From Beetroot to Buddhism
XIV. Moses. Decadent Atlantean civilization in Tibet. Dalai Lama. How can Europe spread its culture in Asia? British and Germans as colonial powers
20 May 1924, Dornach
Good morning, gentlemen. Maybe one of you has thought of something for today's session?
Question: What should one think about the miracles told in connection with Moses in the Bible-the sea standing still?
Rudolf Steiner: Now you see, this was less a matter of there being a sudden miracle than of Moses 93Moses (thirteenth century bc). having a great deal of knowledge. He was not just the person presented in the Bible but had in fact studied at the Egyptian universities, which were the mysteries. At those schools students were taught not only about the world of the spirit but from a certain point of view also about the natural world. Now in the oceans we have ebb and flood, with the waters rising and falling again, and the point was that Moses knew how to arrange the passage across the Red Sea in such a way that he took the people across at a time when the sea had receded, exposing a sandbank that could be used. The miracle therefore was not that Moses held back the Red Sea and fought it, but that he really did know more than others and was able to choose the right moment. The others did not know this. Moses had worked it all out so that he got there at the right time. He knew how long it would take, or rather that they had to be quick, so that the sea would not take them by surprise. All this did, of course, seem like a miracle to the others. With such things we must always realize that they are based on knowledge, not some other kind of thing, but knowledge.
That is how it is with most things we are told of earlier times. The people were amazed because they did not understand the matter; they did not know. But if one knows that in those early times, too, there were some very clever people, one can find the explanation. Otherwise there is not much to explain here.
Maybe someone else has another question?
Question: Can the culture that streams from Tibet into the rest of Asia still be adequate for those people, or is it getting completely decadent?
Rudolf Steiner: Now you see, the culture of Tibet is very ancient; it really still comes from ancient Atlantean times. You just have to realize that there was a time once when Europe was largely submerged, with the water only getting less towards Asia. On the other hand you had land where the Atlantic Ocean is today. There was land then where today we take a boat from Europe to America. That was an early age, when land and water were distributed very differently from the way they are today.
In those days, five, six, seven millennia ago, the culture in Asia was the same as it was on this Atlantean continent which is today under the sea between Europe and America. Over there in Asia they had a culture that has survived in the clefts and underground caves of Tibet. When the sea came to the area between Europe and America and Europe began to rise, the Atlantean culture of that area was of course lost. But it survived over there in Tibet. However, this culture was really only appropriate to those ancient times when people lived under very different conditions than they do today. You have to realize that the air was not the way it is today, that humans were not as heavy as they are today but had much less weight, and the air was much denser. A dense mist really penetrated everything at that time, and because of this it was possible to live in a very different way.
People did not read or write in those days but they had signs. These would not be put on paper. They did not have paper then. Nor did they write them on parchment but they would scratch them into rock surfaces. Those rocks had been hollowed out by the people, and on the inside they would scratch their secret signs, as they called them. We really need to understand the signs they produced if we are to understand how they thought.
Now you may ask how it has been possible for these people to keep it so well hidden. Well, you know, the earliest form of architecture had nothing to do with building above ground but people would originally dig into the rocks, making their homes in the rocks. That was the earliest form of architecture. So we need not be surprised that this was also the earliest form of architecture in Tibet. But such skills gradually grew decadent, falling into decline. And the things that developed later in Tibet are such that they cannot really be used any more today, Tibetan culture being older than Indian culture. Ancient Indian civilization developed only after the earth had reached its present form. Tibetan culture was therefore very early. And in this Tibetan culture something has been preserved in a bad form that originally had a relatively good form. Above all the ruler principle has taken a not very acceptable form. The individual who is to rule Tibet is actually venerated as divine; and this veneration is prepared in advance. I would say the choice is made in a supersensible way, really. The Dalai Lama was chosen to be ruler in the following way. Long before, when the old Dalai Lama was still there and people realized that he might soon die, a family was identified somewhere and it was said: The new Dalai Lama must come from this family. That is how it was in Tibet in earlier times. These were not hereditary rulers, but priests — who were the real rulers — identified a new family from which a Dalai Lama was to come.
If a child was born in such a family it would be held available until the old Dalai Lama died. You can imagine that the worst kind of abuse was rife. If the old Dalai Lama was no longer wanted they would simply look for a child and say: The soul of the old Dalai Lama has to enter into the soul of this child. First he had to die, however. And the priests made sure that this happened at the right time. The people then believed that the soul of the old Dalai Lama had entered into the soul of the child. It was thus arranged that the whole of the populace really believed that the soul of any Dalai Lama had previously also been in the Dalai Lama who ruled thousands of years earlier. They thought it was always the same soul, and to them it was always the same Dalai Lama; he merely changed his outer body.
It was not like this in the original culture, but extraordinary mischief has developed out of it. You can see from this that the priests had gradually found ways of managing affairs in such a way that their supremacy was ensured. This does not mean, however, that one does not discover great scientific secrets which people knew in the early days. These are engraved in the rocks, but Europeans have only been granted access on the rarest of occasions. It is true, however, that one can discover the great scientific secrets people knew in the early days, and all it needs is to develop this knowledge in a new form.
The situation is like this. The knowledge that once existed, coming to people in misty dreams, is to be made available again today through the science of the spirit. This cannot happen in the East, however. You see, new knowledge, new insights will never be gained in the same way in the East as here in Europe, because oriental bodies are not made for this. The attempts one has to make to gain insights like those I have presented to you can only be done in the West and not in the East. Orientals are also much more conservative than Europeans; they do not want anything new, and the things we do here in Europe therefore do not impress them. But if you are able to say to them: Significant truths are to be found in those ancient crypts — which is the name for those rock caves — and they are ancient, this will make a tremendous impression on them.
Europeans also have some of this. Just look at the Freemason's lodges of the higher order, if you are able to get into them. As to anthroposophy — it interests them a little, for they, too, are concerned with supersensible things; but they do not take a serious interest. But if you say to them: 'This is something that has been found; it is ancient Egyptian wisdom or ancient Hebrew wisdom,' then they'll be pleased. They'll immediately take it up, for that is the way people are. New discoveries do not impress them much; but something really ancient, even if they do not understand it, makes a considerable impression on them.
We may therefore assume that ancient knowledge if found in Tibet would provide fresh impetus. For much has been lost also to the people of Asia, with the most important Asian civilization, Indian civilization, only arising at a later stage. So it would be possible for many of the things other people do not know about in Asia to be found in Tibet.
The people who live there do not have much opportunity to make these things properly known, for the old Tibetan priest rulers did nothing to make them known; they wanted to keep the ancient rulership for themselves. Knowledge is power if it is kept secret. Europeans who went to Tibet did not understand the things they found. So there is not much prospect of the genuine Tibetan truths being made known; they live on in ancient traditions. For much has come down to posterity, and one can certainly get an idea of what lies behind it all. But it is difficult to imagine that it will really become widely known. It has grown decadent, as you said in your question; but if you go back to the signs in the crypts and not to what the priests say, you would certainly be able to discover extraordinary things. It will however be extra220 ordinarily difficult to decipher them. It will be difficult to get at it without the science of the spirit. It can be deciphered using the science of the spirit, but there one discovers things for oneself, so the old things are not needed.
Question: Would it be possible for people in Europe to do something to help that downward-moving time stream in Asia to move upwards again?
Rudolf Steiner: That is a very nice question! For you see, if the people in Europe do nothing, the world will have to go into decline there. Over there in Asia — this will be obvious from what I have been saying — people hold on to the past. They do not know progress. You see that in China. China is at the same level as it was thousands of years ago. Long ago the Chinese had many things that were only discovered much later in Europe — paper, printing, and so on. But they do not accept progress but retain the old form.
The Europeans on the other hand, what do they do when they go to Asia? You know, the English gave the Chinese opium and such things in the first half of the nineteenth century. But until now the Europeans have not done anything to bring a real life of the mind and spirit to Asia. And it is difficult, of course, for these people simply do not accept it.
You see, the situation is interesting. As you know, European missionaries go there with European religion, European theology, and want to take European culture to Asia. This makes no impression whatsoever on the people of Asia. The missionaries speak to them of Christ Jesus as they see him. And the Asian person says: 'Well, if I look at my Buddha, he has much more excellent qualities.' So they are not impressed. They would only be impressed if one presented Jesus Christ to them the way he was presented here in these lectures some time ago, again in response to your questions. That would make an impression. But again one has to remember that Asians are conservative, reactionary, and initially suspicious.
It is a strange thing, gentlemen. You see, there are some who have studied the ancient wisdom. Over in Asia they have learnt something from Tibetan scholars, wise men, Tibetan initiates. The initiates themselves do not bother with the Europeans. But their students have done so. And this can really surprise one at times. I have told you a few things that will have surprised you, concerning the influence the universe has on human beings. It takes a great deal of time to investigate this fully. I can truthfully say that some of the things I am now able to tell you took 40 years until I was able to speak of them. These are things you do not find overnight, you have to look for them for years. And one then finds such things. One finds for instance that the moon has a population which is connected with the earth's population to such effect that reproduction is regulated by this, as I have told you. Truly, gentlemen, you do not find this along the avenues taken by present-day scientists, nor do you find it from one day to the next; you find it in the course of many years. That is the way it is. And then you have it. But then, when you have it, a strange light is suddenly cast on the things said by the students of oriental initiates. Before, you could not understand it at all. These people talk of moon spirits, for example, and the influence they have on the earth. European scholars will say it is all nonsense what they say. But when one finds these things for oneself one will no longer say it is nonsense. One is merely surprised how much those ancients knew thousands of years ago, things that have since been lost to humanity. It is a tremendous impression one may gain in this way. You investigate these things with tremendous effort and you then find that they were known in the past, though this was in a way people cannot understand today, not even those who speak of these things sometimes. So you gain respect, tremendous respect, for something that did exist in the past.
Now it would be necessary for Europeans who wanted to do something over there in Asia to study anthroposophy before they do it. For otherwise they'll find they cannot do anything there. Today's European science and technology does not impress the people of Asia, for they consider modem European science to be childish, something that is entirely superficial, and as to European technology — they have no need of it. They say: 'Why should we stand at machines? That is inhuman!' It does not impress them in the least, and they consider it an encroachment on their rights when people build railways and machines over there. Europeans do this. But the people there really hate it. So again that is not the way to do it. We must also learn something about earlier days. And in those earlier days people did have some feeling as to how one should proceed.
You see, why should it not be possible for today's European culture to do something over there in Asia? Someone did manage to do something with Greek culture over there in Asia. That was in the fourth century before Christianity was founded. Alexander the Great was the man. He did take a great deal of Greek culture to Asia. And it is there now. It even came back again to Europe by a roundabout route through Spain with the Arabs and the Jews. But how did Alexander manage to take those things to Asia? Only by not proceeding the way modern Europeans do. Europeans consider themselves to be the clever ones, people who are altogether clever. When they go somewhere else they say: 'They're all stupid. We have to take our wisdom to them.' But the others do not know what to do with it. Alexander did not do that. He first of all went wholly into what the people had themselves. And very slowly, little by little, he let something flow into the things those people had. He respected and valued the things the others had.
And that is altogether the secret of how to bring something to some place. There is much to be said against the British, and it is an infamous story in British history that they took opium to China, from sheer egotism. But one nevertheless has to say that not so much perhaps in the sphere of mind and spirit, though actually even there, the British always respect the customs and traditions of the nations they go to, especially in the economic sphere. They simply know how to respect it. The Germans are probably least able to do so. Because of this the Germans do not do well as colonizers, for they never consider what it feels like for the people where they want to have their colonies. They are expected to accept instantly what the Germans themselves have in central Europe. And that will not do, of course. As a result things have gone in such a way that the British are happily maintaining their colonies, even if the people rise at times, and all kinds of things, but economically the British still have the upper hand. The British do at least know how to consider the nature and character of foreign nations. The British also go to war in a very different way from the Germans. How does a German think of waging war against some nation? I don't want to speak against war at this point, but merely tell you how the Germans see it. They think one just has to set out and conquer. The English do not do this. They first of all observe, and perhaps even stir up another nation and let them fight among themselves. They'll look on for as long as possible, that is, they let people sort themselves out among themselves. That is how it has always been. And that is how the British Empire was established. The others, you see, never quite know what is going on. The British have a certain instinct to respect the particular nature of foreign nations. And this has made it possible for them to gain such a colossal economic advantage.
I am sure no one in England would have got the idea to do what people are now doing in Germany, which is to introduce the rentenmark currency. There is of course a major money problem in Germany at the moment. No one has any money. But when the rentenmark was introduced — as a stable currency — people thought it was something terribly clever. It was, of course, the silliest thing one could do. For as long as all the paper money in Britain has gold coverage, the rentenmark must immediately lose value. If the thing is done artificially, as is not the case with a stable currency, it just means that the price of goods will rise. You see, people have the rentenmark in Germany, and it is always worth one mark. But, gentlemen, you can only buy as much for it now as you used to get for 0.15 mark, and so it is in reality worth no more than 0.15 mark. It is a deception to say it will not go down and be stable. And that is how it is. People think in Germany, but they have no feeling for reality.
A nice little anecdote tells us how different nations study the natural history of a kangaroo, let us say, or some other animal, perhaps in Africa. The Englishman goes to Africa — like Darwin did, who travelled around the world for his nature studies 94Darwin, Charles (1809–82). — and observes the animal in its natural habitat. He can see how it lives there and what natural conditions are. The Frenchman immediately removes the animal from the desert and puts it in a zoo. He studies the animal in the zoo, not in its natural environment but in a zoo. And what does the German do? He does not bother to look at the animal at all. He sits down in his study and begins to think. The thing in itself does not interest him — according to Kant's philosophy, as I told you — only the ideas in his head. He spends some time thinking things out. And having thought for a sufficiently long time he says something. But it is not in accord with reality. But the thing is also only relative where the British are concerned. No one in modern Europe knows the ways used in the past to influence human beings — for instance the way Alexander the Great apparently left things exactly as they were but little by little, slowly, introduced things that came from Greece in Asia. No one in Europe knows how to do this today. The first thing Europeans would have to learn, therefore, would be not simply to take things to Asia which are there already, but above all to go to some trouble to find out what the people of Asia know. They would then learn about Tibetan wisdom, for example. And they would then not speak of it to people in the old way but present it in a new way. But they would be using Tibetan wisdom. Thus respecting the local culture they would achieve something. This is something which Europeans in particular have to learn.
Europe is really a vast edifice of theories. Europeans produce theories, and basically have no practical approach. That is the way it is. Europeans also do business in a theoretical way, simply by thinking things up. This will work for a time. It never works in the long run. But Europeans above all fail in spreading their culture of mind and spirit because they do not know how to enter into the reality of other people.
Here, too, the science of the spirit must bring a change. But how does this go, even today? You see, gentlemen, it is important that in anthroposophy we make it a way of life, absolutely practical. One has to start somewhere, of course. What did I do myself, gentlemen? I once wrote about Nietzsche, 95Steiner, R., Friedrich Nietzsche, Fighter for Freedom, tr. M. Ingram deRis, Englewood, NJ, 1960. and people thought I had become a follower of Nietzsche. If I had written the way people would have wanted me to write, the way many people thought I would write, I would have written: Nietzsche is an absolute fool; Nietzsche has put forward foolish notions; Nietzsche must be fought to the death, and so on. I would thus have written in opposition to Nietzsche. It would have meant that I could be thoroughly abusive, almost as abusive as Nietzsche himself, but there would have been no point to it, it would have been useless. I gave careful consideration to Nietzsche's teaching; I presented the things Nietzsche himself had said, and only let anthroposophical views flow into it. Today people come and say: 'He used to be a follower of Nietzsche; now he is an anthroposophist.' But it was exactly because I am an anthroposophist that I wrote about Nietzsche the way I did.
I wrote about Haeckel 96Steiner, R., 'Haeckel and his Opponents' (in GA 30). using the same approach. I could of course have written that he was an out-and-out materialist, knowing nothing of the spirit, and so on. Well, gentlemen, again there would have been no point to it. Instead I took Haeckel as he was, and this is what I have always done. I have not denied the truth but taken things as they were. And this was at least a first step, through anthroposophy, in doing what should be done if our culture is to be taken to Asia. Going to India, one would need to know above all: 'That is what the ancient Brahmin said, and this is what the Buddhists say.' You have to tell people of Buddhism and Brahmanism, but also bring in the things you believe are needed. This is what the followers of Buddha themselves have done, for instance. Shortly before Christianity came into existence, the followers of Buddha spread Buddhism in the Euphrates and Tigris region, but they did it the way I have shown you, talking to people in a way they could understand. In antiquity people were not concerned with getting their own theories accepted in a completely selfish way. Asians have no understanding for European self-willedness. The relationship between Brahmins and Buddhists is not the same, for example, as that between Roman Catholics and Protestants. Roman Catholics and Protestants are highly theoretical in their teaching today, with one believing one thing, the other another. Probably the only difference between Brahmins and Buddhists is that Brahmins do not venerate the Buddha, whilst Buddhists do. And so they really deal with each other in a very different way from the way Protestants and Roman Catholics deal with one another in Europe.
You see, one must have a sense of reality if one wishes to disseminate culture. It really makes one want to cry to see how Europeans are going on in Asia today. Everything Asia has of its own also goes to perdition in the process, and nothing is gained at all. The big problem is, of course, that Europe is also in decline now, and cannot really get out of the damage caused by civilization unless people decide to accept a genuine culture of mind and spirit. Many do not yet believe this today. And so the situation is that all the people who have come to Europe from Asia, for example, have found the Europeans to be utterly barbaric.
You have probably also heard that all kinds of Asians, cultivated, clever Asians, are going about in Europe; but they all believe the Europeans to be barbarians. Because people in Asia still have much of the old knowledge of the spirit, ancient perception of the spirit, anything Europeans know seems childish to them. Everything which is so much admired in Europe seems incredibly childish to the people in Asia.
You see, the Europeans developed in such a way that their great technological advances are really all very recent. The following is interesting, for instance. If you go to some museums where they have things of early European times, you will sometimes be greatly surprised. You'll be amazed, let us say, in Etruscan museums, where they have things coming from Etruscan civilization, a civilization that once existed in Europe, and you'll find they had great skill in treating teeth, for example. They treated teeth very skilfully, putting in fillings made of stone. All this was lost in Europe, and barbarism truly came to Europe. At the time when the great migrations took place, in the third to seventh centuries ad, everything had really fallen into barbarism in Europe. And it was only after this that things were regained. Today we are, of course, amazed at all the advances made. But those things did exist before. Where did they come from in those early times? They came more or less from Asia. The Asians then also lost the technology they used to have, though some of it still exists in China. But in the cultural sphere Asians truly are ahead of Europeans even today. And if we can find nothing in Europe which is better than the culture which exists in Asia, why should one have missions and that kind of stuff over there in Asia? That is totally unnecessary.
The sharing of culture will only be meaningful when Europeans themselves have a science of the spirit. If Europeans are able to give the Asians a science of the spirit, then the Asians will perhaps also accept European technology. But you see, for the moment they only see that apart from their technology Europeans know nothing at all. Educated, scholarly Asians are particularly impressed if they come to Germany, for instance, and you tell them about Goethe and Schiller. Then they prick up their ears. Such a scholar will say: 'Goethe and Schiller may not have been as clever and as wise as the ancient people of Asia, but they certainly had good minds.'
In the nineteenth century all this declined and disappeared rapidly. Today a Chinese scholar will see a German merely as a horrible barbarian. He'll say that German culture perished with Goethe and Schiller. The fact that the railways were invented in the nineteenth century will not impress him. Goethe's Faust will impress him to some extent, but he'd still say the great people of Asia were much wiser. This is something Europeans should begin to realize. They need to realize that Asians do not care for the kind of thinking we have in Europe. They want images, like the images you see in the monasteries of Tibet. Asians want images. The abstract notions Europeans have are of no interest to them, they make their heads hurt, and they do not want them.
A symbol such as the swastika [drawing], the ancient sun cross, was widely known in Asia, and the old Asians still remember it. Some Bolshevik government people had the clever idea of making the ancient swastika their symbol, just like the nationalists in Germany. This makes much more of an impression on the Asians than anything by way of Marxism. Marxism is a set of ideas that have to be thought, and this does not impress them. But such a sign, that does impress them. And if people do not know how to approach these people and come to them with things that are completely alien, nothing will be achieved at all.
Again we see that what matters above all in Europe is to have real insight again, a science of the spirit.
You may also have heard that a gentleman called Spengler — he even gave a lecture in Basle once, I have heard — has published a work called The Decline of the West, that is, the decline of Europe and America. 97Spengler, Oswald (1880-1936), German philosopher, considered that civilizations and cultures to be subject to growth and decay just as human beings are. The Decline of the West (1918–1922). In it he speaks of everything that exists as European culture having to perish. Well, gentlemen, the superficial culture we have today must indeed perish. Something new has to come from inside, out of the spirit. But the outer, superficial culture must go. And because of this the book speaks of the decline of the West. One cannot really say anything against what Spengler says about the decline of the West, about what will be necessary with regard to external things. But he then speaks of the things he sees as positive, as something new. And what does he speak of, gentlemen? The Prussian spirit. He says Europe should take up the Prussian spirit. In his view, that should be the future civilization of Europe.
Now I do not know how he spoke in Basle, for I cannot imagine that he would have made a good impression on the Swiss by showing them that the Prussian spirit should rise from the decline. But you can see how an important man, a clever man like Spengler is able to see quite clearly that the existing civilization must perish. But, he says, brute force should rule in future. He is quite open about this: in future there can only be the conqueror, brutal and powerful.
If that is the most widely read book today, for Oswald Spengler is most widely read in Germany today, and an Oriental, an Asian compares what it says with his own culture, he will have to say to himself: 'That is one of the cleverest people in Europe,' and if he also has his own knowledge of the spirit — dreamlike, in the ancient way — he has to say: Well, what kind of people are these most clever Europeans? They have nothing to give us!
Gentlemen, that is the crux of the matter. And when the question is asked as to what Europeans can do to counter the downward-moving time stream in Asia, we simply have to say: The situation in Europe is such that Europeans must first of all find themselves, gain their own culture of mind and spirit, having lost it at the time of the great migrations. A true culture of mind and spirit was lost in those early Christian centuries. What came to Europe was not the deeper Christianity but words, really and truly words. You can see it particularly from the way Luther then translated the Bible. What did he make of the Bible? An incomprehensible book! For if you are honest you cannot understand Luther's Bible. You can have faith in it; but it cannot really be understood because that was already a time in Europe when people no longer knew of the spirit. There is spirit in the Bible. But it must be translated spiritually. But the things you find in the German Luther Bible, for example, are incomprehensible if one is honest about it. And it is really the same in all areas, except for wholly superficial insight into nature, but this does not really take us into the reality of the world. And if Europeans want to do something in Asia, my answer to the question must be: They will be able to do something once they have really found themselves in the spirit.
I have to go to Paris now, gentlemen. I'll tell you when we'll be able to continue.