Hello, friends. It has been a long time. This is not so much from lack of inspiration—indeed, there are half a dozen different themes I’ve been meaning to write about on here for the past year—but simply from lack of time. Today I am busy grading summaries of pages 21-31 and 63-70 of Steiner’s Theosophy by first year Camphill Academy students. They are excellent. What a satisfying experience to bring a group of 25 young people to an initial understanding of the human as a threefold being of body, soul, and spirit. From a certain perspective this carries more urgency for me than whatever strange spaghetti I might want to throw at the wall here on Treehouse.
The following comes after some prodding and poking from my dear friend Jim Wetmore, and in light of his ongoing work on the english edition of Harrie Salman’s biography of Valentin Tomberg, carries a similar urgency to my need to grade Theosophy homework.
In that work, both Harrie Salman and Michael Frensch propose the idea that Valentin Tomberg was a vessel for the Maitreya Bodhisattva, a lofty spiritual being which inspired him from approximately 1931/32/33 through 1943/44/45 or so. This time period would more or less correspond with the most intense period of Tomberg’s anthroposophical work, during which he wrote or lectured on what has since been published as Russian Spirituality, Christ and Sophia, Inner Work, The Foundation Stone Meditation, and The Lord’s Prayer Course. After this time period, there is an apparently abrupt transition. Tomberg began a series of works on the reformation (or rather, resurrection) of jurisprudence in 1944, which were completed in 1952. These came from a more traditional, academic, and Catholic stance than the previous decade’s worth of work (Tomberg converted to Catholicism in 1945). After about 8 years of inactivity in the realm of publication or teaching, Tomberg then spent a majority of the sixties penning his Hermetic magnum opus, Meditations on the Tarot, which was not published (properly) until well after his death in 1973.
Harrie splits Tomberg’s public life into two parts: the first, Anthroposophical, and the second, Hermetic (some might say Catholic-Hermetic, but Harrie wants to downplay the negative connotations that may come with the identification of Catholic, which limit rather than properly describe the deeply esoteric nature of Tomberg’s Catholicism—one that is truly Hermetic in the sense of the word as employed in Meditations on the Tarot, i.e. universal, comprehensive, synthetic, holistic. However, I would argue that part and parcel of that holism is Tomberg’s Catholicism bearing within it the deepest devotion to what would seem to the uninitiated as backward traditions and conservatism). Again, from Harrie’s point of view, it is possible that the Anthroposophical phase was inspired or “overlit” by the Maitreya Bodhisattva, and that after this being “left Tomberg behind”, Tomberg was in a sense left to his own devices and no longer “inspired from above” so to speak.
Now, this is an area that has become quite confusing over the years. For example, you have Rudolf Steiner saying at one point that the Maitreya Bodhisattva would be a normal individual up until the ages of 30-33. Then a mysterious transformation would take place; the ego of that individual would leave, and another ego would come in—for example, that of Abraham, Elijah or Moses—and would operate within that individual from that point onwards, akin to the descent of Christ into the vessel of Jesus of Nazareth at the River Jordan (see the lectures from Nov 4 and 5, 1911 here: https://www.rsarchive.org/Lectures/GA/index.php?ga=GA0130). On the other hand, you have Robert Powell (see here) stating that Abraham was an incarnation of the Maitreya Bodhisattva, which would imply that Tomberg was one of those “higher egos” mentioned above from the very start (not to mention that Steiner himself stated that Novalis was Elijah). Then there is the perspective that there is a circle of twelve semi-archangelic Bodhisattvas who march ahead of mankind, attaining the level of an archai when they reach their final incarnation and the status of Buddhahood. And so somehow, you have a more “earthly” bodhisattva, incarnating every century in the struggle to attain a higher level of development over a 5,000 year period, as well as a more “heavenly” Bodhisattva, who actually is not quite properly human and is guiding this whole process from above.
Well, what a mess!
My personal preference is to clear away the confusion here by putting to use the frame of reference Tomberg himself was using by the end of his life. Indeed, if we truly subscribe to the idea that the biography of Valentin Tomberg was the appearance of Maitreya Bodhisattva in our time, shouldn’t we take the man at his word when he describes the nature of this mystery to us? For Tomberg’s perspective, we need look no further than the 21st Letter-Meditation on The Fool from Meditations on the Tarot. Here, he brings into relationship the path of the Avatars and the path of the Buddhas. From this perspective, the Avatars are beings of revelation and grace from above. They are the semi-archangelic beings who inspire the bodhisattvas on their paths to enlightenment. Whereas the bodhisattva him or herself represents the stream of human effort and experience. The eventual attainment of Buddhahood, in the final incarnation of a bodhisattva, represents the final and complete union between the inspiring Avatar being above (on a path of descent) and the striving human bodhisattva below (on a path of ascent). Let’s look more closely at Steiner’s words from November 4 and 5, 1911, and see if we can bring them into some alignment with Tomberg’s characterisation from “The Fool”:
In the case of this bodhisattva, a particular law applies. We shall understand this law by remembering the possibility that a complete transformation may take place in the life of the soul at a certain age in life. The greatest of all such transformations came about at the Baptism by John in the Jordan… a somewhat similar transformation will take place in him who will become the Maitreya Buddha… It will always be noticed that, between his thirtieth and thirty-third years, a tremendous change takes place in his life. There will be an exchange of souls, although not to such a complete degree as in the case of Christ. The “I” that dwelled in the body until then passes out of it at this time and the bodhisattva becomes an altogether changed being—although the “I” does not cease to function and is not actually replaced by a different “I” as in the case of Christ Jesus… What happens is this: the first “I” passes out and a different “I” enters. This may be an individuality such as Moses, or Abraham, or Elijah. This individuality will then be active for a time in the body, thus bringing about the preparation necessary for the Maitreya Buddha.
The bodhisattva lives on for the rest of his life with the “I” that entered into him at that time… When in some three thousand years from now he becomes the Maitreya Buddha, his “I” will remain in him but will be woven through by another individuality. And this will happen in this thirty-third year, the year when the Mystery of Golgotha was fulfilled by Christ. The Maitreya Buddha will then come forward as the Teacher of the Good, as the mighty Teacher who will transmit the true knowledge and the true wisdom concerning Christ…
So, how can we resolve this with the perspective of Valentin Tomberg? Well, Tomberg would not characterise this “foreign” ego that intervenes between ages 30-33 as the ego of Abraham, Elijah or Moses. He would say that this is a contact with the inspiring Avatar who is guiding the bodhisattva on the path to enlightenment. In the case of Maitreya, this Avatar is Kalki Avatar (Robert Powell makes the case that for the Zarathustra bodhisattva this Avatar is Rama, and I would make the case that for Gautama it was the Krishna Avatar). The way that Rudolf Steiner paints the picture, it seems very black and white: this “foreign” ego completely replaces the bodhisattva’s ego in all of his incarnations leading up to the final attainment of Buddhahood, and remains there in the vacated vessel of the bodhisattva’s body for the rest of his life. At the attainment of Buddhahood, the “natural” ego of the vessel does not leave: rather there is a complete merging of the two egos within the bodhisattva at age 33, who thereby becomes Buddha.
Now, my own perspective, using Tomberg’s language and based out of his perspective, is something a bit more nuanced and fluid. In what follows I will refer to the transcendent, archangelic aspect of the Buddha-in-becoming as Kalki Avatar, and the reincarnating human individuality as Maitreya Bodhisattva. Please, do not let there be any confusion that when I refer to Maitreya I mean anything transcendent. I am writing in Tomberg’s own terms, by which Maitreya is a “mere man” going through many, many lifetimes of struggle in order to—through a Faustian effort, so to speak—attain to Buddhahood.
Around the ages of 30-33, the Kalki Avatar makes a partial descent towards Maitreya. He can only come into as close a contact as this vessel is prepared to allow, through destiny and through his own efforts. And this “touching in” of Kalki Avatar into the life of Maitreya may or may not last for the remainder of the incarnation, in spite of what Rudolf Steiner indicates. It is by no means a linear path to Buddhahood. All that can be sure is that in the final incarnation, the Avatar is able to approach *completely*, and to merge *completely* with the struggling ego of Maitreya. In the meantime, and as a preparation, we must think of this struggling Maitreya as a kind of gestating child in a womb. He is surrounded and formed by a karmic community that radiates its impulses into him in his various incarnations. This karmic community is inspired and guided by Kalki Avatar (let’s remember that archangelic beings find their expression on the material plane in communities, nations, languages, peoples). And so it also depends—up until the final incarnation—to what extent the karmic community surrounding the focal point of Maitreya is prepared, by destiny and by their own efforts, to receive the guiding impulses of Kalki Avatar.
We can carry this image of Kalki working through a karmic circle, radiating his forces and guidance into Maitreya in the center, as akin to the incarnation of Christian Rosenkruez in the 13th century, when as a child he was surrounded by the “circle of twelve” who radiated into his being their particular experiences, wisdom, and capacities acquired over the ages. We can then imagine the final incarnation of Maitreya Buddha as akin to the reincarnation of Christian Rosenkreutz who was active in the 15th century as the founder of the Rosicrucian Brotherhood—all of the capacities that had been radiated into him in his prior life could now operate through him completely naturally, as a gift of grace.
So from my perspective, it does not make any sense to say that Maitreya left Tomberg at a certain point. Tomberg is Maitreya. The two are inseparable. However, it is possible to say that the inspiring activity of Kalki Avatar ebbed and flowed throughout his biography, depending on the karmic community with which he was surrounded. The inspiring activity of Kalki Avatar was at its height for Tomberg during the 1930s, but could only maintain itself as long as Tomberg maintained his connection and relationship with the anthroposophical movement. And in the build-up to World War II, with egotism rife amongst all leaders within the movement (including Tomberg himself, to be sure!), it became impossible for this connection to last through World War II.
It was, perhaps, written in the stars. According to an ancient Hindu prophecy, Kalki Avatar will appear among men as the restorer of true religion at the close of Kali Yuga (which ended in 1899), when the Sun, Jupiter and the Moon stand together in Cancer (specifically in the Lunar Mansion Pushya, 4°-17° Cancer). Now, on August 13, 1931, all three of these planets were in Cancer, but the Sun was beyond the Lunar Mansion Pushya (at 25° Cancer). And so it was almost—but not quite—the right conditions for the incarnation of Kalki into Tomberg: he was 31 years of age, the right age of receptivity for such an event, but the stars were not quite aligned.
Nonetheless, as Harrie’s biography indicates, a significant event occurred around this time for Tomberg:
In July 1931, Tomberg met Marie Steiner in Helsinki, Finland, at a conference where she read out all the class lessons of the Free School of Spiritual Science. These are 19 meetings for members of the first class of this school, at which the meditations given by Rudolf Steiner are read aloud by a ‘class reader’. Tomberg himself gave a lecture on the Foundation Stone Meditation. During the class lessons he had a spiritual experience, about which he wrote to Marie Steiner on 12 July 1931:
“… I experienced an awakening, an awakening of the soul, that I could hardly have expected. With my whole soul, I have heard the meditation texts that you have spoken in the hall. And everything, everything that they contained, I was able to experience this time with all the inner movement of the soul, with all the radiance of the soul. Space disappeared from my consciousness, I lost myself, and instead of both the outside world and myself, like a mighty wedge of spirit, a vibrating, radiant majestic experience descended, which was both a piece of the world and a piece of man”.
We can think of this time period around July/August 1931 as a “moment of conception”, with the birth of Kalki within the soul of Valentin Tomberg occurring sometime around April/May of 1932. The primary activity of Kalki within and through Tomberg (we might say “at the expense of” his personal self) lasted until the summer of 1943, specifically August 1, 1943, when the Sun, Jupiter and the Moon were within two degrees of each other at 12°-14° Cancer, fulfilling the prophecy of the starry script which would announce the birth of Kalki Avatar. Perhaps at this point in Tomberg’s biography, had conditions been right—both within his own soul as well as in the wider world community—another level of development may have occurred along the lines of uniting himself with Kalki. But on the other hand, perhaps it is in the nature of the step-wise development to complete union with this being that the starry script marked the bookends of the time of closer union between Maitreya and Kalki in the 20th century: August 1931 through August 1943. It may be worth noting here that Elisabeth Vreede, Tomberg’s main supporter from the General Anthroposophical Society who opened up the gateway for Tomberg to the Netherlands, passed away on August 31, 1943. And perhaps as the “birth” that goes along with the August 1943 conception, it was between February-July 1944 that the Tombergs settled in Germany and Valentin began his dissertation on law and jurisprudence at the University of Cologne.
And so, contrary to the perspective of Harrie Salman and Michael Frensch, I would say that it is only after 1943 that we get an impression of the mission of Maitreya, to whatever degree that is still distinct (as, for the time being, it must be) from the mission of Kalki Avatar. If the Kalki Avatar offers the grace of revelatory wisdom, as clearly exemplified in a work like Christ and Sophia, then Maitreya Bodhisattva offers the eternal effort of the striving human being. And this is what we see in Valentin Tomberg’s biography increasingly up to the end of his life: to investigate the question of inner certainty and to weigh all spiritual matters in the inner forum of conscience where the basis for this inner certainty can be found. It is the revelations unveiled to Tomberg’s spirit that we find in the years 1931-43; it is the unfolding of his own soul’s power through great inner struggle that we find from 1943-73.
For us nowadays we should attempt to be aware that on July 26, 2014 there was once again a “proper alignment” of the Sun, Moon and Jupiter in the 4°-17° range of Cancer. Perhaps this was once again a “moment of conception”, bringing Kalki to birth in April 2015—at the very least in a karmic community, and perhaps also in Maitreya himself. We must remind ourselves that the path to Buddhahood is both long and non-linear—it is entirely at the hands of destiny (i.e., grace, ora) and inner development (i.e., effort, labora) whether and how deeply Kalki is able to work into and through either his karmic community or Maitreya himself, and for how long. On August 11, 2026, the Sun, Jupiter, and Moon will once again be in a “weak alignment” as they were in 1931: with Jupiter and Moon conjoined at 14° Cancer, while the Sun is at 24°. From a certain point of view, we could even see the time from 2014-2026 as moving through 1943-1931 in reverse, in terms of the Kalki Avatar alignments bookending those two twelve-year periods. The stars incline, they do not compel…who is to say whether this moment in 2026 will be an “opening in the spiral”, another step in the octave of coming into receptivity of Kalki’s guidance on the part of the individual and the community—or whether it will be a “tower of destruction” moment, when illusions, inflated egos, and blind alleys are exposed for what they are, and we are thrown back upon ourselves?
On the other hand, whoever said the two are mutually exclusive? Perhaps they need each other. At the end of the story, “Annihilator of Ignorance”/”Maintainer of Religion,” (Kalki) and “Bearer of the Good through the Word” (Maitreya) come to be completely identical.