Buddha and Christ
A lecture for members of the Austrian Theosophical Society
Vienna, June 14, 1909 – GA 109
The transcript of this lecture is based upon sometimes sketchy notes taken by several people who were present; they cannot be considered as words literally spoken by the lecturer.
Translated from the German by Frank Thomas Smith
Nowadays in the Theosophical Society questions are asked, especially by young members, which are worth taking seriously. One of these questions, often posed, is this. Why do we dedicate so much time to the study of Theosophy? Why do we weigh ourselves down with all the ballast of theories about the origin of the cosmos from the very beginning up to the evolution of man with his various bodies and principles? And also: the teaching about the many incorporations or incarnations the human being must live through, and learning about the law of cause and effect. Why is all that necessary? Wouldn't we advance further by concentrating on the ethical aspects of theosophical teaching in order to better develop into good people? Isn't that the main thing? Why then all the studying?
Yes, that is the main thing: that our souls develop! However, in order to reach this main thing it is necessary to first make theosophical teachings our own. We can develop quicker and better and work on ourselves if we know how the human being is structured, how he is related to the cosmos, if we have learned how the whole universal evolution, including our own, is influenced and led by higher beings. Yes, one may argue, but where do all these theories and science come from? Isn't Theosophy a worldview, a philosophy like any other, say like those of Haeckel, Kant or Schopenhauer?
No, that is not Theosophy. Those are embedded in certain forms, even dogmas perhaps, and they envision a certain system. The theosophical worldview is completely different: it is flowing life which enters humanity from higher worlds. And its wisdom is communicated to us by enlightened ones, initiates, who with their clairvoyant force see the spiritual world just as clearly, or rather even more clearly, than we see the world of objects around us.
The initiates have the duty to instruct humanity. Over the past thirty years they have received the message from the higher beings who have already advanced in human development, from the Masters of Harmonious Feelings, from those exalted beings who influence every spiritual stream on earth and gradually let their wisdom flow into the world as humanity climbs higher and higher in its development.
Then it could be asked: Is it sufficient for us average people that we learn to grasp this teaching? Shouldn't we all become initiates in order to understand Theosophy?
Yes, all should strive at a certain stage of development to become initiates by means of the given methods; however, the successful development of the slumbering forces in the soul can only be achieved through moral strength. Nevertheless, those who at the moment are not far enough advanced to be able to develop these forces, which can only be developed through study and with the help of their teachers, also have a prerogative. When after death they find themselves in the astral world, they are at the same stage of envisioning as their teacher; he has already given all he achieved to his students, he sees no more than his students, he didn't teach them because of egotism in order to advance further himself. There is no egotism in the higher worlds or in real initiates; they only give in order to help humanity.
Another question theosophists may ask: If I really must go through so many incarnations, then I can wait with my studies until the next incarnation; right now I have so many other things to do. This is like a lily of the valley saying: I'm too lazy to bloom right now, I'd rather sleep in the earth a while longer and wait to bloom in October. But in October conditions would not be right for blooming.
It's the same with a person. If he rejects the opportunity to receive the spiritual truths offered to him during this life because of laziness or other reasons, he can be sure to create the conditions in this life which prevent him from receiving the truths in the next life. That the human being is even able to receive these truths is due to the impulse given by the event of Golgotha. The seed for spiritual understanding of human evolution lies within it.
Let us consider the evolutionary phases of humanity by going back six-hundred years before the appearance of Christ on earth. Six-hundred years before Christ, the personality of Siddharta Gautama, the advanced being of Buddha incarnated, whose wisdom provided millions with a spiritual teaching. He was a prince who had been protected since early childhood from all the suffering and poverty which was present in the world. When he was a young man and was able leave the palace, he saw the reality of life for the first time. He met a beggar clothed in rags, then a sick person, and finally he saw a corpse. He concluded therefore that everything on earth is suffering. Birth is suffering, death is suffering, to be separated from one's loved one is suffering, to be united with whom one does not love is suffering; to not have what one wants is suffering; to have what one does not want is suffering. So he said: everything earthly is empty, therefore man should reject life, free himself, for everything earthly is maya. He did not return to the palace, but went into the desert.
How did humanity develop further six-hundred years after the events in Palestine? Buddha had said: All is suffering, life is suffering, death is suffering, therefore kill your thirst for existence. Christ, on the other hand, showed us that just because we are so deeply involved in life all suffering can be overcome by love, that by overcoming materialism by spirit we also salvage the spirit in a higher world and thereby overcome death. Six-hundred years before the Christ Jesus, Buddha, by viewing a corpse, became convinced and taught to the world that death is suffering. Six-hundred years later Christ, through his own corpse on the cross, showed that death is not suffering but the victor over the world's suffering, that it is not annihilation, but the bringer of new life. Christ brought light to the astral word after his death. And since the blood poured on Golgotha, the earth's aura changed, and it is the new principle in the earth's aura which allowed the Christ impulse to flow into humanity. Now we will examine more closely this high individuality who brought the Christ impulse to earth.
When we go back to ancient times when the holy Rishis proclaimed the great wisdom of Vishva-Karman, we find that they were speaking about the same individuality which Zarathustra later proclaimed, whom he called Ormuzd, whose physical form he saw in Ahura Mazdao, the great Sun-Aura. And it was the same being who appeared to Moses in the burning bush in Mount Sinai, the same spiritual Sun-individuality who came closer and closer to the earth and whom Moses asked: What shall I tell the people when they ask me who you are? He answered: “I am who I am, who I was, who I will be.” And he proclaimed to him that when the time came when the earth could receive him, he would live among us in the flesh. When did this time come? It came when a pure body was born which could act as bearer of that higher being. And that bearer was the body of Jesus of Nazareth, in which he lived for three years. This great secret: the life of the divine being in a physical body and his death on Golgotha underlay later development as substance and force-impulse.
Christ's teachings are not the only reason for the expansion of Christianity; other founders of religions had already proclaimed the same teachings. During Christ's lifetime the handful of Christians was so little known that there were many countries where the existence of Christ was unknown. What was it then that later spread Christianity? It was the deed of the Christ Jesus, that he appeared on earth in a human body. Only because of this was the Christ impulse given to us.
[Saint] Paul was the real spreader and founder of Christianity – after the event on the road to Damascus. He also knew the teachings of the Christ Jesus, but could not believe and have faith in him, because he could not believe that a god must accept the disgrace of death on the cross. What was it then that led him to belief? Nothing else but that he suddenly became clairvoyant and saw the image of the living Christ in the astral world, in the earth's aura. Thus he realized that the Christ Jesus did not die, but remained united with the world. Humanity will only recognize what Christ is in the distant future. Christ is the planet-spirit of our earth, the spirit who from the beginning gradually descended from the sun to us, who left the higher regions, ever deeper and deeper descending through the regions until he incarnated in Jesus of Nazareth, in order that through this great sacrifice the Christ-impulse would awaken in us. The ultimate objective was our evolution, which will only have been achieved when all people have become as the teacher was.
Christ's words: “Who eats my bread, treads on me”, are to be taken literally, for Christ is the spirit of our earth, the earth is his physical body. By means of the Golgotha event, as the spirit of the great divine Sun-individuality left the body of Jesus of Nazareth, and the blood flowed from his wounds, something important for humanity happened. Let us assume that a clairvoyant from another planet could have observed the earth's aura at that mighty moment; he would have observed a great change in it: he would have observed a new, different color in it, like an element that wasn't there before, and which from that time on fertilized humanity so that it can absorb the Christian principle of love and self-sacrifice.
If through the in-depth study of theosophical teachings we can grasp the fact that both cosmic and human evolution in all their aspects came about through the intervention of higher powers, that the work of the spiritual hierarchies guides our spiritual development, only when this has become a certainty for us can the sublime wisdom work upon us, so that the ethics of theosophical teaching can receive its confirmation and our soul be warmed from within by its recognition of the truth, so that it can carry the fruits of theosophy or spiritual science out into practical life.
Only if we learn to understand Christ and what he means for our earthly development as the ancient wisdom, Theosophy, teaches, which leads us to the secrets of the creation and reveals the goal of our existence, only then can we grasp the wonderful ethic of theosophical teaching with our whole soul in the way it should be grasped.
The most beautiful sermons and ethical considerations help people very little. We often see how they lead to pious customs, but help little. It is as though if we said to a stove: Dear stove, do your moral duty as a good stove and warm the room. We'd wait a while, but it wouldn't get warm. But give that stove wood to burn and after a short time it would spread a comfortable warmth. It is the same with a man. Preach morality and ethics to him as much as you want, it will help him little. But give him wood for his spirit to burn and it will become warm inside, and he will fulfill his duty in the world from the soul, not because he must be a moral person, but because he can do no other according to his inner being.
If we bring spiritual science into our life, whichever profession we may have, a conversion will ensue. Just think: what a way of thinking it would cause for example in the legal profession, especially nowadays when the lawyer is buried in mountains of paragraphs and laws. Every case is treated as a number and placed in a specific category. If the lawyer were conversant with spiritual science he would see nature, humanity and every individual person with different eyes. He would learn to understand his clients better, because he would feel at one with them. His thinking, just as all thinking without spiritual science, is forced into certain forms, schema and dogmas, becomes more agile, expands, and therefore, if he has spiritual thinking, he works for the well-being of humanity. Let us consider the physician: a completely different, expanded field opens before him. This is already the case. For there are many physicians who work in this direction, illuminated by spiritual science. For all these reasons, after we have diligently studied and understood spiritual scientific teaching, we bring its fruits to practical life for the benefit and well-being of humanity.