“Facing Apocalypse: Climate, Democracy, and Other Last Chances” by Catherine Keller

Let us first recall why Keller has chosen to “dreamread” John of Patmos’ Book of Revelation. As a process theologian, it is no surprise that she would be interested in a Biblical text. But her purpose is not merely to read John’s missive back into its 1st century CE historical context. Nor is her intent to read it as a literal prediction of a divinely determined future. Her aim, rather, is to unveil the eternal patterns of history that reverberate through John’s day into our own. Keller is dreamreading the “ancient future” of humanity, imperiled by imperial excesses and injustices then as now. She turns to Revelation as a polysemic source of dis-closure, that is, as a reminder that the future remains open-ended, its promise or peril awaiting our response to the signs of the times. Keller reads the book’s many internal contradictions as a call to liberate ourselves, through the work of shared mourning and collective uplift, from any sense of scripts already written so that we may arrive fully in the potent present, capable of facing what MLK, Jr. called the “fierce urgency of now.” The book she dreamreads remains relevant to our situation today because, with both oppressive and progressive effects, it has inspired martyrs, emperors, and enslaved alike to shape and reshape the course of civilization for millennia. 

In Chapter 5, Keller interprets John’s misogynistic vision of the luxuriously adorned “Whore of Babylon” astride a seven-headed, ten-horned scarlet beast as a metaphor (or “metaforce”) expressive of the unholy matrimony of imperial power and global economy. The beast is said to turn on the “Mother of Whores,” just as imperial superpowers have been known to contradict themselves by “devouring the very flesh, resources, [and] labor, [they] live from” (111). John details the commodities that the “merchants of the earth” of his day buy and sell along their Mediterranean sea routes. These include not only wine, pearls, silk, and spices, but “human bodies and souls” (Rev. 18:11-13). Keller reminds us that “Rome two thousand years ago operated the largest market in chattel slaves on the planet,” adding the disturbing facts that “civilization as we know it is based upon the labor of unthinkable numbers of slaves,” and, even today, long after the institution has been outlawed in most nations, tens of millions of mostly women and children remain in chains, with billions more stuck in what amounts to wage slavery (114). 

Keller then turns to a critique, informed by Revelation, of our insatiable neoliberal/neo-imperial capitalist political economy. In our day, as in John’s, the power of unchecked consumerism does not simply fulfill desires, it produces them—or in terms of John’s pornographic metaforce, it “seduces”: “the graphic of the great whore signifies a commodification of self, body and soul, on the part of imperial subjectsnot just their objects” (117). In other words, the power of capitalism is not simply “out there,” imposed upon us as the will of an imperial army may be. The truly insidious thing about an economy of greed is how it infects our very selves, our sense of self-worth and well-being. The engine of our economy depends upon knowing no limits, on the feeling of lack, the constant need of more income, more land, more labor, more stuff. The political representatives elected to protect our democratic rights and assure social stability by checking the power of transnational corporations have failed to fulfill their duties. Under the neoliberal order which has held sway since the 1970s (when declining growth, growing inequality, and rising debt put an end to the post-war alliance between capital and democracy), the role of the state has been coopted, so that it now “[offers] political support, tax benefits, police and military backing for the economy, which in return rewards the politicians it rides” (121). Capital cannot help itself, it commodifies everything: land, labor, politicians, and like John’s Porn Queen, even itself, undermining its own conditions of continuance. 

Building on the German economic sociologist Wolfgang Streek, Keller introduces the situation in present day Western democracies as a struggle between two constituencies, the “nation state people” and the “international market people” (122). Tensions are rising as inequality reaches levels not seen since ancient Rome (Keller cites studies showing that, within the US, the ratio between the richest 100 households and the bottom 90% is about 108,000 to 1, roughly equivalent to that between a senator and a slave at the height of the Roman empire). The rise of Trump and other demagogues around the world is symptomatic of income inequality and a growing rift between “nationalists” (who are mostly white and often rural) and “globalists” (often urban and somewhat more diverse). Rather than demonize the supporters of Trump (many of whom are evangelical Christians inspired by their own, albeit more spurious readings of Revelation), Keller acknowledges the ambiguities and contradictions of our times. Trump’s presidency was itself an outcome, and perhaps signals also the ending, of American neoliberalism (126). The anger that helped lift him into office stemmed from racist animosity but also the complete lack of concern shown by (neo)liberals for many working class people as the post-war industrial economy was dismantled and its jobs sent over seas. Keller admits that John’s visions are indeed suggestive of a great battle against the global elites who profit from such outsourcing. But the contradictions intensify, as Republicans blame wildfires in the Western US on environmentalists instead of climate change, while Democrats blame Trump’s election on Russian memes instead of acknowledging the impact of global trade on the lives of those Hillary Clinton dismissed as “deplorables.” Keller also warns against conflating jet-setting cosmopolitan neoliberalism with the radically intersectional cosmopolitics that resists with equal vigor both the “aspirational fascism” of nationalists and the insatiable extractivism of globalists (124). 

In the end, Keller returns to the beginning, to the “dominion” clause in the Genesis creation narrative that has stirred so much debate among environmentalists and religious scholars. It is becoming increasingly clear to anyone paying attention that “the matter of the earth will not neatly reduce to the stuff of dollar signs…Matter Strikes Back” (130). In other words, all of humanity is beginning to experience the blowback from centuries of unchecked extraction and pollution. Witness “Gaia’s Revenge,” as James Lovelock put it. All of humanity suffers from this blowback, the conspicuously consuming and technologically insulated wealthy Western peoples as well as the Global South, where billions of people are eager for justice to be restored despite being first in line to face rising sea levels and changing climates.

The drive to dominate the Earth among the Biblical peoples has deep roots in a perhaps partial reading of the story of creation: “What a beastly irony: somehow human-godlikeness got taken as ‘go for it, godly world masters: use up the earth, waste its creatures” (131). Keller closes chapter five by offering a re-reading of the first book, reminding that Elohim creates not from nothing (creatio ex nihilo) but from “the deep” (creatio ex profundis). Further, God says that every creature, and creation itself, is good, indicating to Keller that we who are made in God’s image “are called to emulate that love of the material universe” (131). (For more on Keller’s theopoetic reading of Genesis, be sure to check out her book Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming). 

In Chapter 6, Keller explores the “poetics of Hebrew hope” that shaped John’s 1st century religious context and that have continued to reverberate through the millennia. The earliest Christian communities suffered disappointment after their messiah was crucified by the empire they so despised. They waited for a second coming, but Keller points out that no such “coming again” is mentioned in the Bible. Rather, despite the persistence of imperial rule and the increasingly violent persecution of his followers, Christ is signaled as “present” (parousia) rather than still to come (135). Keller goes on to chronicle the uses and abuses of Revelation. In the 2nd century CE, the African theologian Tertullian, emboldened by John’s text, attempted to create some breathing room between politics and religion by calling upon Rome to protect religious freedom (144). Eventually, Emperor Constantine would answer this call, but only at the cost of the imperialization of Christianity. The anti-imperialist egalitarian community Jesus had inspired thus transformed into the official religion of Rome. Still, Tertullian’s call would ring true thousands of years later, inspiring the liberation of slaves in the Americas. In the 11th century CE, Pope Urban II’s holy crusades, inspired by the bloody battles of John’s visions, unified a war torn Europe against a common Muslim enemy. A century later, European Christendom would face internal dissensions again, as heterodox communities perceived the growing wealth of the Vatican through the lens of John’s Great Whore (149). The monk Joachim of Fiore declared the coming “Age of Spirit” when the Church hierarchy would be dissolved, all property would be held in common, and everyone would have direct access to the divine. In 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the doors of All Saint’s Church in Wittenberg, thus initiating the Protestant revolt against the excesses of the Catholic Church. Luther memed scenes from John’s Revelation by portraying the Pope as the Whore of Babylon. Included in his German translation of the Bible was a drawing of the Mother of Whores wearing the papal tiara (151). The Thirty Years War to follow was the bloodiest in European history. 

Colored version of the Whore of Babylon illustration from Martin Luther’s 1534 translation of the Bible

Keller chronicles these events to make clear that “the history of collective resistance to oppression is no less an effect of the Apocalypse than is the oppression itself” (155). Indeed, Jewish messianism leaves its traces in all modern progressive movements on behalf of justice. Keller says that the progressive left must grieve the “totalitarian traumatisms” and “messianic disappointment” of 20th century state communism, turning elsewhere for its (more intersectional, more cosmopolitical and multispecies) political projects (158). While the right appears more unified, and thus more poised to take power, it is “precisely because of its pluralist and planetary proclivities [that] the progressive spectrum is more vulnerable than the right to contradictions between its ever-apocalyptic priorities” (161). She councils our “cosmically entangled, dangerously gifted, achingly diverse” species to take time for griefwork, to mourn all that has been and is being lost. And she warns us to remain ever vigilant against the temptation to allow the rage that arises in us to forego its righteousness by collapsing into a vengeful “we-good, you-bad” dichotomy. The split between good and evil people only fuels more cycles of revenge. If God is love (as the other John said in his gospel), and if justice is what love looks like in public (as Cornel West puts it), then only our love of each other (enemies included) and of all creation can hold open the possibility of a future worth living in. What kind of future will that be? In the final chapters of her book, Keller offers some possibilities… 

God and the Chaosmos: Thinking with Catherine Keller

Several months ago, a discussion erupted across the SR/OOO blogosphere concerning the implications of various forms of nihilistic and theistic realism. Some of my critiques have since ended up in a Wikipedia article. In one of my responses to Graham Harman and Levi Bryant, I toyed with the idea of Whitehead’s panentheism as a kind of “wilderness theology.” A quick google search reveals that theologians have been playing with this idea for some time. Just recently, I’ve been reading Catherine Keller’s exquisitely written Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming (2003). The book is a meditation on the first few verses of Genesis, specifically the meaning of the phrase “tohu vabohu” in the second verse. Keller disputes long established interpretations by some Church fathers who claimed that these verses depict an omnipotent God’s free creation of the universe from absolutely nothing. Creatio ex nihilo. She argues that there is no biblical basis for the ex nihilo doctrine, that Genesis in fact describes a far messier, polytonal, and co-creative event. Creatio Cooperationis.

The first two verses of Genesis are usually translated as:

1In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. 3And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

Keller cites the 11th century French-Jewish grammarian Rashi, whose translation of bereshit preserves its literal meaning as written without an article (not “in the beginning,” but “in beginning,” implying that God’s “beginning” is not an absolute start, but a “beginning again”). He also preserves the plural noun Elohim, usually translated by nervous monotheists into the singular God. Further, Rashi’s hermeneutical care leads him to suggest that the first verse is not a complete sentence, but a dependent clause, making the second verse a parenthetic clause and the third the independent clause (114). The first three verses, then, should read:

¹When Elohim began to create heaven and earth²–at which time the earth was tohu vabohu, darkness was on the face of the deep and the ruach was moving upon the face of the waters–³then God said, “Let there be light…”

Keller dwells rhapsodically (173-182) upon the meaning of Elohim, which is plural for Eloah (not a personal name, since it can be used to describe any deity). The plural noun is accompanied by a singular verb, bara, “create.Some interpreters, like the 11th century Spanish-born poet Abraham Ibn Ezra, have claimed that Elohim refers to God’s angels. Indeed, there is a rich tradition of hermeneutical heretics that draw upon angelology to refute the ex nihilo doctrine. Keller’s Whiteheadian understanding of God as a persuader rather than commander shines through when she writes regarding the implications of the Elohimic plurisingularity:

Crowding and complicating the hermeneutical time-space, the turbulent swarm of godhood has always transgressed any possible boundaries between the One Original Creator and the many derivative creatures…According to this imaginary of bottomless process, the divine decision is made not for us but with and through us. Amidst the chaosmic committee work of creation, what work remains for a creator to do–aside from its decisive delegations (“let the earth bring forth,” etc.)? Can we say with process theology that the creator emits an eros…to which every creature willy-nilly responds? …Some respond more responsibly than others to the cosmic desire. Committees and democracies make a lot of messes…Our responses…generate our own plurisingular inter-subjectivities–out of the multiples of elemental energies, codes, socialities, ecologies that any moment constellate our cosmoi…Elohim arises out of those unruly depths, over which language catches its breath. The creator, in creating, becomes. In singular plurality (178-182).

Keller is a skilled hermeneut, capable of holding her breath long enough to dive into the polysemic depths of scriptural meaning, and of surfacing to tell the story of her journey without superficially collapsing it into a monotone theology or exploding it into relativistic jelly. She carefully unwinds the palimpsestic threads woven into the poetic phrase tohu vabohu to discover evidence of a goddess’ murder. The Hebrew poet who wrote Genesis was clearly influenced by the Babylonian Enuma Elish, which depicts the warrior God Marduk’s slaughter of Tiamat (related to the Semitic Tehom, “abyss”). The traditional interpretation of the phrase, under the monotheistic pretense of demythologization, denies all agency to the Tehom. The ex nihilo doctrine requires that God be alone in the beginning, the sole creator of everything, even that out of which creation is shaped. Keller reads into tohu vabohu and uncovers its prepatriarchal significance enfolded just beneath the surface. Rather than traditional commentators, who point to the monotony (“God said…God said…God said…”) of the creation narrative as evidence of its utter transcendence over any other merely mythic event, Keller focuses on the “flirtatiously alliterative wordplay” (116) of these same verses. The “monotonotheism” (Nietzsche) of the ex nihilo tradition is replaced with the participatory eroticism of Elohim’s creative persuasiveness: let the earth produce (tadse) vegetation (dese) (1:11); let the waters produce (yisresu) sea creatures (seres) (1:20). Tohu vabohu is read with the “shinning wake” of its animistic origins in tact, such that the precreation elements are read not as “formless and void,” but as active participants responsive to God’s angelic call to cosmos. In effect, Elohim had to ask permission before creating.

These exegetic exercises, I hope, help further the cause of a wilderness theology. In my own recent effort to bring forth a creation imaginary in service of wildness (Remembering Creation: Towards a Christian Ecosophy), I argued that some form of theological realism will be necessary in order to counter the nihilistic myth of the market. Theology, though marred by the “light supremacism” of its patriarchal past, must be resuscitated, less the chthonic waters of the unhinged psyche continue bubble up and reap havoc upon the earth. Theology of the traditional sort may be impossible, but theology of some sort remains indispensable. Theology, without denying its scientific aim, must also become poetic. It is crucial for anthropoiesis, for humanity’s ongoing political struggle to compose a cosmos, a collective dissipative structure, between the infinity above and the entropy below. Following Keller (and other feminist theologians like Luce Irigaray), we need not merely dress theology in drag, but rather simply queer its (te)homophobic roots, such that they bring forth blossoms of an earthier hue.

And the sea can shed shimmering scales indefinitely. Her depths peel off into innumerable thin, shinning layers…And with no end in sight. -Irigaray

Gnostic Consciousness: Knowing with Spiritual Beings


Despite my resolute sense of the sacred nature of earthly existence, religious belief has yet to strike me as a particularly appropriate form of response to the presence of the holy. Belief is to be distinguished from Faith, in that believing implies conceiving of the existence of spiritual beings without the perceptual experience to give such conceptions their content. Faith, in contrast, involves opening one’s innermost heart to the Wisdom of the divine and is the first step toward accessing supersensible experience.

Beliefs are empty wishes, which according to Rudolph Steiner, are “deeply bound up with personal egoism…rising out of the body like subjective smoke” (IMS, p. 233). I may believe a friend’s testimony concerning any number of worldly issues, but I cannot settle for a secondhand understanding of the true source of my deeply felt spiritual intuitions. I am forced, then, in this essay, to go beyond belief by way of Faith, that mode of loving perception whose content is Wisdom. In this way, I hope to contact the true source of my desire for the divine.

But leaving behind religious teachings and symbols entirely would be an arrogant mistake, stranding me in uncharted astral waters without any direction home. The human soul is a stormy sea between the lonely island I call “me” and the shores of a shared earthly destiny. Crossing these treacherous waters requires more than my ego can take. Psyche (my soul) is a spiritual being who cannot be an experience had by my ego, because my ego is always already adrift within Her, already swallowed whole. To calm the seas of my soul, I can only die willingly for Her in Faith that She redeems me. She is the Church, not of Rome, but of the earth entire. In Her, I find my destiny.

The maps toward Her hidden treasure have been written for us by countless spiritual seers, each urging us to brave the depths of Her psychic sea so that we may see with them what our earthly senses conceal. Her treasure is buddhi, the gift of intuitive knowing that bridges heaven and earth and turns death into eternal life.

The sacred scriptures pointing signs for us in the direction of the divine are many, but in this essay, I will discuss those mentioning three beings in particular: Krishna, Buddha, and Christ. In what follows, I will attempt, aided by Faith, Wisdom, and Love to know with these beings the purpose of their presence on earth, and to see with them how they are guiding the evolution of humanity toward a rebirth as the children of Gaia.


The human, at present, is a being precariously caught between the ignorant instincts of its animal past and the angelic gnosis of its spiritual future. Said differently, the human is a heavenly being still in the process of becoming fully conscious of its mission on earth.

The human soul, wounded by the split of the ego from the unconscious, is torn between a desire to live and a fear of death. In such a wounded state, humanity has little choice but to make of life a war in defense from death. Out of this confusion (confusion, because war for life only assures that death prevails) grows the soul’s conscience, its sense of good and evil. These moral opposites arise because the ego knows of no other scheme with which to make sense of its precarious mortal existence.

Humanity’s inability to see the meaning of the playful war of these friendly enemies (good and evil, life and death, desire and fear) is responsible for shattering its collective Psyche into an untold number of ego identities, for whom collectivity has become unconscious. The current age of spiritual darkness due to egoic isolation is one of war for forgotten wisdom buried beneath the blood of ages, for as Krishna says, only he or she “who in all things is without affection though visited by this good or that evil and neither hates nor rejoices, [only] his [or her] intelligence sits firmly founded in wisdom,” (BG, 2:57).

Krishna is the being that helps open the human heart to the karma of the generations who have come before, in whose deaths the lives of the present steal their time. Krishna is consciousness of the past, and all its implications for humanity’s future path. In Krishna, one becomes conscious of the weight of the whole human mass, or what Teilhard de Chardin might call the “great Monad” (HM, p. 188).

In the opening scenes of the Bhagavad-Gita, after being urged by his as yet unrecognized charioteer to ride forth into battle against his own family, the warrior Arjuna is caught in an epic struggle with the great moral forces in his soul. The war of Kurukshetra is set to begin, but Arjuna throws down his bow and arrow because he cannot bear the thought of slaying his own people, of embracing the cosmic significance and ultimate sacrifice of the task before him.

Arjuna looks to his charioteer for help, saying:

It is poorness of spirit that has smitten away from me my true heroic nature, my whole consciousness is bewildered in its view of right and wrong. I ask thee which may be better [to fight, or not]—that tell me decisively. I take refuge as a disciple with thee; enlighten me, (BG, 2:7).

His charioteer responds:

Finite bodies have an end, but that which possesses and uses the body, is infinite, illimitable, eternal, indestructible. Therefore fight, O Bharata. He who regards the soul as a slayer, and he who thinks it is slain, both of them fail to perceive the truth. It does not slay, nor is it slain, (BG, 2:18-19).

In the chapters that follow, the charioteer eventually reveals himself to be Krishna, the Lord of all existences. He shares with Arjuna many lessons concerning the inevitability of action in the constantly flowing realm of Prakriti (Nature). Among these lessons are the yogas leading the divinely inspired worker to act without attachment to the fruits of his or her labor while knowing Purusha (Soul) through devotion to the supreme Brahman. Bhakti brings one closer to the divine essence within, the atman, which when identified with heals the egoic rift in Psyche by reminding us of our eternal origin and destiny. The necessity of uniting the three yogas of action, knowledge, and love is a message running throughout the Gita, but the most important impartation occurs in chapter 11.

Arjuna, now free of self-pity and the delusion that his egoic indecision might forestall the inevitable cosmic unrolling of the Supreme Godhead’s secret labor on earth, asks Lord Krishna to reveal his divine form and body.

The Gita describes Krishna’s supreme form:

It is that of the infinite Godhead whose faces are everywhere…a world-wide divinity seeing with innumerable eyes, speaking from innumerable mouths, armed for battle with numberless divine uplifted weapons…the whole world multitudinously divided and yet unified is visible in the body of the God of Gods, (BG, 11:9-14).

Arjuna struggles to see such a tremendous vision, which he says is “hard to discern because Thou art a luminous mass of energy on all sides of me, an encompassing blaze, a sun-bright fire-bright Immeasureable,” (p. 176).

A warrior of another time, Teilhard de Chardin, seems to have encountered a similar many-eyed, many-mouthed divine being while embroiled in war against his own European family, calling it variously “an immense human Presence” (HM, p. 174), and “a Soul greater than my own” (HM, p. 175). He echoes the difficulty expressed by Arjuna, saying that the “gift or faculty of perceiving, without actually seeing…is still comparatively rare,” (HM, p. 31). Krishna relates the same when he says, “What thou hast to see, this thy human eye cannot grasp; but there is a divine eye (an inmost seeing), and that eye I now give to thee,” (BG, 11:8). This eye belongs to the atman, whose spiritual sight sees beneath the surfaces that separate to the face shared by All.

The intense human energy that is brought forth in war seems to have served as the provocation for the emergence of such a spiritual sight in both Arjuna and Teilhard. As Teilhard says, “The effect of the war was to break through the crust of the commonplace and conventional [so as to open a window] onto the hidden mechanisms and deep strata of what humanity is becoming,” (HM, p. 178). In this way, the confusion of good and evil are transcended through a vision of the future, as the full breadth of time and the path of world history are made present. Evil becomes, given such a view, the provocateur of further evolution—the light that violently wakes the Self (atman) from its slumber deep within the clouded human soul.

As Teilhard says, the outward chaos of the front lines, like a crashing wave, curls upon itself and develops within one:

“…an underlying stream of clarity, energy, and freedom that is to be found hardly anywhere else in ordinary life—and the new form that the soul then takes on is that of the individual living the quasi-collective life of all men, fulfilling a function far higher than that of the individual, and becoming fully conscious of this new state,” (HM, p. 168).

Krishna-consciousness calls upon one to go beyond the isolated egoic state and its culturally relative sense of good and evil by offering insight into the mission of humanity as a whole. Krishna is the first awakening of the human Self (atman) and its demand of personal sacrifice for love of All (Brahman). The ego must transform, like Arjuna and Teilhard, by remembering the momentum of karmic current carrying it out of the fragmentation of old, and seeing, with them, the future unification that redeems its present sacrifices. With the knowledge gained through such sight, one is called to fight not for hatred of one’s enemies or the spoils of war, but for love of an earthly destiny decreed by heaven.

In the closing pages of the Gita, Krishna offers his final teaching to Arjuna, saying:

Devoting all thyself to Me, giving up in the conscious mind [ego] all actions into Me, resorting to Yoga of the will and intelligence be always one in heart and consciousness with Me, (BG, 18:57).

To which Arjuna responds:

Destroyed is my delusion, I have regained memory through Thy grace, O Infallible One, I am firm, dispelled are my doubts. I will act according to Thy word, (BG, 18:73).

“We are,” as Teilhard says, “the countless centers of one and the same sphere” (HM, p. 192) rushing toward an inevitable return to psychic and spiritual wholeness. Only by yolking individual knowledge, action, and love for the sake of collective human destiny can one participate in bringing to fruition the divine mission on earth.


Krishna grants the human being a glimpse of the glory of his or her dharma by reminding him or her of their terrifying karma and the sacrifices its purification requires. Fully acknowledging one’s dharmic duty involves purifying the soul of its desires and fears. The teachings of the Buddha provide an appropriate practice kindling in the soul the fires of such purification.

The Buddhist Pāramitās provide the ego with a vessel to carry it from the island of isolated suffering across turbulent seas to the shores of enlightened compassion. One such path toward moral perfection and wise understanding can be found in the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths.

The first Truth concerns dukkha, or the fact that egoic life is suffering. Before Prince Gotama realized his inner Buddha-nature, his encounter with the three sorrows of age, sickness, and death nearly overwhelmed him. During the course of spiritual development, every individual is forced to confront these same sorrows in one way or another. Most initially ignore and repress them, turning their eyes elsewhere toward the many distractions afforded by countless bodily desires. But beneath the surface of such superficial pleasures, there begins to boil a sense of the emptiness of all egoic longings. The ego is possessed by a thirst that knows no satisfaction, and so eventually, dissatisfaction begins to overflow it, carrying the sorrows back into consciousness where they drown one in despair.

The Buddha invites one to sit with this psychic crisis rather than run, such that in its painful message is seen the source of the cure for all earthly sorrows. Recognizing that life lived egoically is a disease is the first step along the path toward calming the unsettled waters of the soul.

The second Noble Truth concerns samudaya, or the origin of suffering. Only once the impermanence of all manifest form is accepted and the sorrows of age, sickness, and death have been faced can the cause of such afflictions become apparent. It is craving for and attachment to the flux of phenomena that disquiets the soul and gives rise to its suffering. An ego still immersed in the uneven seas of desire is afflicted with a dis-ease occluding the clarity of its dharmic destination. Unless the ego-identified soul is cured of its suffering, one’s Buddha-nature remains but a seed awaiting the lush soil affording it an opportunity to grow.

The third Noble Truth, nirodha, concerns the cure allowing for the cessation of suffering. In this Truth is found the promise of the Buddhist path, that desire and its samsaric effects can be overcome and transformed into the bliss of nirvana. Nirvana is the extinction of desire through the realization of an emptiness (Suññatā) so luminously alluring that one cannot help but fill it with infinite compassion (Karuṇā). With this, the seed, or Tathāgatagarbha (GH, p. 105), of one’s inherent Buddha-nature absorbs the now purified water of the soul and begins to grow.

The fourth Noble Truth concerns mārga, or the Eightfold Path. It lays out a systematic way of engaging life as a spiritual practice in order to cultivate the seeds of wisdom (prajñā), morality (sīla), and concentration (samādhi) in oneself. Of course, an initial glimmer of insight was required before one could find the path at all. Without having the capacity to deeply recognize the inadequacy of egoic existence, one cannot even begin to take seriously the wisdom and moral precepts contained in the Eightfold Path.

As His Holiness the Dalai Lama says, in each person hides “the pure nature, the potential…to overcome imperfections and attain liberation,” (GH, p. 105). A natural awareness of the ever-present seed of wisdom within allows one to begin the process of cultivation. Once one has mastered right speech, action, and livelihood, he or she can begin to cultivate right effort, mindfulness, and concentration. With continued practice, the path culminates in a full flowering of the divine wisdom of buddhi, the intuitive intelligence lying dormant in the heart of each of us.

Buddhi opens in us a gateway between the heavenly realm of eternity and the earthly passage of time, giving us insight into the essence of our existence. The purpose of Mahayanist Buddhist practice, however, is not merely the attainment of Nirvana for oneself, but the transformation of one’s whole being into a bodhisattva of compassion. A bodhisattva is compelled to remain on the earthly plane to “suffer with” all sentient beings, sympathetically sharing with them through skillful means the path toward liberation.

Buddha’s mission is to provide the human being with a method for realizing the wisdom and compassion of its inherent Tathāgatagarbha. Without a way of cultivating this seed within, one remains stranded on an island of ego lost amidst the sea of saṃsāra. Buddhist practice offers a light in the darkness, a means of contacting the buddhi hidden in the depths of our soul and making conscious its task of transfiguring the world.


While it has also been said of Buddha that he “walks on the water” (EPO, p. 90), Christ heralds the very Spirit of the water itself. Rudolf Steiner has said, “Buddha’s life ends with the transfiguration, whereas the most significant part of Jesus’ life begins after the Transfiguration,” (CMF, p. 97). By this, Steiner means that Christ not only became one with the light of the world (as Buddha did after his parinirvana), Christ is the being who radiates this light into the world of flesh and blood, into the very heart of the cosmos itself.

Just before his death, the historical Buddha, according to the Dalai Lama, “stated that the body of a fully enlightened being…is…impermanent and subject to [transience, impermanence, and non-endurance]” (GH, p. 120), just like every other phenomenal form. According to Steiner, Buddha’s transfiguration merged him with the “all-pervading blissful life of the spirit” (CMF, p. 97), thereby demonstrating humanity’s origin in the divine Word (Logos).

In contrast, as is written in the Gospel according to John, in Christ, “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (1:14). In this way, the spiritual essence of the cosmos incarnated on earth, suffered crucifixion, and was resurrected. As a Sun being, Christ expresses the hidden meaning of light and warmth, radiating wisdom and love upon all humanity. Christ’s transfiguration makes transparent, according to Jean Gebser, “the genuine irruption of the other side into this side, the presence of the beyond in the here and now, of death in life, of the transcendent in the immanent, of the divine in the human” (EPO, p. 529).

While Buddha provides the method that purifies the soul, returning Psyche to a virgin state free of the conflicting desires and fears of a merely earthly existence, only Christ can provide the spiritual power that births in us the divine Wisdom capable of loving the world entire.

As is spoken by Christ to His Father:

…the glory which You gave Me I have given them; that they may be one, even as We are One: I in them, and You in Me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have Loved them, as You have Loved Me (John 17:22-23).

The Love made possible by Christ’s incarnation on earth is what unifies not only the entire human race, but the cosmos itself into a single Body whose life is eternal. This, the Body of Christ, is the true Church open to anyone with the Faith to heal the separation from the spiritual realm caused by original sin. This sin was the knowledge of good and evil that turned the soul into a battleground and made death its principle enemy. As is written by Paul in Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”

Faith was distinguished from belief at the outset of this essay in order to make it clear that the wishful desiring of the latter only clouds our ability to listen for divine inspiration. Although it is written, “…blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29), we may read the use of the term “believed” in this context as more akin to the openheartedness of Faith than the egoic desire for wish fulfillment. But the open ears afforded by Faith are not enough to fully and intuitively participate in the meaning of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.

As Steiner has said,

Faith allows a person to participate unconsciously in the Mystery of Golgotha, [but] initiation leads to a fully conscious connection with the power that streams invisibly from events depicted in the New Testament (CMF, p. 100).

In other words, while Faith brings us to the water, it cannot make us drink of its immortalizing Wisdom. However, the Resurrection of Christ is significant precisely because it transforms what had been revealed only to a few in secret into an event upon the world stage of history. What had been a mythological image becomes, after Christ, an actual event (CMF, p. 98). Given Faith, though one may currently lack the spiritual sight to consciously commune with the Wisdom of Christ, realization is nonetheless assured and made inevitable by the deed that was done on the Cross for all humanity.

But as was made clear at the outset, I cannot settle for the hearsay of stories, but must myself die and rise by the Love of Christ. I must know, with Paul, “that Christ, being raised from the dead, dies no more,” (Romans 6:9), and “that our old man [was] crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed” (Romans 6:6). With this, the Christ in me becomes alive unto God, I am reborn, and my Psyche remembers her true name: Sophia, Bride of God.

My soul is but a reflection of Sophia, the divine Wisdom who’s Love was so great it overflowed the Pleroma and created the world. As Eve, She tempted me when I was Adam with the serpent’s secret fruit. I ate and gained knowledge that this world was not my origin and that death must not be my destiny. Christ was Her rescue mission, the Savior sent to Redeem Her creation from the sin of separation from God. Christ is “the Light of the world” (John 9:5) who shines upon the shattered mirror of many souls making each One with Him in Love.


Only when I begin to open my heart in Faith can I hear the whispers of spiritual beings softly singing me the Song of the Spheres. Faith brings me—through Krishna, Buddha, and Christ—to Wisdom, the source of the Light of the world.

With Krishna, I come to know and love my karma, to act without personal attachment to the fruits of my labor. For the labor of life on earth concerns a destiny shared by all, a mission mandated by the insatiable ramification of the human race and the closed shape of its planet’s surface. Our dharma is to unite as a single Omega, a Cosmic Person.

I come to know, with Buddha, the skills required to pacify my soul, to cure it of its sickness. So long as the ego remains unconscious of its shadow and Psyche forgets her name, my soul cannot express its one true desire: to love all beings that suffer in the world of earthly turning. Buddha provides the soil out of which the seed of compassion and Wisdom may grow.

In Christ, I come to know that His was also my ego’s crucifixion, the death of all my sin. Christ comes to replace the external Law of old by awakening the Word of God within my heart, “for the Law was given by Moses, but Grace and Truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). His resurrection redeems the creation of the cosmos and opens the gates of heaven to all who dwell on earth, because as Teilhard says, “Heaven cannot dispense with Earth” (HM, p. 203).

Works Cited
ISM – Bamford, Christopher, ed. Isis Mary Sophia: Her Mission and Ours. Steiner Books, 2003.
BG – Bhagavad gita and its message with text, translation and Sri Aurobindo’s commentary. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Light Publications, 1995.
HM – Chardin, Pierre Teilhard de. The Heart of Matter. New York: Harvest Books, 2002.
EPO – Gebser, Jean. Ever-present origin. Athens, Ohio: Ohio UP, 1986.
GH – His Holiness The Dalai Lama. The Good Heart A Buddhist Perspective on the Teachings of Jesus. Minneapolis: Wisdom Publications, 1998.
CMF – Rudolf, Steiner,. Christianity as mystical fact. Hudson, N.Y: Anthroposophic P, 1997.