Buddhism and Christianity
By RUDOLF STEINER
A lecture delivered in the Architektenhaus, Berlin, March 2nd, 1911.
From notes not revised by the lecturer
Translator unknown - slightly edited here
That Buddhism and the teaching of Buddha should frequently be discussed today, is a fact of special interest in the study of human evolution; for an understanding of the essential nature of Buddhism — or rather the longing for such an understanding — has only made itself felt comparatively recently in the spiritual life of the West. Think for a moment of Goethe, who so powerfully influenced Western culture at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. When we examine Goethe's life and writings we find no trace of the influence of Buddhism; yet shortly afterwards there are distinct traces of Buddhist influence in one who was in a certain sense a disciple of Goethe — I refer to Schopenhauer. Since his time, interest in the spiritual life of the East has steadily increased, until in our age many people feel an inherent desire to understand what really entered human evolution through all that is connected with the name of the great Buddha.
It is true that most people connect Buddhism with the concept of reincarnation, among other things. Yet with regard to its essentials one cannot do so — at all events in the form in which this truth is now often conceived. For to those who have deeper insight, this linking Buddhism with the teachings of repeated earthly lives is almost tantamount to saying that the deepest understanding of ancient works of art is to be found among those peoples who set about destroying them at the beginning of the Middle Ages! Grotesque as this may sound, it is nevertheless true, and its truth is brought home to us by the realisation that the whole mood of Buddhism is to undervalue earthly lives, indeed its aim is rather to reduce their number. Liberation from rebirth — this is the innermost nerve of Buddhist thought. To be freed from repeated earthly lives — reincarnation being of course an already recognised truth — is the essence of Buddhism.
Even a superficial study of the history of western spiritual life should tell us that the concept of reincarnation is not really essential to the understanding of Buddhism — and vice versa. For within our western culture we find that Lessing had a magnificent conception of the idea of reincarnation and yet was quite uninfluenced by Buddhistic thought. His most mature work The Education of the Human Race concludes with a confession of belief in repeated earthly lives. “Is not all Eternity mine?” he exclaims, feeling that man's sojourn on earth may become fruitful if earthly lives are repeated. We are not on this earth for nothing. We are active in earthly life and we may look forward to an ever fuller life wherein the fruits of past lives may ripen. The prospect of a rich and greater future, the consciousness of continuous activity — these are the essentials of Lessing's thought. On the other hand, the essence of Buddhism is that it urges man to strive for such knowledge and wisdom as will free him from all desire for rebirth. Only when in one such earthly life he can liberate himself from this necessity — only then will he enter the state that may be called “Eternity.”
I have endeavoured to show you in the course of these lectures that Spiritual Science has taken the idea of reincarnation neither from ancient tradition, nor from Buddhism, for the idea of reincarnation arises of necessity from an unprejudiced observation of life in the sense of Spiritual Science. It would therefore seem superficial to connect Buddhism directly with the idea of repeated earthly lives, for to understand the essence of Buddhism we must turn our gaze in quite another direction.
In the course of the ages the constitution of man's soul has passed through different stages and conditions. The events of which outer history and outer documents tell are really a comparatively late phase in the evolution of mankind, and when with the help of Spiritual Science we go back to prehistoric ages, we find that the nature of the soul and of man's consciousness in those early times was very different indeed from what it is today. Allow me to briefly recapitulate.
In normal human life today we examine objects with our senses and form chains of thought with our practical wisdom and science (in effect our essentially intellectual consciousness), which has developed from quite a different kind of consciousness. In the chaotic medley of the dream we have a last remnant — an atavistic heritage — of clairvoyant faculties that were normal in the soul of prehistoric man. In those early times the nature of the soul was such that in a condition midway between waking and sleeping man gazed into all that lies hidden behind the senses. Our consciousness today alternates between the waking and sleeping states and we think of “intelligence” in connection with waking life only, but in more ancient days pictures continually arose and passed away before the soul of man. These pictures were not as void of meaning as are our dream pictures today but were related to super-sensible events. Out of the condition of consciousness arising from these flowing pictures, our present so-called intellectual consciousness gradually evolved. A kind of primeval clairvoyance preceded the gradual development of our modern consciousness. Prehistoric man, gazing into the super-sensible worlds with this dreamlike clairvoyance, not only acquired knowledge but experienced a deep inner satisfaction and bliss as he felt the connection of his soul with a spiritual world. In his intellectual consciousness today man knows with certainty that his blood is composed of substances which also exist externally in physical space, indeed that his whole organism is built up materially. With equal certainty, prehistoric man knew that, so far as his soul and Spirit were concerned, he had come forth from the spiritual world into which he gazed with his clairvoyant consciousness.
I have said before that certain phenomena in human history, of which external facts also speak, can only be understood if this spiritual origin of man's earthly life is admitted. Even science is less inclined to agree with the assumption of materialistic anthropology that in prehistoric ages the general condition of humanity was such as we find still existing among the most primitive peoples today. It is becoming more and more evident that sublime conceptions of a spiritual world were current among ancient peoples, though clothed in pictorial forms. Myths and legends are only intelligible if we trace them back to a primal wisdom which was altogether different in its nature from the intellectual science of today. True, there is not much sympathy as yet with the view that primitive peoples today are not typical of the original spirituality of man, but represent the decadence of an earlier time. Neither is it generally admitted that originally all peoples possessed a lofty wisdom, derived from clairvoyant powers. But facts will in time compel thinking people to admit, hypothetically at all events, some of the truths investigated by Spiritual Science and fully corroborated by Natural Science. What Spiritual Science has to say about the future evolution of man will also one day be verified. Thus we must look back, not only to a kind of primeval wisdom, but also to primeval feelings and perceptions in man, whose clairvoyant powers gave him knowledge of his connection with the spiritual world.
Now it is easy to understand the possibility of two streams arising in the gradual transition from this ancient clairvoyance of the human soul to our modern intellectual mode of observing the material world. The one stream can be traced among peoples in whom the memories and instincts were preserved and who felt that through his clairvoyant perception man was once united with the spiritual world, but has descended into the world of the senses. This feeling gradually extended into a general attitude, till it could be said: “We have entered the phenomenal world but this world is Maya, illusion.” Only when he was linked with the spiritual world could man know his true being. And so among those peoples who had preserved this dim remembrance of ancient clairvoyant powers there arose a sense of loss and a certain indifference to their material environment and all that can be apprehended by the intellect.
On the other hand there is a second current, of which the religion of Zarathustra is typical. — “We must adapt ourselves to the new world which now enters our consciousness for the first time.” These people did not look back with regret to something that man had lost. On the contrary, they felt impelled to seek and acquire all the powers that would enable them to penetrate and understand the surrounding world of the senses. The urge arose within them to unite themselves with the world, not to look back with regret, but to look forward, to be warriors. “The same Divine-Spiritual essence of which we were once a part is also poured into the world immediately surrounding us. It is in this surrounding world that we must seek it. Ours [is] the task to unite with the good spiritual elements and so help forward the evolution of the world!” This conception is typical of the stream of thought which had its rise in Asiatic regions lying north of the lands where the people looked back with sorrow to what man had once possessed.
In India arose a spiritual life which was the natural fruit of this backward-turning gaze to men's former union with the spiritual world. Consider the Sankhya philosophy or the Yoga system and discipline. It was the constant endeavour of the ancient Indian to rediscover his connection with the spiritual world whence he had come forth; he tried to disregard all that surrounded him in the world, to free himself from the links binding him to the world of the senses and by eliminating this world to find again the spiritual realms whence he had descended. Reunion with the world of Spirit, release from the world of the senses — this is Yoga.
Only when we see these principles as the fundamental tendencies of Indian spiritual life can we understand the mighty impulse of the Buddha as it flamed up in a last gleam across the evening skies of Indian spiritual life a few centuries before the Christ Impulse was destined to dominate Western thought. We can only understand the figure of Buddha when we contemplate him in this setting. On the soil of India it was possible for a mode of thought and consciousness to arise which gazed at a world in the throes of decline, of a descent from Spirit into Maya — the great “Illusion.” It is also natural that as the Indian looked at the external world with which human life is so closely interwoven, he should have evolved the idea that this descent from Spirit into the world of Maya had proceeded stage by stage, as it were, passing from epoch to epoch. We can now understand the deeply devotional mood of Indian culture — albeit a culture representing the glow of sunset — and how the concept of Buddhahood there finds a natural place. The Indian looked back to an age when man was united with the spiritual world; he then descended to a certain level, rose once more and again sank, rose, sank — but in such a way that each descent was deeper than the last.
According to ancient Indian wisdom, a Buddha arises whenever an epoch of decline draws to its close. The last of the Buddhas — Gautama Buddha — was the Being who incarnated as the son of King Suddhodana. The Indian, therefore, looked back to former Buddhas, of whom five had already appeared during the time of man's gradual descent from the spiritual world, and who, coming again and again into the world, could bring them something of that primordial wisdom whereby they could be sustained in earthly life and not utterly lost in Maya. In his descending path of evolution man loses hold of this wisdom and when it is lost, a new Buddha appears. Of these, Gautama Buddha was the last.
In the course of many earthly lives such a being as a Buddha must previously have reached the level of a Bodhisattva before he can attain to Buddhahood. According to Eastern Wisdom, Gautama Buddha was first a Bodhisattva, and as such was born into the royal house of Suddhodana. By dint of inner effort he attained, in his twenty-ninth year, the illumination symbolically described as “sitting under the Bodhi tree.” The wisdom arising from this could then be revealed in the great Sermon of Benares. In his twenty-ninth year, this Bodhisattva rose to the dignity of Buddhahood and was then able, as Buddha, to bring again to mankind a last remnant of the Ancient Wisdom. And when in the following centuries man again sinks so low that the last remnant of the wisdom brought by Buddha disappears, another Bodhisattva, Maitreya Buddha, who, according to Eastern Wisdom, is expected to appear in the future, will rise to the dignity of Buddhahood.
Legends tell us of all that was enacted in the soul of the last Bodhisattva who was to become Gautama Buddha. Up to his twenty-ninth year he had known only the surroundings of his royal home. Human misery and suffering — all life's sorrows — were hidden from him. He grew up seeing only the joys of life. But the Bodhisattvic consciousness was ever present — a consciousness teeming with the inner wisdom of former earthly lives. The legend is well-known and we need only consider the main details. We read how Gautama left the royal Palace and saw something he had never seen before — a corpse. At the sight of the corpse he realised that death consumes life, that the element of death enters life with its fruitfulness and power of increase. He saw a sick man — disease eats its way into health. He saw an old man tottering wearily along his way — age creeps into the freshness of youth.
We must of course realise that he who was to become Buddha passed through all these experiences with Bodhisattvic consciousness. Thus he learned that the destructive element of existence has its place in the wisdom-filled process of “being and becoming,” but so deeply was his soul affected that he cried out — so the legend runs — “Life is full of suffering!” Let us try to enter into the soul of Gautama the Bodhisattva. He possessed mighty wisdom, although he was not as yet fully conscious of this wisdom. In his earlier years he had seen only the fruitfulness of life. Then his eyes fell on the image of destruction, of corruption, and within his soul the feeling arose that all attainment of knowledge and wisdom leads man to increasing life. His soul is then filled with the idea of “becoming” — a process of perpetual fruitfulness. The idea of fruitful growth proceeds from wisdom. Gazing into the world, what do we behold? Forces of destruction, sickness, old age, death. Knowledge and wisdom cannot surely have brought old age, sickness and death into the world. Something else must have been their cause! And so the great Gautama felt — because he was not yet fully conscious of his Bodhisattvic wisdom — that man may be filled with wisdom and through this wisdom be filled with ever-fruitful forces of growth, but life reveals decay, sickness, death and many other destructive elements. Here was a mystery unfathomable even to the Bodhisattva. He had passed through many lives, through incarnation after incarnation had accumulated an ever-increasing store of wisdom, until he had reached a point whence he could survey life from the very heights of existence. Yet when he left the palace, and life in its grim realities stood before him, the meaning of it all did not wholly penetrate his consciousness. The accumulated knowledge and wisdom of earthly lives cannot, in effect, lead to the solution of the ultimate mysteries of existence, for these mysteries lie hidden beyond the region of the life that passes from incarnation to incarnation.
This conception, quickening in the soul of the great Gautama, led him finally to full illumination “under the Bodhi tree.” We may express the results of his wakened consciousness as follows: “We are living in a world of illusion. Life after life we live in this world of Maya whither we have passed from a spiritual existence. In this life we may rise in Spirit to infinite merit — yet the wisdom of innumerable lives will never solve the great riddles of old age, of sickness, death.” He then realised that the doctrine of suffering was greater than the wisdom of a Bodhisattva. In his illumination he knew that all that is spread abroad in the world of illusion is not true wisdom, for even after countless births, outer existence gives us no understanding of suffering, nor can we release ourselves from pain. Outer existence contains something that is far removed from true wisdom. And so it came about that the Buddha saw an element void of wisdom as the cause of old age, sickness and death. The wisdom of this world could never bring liberation; liberation could only proceed from something this world cannot give. Man must withdraw from outer existence and from his repeated births.
From this moment onwards Buddha saw that the doctrine of suffering was the principle necessary for the further progress of humanity. Devoid of wisdom was the “thirst for existence,” which seemed to him the cause of the suffering that had entered into the world. Wisdom on the one hand, a meaningless thirst for existence on the other. And so he realised: “Only when Man is liberated from the wheel of births can he be led to true redemption, to true freedom, for of itself the highest earthly wisdom cannot save him from suffering.” Buddha then sought the means whereby man could be led away from the scene of his successive births to a world which we must learn to understand aright, for many fantastic and grotesque ideas have arisen as to the meaning of “Nirvana.” One who has reached a point in life where there is no more a thirst for existence and no desire for rebirth, passes into Nirvana. What is the nature of this world?
According to Buddhism, the world of redemption and bliss eludes all descriptions derived from the world of senses and space man knows in earthly life. Nothing in the physical world of space points to liberation. All the words man uses to describe the world around him must be silenced; they do not and cannot apply to the world of bliss. It is absolutely impossible to form an idea of the realm entered by one who has been liberated from the necessity for re-birth, for since it has no resemblance to anything in the objective world it can only be characterised by a negative term — Nirvana. A man enters Nirvana only when everything that connects him with earthly existence has been blotted out.
Yet for the Buddhist Nirvana is no empty void. Rather is it a life of bliss no words can describe. Here we have the root-nerve of Buddhism and an expression of its pervading mood. From the Sermon of Benares where it was taught for the first time, this doctrine of the suffering of life, of suffering and its cause in the “thirst for existence” permeates all that we know of Buddhism. One thing alone can lead to human progress, and that is redemption from rebirth. And the first step is the following of a path of knowledge which leads beyond earthly wisdom. Treading this path a man will find the means gradually to reach and enter Nirvana. In other words, he may learn so to use his earthly incarnations that he is finally freed from their necessity.
Turning now from this somewhat abstract conception of Buddhism to its fundamentals, we find that such an attitude towards life tends to “isolate” man; it raises the question of the aims and destiny of his life as an individual personality in the world. How could it be otherwise in a conception of the world built upon such a foundation? It was believed that man had descended from spiritual heights to find himself in a world of Maya from which the wisdom of a Buddha now and again can rescue him, as the last Buddha had taught. Such a conception of the goal of all human striving could be characterised in no other way than as an isolating of man from his whole environment, for his earthly embodiments followed a descending path in a descending earthly order. How did Buddha himself seek illumination? Unless we consider this, we shall never understand Buddha himself, or Buddhism. He sought illumination, as we know, in complete isolation. He went out from his father's palace into solitude. All knowledge gained from previous lives must be silenced in a life of solitude, where he must seek an inner illumination of the soul which shall reveal the mystery of the suffering world. In isolation the Buddha awaits the enlightenment which reveals: The cause of suffering lies in the thirst for existence and rebirth which burns in every individual soul. The world too thirsts for existence and this is the cause of all the suffering and all the destructive elements in life.
Now we cannot understand the essential nature of Buddha's illumination and teaching unless we compare it with Christianity. Six hundred years after the appearance of the great Buddha quite different conditions are present. Man's whole attitude to the world and to his environment has changed. How has it changed? Oriental thought contemplates one “Buddha-epoch” after another. “History” is not a process of descent from a higher to a lower level; rather is it an effort to attain a definite goal, a possibility of union with the whole world, with the past, and with the future. Such is the oriental conception of history. But the Buddhist stands there isolated and alone and is concerned only with his individual life. In his individual existence he strives for liberation from the thirst for existence and hence from the cycles of his births.
Six hundred years later, the Christian has quite a different attitude. Putting aside prejudices now widely spread in the world, we may describe the Christian conception as follows. In so far as the Christian conception is based on the Old Testament, it points to a primal humanity when man's relationship to the spiritual world was not at all the same as in later times. We read of this in the mighty pictures of the Book of Genesis. The attitude of the Christian to the world is very different from that of the Buddhist. The Christian says: “Wisdom lives within my soul and this wisdom arises from the very nature of the soul. Wisdom, knowledge and morality — all these arise within me as a result of the way in which I observe the world of sense and co-ordinate my impressions by means of my reasoning faculties.” But in an older age the constitution of the human soul was altogether different. Something happened then which cannot merely be called, in the Buddhistic sense, a descent from Divine-Spiritual heights into a world of Maya, but must be spoken of as the “Fall of man.” The Fall is bound up with the whole of human existence. Man feels that there are forces within him which had their origin in a far-off past and were part of a process which caused the human being not merely to “descend” but to descend in such a way that his relationship to the world was completely changed. If the conditions obtaining before this event had prevailed, man would have been a different being today. The Fall was due to man's own sin, even though he sinned unconsciously.
Thus in Christianity we are concerned not merely with the direct descent of which the Buddhist thought, but with an altered state of things in which the factor of temptation plays an essential part. The Christian who pierces the surface of Christianity into its depths must say that because of an event which happened untold ages ago, the subconscious workings of his soul are different from what they were designed to be. The Buddhist says: — “From a state of union with the Divine-Spiritual world, I have been transported into this world of Maya and illusion;” the Christian: — “I have descended into this world. If I had descended in the original state of my soul I should everywhere be able to look behind the illusion of physical ‘appearances’ into reality and find the truth. But since another factor has entered into the process of descent I myself have turned this world into illusion.” The two modes of thought are very different. The Buddhist asks why this world is illusion and is taught that illusion is its very nature. The Christian asks the same question but realises: “The fault is mine! My powers of cognition and the state of my soul no longer enable me to see the original reality. My actions are not fruitful. I myself have drawn a veil of illusion over the world.” The Buddhist says that the world is in itself the Great Illusion, therefore he must overcome the world, but the Christian feels himself in the world, and in the world he must seek his goal.
When the Christian realises that Spiritual Science can lead him to the knowledge of successive earthly lives, he can resolve to use them as a means whereby the goal of life may be attained. He knows the world to be full of sorrow and error, because man himself has wandered so far from his primal state that his vision and his actions have changed the world around him into Maya. Yet he need not alienate himself from this world in order to enter into blessedness. Rather must he overcome the forces which make him see the world as illusion and thus be led back to his true original nature. There is a higher man. If this higher man could look upon the world he would see it in its reality; he would not pass through an existence of sickness and death but a life of health, full of the freshness of youth. A veil has been drawn before this inner man because humanity took part in a certain event in the evolution of the world. Man is not an isolated entity, an individual, nor is thirst for existence responsible for his present state. He is indeed one with all humanity and shared in the original sin of the whole human race.
And so the Christian feels himself bound up with the whole historical course of humanity, realising as he gazes into the future that he must find once more that higher nature which man's process of descent has veiled. He says: “I must seek, not Nirvana, but the higher man within me) I must find the way back to my Self. Then will the surrounding world no longer be illusion but reality — a world in which I am able to overcome sorrow, sickness and death by my own efforts.” The Buddhist seeks liberation from the world and from rebirths by overcoming the thirst for existence. The Christian seeks liberation from the lower man, seeks to awaken the higher man within, whom he himself has veiled, in order that he may behold the world in its truth. How great a contrast lies here between the wisdom of Buddha and Paul's words: “Not I, but Christ in me!” — words which express a consciousness that places man in the world as an individuality! The Buddhist says: “Man has descended from spiritual heights because the world has urged him downwards; therefore a world that has implanted in him the thirst for existence must be overcome. He must leave this world!” But the Christian says: “It is not the fault of the world that I am as I am. Mine is the fault!” The Christian stands in the world acknowledging that beneath his ordinary consciousness a power is at work which once gave him a clairvoyant picture-consciousness. Man “sinned” and lost this spiritual vision. For this he must make amends if he would reach his goal. In later life a man does not feel it unjust that he should suffer from the faults of youthful actions committed in a different consciousness. Equally, he should not feel it an injustice that he should atone in his present state for an act arising out of an earlier consciousness. This former consciousness he no longer possesses, for his intellect and reason have usurped its place. Atonement is only possible when the will arises in man to press forward with his present Ego-consciousness to that higher state described in Paul's words: “Not I, but Christ in me!” The Christian should say: “I have descended into conditions other than those ordained for me from the beginning. I must re-ascend — not with the help of the Ego I now possess but through a power which can live within me and lead me beyond my human Ego. This I can only do If Christ works in me, leading me to behold the world in its reality and not in illusion. The forces which have brought illness and death into the world can be overcome by what Christ fulfils in me.”
The innermost heart of Buddhism only reveals itself when we compare it with Christianity. Then we realise the words of Lessing in his Education of the Human Race: “Is not all Eternity mine?” That is to say: If I use the opportunities of successive embodiments to bring the Christ Power to life within me, I shall reach at last the sphere of the Eternal. This has hitherto eluded me because I have covered myself with a veil.
Reincarnation shines with a new radiance in the sunlight of Christianity and will indeed in the future penetrate Christian culture more and more deeply as an occult truth. This however is not the point at issue. The point is that the essential attitude of Buddhism makes the world responsible for Maya or illusion, while the Christian holds himself, as man, responsible — knowing that the path to “redemption” lies in his own innermost being. In the Christian sense, redemption is also a “resurrection” because the Ego is raised to a higher Ego whence it has descended. The Buddhist believes in the “original sin” of the world and seeks liberation from the world. The Christian's conception is an historical one, for human life is seen as linked both with an event of a prehistoric past and with a future event through which he may reach a point where his whole life will be illuminated by the Being of Christ.
Thus Christianity does not point to successive Buddhas, recapitulating more or less the same truths through the successive epochs, but to a unique event occurring in the course of human evolution. While the Buddhist pictures his Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree, rising to enlightenment as an isolated individual, the Christian looks to Jesus of Nazareth, into whom the Spirit of the Cosmos descended. The enlightenment of the Buddha under the Bodhi tree — the Baptism by John in Jordan — these two pictures stand clearly before us. Buddha sits under the Bodhi tree in the solitude of the soul. Jesus of Nazareth stands in the waters of Jordan and the very Spirit of the Cosmos descends into his inner being — the Spirit in the image of the Dove.
The Buddha deed contained for his followers the message: “Quench the thirst for existence; tear thyself away from earthly existence and follow Buddha to realms which no earthly words can describe!” The Christian realises that from the Deed of Christ flows redemption from the original sin of man, and he feels: If the influx of the spiritual world behind the physical grows as strong within me as it was in Christ Himself, I shall carry into my future incarnations a force that will enable me to cry with St. Paul, “Not I, but Christ in me!” And so I shall rise to the spiritual world whence I descended.
Deeply moving in this light are the words of Buddha to his intimate disciples: “Page after page I look back upon my former lives as upon an open book; I see how in life after life I built a material body wherein my Spirit dwelt as in a temple. Now I know that this body in which I have become Buddha, is the last.” And referring to Nirvana, whither he was to pass, he said: “The beams are breaking, the posts are giving way; the material body has been built for the last time and will now be wholly destroyed.” Compare these words with an utterance of the Christ recorded in the Gospel of St. John. Christ indicates that He is living in an outer body: “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will build it up again.” Here we have exactly the opposite conception, for it can be thus interpreted: “I shall accomplish a deed that will make fruitful and living all that from God — from primeval humanity — flows into this world and into us.” These words indicate that the Christian, through repeated earthly lives, comes to cry in truth, “Not I, but Christ in me!” We must however understand that the re-building of this Temple has an eternal significance in that it points to the in-pouring of the Christ Power into all who share in the collective evolution of mankind. There can be no repetition of the Christ Event in the course of evolution. The true Buddhist assumes a repetition of earthly epochs, a succession of Buddhas having each a fundamentally similar mission, but the Christian looks back to the Fall of Man and must point also to a further and unique event — the Mystery of Golgotha and man's redemption from the Fall.
There have been times in the past, and indeed in our own days, when people have looked for a renewal of the Christ Event; but such an expectation can only arise from a misunderstanding of the basic facts of man's historical progress. True history must take its start and pursue its course from a central point. Just as there must be one equilibrating point on a pair of scales, so in “history” there must be one event to which both the past and the future point. To imagine that the Christ Event could be repeated is as meaningless as to suppose there could be two focal points in a balance. Eastern wisdom speaks of a succession of similar individualities, the Buddhas, and herein lies the difference between the Eastern and the Western conceptions of the universe, for the Christ Impulse is a unique event and to deny this is to deny an historical progress in evolution — that is, to have a false idea of history.
The consciousness that the individual is indissolubly bound up with humanity as a whole, that not mere repetition but a great purpose rules throughout the course of evolution is Christian in the deepest sense and cannot be separated from Christianity. Human progress inheres in the fact that an older Eastern conception has evolved into a new one. Man has advanced from thinking that the wheels of world-events roll on in an endless repetition to the belief that there is meaning and an onward-flowing significance in the changing events of human existence.
Thus Christianity first gives reality to the doctrine of repeated earthly lives. For now we say that man passes through repeated lives on earth in order that the true meaning of human life may again and again be implanted in him, each time as a fresh experience. Not only the isolated individual strives upwards, for a yet deeper meaning lies in the striving of humanity as a whole, and we ourselves are bound up with this humanity. No longer feeling himself united with a Buddha who urges liberation from the world, man, gazing at the central spiritual Sun, at the Christ Impulse, grows conscious of his union with One Whose Deed has balanced the event symbolised in the “Fall.”
Buddhism can be best described as the sunset of a mode of thought that was nearing its decline but flamed into a mighty afterglow when Gautama Buddha appeared. This is not to honour the Buddha less; we revere him as the great Spirit who once brought to man a teaching pointing to the past, and the sense of union with a primeval wisdom. The Christ Impulse points with the hand of power to the future, and must live with ever increasing strength in the soul till man realises that not redemption but resurrection — the “transfiguration” of material existence can alone give meaning to man's earthly life.
Concepts or dogmas are not the only driving forces in life, though many may feel more drawn to Buddhism than to Christianity. Rather the impulses, perceptions and feelings that give meaning to human evolution are the essentials. There is indeed something of a Buddha-mood today in many souls, drawing them towards Buddhism. Goethe could not feel this mood, for through his recognition that the Spirit which is the source of the human Spirit permeates also all external things, he could greatly love life. During his first stay in Weimar, freeing himself from all narrowness and prejudice, he closely studied the outer world. He passed from plant to plant, from mineral to mineral, seeking behind all these that Spirit whence the Spirit of man descends, and with this all-pervading Spirit he sought to unite himself. Goethe once said to his pupil Schopenhauer: “All your splendid conceptions will be at war with themselves directly they pass into other minds.” Schopenhauer's motto can be expressed in his own words: “Life is full of perplexity. I try to make it easier by contemplation.” Trying to find an explanation of the origin of existence he turned naturally to Buddhism, and his ideas assumed a Buddhistic colouring.
In the course of the nineteenth century the different branches of culture yielded such great and mighty results that the human mind did not feel able to assimilate the mass of scientific achievements pouring in from external research. The sense of helplessness grew greater and greater before the overwhelming mass of scientific facts. True, this world of facts tallies in a wonderful way with Spiritual Science, but we see at the same time that thought in the nineteenth century was not equal to coping with it. Man began to realise that his faculties of knowledge could not assimilate all the facts nor could his mind gauge them. And so he began to seek a philosophy or a world-conception that did not attempt to wrestle with all the facts of the outer world. In contrast to this, Spiritual Science takes its start from the deepest principles and experiences of spiritual knowledge; it is able to compass and elaborate all the facts brought to light by natural science and to show how the Spirit lives in outer reality. Now many people do not like this. So far at least as knowledge is concerned they draw back from the investigation of the world of facts and strive to reach a higher stage merely in the inner being, by a development of soul. This has led to an “unconscious Buddhism” which has been in existence for some time now. We can find traces of it in the philosophies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. When such people — and they are really unconscious Buddhists — come into contact with Buddhism, their longing for ease makes them feel more readily drawn to this mode of thought than to Spiritual Science. For Spiritual Science deals with the whole mass of facts, with the knowledge that Spirit manifests in them all.
It is really, therefore, an element of unbelief and paralysis of will, born of a feebleness of spiritual knowledge, that awakens the attraction to Buddhism today. Whereas the Christian conception of the universe — as it lived in Goethe, for instance — demands that man should not give way to his own weakness and speak of “limits of knowledge,” but rather feel that something within him can rise above all illusion and lead to truth and freedom. True, a certain amount of resignation is demanded here, but not the resignation which shrinks back before “limits of knowledge.” In the Kantian sense resignation means that man is altogether unable to penetrate the depths of the universe. This is a resignation born of weakness, but there is another kind whereby man can say with Goethe: “I have not yet reached the stage where the world can be known in its truth, yet I can evolve to it.” This resignation leads him to the stage where he can bring to birth the “higher man” — the Christ-man. He is resigned because he knows that for the moment he has not reached this highest level of human life. This indeed is a “heroic” resignation, for it says: “We pass from life to life with the feeling that we exist, and we know as we look towards the future that in the repetition of earthly existence all Eternity is ours.”
And so two great streams of thought can be seen in human evolution. The one is represented by Schopenhauer who says: “This world with all its suffering is such that we can only know man's real position through the works of great painters. They portray figures whose asceticism brought something like freedom from earthly existence, who are already lifted above terrestrial life.” According to Schopenhauer, the greatness of this liberated human being consists in the fact that he is able to look back upon his earthly existence and feel: This bodily covering is now nothing but an empty shell and has no significance for me. I strive upwards, in anticipation of the state I shall attain when earthly existence has been conquered and I have overcome all that is connected with it. Herein is the great liberation — when nothing remains to remind me in the future of my earthly existence. Such was Schopenhauer's conception, permeated as he was with whta the mood Buddhism had brought into the world. Goethe, stimulated by a purely Christian impulse, looks out upon the world as Faust looks out upon it. And if we in our time rise above external trivialities, though realising that our works will perish when the earth has become a corpse — we too can say with Goethe: We learn from our experiences on earth; what we build on earth must perish, but what we acquire in the school of life does not perish. Like Faust, we look not upon the permanency of our works but upon their fruits in the eternity of the soul, and gazing at horizons wider than those of Buddhism, we can say with Goethe:
“The traces of my days on earth
cannot be obliterated in Aeons !”
"Es kann die Spur von meinen Erdentagen
Nicht in Aeonen untergehen!”