Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, December 22, 1912:
Between Death and Rebirth. Lecture 5 of 10
I shall not be speaking today about the Christmas Festival as in previous years, for I propose to do that on Tuesday. I would ask you to think of what I shall say as a gift placed under the Christmas tree in the form of an anthroposophical Christmas study — a study which because of the significant knowledge it contains may well be the subject of lengthy reflection and meditation. At this Christmas season we may very properly think of an individual considered by many people to be a mythological or mystical figure but with whose name we ourselves connect the spiritual impulses of Western cultural life. I refer to Christian Rosenkreutz.
With this individuality and his activity since the thirteenth century we associate everything that has to do with the propagation of the impulse given by Christ's appearance on the Earth and the fulfilment of the Mystery of Golgotha. On one occasion I also spoke of what may be called the last Initiation of Christian Rosenkreutz in the thirteenth century. Today I shall speak of a deed he performed towards the end of the sixteenth century. This deed is of particular significance because it linked with the Christ Impulse an achievement of supreme importance in the history of human evolution — an achievement before the time of the Mystery of Golgotha.
One of the innumerable factors which enable us to grasp the supreme significance of the Mystery of Golgotha in the history of mankind on Earth is the deed of Gautama Buddha, the founder of a different religion. Eastern tradition tells us that in the life usually spoken of as the Buddha life, Gautama Buddha rose in his twenty-ninth year from the rank of Bodhisattva to that of Buddhahood. We are aware of what that ascent means and also of the world-wide significance of the Sermon at Benares, the first great accomplishment of the Buddha who had previously been a Bodhisattva. Of all this we are deeply conscious. Today we will think especially of one aspect only, namely, what it signifies in the history of worlds when a Bodhisattva rises to the rank of Buddhahood. The Eastern teaching — which does not differ from that of Western occultism in regard to this event — is that when a human being rises from the rank of Bodhisattva to that of Buddhahood, he need not henceforward incarnate on the Earth in a physical body but can continue his work in purely spiritual worlds. And so we recognise as a valid truth that the individuality who lived on Earth for the last time as Gautama Buddha has since then been present in lofty spiritual worlds continuing to influence evolution and sending impulses and forces from those spheres to further the development and stature of mankind.
We have also spoken of a significant deed of the Buddha, a deed that was his contribution to the Mystery of Golgotha. We have been reminded of the beautiful narrative in the Gospel of St. Luke concerning the shepherds who had gathered together at the time of the birth of the Jesus Child described in that Gospel. [See the Lecture Course entitled The Gospel of St. Luke, given in Basle, 15th–26th September, 1909.] The narrative tells of a song which rang out from Angels and resounded in the devout, expectant souls of the shepherds. ‘Revelations shall tell of the Divine in the Heights and there shall be peace on Earth among men who are of good will.’ It is the song which tells of the revelation of the divine-spiritual forces in the spiritual worlds and the reflection of these forces in the hearts of men who are of good will. We have heard that the song of peace which then rang out was the contribution of the Buddha from spiritual heights to the Mystery of Golgotha. The Buddha united with the astral body of the Jesus Child of whom we are told in St. Luke's Gospel, and the song of Angels announced in that Gospel is to be understood as the influx of the gospel of Peace into the deed subsequently to be wrought by Christ Jesus. The Buddha spoke at the time of the birth of Jesus, and the song of Angels heard by the shepherds was the message from ancient, pre-Christian times, of peace and all-embracing human love which were also to be integrated into the mission of Christ Jesus.
Thereafter the Buddha continued to be active in the advancing stream of Christian evolution in the West and special mention must be made of his further activity. The Buddha was no longer working in a human body but in the spiritual body in which he had revealed himself at the time of the birth of Jesus; and he continued to work, perceptible to those who through some form of Initiation are able to establish relationship not only with physical human beings but also with those sublime Leaders and Teachers who come to men in purely spiritual bodies.
A few centuries after the Mystery of Golgotha, in a Mystery school situated in the region of the Black Sea in the South of Russia, there were Teachers of great significance. What actually took place there can be no more than indicated — and even then half metaphorically. Among the Teachers present in the School in physical incarnations there was one who did not work in a physical body and could therefore be contacted only by pupils and neophytes able to establish relations with Leaders and Teachers who appeared in this Mystery Centre in spiritual bodies. One such Teacher was the Being spoken of as Gautama Buddha. And in the seventh/eighth century after the Mystery of Golgotha this Being had a notable pupil. At that time the Buddha, in his true nature, was in no way concerned with propagating Buddhism in its old form, for he too had advanced with evolution. He had taken the Christ Impulse into the very depths of his being, had actually co-operated in its inception. What had still to be transmitted of the old form of Buddhism came to expression in the general tone and character of what the Buddha imparted in the Mystery Centre referred to above; but everything was clothed in a Christian form. It may truly be said that when the Buddha had become a Being who need no longer incarnate in a human body, he had co-operated from the spiritual world in the development of Christianity. A faithful pupil of his had absorbed into the depths of his soul the teaching which the Buddha gave at that time but which could not become the common possession of all mankind. It was teaching which represented a union of Buddhism and Christianity. It implied absolute surrender to what is super-sensible in human nature, the abandonment of any direct bond with the physical and earthly, complete dedication in heart and soul, not merely in mind and intellect, to what is of the nature of soul-and-spirit in the world; it meant withdrawal from all the externalities of life and absolute devotion in the inner life to the mysteries of the Spirit. And when that being who had been a pupil of the Buddha and Christ, who had learnt of the Christ through the Buddha, appeared again on Earth, he was incarnated as the person known in history as Francis of Assisi. Those who desire to understand from occult knowledge the absolutely unique quality of soul and manner of life of Francis of Assisi, especially what is so impressive about him because of its remoteness from the world and everyday experience — let them realise that in his previous incarnation he was a Christian pupil in the Mystery Centre of which I have spoken.
In this way the Buddha continued to work, invisibly and supersensibly, in the stream that had become part of the process of evolution since the Mystery of Golgotha took place. The figure of Francis of Assisi is a clear indication of what the effect of the Buddha's activity would have been in all subsequent times if nothing else had happened and he had continued to work as he had done while preparing Francis of Assisi for his mission in the world. Numbers and numbers of human beings would have developed the character and disposition of Francis of Assisi. They would have become, within Christianity, disciples and followers of Buddha. But this Buddha-like quality in those who became followers of Francis of Assisi would have been quite unable to cope with the demands that would be made of humanity in modern civilisation.
Let us remind ourselves of what has been said about the passage of the human soul through the various regions of the Cosmos between death and the new birth. We have heard how during that period of existence the soul of a man has to pass through the planetary spheres, to traverse the expanse of cosmic space. Between death and the new birth we actually become inhabitants, in succession, of Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn. We then draw our life together again in order to incarnate through a parental pair and undergo the experiences that are possible on Earth but not in other planetary spheres. Since the last death, every soul incarnated on the Earth has undergone the experiences that belong to the heavens. Through birth we bring into our existence on Earth the forces we have acquired in the various heavenly spheres.
Now let us remind ourselves of how life flows by on Earth, how at each new incarnation the human being finds that the Earth has changed and that his experiences are quite different. In the course of his incarnations an individual will have lived in pre-Christian times and have been incarnated again after the impulse of the Mystery of Golgotha had been given to evolution. Let us picture with the greatest possible clarity how the Earth evolves, descending from divine-spiritual heights to a certain nadir. The impulse of the Mystery of Golgotha then made an ascent possible in the evolutionary process. The ascent is at present only beginning, but it will continue if human souls receive the impulse of this Mystery and so, later on, rise again to the stage they had reached before the temptation of Lucifer. Let us realise that, in accordance with the fundamental laws of evolution, whenever we return to the Earth through birth we find quite different conditions of existence.
The same applies to the heavenly spheres into which we pass between death and a new birth. Like our Earth, these heavenly bodies also pass through descending and ascending phases of evolution. Whenever we pass into a planetary sphere after death — let us say of Mars, or Venus, or Mercury — we enter different conditions and have different experiences receive different impulses, which we bring back again into physical existence through birth. And because the heavenly bodies are also undergoing evolution, our souls bring back different forces into each incarnation.
Today, because of the profound significance of the Christmas Festival, our thoughts are directed to the spiritual realities of cosmic space itself and we will consider a particular example of evolution. This example is revealed to occult investigation if that investigation is able to penetrate deeply enough into the spiritual nature of other planets and planetary systems as well as into that of the Earth. In the spiritual life of the Earth there was a descending phase of evolution until the time of the Mystery of Golgotha and thereafter a phase of ascent — now latent for the sole reason that a deeper understanding of the Christ Impulse is necessary. Similarly, there were phases of descent and ascent in the evolution of Mars, into whose sphere we pass between death and rebirth. Until the fifteenth/sixteenth century the evolution of Mars was such that what had always been bestowed upon it from the spiritual worlds was undergoing a phase of descent, just as was the case in the evolution of the Earth until the beginning of the Christian era. By the time of the fifteenth/sixteenth century it was necessary that the evolution of Mars should become a process of ascent, for the consequences of the phase of descent had become all too evident in that sphere. As already said, when we pass again into earthly existence through birth we bring with us the impulses and forces gathered from the worlds of stars, among them the forces of Mars. The example of a certain individuality is clear evidence of the change that had come about in the forces brought by human beings from Mars to the Earth.
It is known to all occultists that the same soul which appeared on Earth in Nicolas Copernicus, [Born 1473, died 1543.] the inaugurator of the dawn of the modern age, had been previously incarnated from 1401 to 1464 in Cardinal Nicolas of Kues, Nicolas Cusanus. But how utterly different were these two personalities who harboured the same soul within them! Nicolas of Cusa in the fifteenth century was dedicated in mind and heart to the spiritual worlds; all his study was rooted in the spiritual worlds, and when he appeared again as Copernicus he was responsible for the great transformation which could have been achieved only by eliminating from the conception of space and the planetary system every iota of spirituality and thinking only of the external movements and interrelationships of the heavenly bodies. How was it possible that the same soul which had been on the Earth in Nicolas of Cusa and was wholly dedicated to the spiritual worlds, could appear in the next incarnation in an individual who conceived of the heavenly bodies purely in terms of their mathematical, spatial and geometric aspects? This was possible because a soul who passed through the Mars sphere during the interval between the time of Nicolas of Cusa and that of Copernicus had entered into a phase of decline. It was therefore not possible to bring from the Mars sphere any forces that would have inspired souls during physical life to soar into the spiritual worlds. The souls who passed through the Mars sphere at that particular time could grasp only the physical and material nature of things. If these conditions on Mars had continued without change, if the phase of decline had been prolonged, souls would have brought with them from the Mars sphere forces that would have rendered them incapable of anything except a purely materialistic conception of the world. Nevertheless the results of the decline of Mars were responsible for bringing modern natural science into existence; these forces poured with such strength into the souls of men that they led to triumph after triumph in the domain of materialistic knowledge of the world; and in the further course of evolution this influence would have worked exclusively for the promotion of materialistic science, for the interests of trade and industry only, of external forms of culture on the Earth.
It would have been possible for a class of human beings to be formed entirely under the influence of certain old Mars forces and interested in external culture only; these human beings would have confronted another class of individuals, composed of followers of Francis of Assisi, in other words, of Buddhism transported into Christianity. A Being such as the Buddha, having continued to work until the time of Francis of Assisi as previously indicated, would have been able to produce on the Earth a counterweight to the purely materialistic conception of the world by pouring strong forces into the souls of men. But this would have led to the formation of a class of individuals capable only of leading a monastic life patterned on that of Francis of Assisi; and these individuals alone would have been able to scale the heights of spiritual life.
If this state of things had remained, humanity would have divided more and more sharply into two classes: the one composed of those who were devoted entirely to the interests of material existence on the Earth and the advancement of external culture, and the other class, due to the continuing influence of Buddha, would have consisted of those who fostered and preserved spiritual culture. But the souls belonging to the latter class would, like Francis of Assisi, have been incapable of participating in external, material forms of civilisation. These two categories of human beings would have become more and more sharply separated. As the inevitability of this state of things could be prophetically foreseen, it became the task of the individual whom we revere under the name of Christian Rosenkreutz to prevent such a separation taking place in the further evolution of mankind on the Earth. Christian Rosenkreutz felt it to be his mission to offer to every human soul, living no matter where, the possibility of rising to the heights of spiritual life. It has always been emphasised among us and is clearly set forth in my book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds. How is it Achieved? that our goal in the sphere of occult development in the West is not to rise into spiritual worlds as the result of ascetic isolation from life but to make it possible for every human soul to discover for itself the path into the spiritual world. That the ascent into spiritual worlds should be compatible with every status in life, that humanity should not divide into two categories, one composed of people devoted entirely to external, industrial and commercial interests, becoming increasingly ingenious, materialised and animalised, whereas those in the other category would hold themselves aloof in a life patterned on that of Francis of Assisi — all this was the concern of Christian Rosenkreutz at the time when the approaching modern age was to inaugurate the epoch of materialistic culture during which all souls would bring with them the Mars forces in their state of decline. And because there could not be within the souls of men the power to prevent the separation, it has to be ensured that from the Mars forces themselves there would come to man the impulse to work with his whole being for spiritual aims. For example, it was necessary that human beings should be educated to think in terms of sound natural scientific principles, to formulate ideas and concepts in line with those principles, but at the same time the soul must have the capacity to deepen and develop the ideas spiritually, in order that the way can be found from a natural scientific view of the world to lofty heights of spiritual life.
This possibility had to be created! And it was created by Christian Rosenkreutz, who towards the end of the sixteenth century gathered around him his faithful followers from all over the Earth, enabling them to participate in what takes place outwardly in space from one heavenly body to another but is prepared in the sacred Mystery Centres, where aims are pursued leading beyond those of planetary spiritual life to the spiritual life of cosmic worlds. Christian Rosenkreutz gathered around him those who had also been with him at the time of his Initiation in the thirteenth century. Among them was one who for long years had been his pupil and friend, who had at one time been incarnated on the Earth but now no longer needed to appear in a physical incarnation: this was Gautama Buddha, now a spiritual Being after having risen to the rank of Buddhahood. He was the pupil of Christian Rosenkreutz. And in order that what could be achieved through the Buddha should become part of the mission of Christian Rosenkreutz at that time, a joint deed resulted in the transference of the Buddha from a sphere of earthly activity to one of cosmic activity. The impulse given by Christian Rosenkreutz made this possible. We will speak on another occasion in greater detail of the relationship between Gautama Buddha and Christian Rosenkreutz; at the moment it is simply a matter of stating that this relationship led to the individuality of the Buddha ceasing to work in the sphere of the Earth as he had formerly worked in the Mystery Centre near the Black Sea, and transferring his activity to Mars. And so at the beginning of the seventeenth century there took place in the evolution of Mars something similar to what had come about at the beginning of the ascending phase of Earth evolution through the Mystery of Golgotha. What may be called the advent of the Buddha on Mars was brought about through Christian Rosenkreutz and the ascending phase of Mars evolution began from then onwards just as on Earth the ascending phase of culture began with the Mystery of Golgotha.
Thus the Buddha became a Redeemer and Saviour for Mars as Christ Jesus had become for the Earth. The Buddha had been prepared for this by his teaching of Nirvana, lack of satisfaction with earthly existence, liberation from physical incarnation. This teaching had been prepared in a sphere outside the Earth but with the Earth's goal in view. If we can look into the soul of the Buddha and grasp the import of the Sermon at Benares we shall witness the preparation of activity that was not to be confined to the Earth. And then we shall realise how infinitely wise was the contract between Christian Rosenkreutz and the Buddha, as the result of which, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Buddha relinquished his activity on the Earth through which he would have been able, from the spiritual world, to influence human souls between birth and death, in order henceforward to work in the Mars sphere for souls between death and rebirth.
This is the momentous outcome of what might be called the transference of the essence of the Christmas Festival from the Earth to Mars. As a result, all the souls of men, in a certain sense, pass through a phase of being followers of Francis of Assisi and thereby, indirectly, of the Buddha. But they do not pass through this phase on the Earth; they pass through their monasticism — to use a paradoxical expression — their adherence to Francis of Assisi, on Mars, and bring forces from there to the Earth. As a result, what they have thus acquired remains in the shape of forces slumbering in their souls and they need not adopt a strictly monastic life in order to undergo the experiences undergone by intimate pupils of Francis of Assisi. This necessity was avoided by the transference of the Buddha to cosmic worlds by agreement with Christian Rosenkreutz whose, work on Earth now continued without the collaboration of the Buddha. If the Buddha had continued his activity on the Earth, all that he could have achieved would have been to make men into Buddhist or Franciscan monks and the other souls would have been abandoned to materialistic civilisation. But because what may be called a kind of ‘Mystery of Golgotha’ for Mars took place, during a period when human souls are not incarnated on Earth, these souls absorb, in a sphere outside the Earth, what they need for their further terrestrial existence, namely, an element of true Buddhism, which in the epoch after Christ's coming can be acquired only between death and a new birth.
We are now at the threshold of a great mystery, a mystery which has brought an impulse still operating in the evolution of mankind. Those who genuinely understand this evolution know that any truly effective influence in life on the Earth inevitably becomes part of the general stream of evolution. The event that may be called the Mystery of Golgotha on Mars was different from the Mystery of Golgotha on Earth — less powerful, less incisive, not culminating in death. But you can have some idea of it if you reflect that the Being who was the greatest Prince of Peace and Love, who was the Bringer of Compassion to the Earth, was transferred to Mars in order to work at the head of the evolution of that planet. It is no mythological fable that Mars received its name because it is the planet where the forces are involved in most bitter strife. The mission of the Buddha entailed his crucifixion in the arena of the planet where the most belligerent forces are present, although these forces are essentially of the nature of soul-and-spirit.
Here, then, we face a deed of a Being whose destiny it was as a great servant of Christ Jesus, to receive and carry forward the Christ Impulse in the right way. We stand face to face with the mystery of Christian Rosenkreutz, recognising his wisdom to have been so great that, as far as lay within his power, he incorporated into the evolution of mankind as a whole the other impulses that had been decisive factors in preparation for the Mystery of Golgotha.
A subject such as this cannot be grasped merely in terms of words or intellect; in its depth and range it must be felt — with the whole heart and soul. We must grasp what it signifies to be aware that among the forces we bring with us in the present epoch when we pass into incarnation on the Earth there are also the forces of the Buddha. Those forces were transferred to a sphere through which we pass between death and the new birth in order to enter in the right way into earthly life; for in this earthly life between birth and death it is our task to establish the right relationship to the Christ Impulse, to the Mystery of Golgotha. And this is possible only if all the impulses work together in harmony. The Christ descended from other worlds and united with the Earth's evolution. His purpose is to give to men the greatest of all impulses with which the human soul can be endowed. But this is possible only if all the forces connected with the evolution of humanity take effect at the right point in the process of that evolution. The great Teacher of the doctrine of Nirvana, who exhorted men to liberate their souls from the urge for reincarnation, was not destined to work in the sphere of physical incarnation. But in accordance with the great Plan designed by the Gods — in which, however, men must participate because they are servants of the Gods — in accordance with this Plan, the work of that great Teacher was to continue in the life that lies in the realm beyond birth and death.
Try to feel the inner justification of this conception and in its light follow the course of evolution; then you will realise why the Buddha had necessarily to precede Christ Jesus, and how he worked after the Christ Impulse had been given. Think about this and you will understand in its true light the phase of evolution and of spiritual life which began in the seventeenth century and in which you yourselves are living; you will understand it because you will realise that before human souls pass into physical existence through birth they are imbued with the forces that bear them forward.
At the time of an important Festival, instead of a seasonal lecture I wanted to lay under the Christmas tree, as a kind of Christmas gift, certain information about Christian Rosenkreutz. Perhaps some or even many of you will receive it as was intended — as a means of strengthening the heart and the forces of the soul. We shall need this strengthening if we are to live with inner security amid the harmonies and disharmonies of existence.
If at Christmastide we can be strengthened and invigorated by consciousness of our connection with the forces of the great Universe, we may well take with us from this centre of anthroposophical work something that was laid as a gift under the Christmas tree and as an encouragement can remain a living force throughout the year if we nurture it during our life from one Christmas season to the next.