Rudolf Steiner, April 11, 1909:
A direct enrichment gained from symbolic seasonal festivals as full of meaning as the Easter festival is that they make our hearts and souls better fitted to penetrate more and more deeply into the riddle of man and his nature. So we will think once again of the Easter legend which gave us an inkling yesterday of its bearing on this riddle, the legend of Kashiapa, the great sage and enlightened pupil of Shakyamuni.
With a vast range of vision and after stupendous endeavors, Kashiapa had absorbed all the wisdom of the East, and it was rightly said of him that of those who came after him no one else was capable, even in the remotest degree, of preserving what he had drawn from Shakyamuni's deep fount of wisdom and — as the last possessor of this primal wisdom — had bestowed upon mankind.
The legend, you will remember, goes on to say that when Kashiapa was on the point of death and felt his entry into Nirvana approaching, he went into a cave in a mountain. There he died in full consciousness, and his body remained immune from decay, hidden from outer humanity and discoverable only by those who through Initiation were able to fathom such secrets. It rested uncorrupted in a cave, mysteriously concealed. Furthermore, it was predicted that a great proclaimer of the primeval wisdom in a new form, the Maitreya Buddha, will appear, and having reached the supreme height of his earthly existence, will go to the cave where rests the corpse of Kashiapa. With his right hand he will touch the corpse, and a miraculous fire coming down from the universe will transport the uncorrupted body of Kashiapa into the spiritual worlds.
The Oriental who understands this wisdom waits for the Maitreya Buddha to appear and perform his deed on the uncorrupted body of Kashiapa. Will these two events come about? Will the Maitreya Buddha appear? Will the uncorrupted remains of Kashiapa then be transported by the miraculous fire from heaven? With true Easter feelings we shall be able to glimpse the profound wisdom contained in this legend if we try to understand the nature of the miraculous fire into which the remains of Kashiapa are to be received.
In the previous lecture we saw how in our epoch the Godhead reveals Himself from two poles: from the macrocosmic fire of lightning and from the microcosmic fire of the blood. We saw that it was the Christ Who proclaimed Himself to Moses in the burning thorn-bush and in thunder and lightning on Sinai; that it was the Christ and no other Power than He Who declared to Moses: “I am the I AM.” Out of the lightning on Sinai He gave the Ten Commandments as a preparation for His coming. Later, He appeared in microcosmic form in Palestine.
In the fire in our blood lives the same God Who had announced Himself in the heavenly fire and Who then, in the Mystery of Palestine, incarnated in a human body in order that His power might permeate the blood where the human fire has its seat. And if we follow the consequences of this event and what it signifies for Earth-existence, we shall be able to find the flaming fire into which the remains of Kashiapa will be received.
World-evolution consists in the gradual spiritualization of all that is material. In the material fire of the burning thorn-bush, and on Sinai, an outer sign of the Divine Power was revealed to Moses; but through the Christ Event this fire was spiritualized. Now, since the Christ Power has penetrated the Earth, by what can the flame of the spiritual fire be perceived? By what can it be seen? By eyes of the spirit that have been opened and awakened through the Christ Impulse itself. To the eyes of the spirit this material fire of the thorn-bush is spiritualized. And ever since the Christ Impulse awakened the eyes of the spirit, this fire has worked in a spiritual way upon our world.
When was this fire seen again? It was seen again when the eyes of Saul, illumined by clairvoyance on the road to Damascus, beheld and recognied in the radiance of heavenly fire the One Who had fulfilled the Mystery of Golgotha. And so both Moses and Paul beheld the Christ: Moses beheld Him in the material fire in the burning thorn-bush and in the lightning on Sinai, but only inwardly could he be made aware that it was the Christ Who spoke with him. To the enlightened eyes of Paul, Christ revealed Himself from the spiritualized fire. Matter and Spirit are related in the evolution of worlds as the miraculous, material fire of the thorn-bush and of Sinai is related to the glory of the fire from the clouds that shone before Saul who had now become Paul.
Now, what were the consequences of this event for the whole evolution of worlds? Let us look back over the great succession of benefactors and saviors of mankind — those great figures who were the outer expressions of the Avatars, the incarnations of the Divine-Spiritual Powers who from epoch to epoch descended from spiritual heights and took human form in order that mankind should be able to find the way back into the spiritual worlds. Such, for example, was Krishna, one of the Avatars of Vishnu. In earlier times man could only find this way by the descent of a Divine Being. But through the Mystery of Golgotha man was endowed with the faculty to draw from his own innermost being the forces that can raise and lead him upwards into the spiritual worlds. Christ descended far more deeply than the other Guiding Spirits, cosmic and human, for not only did He bring heavenly forces into an earthly body, but He spiritualized this earthly body to such a degree that now, out of these earthly forces, men could find the way to the spiritual worlds. The pre-Christian saviors redeemed mankind with Divine forces. Christ redeemed mankind with human forces. These human forces were then made manifest in all their original, pristine power.
What would have happened on the Earth if Christ had not appeared? We will ask ourselves this solemn, crucial question. One world-savior after another might have descended from spiritual worlds, until finally they would have found on the Earth below only human beings so entrenched in matter, so immersed in substance, that the pure, divine-spiritual forces would no longer have been able to raise men again out of this corrupted, impure substance. It was with grief and profound sorrow that the Eastern sages looked into the future, concerning which they knew that the Maitreya Buddha will one day appear in order to renew the primal wisdom, but that no disciple will be capable of retaining this wisdom. “If the world continues along this course,” they said, “the Maitreya Buddha will preach to deaf ears; he will not be understood by men wholly engulfed in matter. Moreover, the materiality prevailing on the Earth will cause the body of Kashiapa to wither away so that the Maitreya Buddha will not be able to bear his remains into the divine-spiritual heights.”
It was those with the deepest understanding of Eastern wisdom who looked with such sorrow into the future, wondering whether the Earth would be capable of receiving the coming Maitreya Buddha with greater understanding and discernment.
It was necessary that a powerful heavenly force should stream into physical matter, and in physical matter should sacrifice itself. This could not be accomplished by a god merely within the mask of a human form; it had to be accomplished by a man in the real sense, a man with human forces, who bore the God within himself. The Mystery of Golgotha had to take place in order that the matter into which man has descended should be made fit, cleansed, purified, and hallowed in such a way as to enable the primal wisdom again to be understood. Humanity today must be brought to realize what the Mystery of Golgotha actually effected in this respect. What then was the real significance of the Event of Golgotha for mankind? How deeply did it penetrate into man's whole nature and existence?
We will let our mind's eye sweep across twelve centuries — from six hundred years before the event of Golgotha to six hundred years after it — and think of certain experiences that arose in the souls of men during this period. Truly, nothing greater or more significant can come before the discerning human soul than that stupendous occurrence of the gradual enlightenment of the Buddha, as it is preserved in the legend. He comes from a kingly environment. He is not born in a manger among simple shepherds. The emphasis, however, is not to be placed on this, but on the fact that he leaves this kingly environment and then encounters what he had not hitherto encountered: life in its diverse forms and manifestations. He comes upon a child, weak and ailing. Suffering is the child's lot in the existence it has entered through birth. The Buddha feels: birth is suffering. And again with all his sensitivity of soul the Buddha sees one who is diseased. This can be the lot of man when thirst for existence bears him into the earthly world — illness is suffering. The Buddha meets a man decrepit with the infirmities of old age. What is it that life imposes on man so that gradually he loses control of his limbs? Old age is suffering. And then the Buddha sees a corpse. Death stands before him with all the disintegration and destruction of life that are its accompaniment. Death is suffering. And through further observation of life the Buddha is led to the realization: To be separated from what we love is suffering; to be united with what we do not love is suffering; not to attain that for which we yearn is suffering.
The teaching of suffering rang with power and insistence through human hearts and human breasts. Men without number learned the great truth that freedom from suffering depends upon elimination of the thirst for existence, learned that they must strive to free themselves from earthly, physical existence, to pass beyond earthly incarnations, and that only the elimination of the thirst for existence can lead to redemption and release from suffering. Truly,a sublime goal of human evolution is presented to us here.
And now we will cast our mind's eye over twelve centuries, embracing the whole period from 600 B.C. to 600 A.D. One particular event stands out: in the middle of this period the Mystery of Golgotha took place. We will think of a single feature only from the times of the Buddha: the corpse, and what the Buddha experienced at the sight of it and then taught. Six hundred years after the Event of Golgotha the eyes of countless human souls turn to a Cross of wood on which hangs a corpse. But there issue from this corpse the impulses which permeate life with spirit, which make life victorious over death. This is the very antithesis of what the Buddha experienced at the sight of a corpse.
The Buddha had seen a corpse and had recognized from it the nothingness of life. Men who lived six hundred years after the Event of Golgotha looked up with fervent devotion to the corpse on the Cross. For them it was the token of life, and in their souls dawned the certainty that existence is not suffering, but leads across death into blessedness. Six hundred years after the Event of Golgotha the corpse of Christ Jesus on the Cross became the token of life, of the resurrection of life, the overcoming of death and of all suffering, just as six hundred years before the Mystery of Golgotha the corpse was the sign that suffering must be the lot of man driven into the physical world by the thirst for existence. Never was there a greater reversal in the whole course of human evolution.
If, six hundred years before our era, entrance into the physical augured suffering for man, how does the great truth that life is suffering present itself to the soul after the Mystery of Golgotha? How does it present itself to men who look with understanding at the Cross on Golgotha? Is birth, as the Buddha declared, suffering? Those who look with understanding at the Cross on Golgotha, and feel united with it, say to themselves: “Birth, after all, leads men to an Earth able from its own elements to provide a raiment for the Christ. Men will gladly tread this Earth upon which Christ has walked. Union with Christ kindles in the soul the power to find its way up into the spiritual worlds, brings the realization that birth is not suffering but the portal to the finding of the Redeemer, Who clothed Himself with the very same earthly substances which compose the bodily sheaths of a human being.”
Is illness suffering? No! — so said those who truly understood the Impulse of Golgotha — no, illness is not suffering. Even if men cannot yet understand what the spiritual life streaming in with Christ is in reality, in the future they will learn to understand it, and they will know that one who lets himself be permeated by the Christ Impulse, into whose innermost being the Christ Power draws, can overcome all illness through the strong healing forces he unfolds from within himself. For Christ is the great Healer of mankind. His Power embraces everything that out of the spiritual can unfold the healing force whereby illness can be overcome. Illness is not suffering. Illness is an opportunity to overcome an obstacle by man unfolding the Christ Power within himself.
Mankind must arrive at a similar understanding about the infirmities of age. The more the feebleness of our limbs increases, the more we can grow in the spirit, the more we can gain the mastery through the Christ Power indwelling us. Age is not suffering, for with every day that passes we grow into the spiritual world. So too, death is not suffering for it has been conquered in the Resurrection. Death has been conquered through the Event of Golgotha.
Can separation from what we love still be suffering? No! Souls permeated with the Christ Power know that love can forge links from soul to soul transcending all material obstacles, links in the spiritual that cannot be severed; and there is nothing either in the life between birth and death or between death and rebirth to which we cannot spiritually find the way through the Christ Impulse. If we permeate ourselves with the Christ Impulse, permanent separation from what we love is inconceivable. The Christ leads us to union with what we love.
Equally, to be united with what we do not love cannot be suffering because the Christ Impulse received into our souls teaches us to love all things in their due measure. The Christ Impulse shows us the way and, when we find this way, “to be united with what we do not love” can no longer be suffering; for there is nothing that we do not encompass with love. So too, if Christ is with us, “not to attain that for which we yearn” can no longer be suffering, for human feelings and desires are so purified and sublimated through the Christ Impulse that men can yearn only for what is their due. They no longer suffer because of what they are compelled to renounce; for if they must renounce anything, it is for the sake of purification, and the Christ Power enables them to feel it as such. Therefore renunciation is no longer suffering.
What, in essence, does the Event of Golgotha signify? It signifies the gradual elimination of the facts associated by the great Buddha with suffering. There is nothing that affects more deeply cosmic evolution or cosmic existence than the Event of Golgotha. Therefore we can also understand that its influence works on, with positive and momentous consequences for mankind of the future. Christ is the greatest of all the Avatars who have come down to the Earth, and when such a Being as the Christ in Jesus of Nazareth descends into earthly existence, this marks the beginning of a mysterious and supremely significant process. On a small scale it is the same in the spiritual world as when we sow a grain of corn in the Earth; it germinates and blade and ear spring from it, bearing innumerable grains which are replicas of the one grain of corn we laid into the soil. “Everything transient is but a semblance,” and in this multiplication of the grain of corn we can perceive an image, a semblance, of the spiritual world.
When the Mystery of Golgotha was accomplished, something happened to the etheric body and the astral body of Jesus of Nazareth. Through the Power of the indwelling Christ they were multiplied and ever since that time in the spiritual world many, many replicas of the astral body and etheric body of Jesus of Nazareth have been present — with great spiritual consequences.
A human individuality descending from spiritual heights into physical existence is clothed with an etheric body and an astral body. But when something is present in spiritual worlds such as the replicas of the etheric body and astral body of Jesus of Nazareth, a very special occurrence takes place in men whose karma permits it. After the Mystery of Golgotha, when the karma of a particular individuality allowed it, a replica of the etheric body or of the astral body of Jesus of Nazareth was woven into him. This was so in the case of Augustine, for example, in the early part of our era. When this individuality came down from spiritual heights and clothed himself in an etheric body, a replica of the etheric body of Jesus of Nazareth was woven into his own etheric body. This individuality bore his own astral body and ego, but into his etheric body was woven a replica of the etheric body of Jesus of Nazareth.
And so the sheaths that had enveloped the Divine Man of Palestine were transmitted to other men, whose task it then was to carry forth the influence of this great impulse into the rest of humanity. It was because Augustine remained dependent upon his own ego and his own astral body that he was subject to all the doubt, all the vacillation and error which, since they emanated from these still imperfect members of his being, it was so difficult for him to overcome. All the experiences he endured were due to his mistaken judgment and the errors of his ego. But when he had wrestled through, when his etheric body began to operate, he came upon the forces woven into his etheric body from the replica of the etheric body of Jesus of Nazareth. And then he became the one who was able to proclaim to the West some of the great Mystery-truths.
There were many whom we recognize as the great bearers of Christianity in the West, whose mission was to spread Christianity during the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries, on to the tenth, in whom the great Ideas could light up as examples. These were persons into whose etheric bodies a replica of the etheric body of Jesus of Nazareth had been woven. That was the reason why there could arise in them the great visions and prototypal Ideas which were then elaborated and given form by the great painters and sculptors.
How did the prototypes for these pictures that still delight us come into being? They came into being when through the inwoven replicas of the hallowed etheric body of Jesus of Nazareth there came to men of the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries of our era great illuminations of the truths of Christianity which made them independent of historical tradition. In addition to the content of Christ's teaching there had been woven into these men a replica of the etheric body of Jesus of Nazareth, and they needed no longer the historical tradition of the facts of Christianity; they knew through inner illumination that the Christ lives, because they bore within them part of the being of Jesus of Nazareth. They knew that Christ lives, just as Paul knew of Christ as living reality when He appeared to him in the spiritualized fire of heaven. Up till then, had Paul allowed himself to be converted by stories of the events in Palestine? No single one of the events of which he could have been told was able to make Saul into Paul; yet it was from Paul that the most powerful impulse for the outer spread of Christianity proceeded — from one who had remained unconvinced by narrations of events on the physical plane, but who became a believer through an occult event taking place in the spiritual world. It is a strange attitude to wish to have Christianity without the factor of spiritual illumination! For without Paul's spiritual illumination Christianity would never have spread through the world. The early spread of Christianity was due to a supersensible happening. So again, in later times, Christianity was propagated in the same way through those who were able to experience the Christ in inner illumination. It was the Christ of history, too, because they bore within them what had remained from the historical Christ and His sheaths.
In the eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries replicas of the astral body of Jesus of Nazareth were woven into other human beings when their karma so permitted and they were sufficiently mature. Francis of Assisi, Elisabeth of Thüringen, for example, and others too, bore within them a replica of the astral body of Jesus of Nazareth. Without this knowledge, the lives of Francis of Assisi and Elisabeth of Thüringen are unintelligible to us. Everything that seems so strange today in the life of Francis of Assisi is because the ‘I’ was the human ‘I’ of that individuality; but the humility, the devoutness, and the fervor we so admire in him are due to the fact that a replica of the astral body of Jesus of Nazareth was woven into his own astral body. And it was so in the case of many other personalities living at that time. When we know this, they become examples for us. How can anyone who really studies the matter understand the life of Elisabeth of Thüringen if he does not know that a replica of the astral body of Jesus of Nazareth was woven into her? And very many were called in this way by the onworking Christ Power to bear this mighty Impulse forward to posterity.
But there was something else, too, which was preserved for still later time: namely, innumerable replicas of the ‘I’ of Jesus of Nazareth. True, his original higher ‘I’ had departed from the three sheaths when the Christ drew into them; but a replica, exalted yet further as a result of the Christ-indwelling, remained present, and this replica of the ‘I’ of Jesus of Nazareth was multiplied many times. This replica of the ‘I’ of Jesus of Nazareth is present to this day in the spiritual world. Moreover it can be found, together with the glory of the Christ Power and Christ Impulse it bears within it, by men who are sufficiently mature.
Now, the outer, physical expression for the ‘I’ is the blood. This is a great mystery; but there have always been men who knew of it and were aware that replicas of the ‘I’ of Jesus of Nazareth are present in the spiritual world. There have always been men whose task it was, through the centuries since the Event of Golgotha, to ensure in secret that humanity gradually matures, so that there may be human beings who are fit to receive the replicas of the ‘I’ of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, just as there were persons who received replicas of his etheric body and astral body. To this end it was necessary to discover the secret of how, in the quietude of a profound mystery, this ‘I’ might be preserved until the appropriate moment in the evolution of the Earth and of humanity. With this aim a Brotherhood of Initiates who preserved the secret was founded: the Brotherhood of the Holy Grail. They were the guardians of this secret. This Fellowship has always existed. It is said that its originator took the chalice used by Christ Jesus at the Last Supper and in it caught the blood flowing from the wounds of the Redeemer on the Cross. He gathered the blood, the expression of the ‘I,’ in this chalice — the Holy Grail. And the chalice with the blood of the Redeemer, with the secret of the replica of the ‘I’ of Christ-Jesus, was preserved in a holy place, in the Brotherhood of those who through their attainments and their Initiation are the Brothers of the Holy Grail.
The time has come today when these secrets may be made known, when through a spiritual life the hearts of men can become mature enough to understand this great Mystery. If souls allow spiritual science to kindle understanding of such secrets they become fit to recognize in that Holy Chalice the Mystery of the Christ-‘I,’ the eternal ‘I’ which every human ‘I’ can become. The secret is a reality — only men must allow themselves to be summoned through spiritual science to understand this, in order that as they contemplate the Holy Grail, the Christ-‘I’ may be received into their being. To this end they must understand and accept what has come to pass as fact, as reality.
But when men are better prepared to receive the Christ Ego, then it will pour in greater and greater fullness into their souls. They will then evolve to the level where stood Christ Jesus, their great Example. Then for the first time they will learn to understand the sense in which Christ Jesus is the Great Example for humanity. And having understood this, men will begin to realize in the innermost core of their being that the certainty of life's eternity springs from the corpse hanging on the wood of the Cross of Golgotha. Those who are inspired and permeated by the Christ-‘I’, the Christians of future time, will understand something else as well — something that hitherto has been known only to those who reached enlightenment. They will understand not only the Christ Who has passed through death but the triumphant Christ of the Apocalypse, resurrected in the spiritual fire, the Christ Whose coming has already been predicted. The Easter festival can always be for us a symbol of the Risen One, a link reaching over from Christ on the Cross to the Christ triumphant, risen and glorified, to the One Who lifts all men with Him to the right hand of the Father.
And so the Easter symbol points us to the vista of the whole future of the Earth, to the future of the evolution of humanity, and is for us a guarantee that men who are Christ-inspired will be transformed from Saul-men into Paul-men and will behold with increasing clarity a spiritual fire. For it is indeed true that as the Christ was revealed in advance to Moses and to those who were with him, in the material fire of the thorn-bush and of the lightning on Sinai, so He will be revealed to us in a spiritualized fire of the future. He is with us always, until the end of the world, and He will appear in the spiritual fire to those who have allowed their eyes to be enlightened through the Event of Golgotha. Men will behold Him in the spiritual fire. They beheld Him, to begin with, in a different form; they will behold Him for the first time in His true form, in a spiritual fire.
But because the Christ penetrated so deeply into Earth-existence — right into the physical bony structure — the power which built His sheaths out of the elements of the Earth so purified and hallowed this physical substance that it can never become what in their sorrow the Eastern sages feared: that the Enlightened One of the future, the Maitreya Buddha, would not find on the Earth men capable of understanding him because they had sunk so deeply into matter. Christ was led to Golgotha in order that He might lift matter again to spiritual heights, in order that the fire might not be extinguished in matter, but be spiritualized. The primal wisdom will again be intelligible to men when they themselves are spiritualized — the primal wisdom which, in the spiritual world, was the source of their being. And so the Maitreya Buddha will find understanding on the Earth — which would not otherwise have been possible — when men have attained deeper insight. We understand far better what we learnt in our youth when tests in life have matured us, and we can look back upon it all at a later time. Mankind will understand the primal wisdom through being able to look back upon it in the Christ-light streaming from the event of Golgotha.
And now — how can the uncorrupted remains of Kashiapa be rescued, and whither will they be transported? It was said: the Maitreya Buddha will appear, touch these remains with his right hand, and the corpse will be transported in fire. In the fire made manifest to Paul on the road to Damascus we have to see the miraculous, spiritualized fire in which the body of Kashiapa will be enshrined. This fire will rescue for future times all that was great and noble in the past. In the spiritualized fire in which the Christ appeared to Paul, the body of Kashiapa, untouched by corruption, will be saved through the Maitreya Buddha. Thus we shall see the greatness, the splendor, and the wisdom of all the past stream into what mankind has become through the Event of Golgotha.
A resurrection of the Earth-Spirit itself, a redemption of humanity — this is what lies before us in the symbol of the Easter bells. To everyone who understood it, this symbol was an inspiration of how through the Easter Mystery man climbs to spiritual heights. It is not without meaning that Faust is called back by the Easter bells from the brink of death to a new life which leads him to the great moment when, blinded and facing death, he cries: “But in my inmost spirit all is light.” Now he can make his way up into the spiritual worlds where the ennobled elements of humanity are in safe keeping.
In the purified spirituality that has poured over the Earth and into humanity through the Mystery of Golgotha, everything that has existed in the past is rescued, purified, sustained: just as one day, when the Maitreya Buddha appears, the uncorrupted body of Kashiapa, the great sage of the East, will be purified in the miraculous fire, in the Christ-light which was revealed to Paul on the road to Damascus.
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