At the Gates of Spiritual Science
11. The Post-Atlantean Culture-Epochs
1 September 1906, Stuttgart
Yesterday I told you how the great Initiate selected from the primal Semites, who were living in the neighbourhood of Ireland, a group of people whom he led towards the East and settled there. There Manu trained the chosen men to be the progenitors of the new civilisations. He taught them and gave them directions for a moral way of life, with everything laid down in the minutest detail. He taught them how to distribute their time and how to arrange their work from morning till evening. But even more than by his precepts he educated them by direct influence and by his thoughts. When he sent out his thoughts into the colony, his ideas and precepts acted by direct suggestion. This was the sort of influence needed by the men of that time for their training and re-moulding.
The following episode brings out the difference between the whole outlook of the Atlantean race and that of the new Root-race; it occurred in the middle of the nineteenth century. European colonists had induced some Red Indians — in whom we have to see the descendants of Atlanteans who had failed to make headway and had then become retrograde — to relinquish their lands on condition that new hunting-grounds were allotted to them. But the promise had not been kept and the Indian Chief could not understand this. Hence he addressed the Europeans as follows: “You pale-faces promised us that your Chief would give our brothers other lands in place of those you have taken from us. Your feet are now on our land and you are walking over the graves of our brothers. The White Man has not kept the promise he made to the Brown Man. You Pale-faces have your black instruments with all kinds of little magic signs” — he meant their books — “from which you learn the will of your God. Your's must be a bad God if he does not teach his people to keep their word. The Brown-man's God is not like that; the Brown-man hears the thunder and sees the lightning and this language he can understand; his God speaks to him in this language. He hears the rustling of the leaves and trees in the woods, and in them also his God speaks to him. He hears the water rippling in the brook, and the Brown-man can understand that speech also. He knows when a storm is brewing. Everywhere he can hear his God speaking, and the lesson his God teaches is very different from what your magical black signs say to you.”
This is really a very significant speech, for it contains a sort of confession of faith. The Atlantean did not raise himself to his God through concepts and ideas. He discerned something holy in nature as a keynote of the Divine; it was as though he breathed in and breathed out his God. If he wished to express what he heard in this way, he would embody it in a sound similar to the Chinese T-A-O. For the Atlantean this was the sound which pervaded the whole of nature. When he touched a leaf, or saw a flash of lightning, he was aware that part of the Godhead was displayed before him; it was as if he were touching the garment of the Divine. Just as we make contact with some element in a man's soul when we shake hands with him, so the Atlantean, when he took hold of a form in nature, felt that he was touching the body of the Godhead. He lived in a religious feeling quite different from our own. The Atlantean, too, was still clairvoyant and was thus in direct communication with the world of spirits.
But then the type of thinking associated with logic and mathematical calculation began to develop, and the more it did so, the more did clairvoyance fade away. People began to concern themselves more with what the senses could perceive externally, and so nature was increasingly divested of divinity. People acquired a new gift at the cost of an old one. In proportion as they achieved the gift of exact sense-observation, they ceased to understand nature as the body of the Godhead. Gradually they came to see before them only the body of the world, and not its soul. But as the result of this a yearning for the Divine arose once more in man. In his heart it was written: Behind nature there must be God. And he came to realise that he must seek for God with his spirit. That is in fact the meaning of the word ‘religion’: to try to re-establish a connection with the Godhead; religere means to re-unite.
Now there are various ways of finding the Godhead. The Indians, who were the first sub-race of the Aryan race, took the following way. Certain God-inspired messengers of Manu, called the holy Rishis, became the teachers of the ancient Indian culture. No poetry or tradition tells us about this it is known only through what has been handed down orally in the occult schools. Poems such as the Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita, wonderful as they are, are of much later origin. The ancient Indian felt in his heart that external nature as he saw it was unreal, and that behind it the Godhead was concealed. The name he gave to this Godhead was Brahman, the hidden God. The whole external world was thus for him an illusion, deception, Maya. Whereas the Atlantean could still discern the Godhead in every leaf, the Indian said: “The Godhead is no longer apparent in the outer world. I must sink into my inner being and seek for Him in my heart; I must follow after Him towards a higher spiritual condition.” In every approach to the Godhead there was still a dreamlike element. The Indian could find no Divinity in nature; it was in great and powerful thought-pictures, in visions and imaginations that the world of Brahman revealed itself to him. Yoga was the name of the training he had to undergo in order to penetrate through illusion to the spirit and the primal source of being. The profound Vedas, the Bhagavad Gita, that sublime song of human perfection, are only echoes of that ancient divine wisdom.
This was the first stage along the path by which humanity sought to return to the Godhead; it is a stage which could not achieve much in terms of external civilisation. The Indian turned away from everything external and looked for the higher life only in world-renouncing ascent to the Spirit.
The second sub-race, that of the ancient Persians, had a very different mission, although its culture originated from the clear purpose of Manu. Long before the time of Zarathustra, Persia had an ancient culture, of which only an oral tradition survives. People were now coming to the thought that external reality was an image of the Divine, which must not be turned away from but shaped anew. The Persian wished to transform nature by work; he became a husbandman. He moved out of the quiet realm of world-renouncing thoughts and learnt from the resistance he encountered that the outer world was not wholly Maya. Side by side with the world of Spirit he found a real world in which work had to be done. The conviction gradually grew within him that there are two worlds: the world of the good Spirit in which a man can immerse himself and the world which has to be worked upon. And then he said: In the world of the Spirit I shall find the ideas and concepts through which I may transform the world of external reality, so that it may itself become an image of the eternal Spirit.
Thus the Persian saw himself placed in a struggle between two worlds; and presently this took more and more the form of a conflict between two powers — Ormuzd, representing the world of the good Spirit, and Ahriman, representing the world which has to be transformed. But he found himself still at a loss in one respect: the outer world confronted him as something he could not understand; he could not discover any laws in it. He failed to see that the spiritual can be found in nature; he was aware only of nature's resistance to his work.
The third sub-race, comprising the Chaldean-Assyrian-Babylonian-Egyptian people, and later the Semites who branched off from them, came to understand these laws. Men looked up to the stars and observed their movements and their influence on human life, and accordingly worked out a science which enabled them to understand these movements and influences. They brought the Heavens into connection with the Earth. We can see the character of this third sub-race from a particular example. The Egyptians observed that the flooding of the Nile, when it inundates the surrounding country, occurred at the time of the rising of a particular constellation, that of Sirius; and they connected the rising of the Nile with this constellation. Again, they observed the position of the Sun at the time of the arrival and departure of certain birds; they observed the rising and the setting of the stars, their relation to one another and to mankind, and so they gradually built up a science. It became clear to them that there was a great wisdom governing all natural processes; that everything happened in accordance with great laws, and these they tried to fathom. The ancient Chaldean priests, above all, were the custodians of profound wisdom, but for them these laws of nature were not merely abstract, nor were the stars merely physical globes. They looked on each planet as ensouled by a Being whose body it was. They had a quite concrete conception that behind every constellation was a divine Being which gave it life. Thus the Egyptians and Chaldeans discerned that they were spirits living among spirits in a world of spirits. They saw matter as filled with wisdom.
So humanity had gradually come by the path of knowledge to recognise the wisdom in external nature, and thus to rediscover something which the ancient Atlanteans had known through natural clairvoyance.
The fourth sub-race, the bearer of Graeco-Roman culture, was no longer directly influenced by Manu, but came under the influence of other cultures. It had a different mission — art. Little by little man had found the way to carry the spirit into nature. The Greek went further than the Egyptian: instead of taking the finished forms of nature, he took the still unformed substance of marble and impressed on it his own stamp. He formed his own gods, Zeus and the rest. The third sub-race had sought the spirit in the external world, the fourth impressed the spirit itself on the world. Art, the charming of spirit into matter, was the task reserved for the Graeco- Roman race.
The Egyptian studied the stars in their courses and in accordance with them he regulated his political institutions for centuries ahead. The Greek drew his ideas about the form of human society from his own inner life. The Roman went even further: he moulded the whole social life of human beings in accordance with his mind.
The Germans and Anglo-Saxons the fifth sub-race, to which we ourselves belong — go very much further in moulding the external world. They not only imprint on matter something from within themselves; they discover divinely-ordained laws of nature and use them to alter the world. They discover the laws of gravity, of heat, of steam and electricity, and with their aid they transform the whole visible world. The mission of this fifth sub-race is to study not only the laws which slumber within mankind, but those which permeate the whole world, and then to imprint them on the external world. The result is that humanity has become more material, indeed materialistic. In this age no Zeus could arise, but — the steam-engine!
We shall be succeeded by another race which will retrace the path to the spirit. The achievement of our race represents the highest point of man's power to transform the physical world. We have descended furthest into the physical plane and gone to the utmost limits in our conquest of it. This has been the mission of post-Atlantean humanity. The Indian turned away from the physical. The Persian saw it as a substance which resisted his efforts. The Chaldeans, Babylonians and Egyptians recognised the wisdom in nature. The Greeks and Romans went further in their conquest of the physical plane from within. Only our own culture has gone so far as to operate with the laws of nature on the physical plane. From now onwards mankind will become more spiritual again.
There is a great and powerful purpose in the course of human evolution. Each group of peoples has its own task. Present-day man knows nothing of what the third and fourth sub-races still had in their myths and legends as recollections of primal times and the world of the gods; he has only the physical plane. And through his descent to the physical plane he has lost his connection with the world of the gods. For him, only the physical world exists.
Theosophists are not reactionaries; they know that the age of materialism was necessary. Just as the organs of sight degenerate in animals when they go to live in dark caves, while other faculties develop more powerfully, so do we find the same thing happening in the world of the spirit and the world of the senses; if one faculty develops, another must fade away. The gift of clairvoyance and the power of memory had to withdraw in order that the power of physical sight could develop. When men learnt how to conquer the world by means of the laws of nature they had discovered, they had to sacrifice the power of seership.
How different earlier outlooks were! Copernicus, 35Nicholas Copernicus, 1473–1543, originator of the modern astronomical world-picture. for instance, freed men from the mistaken idea that the Earth stands still. It was an error, he taught, to believe that the Sun moved round the Earth. His doctrine was further developed by Kepler and Galileo. Yet Copernicus and Ptolemy 36Ptolemy, 87–165, geographer and astronomer. For him the Earth was stationary at the centre of the Universe. were both right. It all depends on the stand-point from which you are looking at Sun and Earth. If you study our solar system from the astral and not from the physical plane, Ptolemy's system is right — there is the Earth at the centre and the situation is as the ancients described it. We need only remind ourselves that on the astral plane everything appears reversed. The Ptolemaic system holds good for the astral plane, the Copernican for the physical. In future times yet another, quite different picture of the world will prevail. Generally we hear that Copernicus taught only two things: that the Earth revolves on its own axis and that the Earth moves round the Sun. It is seldom noticed that he taught also a third form of movement — that the whole solar system moves onward in a spiral. For the present this fact will be left aside, but in the future humanity will return to it. Copernicus stood on a frontier, and the old outlook was strongly present in him.
There is no absolute truth — each truth has its particular mission at a certain time. We talk of Theosophy today, but we know that when we come to reborn in the future we shall hear something very different and stand in quite a different relationship to one another.
Let us cast our gaze back to a time when we were perhaps even then assembled together in some region of Northern Europe, where people gathered round a Druid priest who imparted truth to them in the form of myths and legends. If we had not heeded what he then said and if he had not influenced our souls, we should not be able today to understand the truth which Theosophy now brings to us in a different form. When we are reborn, we shall hear the truth spoken in another and a higher form. Truth evolves, as does everything else in the world. It is the form of the divine Spirit, but the divine Spirit has many forms. If we thoroughly imbue ourselves with this characteristic of truth, we shall acquire a quite different relation to it. We shall say: Indeed we live in the truth, but it can take many forms. And we shall then look at modern humanity in a quite different light. We shall not say that we possess absolute truth; we shall say that these men, our brothers, are now at a point where we also stood in the past. It is our duty to enter into what another person says; we need only make it clear to him that we value him at that stage of truth where he now stands. Everyone has to learn for himself, and thus we shall become tolerant towards every form of truth. We come to a better understanding of things; we do not battle against people but seek to live with them. Modern humanity has cultivated individual freedom. From out of this fundamental view of truth, Theosophy will develop an inner tolerance.
Love is higher than opinion. If people love one another, the most varied opinions can be reconciled. Hence it is deeply significant that in Theosophy no religion is attacked and no religion is specially singled out, but all are understood, and so there can be brotherhood because the adherents of the most varied religions understand one another.
This is one of the most important tasks for mankind today and in the future: that men should learn to live together and understand one another. If this human fellowship is not achieved, all talk of occult development is empty.