Christianity As Mystical Fact/Chapter VI
THE MYSTERY WISDOM OF EGYPT
When leaving thy body behind thee, thou soarest into the ether,
Then thou becomest a god, immortal, not subject to death.
In this utterance of Empedocles (cf. p. 55) is epitomised what the ancient Egyptians thought about the eternal element in man and its connection with the divine. The proof of this may be found in the so-called Book of the Dead, which has been deciphered by the diligence of nineteenth-century investigators (cf. Lepsius, Das Totenbuch der alten Ägypter, Berlin, 1842). It is "the greatest continuous literary work which has come down to us from ancient Egypt." All kinds of instructions and prayers are contained in it, which were put into the tomb of each deceased person to serve as a guide when he was released from his mortal tenement. The most intimate ideas of the Egyptians about the Eternal and the origin of the world are contained in this work. These ideas point to a conception of the gods similar to that of Greek mysticism.
Osiris gradually became the favourite and most universally recognised of the various deities worshipped in different parts of Egypt. In him were comprised the ideas about the other divinities. Whatever the majority of the Egyptian people may have thought about Osiris, the Book of the Dead indicates that the priestly wisdom saw in him a being that might be found in the human soul itself. Everything said about death and the dead shows this plainly. While the body is given to earth, and kept by it, the eternal part of man enters upon the path to the primordial eternal. It comes before the tribunal of Osiris, and the forty-two judges of the dead. The fate of the eternal part of man depends on the verdict of these judges. If the soul has confessed its sins and been deemed reconciled to eternal justice, invisible powers approach it and say: "The Osiris N. has been purified in the pool which is south of the field of Hotep and north of the field of Locusts, where the gods of verdure purify themselves at the fourth hour of the night and the eighth hour of the day with the image of the heart of the gods, passing from night to day." Thus, within the eternal cosmic order, the eternal part of man is addressed as an Osiris. After the name Osiris comes the deceased person's own name. And the one who is being united with the eternal cosmic order also calls himself "Osiris." "I am the Osiris N. Growing under the blossoms of the fig-tree is the name of the Osiris N." Man therefore becomes an Osiris. Being Osiris is only a perfect stage in human development. It seems obvious that even the Osiris who is a judge within the eternal cosmic order is nothing else but a perfect man. Between being human and divine, there is a difference in degree and number. The mystic view of the mystery of "number" underlies this. Osiris as a cosmic being is One, yet on this account he exists undivided in each human soul. Each person is an Osiris, yet the One Osiris must be represented as a separate being. Man is in course of development; at the end of his evolutionary career, he becomes divine. In taking this view, we must speak of divinity, or becoming divine, rather than of a separate divine being, complete in himself.
It cannot be doubted but that according to this view only he can really enter upon the Osiris existence, who has reached the portals of the eternal cosmic order as an Osiris. Thus, the highest life which man can lead must consist in his changing himself into Osiris. Even during mortal life, a true man will live as a perfect Osiris as far as he can. He becomes perfect when he lives as an Osiris, when he passes through the experiences of Osiris. In this way, we see the deeper significance of the Osiris myth. It becomes the ideal of the man who wishes to awaken the eternal within him.
Osiris is torn to pieces and killed by Typhon. The fragments of his body are preserved and cared for by his consort, Isis. After his death he let a ray of his own light fall upon her, and she bore him Horus. This Horus takes up the earthly tasks of Osiris. He is the second Osiris, still imperfect, but progressing towards the true Osiris.
The true Osiris is in the human soul, which at first is of a transitory nature; but as such, it is destined to give birth to the eternal. Man may, therefore, regard himself as the tomb of Osiris. The lower nature (Typhon) has killed the higher nature in him. Love in his soul (Isis) must take care of the dead fragments of his body, and then the higher nature, the eternal soul (Horus) will be born, which can progress to Osiris life. The man who is aspiring to the highest kind of existence must repeat in himself, as a microcosm, the macrocosmic universal Osiris process. This is the meaning of Egyptian initiation. What Plato (cf. p. 80) describes as a cosmic process, i.e., that the Creator has stretched the soul of the world on the body of the world in the form of a cross, and that the cosmic process is the release of this crucified soul,—this process had to be enacted in man on a smaller scale if he was to be qualified for Osiris life. The candidate for initiation had to develop himself in such a way that his soul-experience, his becoming an Osiris, became blended into one with the cosmic Osiris process.
If we could look into the temples of initiation in which people underwent the transformation into Osiris, we should see that what took place represented microcosmically the building of the cosmos. Man who proceeded from the "Father" was to give birth to the Son in himself. What he actually bears within him, divinity hidden under a spell, was to become manifest in him. This divinity is kept down in him by the power of the earthly nature; this lower nature must first be buried in order that the higher nature may arise.
From this we are able to interpret what we are told about the incidents of initiation. The candidate was subjected to mysterious processes, by means of which his earthly nature was killed, and his higher part awakened. It is not necessary to study these processes in detail, if we understand their meaning. This meaning is contained in the confession possible to every one who went through initiation. He could say: "Before me was the endless perspective at the end of which is the perfection of the divine. I felt that the power of the divine is within me. I buried what in me keeps down that power. I died to earthly things. I was dead. I had died as a lower man, I was in the nether-world. I had intercourse with the dead, i.e., with those who have already become part of the chain of the eternal cosmic order. After my sojourn in the nether-world, I arose from the dead. I overcame death, but now I have become different. I have nothing more to do with perishable nature. It has in me become saturated with the Logos. I now belong to those who live eternally, and who will sit at the right hand of Osiris. I myself shall be a true Osiris, part of the eternal cosmic order, and judgment of life and death will be placed in my hands." The candidate for initiation had to submit to the experience which made such a confession possible to him. Thus this was an experience of the highest kind.
Let us now imagine that a non-initiate hears of such experiences. He cannot know what has really taken place in the initiate's soul. In his eyes, the initiate died physically, lay in the grave, and rose again. What is a spiritual reality at a higher stage of existence appears when expressed in the form of sense-reality as an event which breaks through the order of nature. It is a "miracle." So far initiation was a miracle. One who really wished to understand it must have awakened within him powers to enable him to stand on a higher plane of existence. He must have approached these higher experiences through a course of life specially adapted for the purpose. In whatever way these prepared experiences were enacted in individual cases, they are always found to be of quite a definite type. And so an initiate's life is a typical one. It may be described independently of the single personality. Or rather, an individual could only be described as being on the way to the divine if he had passed through these definite typical experiences.
Such a personality was Buddha, living in the midst of his disciples. As such an one did Jesus appear to his community. Nowadays we know of the parallelism that exists between the biographies of Buddha and of Jesus. Rudolf Seydel has convincingly proved this parallelism in his book, Buddha und Christus. (Compare also the excellent essay by Dr. Hübbe-Schleiden, "Jesus ein Buddhist.") We have only to follow out the two lives in detail in order to see that all objections to the parallelism are futile.
The birth of Buddha is announced by a white elephant, which descends from heaven and declares to the queen, Maya, that she will bring forth a divine man, who "will attune all beings to love and friendship, and will unite them in a close alliance." We read in St. Luke's Gospel: "To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, 'Hail, thou that art highly favoured.... Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest.'"
The Brahmins, or Indian priests, who know what the birth of a Buddha means, interpret Maya's dream. They have a definite, typical idea of a Buddha, to which the life of the personality about to be born will have to correspond. Similarly we read in Matthew ii. et seq., that when Herod "had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born." The Brahmin Asita says of Buddha: "This is the child which will become Buddha, the redeemer, the leader to immortality, freedom, and light." Compare with this Luke ii. 25: "And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.... And when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel."
It is related of Buddha that at the age of twelve he was lost, and found again under a tree, surrounded by poets and sages of the olden time, whom he was teaching. With this incident the following passage in St. Luke corresponds: "Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day's journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers" (Luke ii. 41-47).
After Buddha had lived in solitude, and returned, he was received by the benediction of a virgin, "Blessed is thy mother, blessed is thy father, blessed is the wife to whom thou belongest." But he replied, "Only they are blessed who are in Nirvana," i.e., who have entered the eternal cosmic order. In St. Luke's Gospel (xi. 27), we read: "And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice and said unto him, 'Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked.' But he said, 'Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.'"
In the course of Buddha's life, the tempter comes to him and promises him all the kingdoms of the earth. Buddha refuses everything in the words: "I know well that I am destined to have a kingdom, but I do not desire an earthly one. I shall become Buddha and make all the world exult with joy." The tempter has to own that his reign is over. Jesus answers the same temptation in the words: "Get thee hence, Satan, for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him" (Matthew iv. 10, 11). This description of the parallelism might be extended to many other points with the same result.
The life of Buddha ended sublimely. On a journey, he felt ill; he came to the river Hiranja, near Kuschinagara. There he lay down on a carpet which his favourite disciple, Ananda, spread for him. His body began to be luminous from within. He died transfigured, his body irradiating light, saying, "Nothing endures."
The death of Buddha corresponds with the transfiguration of Jesus. "And it came to pass about eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering."
Buddha's earthly life ends at this point, but it is here that the most important part of the life of Jesus begins,—His suffering, death, and resurrection. Other accounts of Buddha's death need not here be considered, even though they reveal profound aspects.
The agreement in these two redemptive lives leads to the same conclusion. The narratives themselves indicate the nature of this conclusion. When the priest-sages hear what kind of birth is to take place, they know what is involved. They know that they have to do with a Divine man; they know beforehand what kind of personality it is who is appearing. And therefore his course of life can only correspond with what they know about the life of a Divine man. In the wisdom of their Mysteries such a life is traced out for all eternity. It can only be as it must be; it comes into manifestation like an eternal law of nature. Just as a chemical substance can only behave in a certain definite way, so a Buddha or a Christ can only live in a certain definite way. His life is not described merely by writing a casual biography; it is much better described by giving the typical features which are contained for all time in the wisdom of the Mysteries. The Buddha legend is no more a biography in the ordinary sense than the Gospels are meant to be a biography in the ordinary sense of the Christ Jesus. In neither is the merely accidental given; both relate the course of life marked out for a world-redeemer. The source of the two accounts is to be found in the mystery traditions and not in outer physical history. Jesus and Buddha are, to those who have recognised their Divine nature, initiates in the most eminent sense. Hence their lives are lifted out of things transitory, and what is known about initiates applies to them. The casual incidents in their lives are not narrated. Of such it might be announced "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a God and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us."
But the life of Jesus contains more than that of Buddha. Buddha's ends with the Transfiguration; the most momentous part of the life of Jesus begins after the Transfiguration. In the language of initiates this means that Buddha reached the point at which divine light begins to shine in men. He faces mortal death. He becomes the light of the world. Jesus goes farther. He does not physically die at the moment when the light of the world shines through him. At that moment he is a Buddha. But at that very moment he enters upon a stage which finds expression in a higher degree of initiation. He suffers and dies. What is earthly disappears. But the spiritual element, the light of the world, does not. His resurrection follows. He is revealed to his followers as Christ. Buddha, at the moment of his Transfiguration, flows into the blissful life of the Universal Spirit. Christ Jesus awakens the Universal Spirit once more, but in a human form, in present existence. Such an event had formerly taken place at the higher stages of initiation. Those initiated in the spirit of the Osiris myth attained to such a resurrection. In the life of Jesus, this "great" initiation was added to the Buddha initiation. Buddha demonstrated by his life that man is the Logos, and that he returns to the Logos, to the light, when his earthly part dies. In Jesus, the Logos himself became a person. In him, the Word was made flesh.
Therefore, what was enacted in the innermost recesses of the temples by the guardians of the ancient Mysteries has been apprehended, through Christianity, as a historical fact. The followers of Christ Jesus confessed their belief in Him, the initiate, of unique and supreme greatness. He proved to them that the world is divine. In the Christian community, the wisdom of the Mysteries was indissolubly bound up with the personality of Christ Jesus. That which man previously had sought to attain through the Mysteries was now replaced by the belief that Christ had lived on earth, and that the faithful belonged to him.
Henceforward, part of what was formerly only to be gained through mystical methods, could be replaced, in the Christian community, by the conviction that the divine had been manifested in the Word present amongst them. Not that for which each individual soul underwent a long preparation was now decisive, but what those had heard and seen who were with Jesus, and what was handed down by them. "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which ... our hands have handled, of the Word of life ... that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us." Thus do we read in the first Epistle of St. John. And this immediate reality is to embrace all future generations in a living bond of union, and as a church is mystically to extend from race to race. It is in this sense that the words of St. Augustine are to be understood, "I should not believe the Gospels unless the authority of the Catholic Church induced me to do so." Thus the Gospels do not contain within themselves testimony to their truth, but they are to be believed because they are founded on the personality of Jesus, and because the Church from that personality mysteriously draws the power to make the truth of the Gospels manifest.
The Mysteries handed down traditionally the means of arriving at truth; the Christian community itself propagates the truth. To the confidence in the mystical forces which spring up in the inmost being of man, during initiation, was added the confidence in the One, primordial Initiator.
The Mystics sought to become divine, they wished to experience divinity. Jesus was divine, we must hold fast to Him, and then we shall become partakers of His divinity, in the community founded by Him; this became Christian conviction. What became divine in Jesus was made so for all His followers. "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." The one who was born in Bethlehem has an eternal character independent of time. The Christmas anthem thus speaks of the birth of Jesus, as if it took place each Christmas, "Christ is born to-day, the Saviour has come into the world to-day, to-day the angels are singing on earth."
In the Christ-experience is to be seen a definite stage of initiation. When the Mystic of pre-Christian times passed through this Christ-experience, he was, through his initiation, in a state which enabled him to perceive something spiritually,—in higher worlds,—to which no fact in the world of sense corresponded. He experienced that which surrounds the Mystery of Golgotha in the higher world. If the Christian Mystic goes through this experience by initiation, he at the same time beholds the historical event which took place on Golgotha, and knows that in that event, enacted within the physical world, there is the same content as was formerly only in the supersensible facts of the Mysteries. Thus there was poured out on the Christian community, through the "Mysteries of Golgotha," that which formerly had been poured out on the Mystics within the temples. And initiation gives Christian Mystics the possibility of becoming conscious of what is contained in the "Mystery of Golgotha," whereas faith makes man an unconscious partaker of the mystical stream which flowed from the events depicted in the New Testament, and which has ever since been pervading the spiritual life of humanity.
- The great initiates raised themselves through initiation up into the sphere of the Logos and carried this Logos influence with them in their human life. The fundamental difference between them and Jesus was the fact that the Logos in the course of its evolution individualised itself into One Divine Individuality who descended into Jesus of Nazareth at the Baptism, and so that the Logos manifested its whole Divine individuality through the personality of Jesus as far as it was possible to express Divinity by human means. Such was the unique character of the Christ Jesus.