Rudolf Steiner Archive 

Calendar of the Soul

Northern Hemisphere
Week 44

In reaching for new sense attractions,
Soul-clarity would fill,
Mindful of spirit-birth attained,
The world's bewildering, sprouting growth
With the creative will of my own thinking.

Southern Hemisphere
Week 18

Can I expand my soul
That it unites itself
With cosmic Word received as seed?
I sense that I must find the strength
To fashion worthily my soul
As fitting raiment for the spirit.

—Translation by Ruth and Hans Pusch

See GA 40 for full calendar and German text.

Spiritual Soul Instructions and Observation of the World
GA 52

XVIII. Is Theosophy Buddhist Propaganda?

8 December 1904, Berlin

This lecture is intended to discuss one of the most popular prejudices about the theosophical movement: that theosophy is nothing but Buddhist propaganda. One has even coined the word for this movement: New Buddhism. It is without doubt that our contemporaries would have to argue something against the theosophical movement if in this prejudice were anything right. Someone who stands, for example, on the Christian point of view asks himself rightly: what does a religion like Buddhism mean to somebody who has a Christian confession or is educated in a Christian surrounding. Is Buddhism not a religion that was intended for quite different circumstances, for another people, for quite different conditions? And someone who stands on the point of view of modern science may say to himself: which important matters can Buddhism deliver to us who we live with the scientific concepts which have been obtained in the course of the last centuries, because everything that it comprises belongs to a range of thoughts which originated many centuries before our calendar? — Today we want to deal with the question how this judgement could originate, and which value it has, actually.

You know that the theosophical movement was brought to life by Mrs. Helena Petrowna Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott in 1875 that it has spread since that time over all civilised countries of the earth that thousands upon thousands of people who look for the solutions of the questions of life have found satisfaction in the deepest sense that it has produced researches which deeply speak to the soul of the modern human being. This movement has a rich literature and has produced a number of men and women who are able to independently speak in its sense. You cannot deny this. And we have to ask ourselves: how is the relation of this movement to the religions of the East, to Hinduism, and in particular to Buddhism?

The title of one of the most popular books in our field is to blame considerably for this prejudice which I have mentioned. It is the book by which countless human beings were won over for the movement, the Esoteric Buddhism by Sinnett. It is an unfortunate coincidence that the title of this book could be misunderstood so thoroughly. Mrs. Blavatsky says about this book that it is neither Buddhist nor esoteric, although it is called Esoteric Buddhism. This judgement is exceptionally important for the assessment of the theosophical movement. However, Buddhism stands on the title-page of Sinnett’s book, but this Buddhism would not have to be spelt with two d’s, as if it came from Buddha, but with one d, because it comes from budhi, the sixth human principle, the principle of enlightenment, the knowledge. Budhi means nothing else than what was called Gnosticism during the first Christian centuries. Knowledge by the internal light of the spirit, doctrine of wisdom.

If we understand the term “Budhism” in such a way, we are soon able to admit that the teaching of Buddha is nothing else than one of the manifold forms in which this teaching of wisdom is spread in the world. Not only Buddha, but all great teachers of wisdom have spread this Buddhism: the Egyptian Hermes, the old Indian Rishis, Zarathustra, the Chinese teachers of wisdom Laozi (Lao Tse) and Confucius, the initiates of the old Jews, also Pythagoras and Plato, and, finally, the teachers of Christianity. They have spread nothing else than Budhism in this sense, and esoteric Buddhism is nothing else than the internal teaching, in contrast to the external teaching. All great religions of the world made this difference between internal and external teaching.

Christianity knew this difference between esoteric and exoteric content, in particular in the first centuries. The esoteric differs quite substantially from the exoteric. The exoteric is that which a teacher announces before the community, what is spread by means of words and books. It is that which everybody understands who is on a certain level of education. The esoteric teaching is not spread by means of books; the esoteric part of every religion of wisdom is spread only by mouth to ear and still in quite different way. There must be an intimate relation of the teacher to his pupil to bring esoteric contents to a human being. The teacher must be a guide to his pupil at the same time. An immediate personal band has to exist between teacher and pupil. This relation between teacher and pupil has to express what goes far beyond the mere information, beyond the mere word.

Something spiritual has to be in this relation between teacher and pupil; the mental power of the teacher must have an effect on the pupil. The will exercised in wisdom lets something stream into that which moves on the pupil or the little community immediately which shall partake in the esoteric lessons solely as a little community. This little community shall be taken up step by step to the higher levels. One cannot recognise the third level if one has not adopted the first and second completely. Esotericism comprises not only a study, but a complete transformation of the human being, a higher education and discipline of his soul forces. The human being who has gone through the esoteric school has learnt not only something; he has become more different concerning his temperament, feeling nature and character, not only concerning his insight and knowledge.

What is entrusted to the external world or to an external book can be only a weak reflection of a real esoteric instruction. Hence, Mrs. Blavatsky says rightly that Sinnett’s book is no esoteric Buddhism, because whenever any teaching is generally given by a book or publicly, it is no longer esoteric; it has become exoteric, because the peculiar shading caused by the finer soul forces, the whole spiritual breath which must penetrate and warm up that which esotericism comprises, all that has disappeared from the information that a book delivers.

However, one thing is possible: somebody whose slumbering abilities can be easily aroused, and who has the intention and the tendency to read not only between the lines of a book, but to suck as it were at the words, that can suck out from a book what as esotericism forms the basis of this exoteric book. One can come under circumstances up to a lofty degree in the esoteric teaching without receiving immediate personal esoteric lessons. But this changes nothing of the fact that an immense difference is between any kind of esotericism and exotericism. The Christian Gnostics of the first centuries tell that in the words of Origen, of Clement of Alexandria if they spoke to their intimate pupils, the immediate soul fire, the immediate spiritual force had an effect, and that these words had another life then, as if they were spoken before a big community. Those who got the intimate lessons of these great Christian teachers know to tell how their souls were completely transformed and changed.

In the last third of the 19th century it became necessary to wake up the spiritual life in humankind as a counterbalance for the materialistic world view which has not only seized the scientific, but also the religious circles, because the religions have taken on a completely materialistic character. It had become necessary to revive the internal spiritual life. This internal life can be aroused only by somebody who goes out in his words from the force that is created in esotericism. It had become necessary that some people spoke about the matters again who knew not only from books and instructions, but from immediate personal observation something about the worlds which are above the physical plane. Just as somebody can be an expert in the fields of the natural sciences, somebody can also be an expert in the fields of the soul-life and the spiritual life. One can have immediate knowledge of these worlds.

At all times there have been such human beings who had spiritual experiences; and those who had such experiences were the important rulers and guides of humankind. What has flowed in as religions onto humankind has come from the spiritual and psychic experience of these religious founders. These religious founders were nothing else than envoys of the great brotherhoods of sages who have the real guidance of the human development. They transmit their wisdom, their spiritual knowledge into the world every now and then to give a new impulse, a new impact in the progress of humankind. To the big mass of the human beings it is not visible where from these inflows come to humankind. However, those know where from these impulses come who can do own experiences, who have the connection with the advanced brothers of humankind, who have arrived at a level which humankind reaches only in distant times. This connection itself by which the word of the spirit speaks to the co-brothers and co-sisters from within through the advanced brothers of humankind is esoteric. It cannot be attached by an external society; it is attached immediately by the spiritual force.

From such a brotherhood of advanced individualities a current of wisdom, a new spiritual wave had to flow in again onto humankind in the last third of the 19th century. Mrs. Blavatsky was nobody else than an emissary of such higher human individualities who have attained a lofty degree of wisdom and divine will. Of such kind as they come from such advanced human brothers were also the communications which form the basis of the Esoteric Buddhism.

It happened now — due to a necessary, but not yet easily understandable concatenation of world-historical spiritual events — that the first influence of the theosophical movement went out from the East, from oriental masters. But already when Helena Petrowna Blavatsky wrote her Secret Doctrine, not only oriental sages as great initiates provided the teachings, which you can find in the Secret Doctrine, to Mrs. Blavatsky. An Egyptian initiate and a Hungarian one had already added what they had to contribute to the new big impact. Since that time some new currents have still flowed into this theosophical movement. That is why for somebody who knows what proceeds behind the scenery from own knowledge — it proceeds inevitably behind the scenery because it can penetrate the theosophical current only slowly — it does no longer make sense to maintain that in this theosophical movement only a new Buddhism is contained today.
Not only the average human being is depending on his surroundings, on his age and his nation, but also the most advanced human being. Also somebody who has attained a lofty level of wisdom and divine will is still depending on his surroundings in certain way. The great sages of the movement emphasised that immediately in the outset of this movement. The great sages had come from oriental knowledge, from the oriental world. They belonged to a brotherhood which is rooted in that which one calls the profound Buddhism of the East. This brotherhood has its roots not in the so-called southern Buddhism which you can find in particular on Ceylon, but in the northern Buddhism which comprises not only the pure and noble doctrine of moral and justice of the southern Buddhism, but also a sublime doctrine of the spiritual life of the world. This northern Buddhism can be regarded in certain sense as a kind of esoteric doctrine, in contrast to the southern Buddhism.

Why had the renewal of the spiritual life to be stimulated from this side? Was this necessary? We are not fooled by the whole state of affairs which is here, but we express it in such a way as it presents itself to the impartial knower.

All great world religions and all great world views come from envoys of these great brotherhoods of advanced human beings. But while these great religions do their wandering through the world, they must adapt themselves to the different national views, to the reason, to the times and the nations. Our materialistic time, in particular since the 15th, 16th centuries, has not only materialised science, but also the confessions of the West. It has forced back the understanding of the esoteric, of the spiritual, of the real spiritual life more and more; and thus it happened that in the 19th century only very little understanding was there of a more profound wisdom. Nevertheless, with regard to the origin of the European religion we have to say that those who have a spiritual conscience looked for the spiritual but that they found very little stimulation in the Protestant confession of the 19th century that they were dissatisfied with that which they could hear from the confessions and theologians.

Just those who had the deepest religious needs found the least satisfaction in the confessions of the 19th century. These confessions of the 19th century were revived in the core by the esoteric core of the universal teachings of wisdom. Theosophy led countless people back to Christianity who had turned away from Christianity because of the interesting scientific facts. The theosophical movement has deepened this Christianity again, it has shown the true, real form of Christianity, and it also has led many of those to Christianity who had no longer been able to satisfy their souls and hearts with it. This is because theosophy does nothing else than to renew the internal core of Christianity, and to show it in its true figure. However, it was necessary that the stimulation went out from the little circle of the East in which still a continuous flow had been preserved from the times of an advanced spiritual life in the beginning of our root race.

From the Middle Ages up to the modern times there were great sages also in Europe; and there were also such brotherhoods. I have to mention the Rosicrucians over and over again; but the materialistic century could only accept little from this Rosicrucian brotherhood. Thus it happened that the last Rosicrucians had already united with the oriental brothers at the beginning of the 19th century who then gave the stimulus. The European civilisation had lost any spiritual power, and that is why the big stimulations had to come from the East at first. Hence, the word: ex oriente lux. — Then however, when this light had come, one found the spark again, so that also in Europe the religious confessions could be kindled.

Today we do not in the least need to adhere to the reminiscences of Buddhism. Today we are able to show the matter absolutely from our European culture, from the Christian culture without pointing to Buddhist springs or origins or other oriental influence. It is noteworthy what one of the most significant theosophists of India said about the world mission of the theosophical movement on the congress of religions in Chicago. Chakravarti delivered a speech and said: also in the Indian nation, the old spiritual life has got lost. The western materialism has also entered in India. One has also become haughty and refusing in India towards the doctrines of the old Rishis, and the theosophical movement has acquired the merit of bringing the spiritual teaching also to India. — So little it is correct that we spread Indian world view that just the reverse holds true: that rather the theosophical movement brought the world view, which it has to represent, to India again.

The scholars who dealt with the investigation of Buddhism in the course of the 19th century argued from their point of view against the term “esoteric Buddhism.” They said: Buddha never taught anything that one could call esotericism. He taught a popular religion which preferably concerned the moral life, and spoke words which can be understood by everybody; however, a secret doctrine is out of the question with Buddha. Hence, some also said that there cannot be an esoteric Buddhism at all. A lot of incorrect things were written about Buddha and Buddhism. You can see this already from passages of the little book which appeared with Reclam. There you can read: “that is even more which I recognise and do not announce than what I have announced to you. And truly I have not announced this to you because it brings you no profit because it does not promote the holy life because it does not lead to the resistance, not to the suppression of desire, not to peace, knowledge, enlightenment and nirvana. That is not why I have announced that to you. What have I announced to you? This is the suffering, this is the origin of suffering, this is the cessation of suffering, and this is the way which leads to the cessation of suffering. I have announced this to you.”

Such a passage shows us immediately that Buddhism is a doctrine which was not announced publicly. Why it was not announced publicly? Because an esoteric teaching cannot be announced publicly! Buddha wanted nothing else from his people than to announce uplifting ethics and moral doctrine with which everybody can become mature to be accepted to a school of wisdom, to esotericism, after he had developed the necessary virtue, temperament and character. Buddha announced to his most intimate disciples what he had to say beyond the exoteric.

The northern Buddhism has preserved this secret doctrine of Buddhism and all great religions of wisdom in a living spiritual flow. That is why that influence which has led to the foundation of the Theosophical Society could go out from them. In particular our contemporaries are reluctant to receive any favourable influence, whether from Buddhism, from Hinduism or any other oriental religion. As we meet there a prejudice of the most unbelievable kind, one could also prove with regard to countless other matters how little the oriental confessions have been understood in Europe, and how those talk about these confessions in Europe who have never taken pains to penetrate into them and behave in such a way, as if anything completely strange to the western wisdom has to flow into the West.

Thus one says that Buddhism leads to asceticism that it leads to estimate non-existence higher than life. One says also that such asceticism, such hostility to life does not befit the active modern human being. They say: what does such asceticism mean to us? One only needs to report a passage of the Buddhist writings to show how little reasonable the reproach of asceticism is with regard to Buddhism. The term “Bhikshu (Bhikkhu)” signifies a pupil in Buddhism. If any Bhikshu deprives a human being of his life, holds a eulogy on death or stirs up others to suicide and says: what is this life of use for you? Death is better than life! — If he gives reasons for the post-mortal life that way, he has fallen off and belongs no longer to the community. — A strict order of Buddhism reads that way and a ban to speak to anybody of the fact that death is more valuable than life: this is one of the biggest sins in the true Buddhism. If you take such a thing, you can estimate, from there going out, how little appropriate the ideas are which are announced over and over again by those who have dealt with this matter insufficiently.

It is difficult to get rid of prejudices which have nested in such a way. One can only point to the true figure of these matters time and again. Indeed, one has spoken then, but the same objections come soon again. One can say a hundred times that the nirvana is not non-existence, but fullness and wealth of being that it is the highest summit of consciousness and being that there is no passage — also not in the exoteric writings — from which it follows that a true expert imagines nirvana as non-existence: one can repeat a hundred times, but over and over again people speak of renunciation of life. Nirvana is exactly the same about which also Christianity speaks. But only those who were initiated into the deeper secrets of Christianity can point to it.

One cannot deny that the true Christians that the scholastics and mystics were deeply influenced by Dionysius the Areopagite. You find with him that if one speaks of the divine being with which the human must unite at the end of the evolution one should attribute no predicate which is got from our earthly conceptions to this highest being. We have obtained everything that we can say about qualities in this world. If we attribute such a quality to the divine being — as this Christian esotericist says , then we say of the divine that it is identical to the limited, it is identical to that which is in the world. Hence, Dionysius the Areopagite speaks in his writings of the fact that one should not even say God, but Super-God, and that one has to take care above all not to attribute any worldly quality to this divine being to preserve the holiness of this concept. One has to realise that the divine being cannot have the qualities we can experience in the world but much more.

The great cardinal Nicholas of Cusa renewed this view in the 15th century, also the Christian mystics, Master Eckhart, Tauler, Jacob Böhme, generally all mystics who had received insight of the big riddles of existence from immediate experience. Thus the western Buddhists also spoke of nirvana. We may get a better idea of nirvana if we look for the European, Christian terms of it.

Somebody who goes back to the 16th century and examines the words of that time finds that it is more difficult to detect their sense. Hence, it is also completely incorrect what is said about nirvana from philological side. That who speaks of the theosophical movement as of a Neo-Buddhist movement is not able to say anything correct about the Buddhist school of thought. Those who have spread the prejudice do not know at all of what they talk. For it is not necessary to resort to the oriental sources. Only the first stimulation went out from this oriental spring. What we have today does not pour out to us from Buddhism. On the contrary, since the first times of the theosophical movement the life, the immediate spiritual life has become more and more active in the theosophical spiritual current. If today anybody who wants to announce the original theosophical doctrine wanted to announce a Buddhist confession only, it would be just in such a way, as if anybody who wants to teach mathematics today does not teach what he himself knows but to teach the old Euclid or the old Descartes.

This is the important feature of the theosophical movement that the first great teachers were only the great initiators, and that since then men and women appeared who have really spiritual experience, who are able to impart the spiritual knowledge. What are to us Zarathustra, Buddha, Hermes et cetera? They are to us the great initiators before whom we stand in reverence and admiration because if we look at them the forces are stimulated in us which we need. Knowledge cannot be conveyed by the greatest sages on account of their authority. There is good reason, if we still are in another relation to Buddha, Zarathustra, Christ than to the great teachers of mathematics or physics. What is announced as a principle of wisdom becomes immediate external life in the human being.

It is not external knowledge like mathematics or natural sciences, but it is a lively life. What the science of wisdom conveys speaks to the whole human being. It runs through the whole human being up to the fingertips. If it flows out of him, wisdom itself flows out; it flows out from one being to the others. However, we stand to Jesus, Hermes, and Buddha not in such a way as we stand to science, but in such a way that we stand with them in a common life that we live and work in them. On the other hand, they are the initiators only. If wisdom has become ours, they consider their task as fulfilled. That is why it does not depend on dogmas, not on doctrines or on anything you find in books but on the fact that the lively life is in movement, is pulsating. Somebody who does not know in his deepest heart that a lively life penetrates any single member, any single human being who belongs to the theosophical movement, that he is flowed through by lively spiritual currents does not understand the theosophical movement in the right way. We do not have a book in the hand and announce the tenets of the book, we are life, and we want to impart life. As much life we impart, as much theosophy will work.

If we understand this, we also realise that it does not depend on the text of the doctrine, but on the immediate spiritual experience which somebody has to announce which he himself has to tell. This is the big misunderstanding that one believes that one has to swear on the words of any masters in theosophy, or one has to repeat these or those dogmas or tenets which come from higher individualities, and then this is theosophy. One believes that somebody is a theosophist if he speaks of the astral world and of devachan, and spreads what he reads in the books. This does not yet make anybody a theosophist. It does not depend on that which is announced, but how it is announced that it is announced as immediate life. Hence, somebody who lives the life correctly which comes from these books Mrs. Blavatsky or somebody else wrote lives this life individually.

This is the best stimulation which somebody can receive which he can also attain from Blavatsky if he is able to receive something spiritual in himself and to spread it again. We need human beings who know how to announce out of themselves what they have experienced in the higher worlds. Then it is a matter of indifference whether it happens in words of the East, in words of Christianity, or with the new-coined words. In the true theosophist words and not concepts do live, the spirit lives in him. The spirit has neither words nor concepts, it has immediate life. All concepts and words are only external forms of this spirit living in the human being.

This will be the progress of the theosophical movement. It becomes the more theosophical, the more we have men and women who understand the theosophical life who understand that it does not depend on speaking about karma and about reincarnation, but on that: to make the spirit, which lives in them, the moulder, the creator of the words. Then we do not speak at all with the words which were valid in the theosophical movement, and, nevertheless, we are better theosophists. We do not have orthodox adherers and heretics again in the theosophical movement. If we distinguished orthodox adherers and heretics, we would no longer have understood the theosophical movement at the same moment. For no other reason we can have neither a Hindu confession nor a Buddhist one. We speak to every human being in such a way that he can understand it according to his progress and the conditions of time.

It is not correct if we speak to our Europeans in Buddhist phrases because for our European hearts and souls Buddhism is something strange in its form. We really have to put ourselves in the souls, but not to force anything strange on them. It would be contrary to the sense of the theosophical movement if we wanted to force a foreign religion which is not rooted in the people’s life. This was just the secret of the teachers of wisdom that they found words and concepts to speak to everybody, so that he understood them.
Among the teachers of wisdom Hermes, Moses, Pythagoras, Buddha, Christ Jesus show that to us. They announced to the peoples what they could understand at their places and at their times. Hermes would never have taught anything else than what was suitable for the Egyptian heart. Buddha would never have taught anything else than what was for the Indian heart. And we have to teach what is for the western heart. We must cling to what already lives in the people. This was the secret of the great teachers of all times. We deepen the core of wisdom of the great religions that way again and above all we find access to every heart. We must forget to swear on dogmas, forget to look for the right thing recognising a tenet.

We have to look at life only. Then we no longer give grounds for such prejudices, as if we wanted to announce a new Buddhism, as if we wanted to do Buddhist propaganda. Those who understand theosophy as a modern spiritual movement speak to the Christians in Christian images, to the scientists scientifically. The human being can err in detail, but in his deepest inside he must find truth in whichever form it expresses itself. But one talks, as if one wants to give stones that somebody who looks for bread if one speaks to him in strange forms.

This gives us a hint at the same time how wrong and inaccurate it is if we make any dogmatism in the sense of an old church to that which we are based on. We have no such dogmatism. Those who know how it really stands with the theosophical movement do not look at dogmas. What we have to teach is deeply inscribed in any soul. The theosophist does not have to look for that which he has to announce in a book or in a tradition, this issues from no dogma, this issues from his heart only. He has to do nothing else than to get his listeners to read what is inscribed in their souls. Somebody who wants to help has to be an initiator.

Thus the theosophist stands before the life of any single soul, and wants to be nothing but the initiator who helps to self-knowledge. More and more people will understand the theosophical movement that way and then achieve it by positive work that such a prejudice can no longer exist like that that we want to do Buddhist propaganda, as if we wanted to inoculate anything strange to Christianity. No, the past is dead unless it is revived. Not that has life which we read in the books and documents, but that which comes into being in our hearts every day anew. If we understand this, we are right theosophists only. Then is in our society theosophical freedom, theosophical self striving of everybody, no oath on any dogma, merely research, merely striving, merely longing for own knowledge. Then there is no heresy, also not anything that could be recognised as not accessible, not fight, but combined striving to always united spiritual life! This was always the attitude of the great spirits. This was also Goethe’s attitude he nicely expressed in the words:

He only merits freedom and existence
who wins them every day anew.

Faust II, verses 11575–11576


Budhi — Buddhi: the correct spelling of the sixth human member is buddhi.

Bhikkhu: cf.

Dionysius the Areopagite: in his writing On the Divine Names (De divinis nominibus)

Nicholas of Cusa (1401–1464), German theologian, philosopher, astronomer, cf. CW 7 Mystics after Modernism (Anthroposophic Press, 2000, 71ff)

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