and participating in everything that has transpired on Earth. When the greatest of all happenings on the Earth was about to come to pass, there appeared to the shepherds in the fields a being from spiritual heights who made the proclamation recorded in the Gospel of St. Luke. Then, together with the angel, there suddenly appeared a ‘heavenly host’. The ‘heavenly host’ was the picture of the glorified Buddha, seen by the shepherds in vision; he was the Bodhisattva of ancient times, the being in his spiritual form who for thousands and thousands of years had brought to men the message of compassion and love. Now, after his last incarnation on the Earth, he soared in spiritual heights and appeared to the shepherds together with the angel who had announced to them the Event of Palestine.
These are the findings of spiritual investigation. It was the Bodhisattva of old who now, in the glory of Buddhahood, appeared to the shepherds. From the akashic chronicle we learn that in Palestine, in the ‘City of David’, a child was born to parents descended from the priestly line of the House of David. This child — I say it with emphasis — born of parents of whom the father at any rate was descended from the priestly line of the House of David, was to be shone upon from the very day of birth by the power radiating from Buddha in the spiritual world. We look with the shepherds into the manger where ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, as he is usually called, was born, and see the radiance above the little child; we know that in this picture is expressed the power of the Bodhisattva who became Buddha — the power that had formerly streamed to men and, working now upon humanity from the spiritual world, accomplished its greatest deed by shedding its lustre upon the child born at Bethlehem.
When the individuality whose power now rayed down from spiritual heights upon the child of parents belonging to David's line was born in India long ago — when the Buddha to be was born as Bodhisattva — the whole momentous significance of the events described today was revealed to a sage living at that time, and what he beheld in the spiritual world caused that sage — Asita was his name — to go to the royal palace to look for the little Bodhisattva-child. When he saw the babe he foretold his mighty mission as Buddha, predicting, to the father's dismay, that the child would not rule over his kingdom, but would become a Buddha. Then Asita began to weep, and when asked whether misfortune threatened the child, he answered: ‘No, I am weeping because I am so old that I shall not live to see the day when this Savior, the Bodhisattva, will walk the Earth as Buddha!’ Asita did not live to see the Bodhisattva become Buddha and there was good reason for his grief at that time. But the same Asita who had seen the Bodhisattva as a babe in the palace of King Suddhodana was born again as the personality who, in the Gospel of St. Luke, is referred to as Simeon in the scene of the presentation in the temple. We are told that Simeon was inspired by the Spirit to go into the temple, where the child was brought to him (Luke II, 25–32). Simeon was the same being who, as Asita, had wept because in that incarnation he would not be able to see the Bodhisattva attaining Buddhahood. But it was granted to him to witness the further stage in the development of this individuality, and having ‘the Holy Spirit upon him’ he was able to perceive, at the presentation in the temple, the radiance of the glorified Bodhisattva above the head of the Jesus-child of the House of David. Then he could say to himself: ‘Now you need no longer grieve, for what you did not live to see at that earlier time, you now behold: the glory of the Savior shining above this babe. Lord, now let thy servant die in peace!’
Notes:1. These lectures-courses were given in April 1909, and August 1909, respectively. Both have been translated into English.2. See Buddhism in Translation, by Henry Clarke Warren (Harvard Oriental Series, Vol. III, second issue). This legend is given in great detail in the chapter entitled The Great Retirement, pp. 56–67. Difficult passages referring to "Kanthaka the king of horses" become intelligible in the light of what Dr. Steiner says here. According to the legend, Kanthaka came into existence “at the very time that the future Buddha was born” and died of a broken heart at the final parting from his master, thereupon to be reborn in heaven as the "God Kanthaka".
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