The Foundations of Esotericism
Berlin, 10th October 1905
Everything that is taught today in Theosophy was also contained in the schools of the Rosicrucians in the 14th century. But the inner schooling of the Rosicrucian stream was a strictly occult one. With such an occult training very little consideration was given to the language, to the way in which things were expressed. In the world of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries there lived certain unassuming men who were not especially well-known as scholars and who also held no particular social position, but who carried on the occult stream of the Rosicrucians. They were never many. There were never more than seven real initiates at one time; the others were occult pupils of various grades. The Rosicrucians were the messengers of the White Lodge. From them went out in very truth events of world significance. Everything of importance that happened during this time could eventually be traced back to the lodges of the Rosicrucians. Outwardly quite other personalities made the history of Europe, but seen from within, the latter were the instruments of occult individualities. Even Rousseau and Voltaire were such instruments of occult individualities standing behind them. These occultists could not themselves appear under their own names. The impulse which, in the carrying out of their mission, they gave to other people could be outwardly a very simple, inconspicuous one. Sometimes the short meeting with such an unassuming man provided the opportunity for the right impulse to be given to these instruments of the occult individuals. Up to the time of the French Revolution occult forces stood behind significant statesmen. Then they gradually withdrew, for men were now to become masters of their destiny. For the first time, in the speeches of the French Revolution, men speak as men.
The inner life remained in the background, in the occult schools. In the schools of the Rosicrucians these things were taught which are now known as the main teachings of Theosophy. The occult brotherhoods gave the impulse to every important discovery; only then did the events play their part in the outside world. Voltaire was in the most eminent sense, an individual directed by forward-striving brotherhoods, for the actual purpose of his being there was to set men on their own feet. Others stood in the service of the retrograde brotherhoods, as for example Robespierre in his later years. Everything which appears in anticipation of the future calls forth its opposite on the physical plane ...
In Rosicrucian schools therefore the same things were taught as through Theosophy today. In the outside world however there was no word of Theosophy. In the occult schools themselves value is only laid on language in order to teach the outside world. The occult pupil himself must learn to use the symbols, the signs. Thus in order to make themselves understood in the world, the initiates only have at their disposal the language used by the world at large. At the time when knowledge was still kept secret, there existed a certain system of symbols and anyone wishing to be initiated had to learn the language of symbols. No value was laid on the spoken word as a means of expression. Even at that time the teachings were there, but the descriptive expressions were frequently lacking. Such expressions for occult teaching are however present in the Eastern method, which is derived from the very earliest Indians, who had received their teaching from the ancient Rishis. These Indian expressions are not yet influenced by the materialistic age. The words which the Indians created are still full of the magic of the sacred primaeval language. Nevertheless what is of Indian origin cannot be made use of by us in Europe.
What is right for the Indian people is not right for Europe. To begin with an Indian impulse was necessary because Europe itself had developed too few expressions able to introduce such teachings. Even today we must still describe many things with Indian words. But everything in occult teachings that today is brought into the open was also possessed by the Rosicrucians in the Middle Ages and the beginning of modern times. There were already appropriate expressions for the most fundamental teachings, but at that time it was not yet possible to speak openly about reincarnation and karma. These truths could however be allowed to flow subconsciously into European culture. Paracelsus and other mystics did not speak about reincarnation. This was quite natural. They were not able to speak about it. But for all that is concerned with earthly life between birth and death they also had in the west extremely apt expressions, though not, on the other hand, for the intervening conditions between two incarnations. One thing strongly emphasised at that time, was the importance of physical life for the development of the organs of the higher bodies. When we pursue the study of the sciences, when we develop intimate spiritual friendships, all this is a process of the development of forces which will one day become active as spiritual organs.
Three separate concepts have always comprised what, coming from outside, education on the physical plane should bring about in the three different bodies of man. These three aspects were called: Wisdom, Beauty and Power or Strength.
When in the outer court of the more exoteric Rosicrucian schools the pupils received instruction, they were told: ‘You are to be the workers of the future.’ Nothing was said about reincarnation. But the human being would also continue to work when not incarnated again in the physical body. The teaching implanted in them what should in the future work formatively upon the organs. It was said to the pupils: ‘Lead in your daily life in the outer world, a life of Wisdom, Beauty and Power, then in your higher bodies you will develop those organs which are for the future.’ In Freemasonry today, the masons of St. John still speak of the great importance of Wisdom, Beauty and Power, but they no longer know that thereby formative forces work on the etheric body, the astral body and the ego.
When in the Middle Ages a Freemason master builder built a cathedral or a church, his name was of absolutely no importance. He himself remained in the background. In the case of the ‘Theologia deutsch’ 50Written by a priest at the Deutschenherrenhaus at Sachsenhausen near Frankfurt am Main in 1497. Published by Luther in 1518. See also Rudolf Steiner Mysticism at the Dawn of the Modern Age also, and for the same reason, the name of the author was not mentioned. He calls himself ‘the Frankfurter’. No amount of learned research can discover the name. The aim of these men was to work outwardly on the physical plane, leaving no trace of their names behind them, but only the fruits of their activity.
Let us suppose that someone had given the design and the impulse for the building of a great cathedral. He knew that the forms of the building would create in him an organ for the future. All such works will, in their effects, remain connected with the inmost part of the soul. As a rule however all these works in the outer world remain until he who created them finds them again and recognises them when he returns. Under the pulpit there is usually to be found a small picture of the architect; from this he recognises himself again. This is the bridge which is thrown from one incarnation to another.
Through Wisdom the etheric body was to be developed, through Beauty, to which Piety belonged, the astral body, and through Power the individual ego. The human being had to become a self-effacing imprint of the outer world. In ancient India nothing of this was yet known. Brahmanism aimed at a perfecting of the self in the inner life ... [Gap in text ...] ... But just in the middle of our Post-Atlantean epoch there appeared those teachers of religion who drew attention to the renunciation of the self. This was already taught by Buddha. It was developed still more intensively in the West through Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism. They sought the perfecting of the ego in the form that is also in the outer world, not so much in the inner life as this was cultivated in India. It was in this sense that the western occultist said to himself: ‘Thine ego is not only within thyself, but in the world around thee. The Gods have raised thee out of the mineral kingdom, out of the plant and animal kingdoms; but three kingdoms thou createst for thyself, the three kingdoms of Wisdom, Beauty and Power. These develop the organs of the higher man.’
The human being said to himself: ‘I stand here as the end result of a time when the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms sacrificed themselves for me; out of this foundation arose self-awareness, the ego. And just as the ego has been formed through these other kingdoms, so must it now itself develop the kingdoms of Wisdom, Beauty and Strength, in order by their means to mount still higher to a complete transformation of our etheric, astral and ego bodies.’ These three kingdoms are the kingdoms of Science, Art and inner Strength, by which is meant everything that lives itself out in the will. In these three domains the mediaeval esotericist saw the means for the further development of mankind. The transformation of the world was not given over to blind chance, but according to these three aspects of Wisdom, Beauty and Strength, the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms were to be transformed. When the Earth again becomes astral everything will have been transformed in accordance with these three aspects. Thus it was from this three-fold point of view that the freemasons of the Middle Ages and all esotericists built and worked.
In Indian esotericism twelve forces are differentiated which draw man down again into physical existence. The first of these forces is Avidja: ignorance. Avidja is what draws us down again into physical existence for the simple reason that we shall only have fulfilled our mission on the Earth when we have extracted from it all possible knowledge. On the other hand we have not fulfilled our mission as long as everything that we should learn from physical existence has not yet been extracted.
After Avidja what next draws us back is what the earth contains because we ourselves have made it, which therefore belongs to our Organisation. When a mason, for instance, has worked on the building of a cathedral, this has become a part of himself. There is a reciprocal attraction between them. What has an organ-creating tendency for the original instigator, whether it be the work of Leonardo da Vinci or the smallest piece of work, forms an organ in the human being and this is the cause of his return. All that the man has done, taken together, is called Sanskara or the organising tendency which builds up the human being. This is the second thing which draws him back.
Now comes the third. Before the human being entered into any incarnation he knew nothing of an outer-world. Self-awareness first began with the first incarnation; previously man had no consciousness of self. He had first to perceive the outer objects on the physical plane before he could develop consciousness of self. True as it is that what a man has done draws him back to the physical plane, so is it true that knowledge of things draws him back. Consciousness is a new force which binds him to what is here. This is the third element that draws him into a new earth-life. This third force is called Vijnana = consciousness.
Up to this point we have remained very intimately within the human soul. As the fourth stage appears what comes towards the consciousness from outside, what was indeed already there without man, but what he had first to learn to know with his consciousness — this was present outside in his previous existence, but only disclosed itself after his consciousness opened to it. It is the separation between subject and object, or, as the Sanscrit writer says, the separation between name and form (Nama-rupa). Through this man reached the outer object. This is the fourth force that draws him back, for instance the memory of a being to which he has attached himself.
Next comes what we form as mental image in connection with an external object: for example, picturing a dog is merely making a mental image, which is however the essential thing for the painter. It is what the intellect makes of a thing: Shadayadana.
Now there is a further descent into the earthly. The mental picture leads us to what we call contact with existence: Sparsha. Whoever depends on the object stands at the stage of Nama-rupa; whoever forms pictures stands at the stage of Shadayadana. The one however who differentiates between the pleasing and the unpleasing will reach the point where he prefers the beautiful to the unbeautiful. This is called contact with existence: Sparsha.
Somewhat different however from this contact with the outer-world is what at the same time stirs inwardly as feeling. Now I myself come into action: I connect my feeling with one thing or another. That is a new element. Man becomes more involved. It is called Vedana: Feeling.
Through Vedana something quite new again arises, that is, longing for existence. The forces which draw man back into existence awaken more and more strongly within himself. The higher forces compel all human beings to a greater or lesser degree; they are not individual. Eventually however, quite personal forces appear which draw him back again into the earthly world. That is the eighth force. Trishna = Thirst for existence.
Still more subjective than the thirst for existence is what is named Upadana: Comfort in existence. With Upadana man has something in common with the animal, but he experiences it more spiritually and it is the task of man to spiritualise what is gross in this soul element.
Then comes individual existence itself, the sum of all the earlier incarnations when he was already on the earth: Bhava = individual existence, the force of the totality of earlier incarnations. Previous incarnations draw him down into existence.
With this we have retraced the stages of the Nidanas up to individual birth. The esotericist differentiates two further stages which go beyond the period of individual existence. Here he differentiates a previous condition that gave the impetus towards birth, before man had ever been incarnated. This is called Jata: what before birth gave the impetus to birth.
The impetus towards birth is interconnected with a different impulse. It brings with it the germ of dissolution, the urge to extricate oneself from individual birth. What interests us is that this earthly existence of ours falls again into decay and we are freed, able to become old and die (jaramarana). These are the twelve Nidanas which work like strings, drawing us ever and again down into existence. (The meaning of Nidana is string, loop.) There are three groups which belong together:
The soul has three members: the consciousness soul as the highest member, then the intellectual or mind soul and the sentient soul. The first group of the Nidanas from Avidja to Nama-rupa is connected with the consciousness soul: the second group with the intellectual soul and the third, from Upadana to Jaramarana, with the sentient soul.
Vijnana is characteristic of the consciousness soul; Shadayadana of the intellectual soul and the last four are bound up with the sentient soul. These last four are present in both animal and man.