Category Archives: Buddhism

Guest Post: The Bodhisattva Question, part 2 – some conclusions and further thoughts


by Hans van Willenswaard

Before I had to travel, here in South East Asia, I thought the exchanges on the Bodhisattva Question had come to an end and I intended to contribute a concluding post. On my return I found a new wave of contributions and it is not easy to catch up.

We are dealing with evaluations of the past; what the mission of the Bodhisattva of the 20thcentury might mean today in terms of evolution of humanity and our active role in it; how personal experience plays its part; how we make judgments on the viability of our own and others’ statements; and lately what our dynamic position is in the concrete socio-political constellation of today. I’ll try to react to these issues in this concluding post and then look forwards to a new Anthropopper thread to be opened by Jeremy.

One of the questions – triggered by our exchanges – that started haunting me is: Based on which experience did Rudolf Steiner initiate this vision that the Christ would re-appear in the etheric realm? How and from where did this insight arise? I found this quote:

What Paul experienced (near Damascus) as the presence of Christ in the atmosphere of the earth is what modern man may train himself to experience clairvoyantly through an esoteric schooling; this is also what single persons here and there will be able to experience through a natural clairvoyance, as I have already characterized it, beginning with the years 1930 to 1940. Then it will continue through long periods of time as something that has become entirely natural to humanity.

The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric; Lecture I – The Event of Appearance of Christ in the Etheric World, 25 January 1910, Karlsruhe (GA 118 ).

However, is this 1910 reference to the “Damascus experience” the whole story? I started searching and found new information about the past. Recent revelations by Richard Cloud in consultation with the last remaining so called Pansophists – and confirmed by Claude Philalethes in French language – point at the possibility that Steiner learned seeing the vision of the reappearance of the Christ in the 20th century from his esoteric teacher “Master M”. Steiner identified “M” in his famous Barr Document but never revealed his identity, probably as he was bound to secrecy. Is this a secret Ottmar was curious about? The intriguing Barr document written by Steiner played a role in an earlier Anthropopper post where Jeremy Smith recalled his life-changing meeting with Sir George Trevelyan at Findhorn.

In addition to professor Karl Julius Schroer, brought to our attention by Steve Hale, and the herbalist Felix Kogutzki, who, in my understanding, guided Steiner respectively to Goethe and to the perception of life forces in Nature, it may have been, according to the, for me, unknown Richard Cloud, “Master M” who guided Steiner to the phenomenon of the reappearance of the Christ, not in a physical body but in the etheric world. Who was “Master M”?

Remarkably, first Cloud – with consent conveyed to him because 100 years have passed and thus the secret can safely be revealed – identifies “Master M” as an occult teacher with the name Alois Mailander (1844 – 1905). Mailander, according to the research of Cloud, was known in esoteric circles as “M” or brother Johannes/John. He was an illiterate mystic who lived in southern Germany and had gathered around him students. Rudolf Steiner may have been one of these students.

Later Richard Cloud even postulates, to my astonishment – in an article 24 August 2018 – that Alois Mailander may have been the incarnated Christian Rosenkreutz …

Leaving this revelation without passing on a judgment for the time being (maybe Jeremy can open a post on this) the question still arises what is “Pansophy”? Where does it originate from?

Here is what Rudolf Steiner says:

Very few people today know that Amos Comenius was the actual founder of the modern pedagogy (…). A book by Friedrich Eckstein entitled Comenius and the Bohemian Brothers was recently published. Friedrich Eckstein is one of those people who was united with me in a small theosophical group in Vienna at the end of the 1880’s. [Eckstein was a known student of Mailander – addition Hans]. Then he went his own way and I had not heard of him until this book about Amos Comenius appeared. These 150 wood cuts from the original edition are given with German and Latin texts. Here you have wood cuts beginning with God, the world, heaven, the elementals, the elements, plants, fruits, animals, the human body and its members, etc., all of which was put in such a way as to appeal to the heart. This sort of presentation still appeals very much to people. Herder and Goethe loved all this in their childhood. The whole way of writing children’s books rests upon Amos Comenius. He was connected with many secret brotherhoods all over Europe and he wanted to establish what he called his “Pan Sophia”. In the beginning of our period, in the 16th, 17th century, we have in Amos Comenius a human being who knew that now is the time for a sudden change, that one must transmute all the knowledge from earlier times into the form of external intellect. You do not simply continue it in the form of the ancient tradition. This tradition rests upon that which was the Temple architecture. Amos Comenius had as his task translating (this) in his “Pan Sophia” (…). (…). And so we want to establish a school of wisdom, a universal wisdom, a “Pan Sophia” wisdom so that one can say that that which is in Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister, which was represented in the Wander Years, is a continuation of what Amos Comenius wanted.

Things in Past and Present in the Spirit of Man, Lecture V: Comenius and the Temple of PanSofia, Dornach, 11 April 1916, GA 167

This quote not only is most intriguing in terms of giving possible credibility to the above mentioned revelations – to be checked – from the source of the remaining Pansophists; the reference to Comenius provides, in my opinion, a welcome opportunity for positioning the Waldorf school impulse of Rudolf Steiner in both an inspiring historic as well as a universalist (albeit within the Christian tradition) perspective, beyond the often repeated framework of “German idealism”.

It’s also remarkable that Comenius (1592 – 1670), a wandering Czech free-thinker and bishop of the Bohemian brotherhood, lived for many years in the Amsterdam canal house, Keizersgracht, where more recently one of the probably most important libraries of Rosicrucian and other esoteric literature is based, the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica,now under the name of “Embassy of the Free Mind”. This library was built up piece by piece by businessman Joost Ritman and his family. One of the sons is chairman of the umbrella organization of Dutch Buddhist organisations, and active in the European Buddhist Union (EBU).

Also interesting from my personal perspective is that, as a coordinator I worked at the youth centre cum jazz club in the 70s exactly opposite, across the canal from the present building. In that time the library was not yet accessible by the public but I had been told about it by my meditation teacher and in a dream visited the attics of the library when it was still based at a much smaller house nearby.

Recently I bought in Amsterdam a copy of the Dutch translation of Via Lucis, the way of the Light, which Comenius wrote in London.

More information about Johann Amos Comenius and his “College of Light” can be found in an article of Rachel Ritman through this link:

From this point about resonances with the past, I would like to come back to Gauren’s very helpful critical observation, where I made the realization of the reappearance of the Christ in the etheric world conditional to humanity’s awareness of it. Here are some interesting quotes from Steiner to clarify the issue:

Christ will exist in the earthly sphere as an etheric being. It depends upon the human being how he establishes a relationship to Him. On the appearance of Christ Himself, therefore, no one, no initiate however mighty, has any influence. It will come. I beg that you hold firmly to this. Arrangements can be made, however, for receiving this Christ event in this way or that, for making it effective.

When we speak in this way, we feel what anthroposophy should and can mean to us, how it should prepare us to fulfill our task by seeing to it that a sublime event such as this not pass humanity by, leaving no trace behind. If it were to pass without leaving a trace, humanity would forfeit its most important possibility for evolution and would sink into darkness and gradual death. This event can bring light to human beings only if they awaken to this new perception and thereby open themselves also to the new Christ event.

Humanity will be granted a period of about 2,500 years in which to develop these faculties; 2,500 years will be at his disposal to attain etheric vision as a natural, universal human faculty, until human beings advance again to another faculty in another time of transition. During these 2,500 years, more and more human souls will be able to develop these faculties in themselves. (At other instances he speaks about 3000 years counted from 600 before Christ).

Humanity is called upon to develop ever-higher faculties, however, so that the course of evolution may be able, again and again, to make new leaps.

Christ will be there in order that He can be experienced also on these higher stages of knowledge. Christianity is in this connection not at the end but at the beginning of its influence. Humanity will continue to advance from stage to stage, and Christianity will also be there at every stage in order that it may satisfy the deepest requirements of the human soul throughout all future ages of the earth.

These and later quotes, if not mentioned otherwise, are from the first three lectures of GA 118: The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric

Lecture I – The Event of Appearance of Christ in the Etheric World, 25 January 1910, Karlsruhe

Lecture II – Spiritual Science as Preparation for a New Etheric Vision, 27 January 1910, Karlsruhe

Lecture III – Buddhism and Pauline Christianity, 27 February, Cologne

Whereas Steiner himself taught about it for less than two decades, he said this vision would be further announced later in the 20thcentury. Now, how culturally specific is the prediction that the Maitreya Buddha would incarnate as a ‘Bodhisattva of the 20thcentury’ announcing ‘the re-appearance of the Christ in the etheric’?

This question may lead us to exploring the possibility of an evolution in the understanding of what bodhisattvas are, in particular how the bodhisattva principle increasingly is being socialized. Can we speak of a nucleus of bodhisattvas and can it include every ones’ efforts, small and big. It would release us from the obsession to find THE Bodhisattva, without becoming uncritical. What unites us is more important than what divides us. We may, in the search to find an answer, also explore acceptance of pluriformity in our assumptions of how reincarnation actually works. Does it happen with intervals of 300 years? In a 100 years rhythm – does each century has its Maitreya Bodhisattva – ? Or can re-birth be realized a few years after death, as is the case with Tibetan lamas?

For reflections on these issues it may be helpful to identify some milestones in human evolution in the 20thcentury and relevant for our dialogue.

Ultimately we will have to settle a meaningful consensus on how to share the universality of the Christ impulse – and impulses coming from other spiritual manifestations like the Buddha – in the context of a global multi-cultural, inter-religious civil society, based on free inquiry. Is the striving for “sustainability” our common goal?

Rudolf Steiner speaks of an initial consciousness leap to take place around 1930 – 1940 with a period of 2500 years to bring it to fruition. Steiner mentioned these years were not to be taken exactly. He may not have foreseen the enormous disaster of World War II which delayed the course of events. While searching for anchor points in time I come to a possible timeframe for further research. Of course the evolution of consciousness plays out at various fronts. One of the possible areas for finding such demarcation points, in a threefold worldview (which I will address later in this concluding post), is that of governance and law.

From this governance perspective, a milestone in the evolution of humanity’s consciousness certainly is the post-War formulation and adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in the year 1948. And one can say that this human achievement to end and prevent disaster was preceded half a century earlier by the First Hague Peace conference of 1899 (the approximate year that, according to Steiner, the ‘Dark Age’ of Kali Yuga ended): a first step towards building global governance and law materialized in the construction of the Peace Palace.

A decade after 1948 – in 1957 – another milestone occurred. The Buddhist world celebrated the “2500 commemoration of the Enlightenment of the Buddha”. It was not only the year that my wife was born in Thailand (where we live now in the year 2561), it was the first time that the Dalai Lama travelled to India to join, as a 22 year old lama, the festive commemorations in New Delhi. Two years later he had to take refuge in India. Tibet had been occupied and the revolt against China failed. The Dalai Lama remained in exile in India for the rest of his life. The year 1957 marked the unique turning point from the influence of the Gautema Buddha to that of the Maitreya Buddha to be incarnated 2500 years later. The realization of (genuine) sustainability – the reappearance of the Christ in the etheric world – may need this 2500 years’ time span to come to full fruition, if I understand Steiner well.

From the 1957 celebrations in the huge Buddha Jayanti Park that was especially laid out in New Delhi for this occasion and where the still largely unknown Dalai Lama met, as a refugee, with the enormous diversity of Buddhist dignitaries he may have silently started preparing for a role as spiritual world leader. Only in 1967, at the age of 32 years, he began travelling all over the world to spread the message of Universal Responsibility – including responsibility for Nature – complementing the freshly adopted Universal Declaration of Human Rights in two ways: emphasizing responsibilities over rights and transcending anthropocentrism.

[In October 1993 the Dalai Lama inaugurated a huge Buddha statue in the park, where I was present.]

The search for universal values inevitably evokes a sharp paradox: the realisation of universality, unity, requires free, independent, individuals. Universalization does not mean (forced) surrender to one central truth. Dynamic agreement-building based on diversity and free personal consciousness goes hand in hand with simultaneous appreciation of the (spiritual) fact of absolute inter-dependence.

Can Christ be appreciated as one (for those closely connected to him: central) spiritual entity among a diversity of entities with a common mission to constitute universal responsibility? It may require collective effort of individual human beings who cultivate freedom, in order to co-create a responsible political order and a community-driven economy.  The evolution of humanity towards due care for the Earth – the foundation for the community of life – is “a sacred trust”. That is how it is stipulated in the Earth Charter launched in The Hague – another milestone – 100 years after the First Hague Peace conference, and 50 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The period of these 2500 years in the evolution of consciousness starts from the initial experiencing of “the etheric”:

A conception will arise that will see the earth not in terms of purely mineral forces but in terms of plant, or what could be called etheric, forces. The plant directs its root toward the earth’s center, and its upper part stands in relation to the sun. These are the forces that make the earth what it is; gravity is only secondary. The plants preceded minerals just as coal was once plant life; this will soon be discovered. Plants give the planet its form, and they then give off the substance from which its mineral foundation originates. The beginnings of this idea were given through Goethe in his plant morphology, but he was not understood. One will gradually begin to see the etheric, because it is that which is characteristic of the plant realm.

They will behold the etheric earth from which the plant world springs up. (…). He who possesses this science in the highest degree is the Maitreya Buddha, who will come in approximately 3,000 years (if counted from what is now identified as the beginning of the anthropocene; addition Hans). (…) This will all lead human beings to know in which direction they must go. You must undertake to transform abstract ideas into concrete ideals in order to contribute to an evolution that moves forward.

Lecture III – Buddhism and Pauline Christianity, 27 February, Cologne

Experience is essential for this conception. I am grateful to Steve and Kathy that they hinted at personal accounts of how in their life they experienced the highest etheric presence, a “bodhisattva momentum” or a Damascus event. These experiences, by the way, could be less rare than we may think. Sir Alister Hardy (1896 – 1985) made a public appeal to volunteer participation in research on spontaneous “religious” experiences and was overwhelmed by the response.

So, I owe Steve and Kathy that I try to tell something of my own experiences. I have two experiences I can try to share and they come together in what I try to advocate: “engaged Buddhism”; and “engaged spirituality” where anthroposophy leads the way. One experience is about meditation. I admitted earlier to Tom Hart Shea that I am not comfortable with the First Class mantrams or other anthroposophical exercises. They are so “Rudolf Steiner”. I love the uniqueness and personality of Steiner and feel deeply inspired to act upon the second part of The philosophy of freedom. But although I find confirmation of meditative insight in the first part of the book, for the actual meditation I resort to the more “de-personalized” approach of Vipassana Bhavana.

Around my 33rd year I did my first ten-days Vipassana retreat at a small attic of what later would become the Thai temple in a bigger building. It is hard to communicate the core meditative experiences that resulted, and it is also recommended not to do so. But I found a beautiful reference in a, to my eyes, very important article to which Steve Hale linked us in his post, 22 June 2018, for which I am very grateful. I reproduce the reference here with the comment that my insights in no way did match this level of sophistication.

In “The scientific credibility of anthroposophy” Jost Schieren summarizes parts of the work of Herbert Witzenmann (1905 – 1988), an early (often criticized) leader of the Social Sciences Section.

(…) the ontological sphere of the world has to nullify itself in the human organisation. Witzenmann describes the human neuro-sensory system as an organ for the nullification of the spirit brought about by ontological evolution. It places the human being before the nothingness of sensory perception, so that in the free act of knowing he can undertake a re-constitution of reality. It is a kind of null-pointand as such a point from which human cognition can proceed unconditionally. There are – as Rudolf Steiner points out in The philosophy of freedom – two different ways of doing this: on the one hand, through the perceptsdelivered by the sensory organization; and on the other, through autonomously generated thinking. By using meditation to practice inner observation and thus developing his ability to work with these two poles of human cognition – perceptionand thinking– the human being takes hold of a new freedom-based mode of constituting both self and world.

The scientific credibility of anthroposophy, Jost Schieren, RoSE – Research on Steiner Education, Vol. 2, 2011.

Inner observation as described here, is a required exercise to lay the foundation for scientific research that in the same time can do justice to anthroposophy as well as satisfy mainstream science, according to Schieren. Sunyata, nothingness,is also a concrete, intimate – and at my age then, life defining – meditation experience in a person’s biography.

I feel that it is scientific rigour, maybe derived from the point Witzenmann describes, which distinguishes the mathematician Elisabeth Vreede from Adolf Arenson, a merchant and composer, and makes them arrive at different conclusions on the possible shared identity of the earmarked Bodhisattva and Rudolf Steiner. Later Sergei Prokofieff fortifies Arenson’s vision in a context of modern conservative anthroposophy.

My second personal experience related to the subject came at the age of 39. Location: CREAR at Rio Limpio, Dominican Republic where I did my Emerson College rural development internship. I learned more than ever in my life in that period. I did not have a good relationship with founder and leader of CREAR Mark Feedman and working in the garden (with passionate “double digging”) in the tropical climate was hardship. One day I observed from a distance how Mark, he liked to do things on his own, sprayed the land by hand with the 503 cow manure preparation. Suddenly a strong golden glance arose from the soil and I “heard”: “this is my body” … I experienced something happening which earlier had fascinated me and had explored as transubstantiation

Given the reference Rudolf Steiner makes to the etheric, revealing itself in the “Damascus experience” of Paul in the first quote of this contribution, it is interesting to learn that modern researchers question whether the Last Supper ritual was initiated as such by Christ or later inserted by Paul.

Christianity evokes the narrative of God the Father becoming a human being, his Son the Christ. While in our era the Christ is reappearing as body of the Earth. This is an evolutionary need to counter extreme materialism, industrialization/digitalisation and commercialisation. In its realization the transformation loses earlier gender implications, unifies with the nearly forgotten but especially in Latin American very strong “buen vivir” movement around the vivid reality of Mother Earth. Evolving into what the Earth Charter determines as “community of life” and how it can be co-created.

Rudolf Steiner gave a series of 10 lectures, March 1913, in The Hague. Later in the same year the Peace Palace would be opened. Steiner must have walked around the nearly finished building. In May he traveled to Dornach and suddenly decided to start the construction of the First Goetheanum.

In conclusion some comments on Buddhism and Anthroposophy.

A study group was initiated on this theme by Dharmacharya (authorized teacher in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh) Ha Vinh Tho who studied eurythmy in Dornach for many years. The first meeting was attended by 11 persons, among whom my wife Wallapa and I, in the old emperor’s city of Hué, Vietnam, March 2001. Later we introduced Tho to our friends in Bhutan where he became a well-known teacher and programme director of the Gross National Happiness center.

The Bodhisattva is a Being who passes through all civilisations, who can manifest Himself to mankind in various ways. Such is the Spirit of the Bodhisattvas.

Now the mysteries always make appropriate preparation for the corresponding duty of mankind. Every age has its special task; and every age has to receive the truth in the particular form needed by that epoch.

The East in the Light of the West, 31st August 1909, Munich

Anthroposophy derived, with its assimilations, the concepts of Karma and Reincarnation from Buddhism. Contemporary understandings of Karma and Reincarnation guide “engaged Buddhism” in similar ways as in anthroposophy.

A man who has assimilated these ideas knows: According to what I was in life, I shall have an effect upon everything that takes place in the future, upon the whole civilisation of the future! Something that up to now has been present in a limited degree only — the feeling of responsibility — is extended beyond the bounds of birth and death by knowledge of reincarnation and karma. The feeling of responsibility is intensified, imbued with the deep moral consequences of these ideas.

Reincarnation and Karma, GA135, 5thMarch 1912, Berlin

In addition to Karma and Reincarnation, anthroposophists, like the former chair of the Anthroposophical Society in the Netherlands, Joop van Dam, have studied, practiced and published on the Eightfold Path. What has been less researched is the perceived resonance between the Tri Ratna or Three Jewels in Buddhism and the principle of threefolding as developed by Rudolf Steiner. (See my book The Wellbeing Society. A Radical Middle Path to Global Transformation.) The Tri Ratna is the most central, essential, spiritual entity in all streams of Buddhism. Buddhists take (everyday) refuge to the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha.

Since my first visit to the Goetheanum in 1976 I have been intrigued by possible similarities between threefolding and the Buddhist Tri Ratna. Only by exchanges in the context of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) with leaders of the Ambedkar movement in India, I got some external confirmation of possible resonance. Who was Dr. B. R. Ambedkar (1891 – 1956)? Born a dalit, an untouchable, low-cast, in a family with 14 children, he was given opportunities to study in India and abroad, and became a prominent law expert and political rival of M. K. Gandhi.

Ambedkar was of the opinion that Gandhi did not go far enough in the emancipation of the untouchables. After independence Ambedkar was given the task to draft the constitution of democratic India. Ultimately he found that becoming a Buddhist was the only way to positively liberate himself from the caste system. In 1956, just before he died, he took refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha and triggered a mass conversion movement among untouchables.

Upon the question how it could be that in his draft for the preamble of the constitution the three values of the French Revolution were so clearly recognizable, he replied that these were not the values of the French Revolution but it was purely Buddhism that had guided him.

I think here is a key to fresh collaboration between Anthroposophy and Buddhism. The Buddha symbolizes personal liberation and responsible freedom; the Dhamma stands for the laws of Nature and Karma to whom we all are equal; and the Sangha, in its narrow sense, the monastic order of monks and nuns, harbours in a broader sense the value of true brother- and sisterhood, the spirit of community.

A concrete affirmative response to the growing recognition of life-forces and the etheric in Nature, as an urgently needed expression of resilience vis-à-vis materialistic destruction, can be jointly shaped – in a universal context – with the help of modern insights on threefolding.

More concretely threefolding addresses: the challenges of freedom as well as responsibility of citizens; sovereignty of nation-states; and property rights in the economic sphere. All three have to be reframed.

Christopher Weeramantry, Sri Lanka (1926 – 2017), Vice President of the International Court of Justice, The Hague, himself a Christian, said about property:

(…) concepts such as ownership are often taught and conceived in Western jurisprudence as being of absolutist nature, which is the very antithesis of the Buddhist approach to these concepts. Their stress on rights overshadows the accompanying concept of duties, and the latter is what Buddhist teaching tends to emphasize. This elevated concept of duties lies at the heart of the notion of trusteeship.

C.G. WeeramantryTread Lightly on the Earth. Religion, the Environment and the Human Nature, Stanford Lake, 2014 (second print)

And the Constitution of Bhutan (2008), the last Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas, stipulates:

Every Bhutanese is a trustee of the Kingdom’s natural resources and environment for the benefit of the present and future generations.

Earth Trusteeship implies that all global citizens are equal trustees of the Earth. A new threefold world order will be based on Earth Trusteeship.

Regressive trends of our time, like Brexit (sorry Steve), are based on the old paradigm of sovereignty of the nation-state and accompanying nationalism.

We need to turn to the new paradigm of Earth Trusteeship.

Martin Large formulates, more concretely:

Social threefolding can also help answer the question of the conditions for organisational success. For example, community land trusts (CLT) are well grounded on threefolding principles. They secure the land as a commons or right into the trusteeship of a civil society, non-profit body, whilst leasing the right to use the land to a homeowner, who owns the actual ‘house structure’ standing on the land. The homeowner is able to sell or buy the house, but not the land, to qualified buyers. CLT thinking sees the house as a commodity and the land as a commons held in trust, so that land ‘value’ is captured for community, rather than for private benefit.

Rudolf Steiner’s Vision for our Social Future: Openings for Social Threefolding by Martin Large, New View magazine, issue 81, Autumn 2016.

Jeremy may have news about the Emerson College gathering in 2020.*

* Not yet – but I hope to have some preliminary information by Spring 2019. J.



Filed under Alois Mailander, Anthroposophy, Bodhisattva, Buddhism, Rudolf Steiner

Guest Post: The Bodhisattva Question

by Hans van Willenswaard

Regular readers of this blog may recall me announcing my intention to organise a conference at Emerson College in 2019 on some kind of post-capitalism theme. Since then, the conference theme has been through several changes and it is still being worked on with colleagues.  The most likely outcome will be an event in 2020 rather than 2019 and, rather than choosing subject matter likely to draw us into despair and angst, which is all too easy given the state of the world, the theme will be focused on asking the Earth what it needs now from human beings. In the course of navigating these changes, I made contact with a wonderful group of people who organised the International Earth Trusteeship Gathering in The Hague from 22nd-23rd June this year. Hans van Willenswaard is a member of this group, and I am pleased to publish the following article by him.

Dear Jeremy,

I follow your blog with keen interest and joy. Anthropopper blog is a great platform where challenging subjects can be discussed with openness, sincerity, humour and depth.

An issue that has been intriguing me – it indirectly appears through a number of your blog conversations – is the so-called “Bodhisattva question”. It is difficult to pin my contribution down to one existing thread. So, let me formulate a few points for discussion in this separate message. The two reasons why I send these now are: the recent rehabilitation of Ita Wegman and Elisabeth Vreede by the General Assembly of the General Anthroposophical Society in Dornach. The two Dutch ladies were both expelled from the board of directors of the society in 1935. And, as a remarkable gesture of synchronicity, the opening of “Elisabeth Vreede house” in The Hague as the new centre of the Anthroposophical Society in the Netherlands. Elisabeth Vreede is of course known in the first place for her extraordinary knowledge and research in the fields of mathematics and astronomy. But also for a series of lectures she held on the “Bodhisattva question”.

Two months ago the new Elisabeth Vreede house offered an intriguing location for my musings on this “Bodhisattva question”. I had the pleasure to be a co-organiser of an event in the restyled “Vreedehuis”, called the International Earth Trusteeship Gathering, 22-23 June 2018. Unexpectedly, as much improvisation was needed, the gathering turned out to be a significantly meaningful and dynamic international gathering with, at its peak, around 90 participants from all over the world including – to mention a few – professor in environmental law from New Zealand Klaus Bosselmann; Right Livelihood Award laureate (“the Alternative Nobel Prize”) and former chair Friends of the Earth International, Nnimmo Bassey, Nigeria; and Dutch expert in sustainable finance Roland Mees. Focal points were the Earth Charter, launched in 2000 at the Peace Palace in The Hague, and the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth adopted in Bolivia in 2010. I will explain later why this is relevant for a discussion on the “Bodhisattva question”. A highlight of the gathering certainly was the spirited speech on transforming ownership held by Gerald Häfner, leader of the Social Sciences Section at the Goetheanum. Gerald presented his views in front of the bust of Elisabeth Vreede. Elisabeth was born and grew up not far from the centre which now carries her name. The forward-looking Earth Trusteeship gathering perfectly matched the scale and warmth of Vreedehuis, the former Eurythmy Academy. The house is located at walking distance from the Peace Palace, seat of the UN International Court of Justice and other global judicial institutes.

My entanglement with the “Bodhisattva question” on which Elisabeth Vreede had lectured in The Hague, April 1930, and the same year in Stuttgart, stems from my inter-cultural background. I was born in the Netherlands and live in Thailand where I married Wallapa, my Thai wife. Midway in my career I joined the (then) Rural Development Programme (RDP) at Emerson College, 1982-’84. During my education at Emerson I became a member of the Dutch anthroposophical society. While I had taken earlier in the Netherlands, 1979, “refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha” – after years of training in Vipassana meditation – in other words: I was going to try to be a Buddhist. It has been and still is my intention to explore opportunities for synergy between these two commitments, both in my personal life and search for inner insight, as well as in the context of social development and inter-cultural co-creation of a better future. But are Buddhism and anthroposophy compatible?

I visited Forest Row and London occasionally to touch base. When I went to England in 1993 I discovered in a famous Steiner bookshop, not far from the British Museum, the freshly published English version of The Bodhisattva Question: Krishnamurti, Rudolf Steiner, Valentin Tomberg, and the Mystery of the Twentieth-Century Master written by Thomas Meyer. The book includes the two complete Stuttgart lectures of Elisabeth Vreede on the subject. It was originally published in German as Die Bodhisattvafrage by Pegasus, 1989. The publisher’s introductory text reads:

“According to Rudolf Steiner, the future Maitreya Buddha (…) incarnated (as a Bodhisattva: (my addition) in a human body in the twentieth century. Presuming this to be so, then who was this person? The Theosophists believed they had discovered the Bodhisattva in an Indian boy, Krishnamurti, who grew up to be a teacher of some magnitude. Adolf Arenson and Elisabeth Vreede, both students of Rudolf Steiner, made independent examinations of this question in relation to Steiner’s personal mission, and were led to contrasting conclusions. More recently a claim has been made that Valentin Tomberg – a student of anthroposophy but later an influential Roman Catholic – was the Bodhisattva. These conflicting theories are analysed by Thomas Meyer, who demonstrates how the question can be useful as an exercise in developing sound judgement in spiritual matters.”

“Developing sound judgement in spiritual matters” is what I have been trying to do, in particular at the crossroads of Buddhism and anthroposophy, since I got acquainted with both streams. The urge to make judgements in matters of “public spirituality” was a particular challenge to me, initially, as a founding team-member and later volunteer of De Kosmos meditation centre in Amsterdam from 1968 onwards. Later I combined my “taking refuge” with a vow to live my commitment to walking the path of the Buddha in a context of interreligious dialogue. For I did not want to renounce my Christian roots. For more than a decade I volunteered as secretary of the Dutch national chapter of what is now Religions for Peace, one of the global organisations for interreligious dialogue and cooperation.

It was thus with great anticipation that I started reading the book of Thomas Meyer. I expected positive clues towards synthesis, the dawn of common ground, efforts towards reconciliation and cross-cultural collaboration. At Emerson College – where my engagement with Buddhism fitted in a genuinely multi-cultural “RDP community” – I befriended pioneers of Steiner education in India and I felt the sadness of the historical divisions between the students of Krishnamurti, Mahatma Gandhi and Rudolf Steiner. Annie Besant had ushered Gandhi into his role as leader of the independence movement. And Krishnamurti, after his break with the Order of the Star in the East in 1929 (four years after Steiner’s passing), became a wisdom leader in his own right.

So I was deeply puzzled on the one hand by the lucidity of Meyer’s characterization of anthroposophy and his critique of the early Theosophists, of Krishnamurti and in particular Valentin Tomberg. However, at the same time I was struck by his apparent failure, maybe even disinterest, in making an equally intelligent effort to positively answer the question “who was the Bodhisattva of the 21st century?”. How can you intellectually cut down your antagonists in great style yet not be able to follow the stated predictions of Rudolf Steiner to discover this person so vital for the future of the Earth and humanity?

In 2010 a new German edition of Thomas Meyer’s book was released (which I did not read but in essence is announced to be the same) under the title Scheidung der Geister: Die Bodhisattwafrage als Prüfstein des Unterscheidungsvermögens. In English: The Bodhisattva question as test case for the power of discrimination. The introductory text now says:

“Elisabeth Vreedes Vorträge sind nach wie vor mustergültig in ihrer Klarsicht: Sie betonen den Ich- und Intuitionscharakter von Steiners Geisteswissenschaft, die sich von jeder Bodhisattwa-Inspiration unterscheidet.”

(Google Translate version: Elisabeth Vreede’s lectures are still exemplary in their clarity: They emphasise the ego and intuition character of Steiner’s spiritual science, which differs from any bodhisattwa inspiration.)

Isn’t this – rather by Thomas Meyer than by Elisabeth Vreede  – a disturbing appropriation of what Bodhisattva inspiration might be, and whether that excludes intuition as known in Steiner’s spiritual science? How can one do research into a “Bodhisattva question” in the context of the 20th century without a dialogue with leading contemporary Buddhist scholars – especially those who cherish Buddhist philosophy as a spiritual science rather than a religion – and with practitioners? Fortunately, I found consolation in the gentle but firm wisdom demonstrated by Elisabeth Vreede, of whom I had not heard before. I recognized in her approach the best of Dutch “normality” and tolerance in spiritual matters, be it combined with due earnestness and assertiveness.

In Vreede’s first lecture – included in Meyer’s book – she quotes Rudolf Steiner speaking on the Buddha:

“Earlier on he had allowed himself, so to speak, to be led from above; he had received impulses from the spiritual world and then passed them on. In this incarnation, however, 600 years before our era, he was raised to the rank of Buddha in his twenty-ninth year, i.e. in this incarnation he experiences the entry of his whole individuality into the physical body. (…)’

‘This was the enlightenment of the Buddha in the twenty-ninth year of his life under the Bodhi tree. There it was that the teaching of compassion and love flowered in him, independent of connections with the spirit world, as something belonging to the human soul; so that he could think through to the teaching of compassion and love, of which he spoke in the Eightfold Path. And the sermon following this is the great teaching of compassion and love, issuing for the first time from a human breast!”[1]

The rehabilitation of Elisabeth Vreede does not of course imply that there are no different opinions left regarding the Bodhisattva question today. Different opinions on the subject are, though not of primary importance, maybe as much related, albeit indirectly, to the present governance crisis in the General Anthroposophical Society as the “question” was during the, certainly much deeper, crisis in the 1930s. The popularity of Meyer’s book shows that the issue is still alive. From this perspective it is vital, in my view, to approach the different opinions as learning points – including learning how to govern diversity – rather than taking them as a “separation of spirits” and the proclamation of a doctrine.

Sergei O. Prokofieff wrote, in Rudolf Steiner and the Founding of the New Mysteries (German version 1982; first English version 1986), in line with the 1930 argumentation of Adolf Arenson:

“As an initiate Rudolf Steiner sacrificed his earthly astral body by placing it at the service of the lofty spiritual being of the Bodhisattva, and – in a wider sense – of the whole circle of the Master individualities, who are connected with the high sphere of the Holy Spirit who form now onwards, spoke through him.”

“(…) this event brings his autobiography The Course of My Life to its logical conclusion for Rudolf Steiner can no longer apply the word ‘my’ only to himself as an individual on Earth, but henceforth must apply it also to the cosmic beings working through him.”[2]

Elisabeth Vreede suggests – cautiously contradicting Arenson – that Rudolf Steiner himself had stated that he was not the Bodhisattva of the 20th century; and that he spoke out of his own soul. Would she have agreed with the description of Sergej Prokofieff in which Steiner largely gives up his “I” to make place for a “we”? Isn’t there a contradiction full of enigma between this description by Prokofieff and what Steiner had said about the Buddha: “There it was that the teaching of compassion and love flowered in him, independent of connections with the spirit world, as something belonging to the human soul.” Has there been a debate between Sergej Prokofieff and Thomas Meyer on how to understand the “Bodhisattva inspiration” in Rudolf Steiner’s development as a teacher of spiritual science, and how that inspiration relates to the path of “I – intuition”?

Steiner made, reluctantly, under pressure of the misleading Theosophical claim of clairvoyantly determining Krishnamurti as the Maitreya / reborn Christ, the prediction following below. [Lorenzo Ravagli added recently that, according to an account of Friedrich Rittelmeyer, Rudolf Steiner had stated orally that the revelation of the spiritual world leader would start in the 1930s[3].

Steiner’s prediction on the Bodhissattva of the 20th century contains three points. The Bodhisattva is:

  • Incarnated during the lifetime of Rudolf Steiner
  • Shows transition to exceptional leadership around the age of 30 years
  • Announces the appearance of the Christ in the etheric body of the Earth

It may not be good story-telling to give away the major observation I try to make in this conversation at this point but I would like to compare an early personal experience in my search for insight, with a quintessential reference to Rudolf Steiner by Thomas Meyer:

“Rudolf Steiner took such a serious view of this lack of discrimination, to which members of spiritual movements seem particularly prone, that he occasionally felt obliged to make very pointed remarks to rouse his pupils to an awareness of the grave consequences the lack of this faculty would have.”[4]

Let’s compare this with another source. It was in the year 1973 that (His Holiness) the Dalai Lama visited the Netherlands, and Europe, for the first time. I attended his public lecture in the main auditorium of the Royal Tropical Museum in Amsterdam. I do not remember much more than the extraordinary light in the lecture hall. Only one question and answer struck – as a beginning student of Buddhist meditation – me as exceptional. A person in the audience asked: “are there possible negative impacts of meditation?” The Dalai Lama was visibly amused being challenged by a difficult question, and he took time to think before he replied. “Yes, you risk to lose your capacity for discrimination”.

So, we all agree that Unterscheidungsvermögen (Discernment) is essential. But should that lead to a “separation of spirits,” to a Scheidung der Geister?

Now before I consider further the point of who could be considered to be the Bodhisattva of the 20th century, let me first raise the question of who invented this “Bodhisattva of the 20th century” concept in the first place. In Buddhism there are myriads of teachings on what a Bodhisattva is, but no teacher spoke about it in these terms, as far as I know. In early Theravada traditions bodhisattvas are personifications of the Buddha in incarnations before the one in which he attained Enlightenment. In Mahayana tradition and growing contemporary practice everyone can and is encouraged to make a Bodhisattva vow to “renounce individual enlightenment and work for the liberation of all beings and to attain buddhahood for their sake”.(5) We can all become Bodhisattvas within our limitations.

So the “throne that Krishnamurti left vacant” as Thomas Meyer says sarcastically, is a particular construction of the Theosophy and Anthroposophy movements only, it seems. This may clarify why Thomas Meyer considers candidates for the “Bodhisattva of the 20thcentury” exclusively from his own small circle.

In the theosophical context with its inclination to the East this is still understandable, but why does the exotic term “bodhisattva” remain common in the anthroposophical movement? With good reasons it can be argued that the phenomenon “bodhisattva” has been universalised and no longer belongs exclusively to the Buddhist tradition. This point of view rightly grants anthroposophical science equal – but not more than others – legitimacy to research, define and debate Bodhisattva inspiration. Universalisation is a fair legitimation, but needs to be exercised with due respect to cultural origin. Most importantly it remains to be seen whether the universalisation principle stands being reciprocal when applied to other phenomena.

Does it make sense, at all, to prove that Rudolf Steiner was right or wrong with his prediction? At least as an exercise for our own critical awareness, as Prüfstein des Unterscheidungsvermögens. And if we can solve the riddle, try to construct an answer, it may lead us to insights that enable us to unlock more mysteries that were left to the generations after Rudolf Steiner’s passing in 1925. It may, among others, help us to clarify what we mean with “clairvoyant evidence”.

Are Buddhists, like me, taken seriously when they try to contribute to solving the riddle of the Bodhisattva of the 20thcentury’s presumed manifestation?

Ton Majoor in his reaction, anthropopper February 5, 2017, links us, in one breath with a reference to Rudolf Steiner’s works – as if they are written in the same spirit – to the book The Shadow of the Dalai Lama by Victor and Victoria Trimondi. I was shocked to discover that this book, which I did not know but could read online following the link, is at least as malicious in its assessments of the Dalai Lama as many Steiner critics are towards Rudolf Steiner. Read it yourself. However, and that is one of the good things of the anthropopper blog, our efforts to appropriately discriminate – or discern –does not prevent us from admitting that, yes, critique is to be taken into consideration without prejudice.

So, far from being blind to the shadows of historic and contemporary Buddhism[6], let me make the following observations:

  • The Dalai Lama was incarnated in the person of the XIII Dalai Lama 1876 – 1933, so during Rudolf Steiner’s lifetime. The XIII Dalai Lama still was a fully feudal lama. Anyhow, according to the information transmitted by Friedrich Rittelmeyer the Bodhisattva of the 20thcentury would start to be revealed in the 1930ies. The XIV Dalai Lama was born in 1935.
  • The XIV Dalai Lama was formally recognized by means of traditional Tibetan procedures as the “Bodhisattva of Compassion” in 1939. In the initial years of his exile in India from 1959 onwards he still was confined to the traditional constrictions of his position. However, in 1967, at the age of 32, he started traveling abroad. His first destinations were Japan and Thailand. At the age of 38 he made his first journey to Europe. In an interview in the Netherlands, 1973, he stated that he himself never had said that he was the Dalai Lama, demonstrating a remarkable detachment from the traditional powers bestowed on him. He renounced his position as political leader and ushered in democratic elections of the Tibetan Government in exile. He initiated an open dialogue between traditional Buddhist scholars and leaders in contemporary science. The scholars that jointly shaped these Mind and Life dialogues included from an early stage anthroposophist Arthur Zajonc[7]. Arthur published various volumes based on the dialogues and ultimately led the Mind and Life Institute 2012 – 2015.
  • From his first journeys outside India onwards, the XIV Dalai Lama taught Universal Responsibility, in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but adding two essential dimensions toit: his teachings emphasise responsibility over rights, and a telosinclusive Nature, or “the environment”, rather than being predominantly human-centred.

My second encounter with the Dalai Lama (others were to follow) came in 1979, by coincidence just after I had “taken refuge”. As a volunteer I accompanied a delegation of – South East Asia based – Theravada teachers residing in Europe under the guidance of my Thai meditation teacher. The delegation made this journey to pay their respect to the Dalai Lama in his Tibetan monastery in Rikon, Switzerland. This gesture of respect, unusual among the Theravada and Mahayana streams in Buddhism, was instigated by Mahasi Sayadaw, a renowned senior Burmese meditation teacher, when he visited Europe. The Dalai Lama gave a teaching on the text of Shantideva (685 – 763) the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life.The Dalai Lama demonstrated a deeply engaging attitude of shared learning rather than authoritative teaching.

Leaving aside the particular predicate “the Bodhisattva of the 20thcentury” I would say without doubt, that the Dalai Lama, who liberated himself from feudal tradition and doctrine, while respecting and practicing meaningful tradition, is indeed a Bodhisattva of Compassion. But did he announce the appearance of the Christ in the etheric body of the Earth?

In my eyes the appearance of the Christ is a “possibility” that can only be realised through human awareness. If it cannot be perceived by the whole of humanity in universal terms, it will not happen. Nothing less than active universal awareness, shared by humanity as a whole, so “universal responsibility”, will be needed to make this possibility come to realisation. The test of clairvoyant evidence is realisation. Universalisation of the Bodhisattva phenomenon, as earlier agreed, is legitimate. I argue that universalisation, with due respect to the original context and taking into account related culturally specific wisdom, that legitimate universalisation also applies to the concept of the “(re-)appearance of the Christ in the etheric body of the Earth.”

In times of urgency, for those who can see it, this transformation of the Earth into “personhood” is happening. This was also the common “feeling” of fiery enthusiasm during the Earth Trusteeship gathering at Elisabeth Vreede house, 22 – 23 June 2018. Without solidifying it in coercive expectation, it was providing gentle direction to intuitive action. Of course this is only one small event among many developments gradually countering reigning human behavior that results in climate change, inadequate governance and massive economic over-exploitation. But for me it was especially significant “to see it happen”, on a human-to-human scale, in the house of Elisabeth Vreede. And hear her say, as if she spoke to me: [for (…) a person who treasures Bodhisattva Inspiration]

“‘active waiting’ which consists in learning the language of spiritual science should continue to be the guiding principle.”[8]

A great Bodhisattva of the 20thcentury is still in our midst. His message, along with anthroposophy and a diversity of streams, enables us to use our I- and intuition capabilities to make the re-appearance of the Christ in the Etheric body of the Earth happen – making Earth Trusteeship work for the benefit of future generations.


1 Lecture by Rudolf Steiner: Deeper Secrets of Human History in the Light of the Gospel of St Matthew, Stuttgart, 14 November 1909 (GA 117), English version, quoted by Elizabeth Vreede according to the book of Thomas Meyer.

2 Prokofieff page 75.

3 Lorenzo Ravagli 1930 ǀSukzession und falsche Bodhisattvas, Anthroblog, 26 Match 2014

4 Thomas Meyer The Bodhisattva Question, pages 11 – 12.

5 The Way of the Bodhisattva (Bodhicharyavatara) by Shantideva (Author), Padmakara Translation Group (Translator), Shambala publishers, 2006.

6 I am an active member of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) which brings together a diversity of streams in Buddhism characterized by social engagement and system critique. INEB was founded in 1989 in Thailand by social activist and scholar Sulak Sivaraksa.

7 We published various of his books in Thai language.

8 Second Stuttgart lecture, in The Bodhisattva Question



Filed under Bodhisattva, Buddhism, Dalai Lama