The Event of the Appearance of Christ in the Etheric World
3. Buddhism and Pauline Christianity
Köln, 27 February, 1910
We will concern ourselves today with something that will show us how significant it is, based on research that can be done in the higher worlds, to experience what the future holds in store for humanity. The mission of the spiritual scientific movement is connected with the important events of the transition period in which we live. From this we can be certain that much still lies before us in the future, and we therefore seek in spiritual science for guidance in taking the appropriate measures in the present. We must know, therefore, what is of special significance in thinking, feeling, and willing in our time.
There is a great distinction between the spiritual stream that came from Buddha and the one that arose from the Christ impulse. This is not meant to place these streams in opposition to one another; it is rather necessary to understand in what regard each of these streams can be fruitful. Both streams must unite in the future, and Christianity must be fructified by spiritual science. For a time, Christianity had to set aside the teaching of reincarnation. It was included in the esoteric teaching but could not be received in exoteric Christianity for certain universal pedagogical reasons. In contrast, reincarnation was a fundamental principle of Buddhism. There it was bound up with the teaching of suffering, which is exactly what Christianity is intended to overcome. Once we have recognized the purposes and missions of both streams, we will also be able to distinguish clearly between them. The main distinction can be seen most strongly when one examines the two individualities, Buddha and Paul.
Gautama Buddha came to knowledge through his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree; he then taught that this world is maya. It cannot be considered real, because therein lies maya, the great illusion, that one believes it to be real. Man must strive to be released from the realm of the elements; then he comes into a realm, Nirvana, where neither names nor things exist. Only then is man freed from illusion. The realm of maya is suffering. Birth, death, sickness, and age are suffering. It is the thirst for existence that brings man into this realm. Once he has freed himself from this thirst, he no longer needs to incarnate. One can ask oneself why the great Buddha preached this doctrine. The answer can follow only from a consideration of the evolutionary course of humanity.
Man was not always the way he is today. In earlier times, man not only had his physical body at his disposal for achieving knowledge, but there was also a kind of clairvoyant knowledge diffused among human beings. Man knew that there were spiritual hierarchies in the same way that we know that there are plants. He had no power of judgment but could see the creative beings themselves. This wisdom gradually disappeared, but a memory of it remained. In ancient India, Persia, even in Egypt, there was still a memory of previous earthly lives. The human soul at that time was such that one knew: I was descended from divine beings, but my incarnations have gradually penetrated the physical so strongly that my spiritual gaze has been darkened.
Man experienced the progress in this time as a degeneration, as a step backward. This was felt especially by all those who could still, even in much later times, leave their physical bodies at particular moments. The everyday world appeared to them in these moments as a world of illusion, as maya, the great deception. Buddha only spoke out of what lived in the human soul. The physical, sensible world was experienced as that which had pulled man down; he wished to leave this world and ascend again. The world of the senses bore the guilt for the descent of humanity.
Let us compare this conception with the Christ impulse and the teachings of Paul. Paul did not call the sensible world an illusion, although he knew as well as Buddha that man had descended from the spiritual worlds and that it was his urge for existence that had brought him into this world. One speaks in a Christian sense, however, when one asks if this urge for existence is always something bad. Is the physical, sensible world only deception? According to Paul's conception, it is not the urge for existence in itself that is evil; this urge was originally good but became harmful through the fall of man, under the influence of Luciferic beings. This urge was not always harmful, but it has become so and has brought sickness, lies, suffering, and so on. What was a cosmic event in Buddha's conception became a human event for Paul.
Had the Luciferic influence not interfered, man would have seen the truth in the physical world rather than illusion. It is not the world of the senses that is wrong but human knowledge that has been dulled through the Luciferic influence. The differences in these conceptions bring different conclusions with them. Buddha sought redemption in a world in which nothing of this world of the senses remained. Paul said that man should purify his forces, his thirst for existence, because he himself had corrupted them. Man should tear away the veil that covers the truth and, through purifying himself, see again the truth he himself had covered. In place of the veil that conceals the plant world, for example, he will see the divine-spiritual forces that work on and behind the plants. Rend the veil, and the world of the senses becomes transparent; we finally see the realm of the spirit. We believed we saw the animal, the plant, and the mineral kingdoms; that was our error. In reality, we saw the hierarchies streaming toward us.
That is why Paul said, “Kill not the pleasure of existence; rather purify it, because it was originally good.” This can occur when man takes the power of Christ into himself. When this power has permeated the soul, it drives away the soul's darkness. The gods did not place man on the earth for no purpose. It is man's duty to overcome what hinders him from seeing this world spiritually. Buddha's conclusion that one must shun incarnation points to an archetypal wisdom for humanity. Paul, in contrast, said, “Go through incarnation, but imbue yourselves with Christ, and in a distant future all that man has cast up as illusion will vanish.”
This teaching, which put the blame not on the physical, sensible world but on man himself, had of necessity to become a historic doctrine. Exactly for this reason, however, it could not be given in its entirety at the beginning. Only the initial impulse could be given, which must be penetrated. This impulse would then gradually enter all spheres of life. Although almost two thousand years have passed since the Mystery of Golgotha, the Christ impulse is only beginning today to be received. Whole spheres of life, such as philosophy and science, have yet to be imbued with it. Buddha was more able to give his teaching all at once, because he referred to an ancient wisdom that was still experienced in his time. The Christ impulse, however, must prevail gradually. A theory of knowledge based on these facts contrasts sharply with that of Kant, who did not know that it is our knowledge itself that must be purified.
Paul had to instruct human beings that the work in each individual incarnation is actually of great importance. In contrast to the relatively recent doctrine of the Buddha that the individual incarnation is worthless, he almost had to overstate this teaching. One must learn to declare, “Not I, but Christ in me!” This is the purified I. Through Paul, the spiritual life became dependent upon this one incarnation for all the future. Now that such an education of the soul has, been completed and a sufficient number of human beings have gone through it in the past two thousand years, the time has come again to teach reincarnation and karma. We must seek to restore our I to the condition in which it was before incarnations began.
It is always said that Christ is constantly in our midst. “I am with you every day until the end of the earth.” Now, however, man must learn to behold Christ and to believe that what he sees is real. This will happen in the near future, already in this century, and in the following two thousand years more and more people will experience it. How will this actually occur? We might ask, for example, how we now see our planet. The earth is described mechanically, chemically, and physically by science, according to the Kant-Laplace theory and the like. Yet we are now approaching a reversal in these fields. A conception will arise that will see the earth not in terms of purely mineral forces but in terms of plant, or what could be called etheric, forces. The plant directs its root toward the earth's center, and its upper part stands in relation to the sun. These are the forces that make the earth what it is; gravity is only secondary. The plants preceded minerals just as coal was once plant life; this will soon be discovered. Plants give the planet its form, and they then give off the substance from which its mineral foundation originates. The beginnings of this idea were given through Goethe in his plant morphology, but he was not understood. One will gradually begin to see the etheric, because it is that which is characteristic of the plant realm. When man is able to receive the growth forces of the plant kingdom, he will be released from the forces that now hinder him from beholding the Christ. Spiritual science should be an aid to this, but this will be impossible as long as man believes that the ascent of the physical into the etheric has nothing to do with his inner being. It is of no matter in the laboratory whether a man has a strong or weak moral character. This is not the case, however, when one is concerned with etheric forces. Then one's moral constitution affects one's results. For this reason, it is impossible for modern man to develop this ability if he remains as he is. The laboratory table must first become an altar, just as it was for Goethe who, as a child, kindled his small altar to nature with the rays of the rising sun.
This will happen before long. Those who are able to say, “Not I, but Christ in me,” will be able to work with the plant forces in the same way that mineral forces are now understood. Man's inner being and his outer surroundings work into one another reciprocally; what is outside transforms itself for us, depending on whether our vision is clear or clouded. Even in this century, and increasingly throughout the next 2,500 years, human beings will become able to behold Christ in His etheric form. They will behold the etheric earth from which the plant world springs up. They will also be able to see, however, that inner goodness works differently on the environment from evil. He who possesses this science in the highest degree is the Maitreya Buddha, who will come in approximately 3,000 years. “Maitreya Buddha” means the “Buddha of right-mindedness.” He is the one who will make clear for human beings the significance of right-mindedness. This will all lead human beings to know in which direction they must go. You must undertake to transform abstract ideals into concrete ideals in order to contribute to an evolution that moves forward. If we do not succeed in this, the earth will sink into materialism, and humanity will have to begin again, either on the earth, after a great catastrophe, or on the next planet. The earth needs anthroposophy! Whoever realizes this is an anthroposophist.