Spiritual Soul Instructions and Observation of the World
III. The Nature of God from the Theosophical Standpoint
7 November 1903, Berlin
The theosophist does not dare so easily to speak about the knowledge of the primary source of all matters. Theosophy should be the way to be able to seize, finally, this concept with our mental faculty; it should show us the way which would lead us to get clearness, as far as it is to be got, about this idea. This way is long and leads through some stations, and we are not allowed to pass any single station only, but on every station we have to stop and learn.
Not only the starting point, but also the keystone is important. If we have this in mind, we have to go a little into the nature of theosophical life to see which views theosophy has on the concept of God. Theosophy is — as it is striven for since 1875 in the society founded by Mrs. Blavatsky — something different from that which one calls western science, which our western civilisation and its scholarship strives for in the external life. The way how the western knowledge is gained differs basically from the theosophical wisdom.
Theosophical wisdom is very old, as old as the human race, and somebody who becomes engrossed in the evolution of the human being gets to know more about the starting point of the human being than that which our history of civilisation of the last decades has believed in such a thoughtless way that the human beings started from a lack of culture and from ignorance. We shall see how it is in reality if we become engrossed in the life of primeval times. There we see that the development of human mind started from a strong spiritual strength of beholding that in the beginning of the human development real divine wisdom existed everywhere. Who studies the old religions receives the light of this wisdom. Now our time, according to the sense of our life, gives the theosophist a renewal of this cultural life which flows through the whole humankind.
Our western cultural life is based on our mind first of all. It is based on the one-sided mental strength. If you go through our whole civilisation in the West, you find our great discoveries and inventions, our sciences and what they have contributed to the clarification of the riddle of the world. You find thinking, sensible thinking, observation with the senses et cetera. In this manner the western mind spreads out its knowledge to all directions. It investigates the cosmic space with the help of instruments, with the telescope and penetrates with the microscope into the world of the smallest bodies. It connects everything with the mind. Our western knowledge thereby spreads in all directions. We know more and more about our surroundings, but we never get to a deepening of our knowledge, namely penetrating of the matters. That is why it may not surprise us if the western science does not cope with the concept of God. We must get to the spring of existence, to the spiritual being. They cannot be connected and perceived by the senses; they must be perceived in a different way.
Those who know that there is another way than the western one try to attain wisdom in quite a different way. Go back to the wisdom of Egyptian priests, back to the Greek mysteries, back to India, go back to all these religions and world views and you find that those who looked for wisdom did this in quite a different way than the European scholarship. It was a self-education, a self-development what was searched for by the pupils of wisdom above all.
They searched for self-education through honest struggle of the human soul, and tried to gain higher wisdom. From the start they were convinced that the human being, as he is born in the world, is determined for advancement, for higher development. They were convinced that the human being is not perfect that he cannot attain the top level of perfection immediately in one single life that a development of the human being and his soul capacities have to take place, like with the plant whose root remains even if leaves and flowers dry up. It is similar if we are going to have to take the self-education in our own hands correctly which produces flowers and fruit in the life on earth if we work on it seriously.
The pupil strove for wisdom that way. He looked for a guide for himself. This gave him clues how he could develop his astral organs by an appropriate way of life. Then he developed upward step by step. His soul became able to behold farther and farther, it became more and more sensitive for the primary sources of existence. On every new level he attained new insights. With every level he approached the being whose concept we have to discuss today. He realised that he did not understand God using his intellect. That is why he tried to advance above all. He was convinced that in the whole nature and also in the human soul the God being is to be found. This God being never is anything ready and finished; it is as developing factor in all living beings, in all things. We ourselves are this God being.
We are not the whole, but we are droplets of the same quality, of the same essence. Deeply below us in concealed abysses and bottoms, which are not on the surface of the day, there is our real divine nature. We have to search for it and to get it up. Then we also get up a little bit what hovers about our usual existence, and then we also get up in ourselves what is divine in us. Each of us is as it were a beam of divinity or, we say, a reflection of divinity. If we imagine the divinity as the sun, each of us is like a reflection of the sun in the drop of water. As well as the drop of water reflects the sun completely, every human being is a true, real reflection of the divine being. The God being rests in us, only we know nothing about it; we must get it out of ourselves. We must only approach it. Goethe says: he cannot understand how somebody would want to immediately reach the divinity. We must approach it more and more. Self-development leads us gradually to the understanding of the primary foundation of life.
If we develop this way, we exercise nothing else than theosophical life. Everything that spiritual science teaches and recommends living, all great laws which it makes clear to us and which its students who want to co-operate really make it the living truth in them. They get to know the teaching of reincarnation and karma, the law of destiny, of the intermediate beings, of the primary source of all being which controls the whole universe. This is the internal world which we call the astral one and the mental one, the world of buddhi and the world of atma. We experience something of all those worlds, and what we experience of those worlds is the steps to wisdom which lead us to the loftiest. If we try to climb up these steps, it is a long way. Only those who have arrived at the highest summit of human development are able to see once that they have an inkling of the size of that concept which we want to discuss today as intimation.
Hence, the shyness with which theosophy speaks about the concept of God. The theosophist speaks about these concepts possibly in the same attitude as a Hindu speaks of Brahma. If you ask him: what is Brahma? — Then he maybe mentions to you: Mahadeva, Vishnu and Brahma. Brahma is one of the divine beings or rather an expression of the divine being. But behind all that something different rests for the Hindu. Behind all beings to which he ascribes the origin of the world something rests that he calls Brahma or Brahman. Brahman is neuter. If you ask him what is behind the beings of which he speaks, he says nothing about it.
He says nothing about it, because one cannot speak about it any more. Everything that the human being is able to say in this direction is hints, hints in that perspective at whose end the divine being is for us. — That also leads to the motto of our Theosophical Society. Perhaps, you know this motto. It expresses nothing else than what I tried to outline now with some words. This motto is normally translated with the words: no religion is higher than truth. — We want to see how far the whole theosophical striving goes in that direction. — What do we know about the human striving? Human knowledge has to make every effort to penetrate the secrets of existence and to find the primary sources of life with the help of the different philosophies and world views.
Let us have a look at the different religions. Apparently they are contradictory to each other; however, they are contradictory only if one looks at them cursorily. If we consider them deeper, they are connected. Indeed, they do not have the same contents: Christianity, Hinduism, Zarathustrism, and natural sciences do not have the same contents, too. Nevertheless — all these different world views show nothing else than attempts of the human mind to approach the primary source of all being. On different ways you can get to the summit of a mountain. From different points of view a region looks different, and thus the original truth also looks different from different points of view.
We all are different from each other. The one has this; the other has that character, this or that mental development. However, we all also belong to a people, a race, and an age. It was always this way. But because we belong to a people, a race, and an age and have characters, we have a sum of different sensations and feelings with the human beings. They form the different languages in which the human beings put questions to themselves and communicate about the riddles of life. The Greek could not form the same mental pictures as the modern human being because the look was totally different by which he saw the world. Thus the theosophist sees different aspects, different kinds of wisdom everywhere. If we look for the reason of it, we see that we have a concealed original wisdom, which reveals itself time and again and which is identical with the divine wisdom.
What have the human beings formed in the course of time, and what will they always form? They form opinions. We deal with opinions. The one opinion is different from the other; the one stands above the other. We have the obligation to ascend to higher and higher opinions. But we have to realise that we must go far beyond the sea of opinions. Truth itself is still hidden in the opinions at the moment, it is still covered, and it still appears in different forms and aspects. However, we are allowed to absolutely have these opinions if we take the right point of view on the opinions and truth.
We are never allowed to believe to understand truth — which Goethe regards as identical with the divine — with our limited abilities. We may never dare to believe that an end of thinking is possible. If we are aware of that, we feel something that goes beyond it, and then we have something of that which theosophy calls wisdom-filled modesty in the higher sense of the word. The theosophist comes out of himself with his sensations and his thinking. He says to himself: I must have opinions, because I am only a human being, and it is my spiritual obligation to form thoughts and concepts of the riddles of existence; but I have something in myself that cannot be brought in a restricted concept; I have something in myself that is more than thinking that goes beyond thinking: this is life.
This life is the divine life which flows through all things which also flows through me. — It is that which helps us along, that which we can never encompass. We will never be able to encompass it. If, however, we admit that we will have reached something higher in distant future, we have to admit also that we have other opinions in distant future which are higher than those we have now. But you cannot have the lively life which is in us in different way. You cannot have this in a different way; for this life is the divine life which leads to the higher thoughts which still come to us which we also have once. If we have this sensation of the concepts — especially of the concepts of the divine nature, then we say to ourselves: truth is identical with divinity, the divine lives in my veins. It lives in all things and it also lives in me. — If we think this thought in ourselves, it is divine, but it is not God himself and cannot enclose God. There we must say to ourselves: beyond any human opinion, beyond any temporal or national opinion the original truth goes which reveals itself to you which we must feel and which we must look for ambitiously. But no human opinion is higher to us than this living sensation for the unfathomable wisdom and divinity which expresses itself in that which I told now. We may be convinced that we are enclosed in the divinity that God works in us if we are living beings. This is the sense of the theosophical motto: No human opinion stands higher than the living sensation of the divine wisdom which always changes and never shows itself as a whole. — Then we may also not wonder if we look at the matter in such a way that Goethe's saying is right:
Somebody is as his God is;
Therefore, God is mocked so often.
Indeed, we human beings can form no other concept of the divine being as such which is adjusted to our respective capacities. But if we have a look at the matter in such a way as we have just looked at it, we have to say: however, we are also justified to form a suitable concept of the divine. Only one thing is necessary, and this is: having the good will not to stop there. It would be presumptuous to believe that we have reached the original wisdom. It is also presumptuous by science if it believes to have now explained the concept of God. In this regard our present civilisation is really once again on one of those low points on which humankind is sometimes.
Our present civilisation is somewhat presumptuous concerning the concept of God as you know. Just those who want to have a new Bible, a so-called story of natural creation were often presumptuous so that they could not advance. There is a writing by David Friedrich Strauss with the title Old and New Faith which appeared in 1872 and supports the opinion that it is a new Bible compared to the old Bible and that that which comes from sciences is true. For they undermine the Bible in such a way that these concepts must be thrown away.
Believe me that these are the best who are set on such a mania today that they are the best who think in good confidence that we reach the very basis of existence spreading the human knowledge that we come from matter and energy. What is this materialistic belief in God which meets us there? These are often excellent personalities who have advanced so far that they say: matter is our God.
These whirling atoms which attract and push off themselves mutually should cause what constitutes our own soul. What is the materialistic belief in God? It is atheism! This can be compared with a religious level which exists, otherwise, in the world which we can find, however, only correctly if we have the typical concepts of the materialistic new faith. It is dead matter and dead energy the materialist offers and adores. Let us look back at the times of ancient Hellenism and not take the deep mystery religions, but the national religion of the Greeks. Their gods were human, were idealised human beings.
If we go back to other levels of existence, we find there that the human beings adored animals that plants were symbols of the divine to them. But these all were living beings. These were higher levels than that which the completely savages had who walked towards a stone block and adored it as animated. The stone block differs in nothing from that which is energy and matter. As incredible it sounds, the materialists stand on the level of such fetish adorers. They say, of course, that they do not adore energy and matter at all. If they say this, we reply to them: you have no correct concept of what the fetish adorer feels to his fetish. The fetish adorers are not yet able to rise to a higher idea of God. Their culture does not allow it to them. It is a legitimate opinion for them to adore an image they make for themselves. Of this opinion are today not only the savages but also the materialists. Somebody, who is today a scientific fetish adorer, who makes the image of matter and energy to himself and adores it, is to blame for something. He could see by virtue of the cultural level achieved by us if he only wanted it, on what a low level he has stopped.
As we are today surrounded by this virtually paralysing idea of God, we say to ourselves: this is a reason why we speak of the idea of God. — Hence, I may point to a book. One says it is a great merit of Feuerbach, the philosopher, that he represented a so-called “fantastic” God. Feuerbach published a book in 1841 and took the view that we should turn round the sentence: God created the human being according to his image — and say: the human beings created God according to their image. — We have to realise the fact that the wishes and needs of the human being are in such a way that he likes to see something above himself. Then his imagination creates an image of him. The gods become images of the human being. — With it Feuerbach, one says, expressed a lofty wisdom.
If we go back to the times of the ancient Hellenism, back to the Egyptians et cetera, again and again the human beings formed ideas of the gods in such a way as they were themselves. Thus they could also form bull and lion images of gods. If the human beings were similar to bulls in their souls, then the bulls became their gods. The gods became similar to bulls. If people were similar to lions, the lions and lion-like images became their gods. This is no new wisdom. It is a wisdom which spreads in our time only again.
However, is it then not true that really the human being creates his gods to himself? Is it not true that our opinions about the gods arise from our own chests? Is it not true that — if we look around in the world — we do not see the divine with the eyes, with our senses? Somebody who wants to look with the senses and understand with his mind speaks that way as for example Du Bois-Reymond, the great physiologist: I would believe in a ruler of the universe if I could prove him; if I could prove him like the human brain. Then, however, I would be able to prove nerve strands also outside in the world, as well as I can prove nerve strands in the human body. In the outside world, as Du Bois-Reymond and the younger ones want it, we cannot find the divine. Their opinions are created from their own chests like Feuerbach says.
But one can also say: what speaks in the human soul if this human soul forms thoughts and opinions? — We know that we ourselves are parts of this divine being; we know that God lives in us. We know that we human beings are the last member of all things that surround us in the physical world, so to speak, the noblest and most perfect beings within this world. Have we not to say that the human being, in so far as he forms himself physically, forms himself according to God as the most perfect being? Who does not agree with Goethe as he expressed his opinion with the nice words:
“If the healthy nature of the human being works as a whole if he feels being in the world like in a great, nice, worthy and valued whole if the harmonious pleasure grants a pure, free delight to him: then the universe if it could feel would rejoice because it would have reached its purpose and would admire the summit of its own evolution and being.”
The human being forms thoughts; the thoughts stream from the human breast. But what speaks out of the human breast? God himself speaks out of it — if the human being is only inclined to hear this inner voice unselfishly, not to let drown it by his interests and inclinations of the everyday life. It is this: indeed, it is a human voice, but God’s voice is in the human voice. That is why it does not come as a surprise if we have different aspects, different views about the old divine wisdom in the human voice. A higher spiritual modesty is that which must penetrate the theosophist if he wants to obtain this concept of God. Above all, he has to realise that life is a continual study that he never closes with an opinion; that everything is developing. Also the human soul is developing. Then it turns out that there are souls of lower and higher levels. There are also souls which have not yet far advanced in their idea of God, and on the other side there are souls which have advanced beyond the ordinary for a long time and have acquired lofty world concepts and also lofty concepts of God.
European and American knowledge regards itself as wise and elated that nothing outstrips it. Everybody believes that he has the sum of all wisdom. Somebody who adheres to oriental or to theosophical wisdom is completely different. He says to himself: everyday you can overtake what you have achieved if you continue the way. Everything you have achieved is your inner possession. But you are not allowed to rest; you must go on and hear to the voice in nature and in your own breast.
Nothing is as perishable for the western culture as our criticism getting out of hand. Because it is never prepared from the point of view that one has to develop that one is never allowed to have a closed judgment about a matter. The theosophist will never have this. He says to himself with boldness and courage what he has recognised as true: I arouse the same sensation in everybody, who wants to hear me, that I long for higher levels and higher summits of existence and wisdom. — The theosophist talks to himself that way. We never reach the end of soul development; we never have a closed world. We look for the way which leads us to knowledge beyond our senses to the higher worlds which gives us a right sensation above all. Even if each of us were an advanced being, we would have to look deeper and deeper into the world, to recognise the sources of life deeper than we are able today standing within the western life and feeling. We should behave as advanced human beings. That is why it is also so difficult to fulfil the wisdom which flows to us from advanced beings who have already developed to a higher level than the everyday person. These are beings who have to say a lot to us. We must have a sensation of grandeur; then we learn to listen.
In this attitude theosophy wants to build up a spiritual current and to bring up a centre of humankind which believes honestly and really that the human soul is a product of development. If the worm which lived at that time had said millions of years ago: I have arrived at the summit of existence, then the worm could not have developed to the fish, the fish not to the mammal, not to the monkey and not to the human being. Unconsciously they have believed that they have to go beyond it that they have to grow up to higher and higher levels. They believed a little bit in that which takes up their being and that is the strength of their development. We human beings cannot really feel against nature. We should feel with nature. What nature has unconsciously as strength of development in itself which we should become more and more aware of, this consciousness should be the strength of our development. We have to realise that we must develop beyond ourselves. Just as outside in the animal realm the imperfect mammal lives beside the perfect one, as the one lagged behind as it were on a lower level, the other reached a higher level earlier and lives beside the lower one, just the same also applies to the human beings. In humankind the different human beings live side by side on different levels of development.
We have to admit that our concept of God is a petty one compared to that which a lofty being has. We have also to admit that our present-day concept of God is pettier compared to that which humankind will have in millions of years if it has developed further. Therefore, we have to move the concept of God in an infinite perspective and to carry it as life in ourselves. The theosophical concept of God distinguishes from all other that we have to approach it that we have to take care for it. We deny none of these concepts. We realise that they all are justified according to the human abilities. But we also realise that none of them is exhaustive. We realise that we cannot join those who sow discord between the different opinions. The different religions have to be side by side and not against each other.
And now what do we call the concept of God? It is not pan-theism, not a pan-theistic concept, not an anthropomorphic concept, not an outlined concept. We do not adore this or that God, we adore Brahman behind Brahma whom the Hindu reveres who is more sensitive of the matters about which he remains silent. We realise that we can experience this God Being in life. We cannot imagine it, but it lives in us as life. This is not knowledge of God, not science of God; theosophy is also not theology. Theosophy wants to find the way; it is the search for God.
A German philosopher said only short but striking words concerning this matter. Schelling said: can one prove the existence of existence? — The different proofs of the existence of God cannot be guides to God; they deliver an imagination of God at most. A real proof is only necessary if a matter has to be reached by our concept. God lives in our actions, in our words. It cannot be a matter of proving the existence of God but of gaining opinions of it only and of taking care that they become more and more perfect. It is that which it concerns, and the Theosophical Society has set it as its goal to collaborate on it.
Those who represent the theological point of view have no sensation, no inkling which sensations pointed the way in this regard in past times. I would like to remind you of a spirit of the 15th century who set the tone and was actually theosophist even then, theosophist completely in our sense. He was a Catholic cardinal. I would like to remind of the sensitive theosophist Nicholas of Cusa because he can be an ideal for the modern theosophists. He expressed that in all religions a core is contained that they are different aspects of an original religion that they should be reconciled that they should be deepened. One should search for truth in them, but not claim to be able to grasp the original truth immediately.
Cusanus tries to get the concept of God clear in his mind in a profound way. If you understand this view of Cusanus, you get an idea of the fact that Christianity had significant, deep spirits also in the Middle Ages, spirits of a type that one cannot have any concept of them using our ideas. Thus Cusanus says — and also still some other predecessors: we have our concepts, our thoughts. Where come all our human ideas from? From our surroundings we have experienced. What we have experienced, however, is only a small part of the infinite. If we go to the highest concept and take the concept of being: is this not also a human concept? Where we have the concept of being from? We live in the world. It makes an impression on our senses of touch, on our eyes. We say of that which we see or hear: it is. We attribute the being to it. “A thing is” means basically as much as: I have seen it. — “Being” (German: sein) has the same root as “seeing” (sehen). If we say: God is, we attribute an idea to God which we have got only from our experience. We say nothing other than: God has a quality which we have perceived in different things. Therefore, Cusanus expressed a word which is deeply characteristic. He says: not the being has to be attributed to God, but the super-being.
This is not an idea which we can get with our senses. That is why the sensation of the infinite also lives in Cusanus. It is deeply affecting if this cardinal says: I have studied theology in my whole life, have also pursued the sciences of the world and have also understood them — as far as they are to be recognised with reason. But then I noticed in myself, and thereby I have got to know: in the human soul a self lives which is woken more and more by the human soul. — You read that with Cusanus. The meaning of that which he says goes far beyond that which we think and conceive today.
As necessary as it is that we come to clear and sharply outlined concepts of all that which we experience in the world, it is also necessary that we are aware at every moment concerning the concept of God that our sensation must go beyond everything that we perceive with the reason and with the senses. Then we realise that we should not recognise God but search for Him. Then we see more and more the way of the knowledge of God and develop to this. If God is not closed life, but living life, we wait, until the methods of theosophy have developed higher spiritual forces in us. God rules not only in this world, but also in those worlds which only somebody can behold whose spiritual eye is opened for all those worlds of which theosophy speaks. It speaks of seven levels of the human consciousness. It knows that human development means: not stopping at the physical level of consciousness, but ascending to higher and higher levels.
Somebody, who does this, experiences a subordinated concept of it at first. Nevertheless, we are never allowed to despair, but have to realise that we are justified to form higher and higher opinions of the God being that it is, however, presumptuous to believe that one day an opinion exhausts the object. We have to realise that we must have the right sensations and feelings in ourselves, then our feeling becomes devout again, then we become reverent again. We have lost reverence because of our European thoughts. We have to wake reverence and devotion anew. What could arouse our reverence more than that which exists as a divine being, as a primary source of existence! If we learn to develop devotion again, our soul is warmed up and set aglow by something totally different, namely by that which flows through the universe as blood of life. This becomes a part of our being.
Spinoza speaks about that, too. Spinoza developed concepts of the divinity in his Ethics, and he closes his Ethics with a literary hymn on the divinity. He closes them in this sense: only that human being has got to freedom, only that human being also creates a deep feeling, a feeling, which allows the divinity to flow into him, whose knowledge combines in love. Amor dei intellectualis — recognising love for God, that is: the love for God resting in the knowledge of the spirit is God’s love. This is not a concept, not a restricted idea, but living life.
That is why our concept of God is not a science of God, but we let flow everything we can experience as science together into a lively feeling, into a feeling of the divine. The word theosophy should not be translated as “wisdom of God,” but as “divine wisdom” or even better: the search for a way to God, the search for a perpetually increasing apotheosis. “Search for wisdom,” that is it.
Those who exerted themselves and advanced to higher levels of existence stood always on this ground more or less. Among others also Goethe who was much more theosophist than one normally suspects who is, above all, the theosophical poet of the Germans. He can be understood completely when he is illuminated with the light of theosophy. Among many other truths which rest covertly in Goethe's works the motto of theosophy can also be found there. At a prominent place, Goethe expressed: no religion is higher than truth. — Goethe was deeply convinced of that.
As well as any existence is formed also our thoughts are formed. As any formed being is an allegory, our ideas of God are also allegories of God — but never the divine itself. Concerning the transient concept of God and the image of the imperishable Goethe’s word is correct: