avatars





Most of Steiner's teachings are strange. Some are bizarre. For instance:



“[T]here are also other individualities — other beings — who have not gone through various incarnations as have the other human beings in the course of human evolution ... [I]t can happen that such a being appears; if we test it clairvoyantly in regard to the soul, we cannot say, as we can of other human beings, that we trace it back in time and discover it in a previously fleshly incarnation, then trace it farther back and find it again in another incarnation, and so on ... Such a spiritual being who descends in this way into a human body in order to intervene in evolution as a human being is called an ‘avatar’ in the East ... To repeat — an avatar being can enter a human body just once or several times in succession; but when it does, it is then something different from any other human individuality.


“The greatest avatar being who has lived on earth, as you can gather from the spirit of our lectures here, is the Christ — the Being whom we designated as the Christ, and who took possession of the body of Jesus of Nazareth when he was thirty years of age.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE PRINCIPLE OF SPIRITUAL ECONOMY (Anthroposophic Press, 1986) lecture 2, GA109.








The greatest avatar,

according to Steiner.

This is Christ

as depicted in the monumental sculpture

at the Goetheanum,

the worldwide headquarters

of Anthroposophy.





“The greatest avatar being who has lived on earth, as you can gather from the spirit of the lectures given here, is the Christ, that Being Whom we designate as the Christ, Who took possession of the bodies of Jesus of Nazareth in the thirtieth year of his life. This Being, Who first came in contact with our earth at the beginning of our era, Who was incarnated for three years in a body of flesh, and Who since that time has been connected with the astral sphere, the spiritual sphere of our supersensible world — this Being is of unique significance as an avatar being. We should seek the Christ Being quite in vain in an earlier human embodiment, whereas other, lower avatar beings can be found to be embodied more than once. They incarnate repeatedly but obtain no benefit from their earthly embodiments for themselves. They only give; they take nothing from the earth. If. you want to understand these things perfectly, you must distinguish between such a lofty avatar being as the Christ and lower avatar beings who can have the most varied missions, and so as not to flounder about in speculation, we shall give a concrete instance to illustrate such a mission [Shem] ... Through the descent of an avatar being the essential soul-spiritual members of the individual who is the bearer of this avatar being are multiplied and transmitted as copies to other human beings. This fact assumes special significance through the appearance of Christ on earth. Because the Avatar Being of Christ lived in the body of Jesus of Nazareth, it became possible for his etheric body to be multiplied innumerable times. This was true as well of the astral body and even the ego; that is, the ego as an impulse, as it was kindled in the astral body of Jesus of Nazareth when Christ entered his threefold sheath. First, however, we will take into account the fact that through the Avatar Being the etheric and astral bodies of Jesus could be multiplied.” — Rudolf Steiner, CHRISTIANITY IN HUMAN EVOLUTION: Avatar Beings (Anthroposophic Press, 1944), a lecture, GA 109.








“You will remember a personality mentioned in the Bible: Shem, a son of Noah and progenitor of the Semitic people. Occult research confirms that there is an individual behind Shem that must be regarded as the tribal individuality of all Semitic peoples. When a number of human beings are to descend from a particular progenitor, a special provision must be made for this in the spiritual world. In the case of Shem, the provision was that an etheric body was specially woven for him from the spiritual world, which he was to carry. This enabled him to bear in his own etheric body an especially exalted being from the spiritual world, a being who could not otherwise have incarnated on earth because it was incapable of descending into a compact physical body. This being was capable of incarnating only by virtue of the fact that it could now enter the etheric body of Shem. Since Shem had his own physical, etheric, and astral body, as well as his ego, he was first an individual in his own right. Beyond that, however, he was an individual whose etheric body was interwoven with the etheric body of another high being of the spiritual world, specially prepared for the purpose of founding a nation, as characterized above. If clairvoyant perception had confronted Shem, it would have seen Shem himself, but with a second entity extending out of him like a second being, yet still united with Shem's etheric body. This higher being was not Shem, but it incarnated in Shem — the human being — for a special mission. Unlike ordinary human beings, this higher being did not undergo various incarnations, but descended only once into a human body. Such a being is called an avatar. An avatar does not feel at home in the world as a human being would; he descends but once into this world for the sole purpose of carrying out a certain mission.


“The part of a human being that is indwelled by such an avatar being acquires a special character in that it is able to multiply. When a grain of seed is sown into the ground, the stalk grows from it, and the grain is multiplied into the ears of grain. In the same way, the etheric body of Shem multiplied into many copies, and these were woven into all his descendants. That's what happened, and thus the copies of the etheric body that had been specially prepared in Shem as the prototype were woven into the etheric bodies of his direct descendants.


“But this etheric body of Shem was later used in yet another way. How this was done can best be placed before our souls by the visualization of an analogy. You may be a highly cultured European, but if you want to acquaint the Hottentots with your culture, you simply must learn their language. By analogy, the exalted beings that descend to earth to guide humanity must weave into themselves the forces by which they will be put into a position to communicate with human beings on earth. Now in the later phase of the evolution of the Semitic people, it became necessary that a very exalted being descend to earth in order to communicate with them and provide an impetus to their culture. Such a being was the Melchizedek of Biblical history who, as it were, had to ‘put on’ the preserved etheric body of Shem—the very etheric body that was still inhabited by an avatar being. Once it was woven into him, Melchizedek was able to transmit to Abraham the impulse necessary for the continued progress of Semitic culture. Here, then, we have become acquainted with another unique way in which an etheric body develops in a particular human being and is subsequently allotted to a specially selected individuality for the fulfillment of a mission.” — THE PRINCIPLE OF SPIRITUAL ECONOMY, lecture 3.








“As long as the ‘I’ of man, with its physical expression in the blood, was not seized by an impulse to be found on the earth, the religions could not teach of the force of self-redemption in the human ‘I’. So they describe how the great spiritual Beings, the Avatars, descend and incarnate in human bodies from time to time when men are in need of help. They are Beings who for the purpose of their own development need not come down into a human body, for their own human stage of evolution had been completed in an earlier world-cycle. They descend in order to help mankind. Thus when help was needed, the great God Vishnu descended into earthly existence. One of the embodiments of Vishnu — namely, Krishna — speaks of Himself, saying unambiguously what the nature of an Avatar is. He Himself declares who He is, in the Divine Song, the Bhagavad Gita. There we find the sublime words spoken by Krishna in Whom Vishnu lives as an Avatar:


‘I am the

    ’Spirit of creation, its beginning, its middle and its end;

    ‘among the stars I am the sun, among the elements — fire;

    ’among the seas — the cosmic ocean; among the serpents —

    ’the eternal serpent. I am the ground of the worlds.’


“The all-powerful Divinity can be proclaimed in no more beautiful or more sublime words than these. The Godhead seen by Moses in the element of fire, Who not only weaves and surges through the world as a macrocosmic Divinity, is to be found, too, within man. Therefore in all beings who bear the human countenance, Krishna lives as the great Ideal to which the innermost essence of man develops from within. And when, as was the goal of ancient wisdom, man's breath can be spiritualised through the impulse given by the Mystery of Golgotha — this is the redemption that is achieved by what now lives within ourselves. All the Avatars have brought redemption to mankind through power from above, through what has streamed down through them from spiritual heights to the earth. But the Avatar Christ has redeemed mankind through what He gathered out of the forces of mankind itself, and He has shown us how the forces of redemption, the forces whereby the Spirit becomes victor over matter can be found in ourselves.


“Thus, although through the spiritualisation of his breath he had made his body incorruptible, even Kashiapa [the incarnate teachings of Buddha] with his supreme enlightenment could not yet find complete redemption. The incorruptible body must wait in the secret cave until it is drawn forth by the Maitreya Buddha [successor ro Buddha; analog of Christ].* Only when the ‘I’ has spiritualised the physical body to such a degree that the Christ Impulse streams into the physical body, is the miraculous cosmic fire no longer needed for redemption; for redemption is now brought about by the fire quickened in man's own inner being, in the blood. Thus the radiance streaming from the Mystery of Golgotha is also able to shed light on a legend as wonderful and profound as that of Kashiapa.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FESTIVALS AND THEIR MEANING, Vol. 2 (Anthroposophical Publishing Co., 1956), lecture 7, GA 109.





— Compiled by Roger Rawlings











“The utterances of the Maitreya Buddha will be permeated in a miraculous way with the power of Christ. Occult investigations show us to-day that in a certain respect even the external life of the Maitreya Buddha will be patterned on the life of Christ. In ancient times, when a great Individuality appeared and was to become a Teacher of humanity, signs indicating this showed themselves in the early youth of the child in question, in special talents and qualities of soul. There is however a different kind of development in the course of which a complete change in the personality becomes apparent at a certain point in his life. What happens is that when this human being has reached a certain age, his ego is taken out of his bodily sheaths and a different ego passes into his body. The greatest example of this is Christ Jesus Himself, of whom in his thirtieth year the Christ-Individuality had taken possession. All the incarnations of the Bodhisattva who will become the Maitreya Buddha have shown that in this sense his life will resemble that of Christ.” — Rudolf Steiner, "Buddha and Christ" (ANTHROPOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY, Autumn, 1964), a lecture, GA 130.