Course V - Lecture IV
Is Theosophy Buddhist Propaganda?
December 8th, 1904
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Dionysius the Areopagite: in his writing
On the Divine Names (De divinis nominibus)
of Cusa (1401–1464), German theologian, philosopher, astronomer,
cf. CW 7 Mystics after Modernism (Anthroposophic Press, 2000, 71ff)