This book consists of 5 lectures Rudolf Steiner imparted to members of the Anthroposophical Society about the historical meaning and impact of both the Buddha and the Christ, and the ideological differences between Buddhism and Christianity, as well as the effects both these religions have had on the world.
For those of you who don’t know, Rudolf Steiner was an Austrian philosopher who made many contributions to the fields of cognitive science, education, agriculture, and more. His philosophy, called spiritual science or Anthroposophy (in Greek, meaning love of man) is a form of humanism focused on developing the latent abilities of man, such as control of emotions, power of thought, and will power, among others.
In the first lecture, Steiner speaks about the state of human cognition in prehistoric times. Man hadn’t yet developed his intellectual prowess or reasoning skills. Because of this, humanity in itself was more connected to the spiritual world, which they could fully access during dreams. Humanity’s consciousness started fully descending into the material world during the Graeco-Roman era, and a little while later, the Christ incarnated on this world in the body of Jesus of Nazareth. Steiner explains how the evolution of humanity from being connected with Spirit to becoming separated from it led to the necessity of Christ’s intervention on earth, and why the figure of Jesus of Nazareth is so important.
In the second, third, and fourth lectures, Steiner explains the differences between the Buddha and the Christ, as well as between Buddhism and Christianity. The most memorable difference, and really the most important one, is that while Buddhism is a religion that advocates turning away from the world of the senses, which is filled with suffering, in order to reach nirvana, Christianity on the other hand is a religion which seeks to change man from the inside out so that he can transform the world around him from a state of suffering to a state of grace.
While Buddhism teaches that we must turn away from the world, Christianity teaches that we must embrace it. Nirvana is the end-goal of Buddhism, while the end-goal of Christianity is the evolution and salvation of all mankind through every person’s individual transformation, not necessarily to reach a stage of enlightenment and stay there.
An important theme that weaves through the lectures is the acceptance of the Christ impulse in human hearts. This acceptance purifies the human ego, allowing us to become every day more selfless, loving, and brave. Eventually this impulse will allow people to see the second coming of the Christ, which Steiner assures us, will happen not in the physical world, but in the etheric plane of the world, in the Aether.
The last lecture focuses on the role of the Buddha nowadays, and how even though the Christ has united himself with the destiny of all mankind, the Buddha is still working towards helping humanity evolve and sending his divine rays towards us.
These are complicated ideas, and for many they will indeed seem very ‘out there’, but there is no need to hide this knowledge from people who are genuinely interested in these subjects. This is a great book for spiritual reflection and for people who are interested in the more hidden or esoteric aspects of Buddhism and Christianity.