Asia and The West at the End of the 20th Century

by Terry Boardman

The  Crusade of the 13th Century

Rudolf Steiner pointed out the great debt owed by western natural science to the spiritual stream of what he called ‘Arabism’, and which in fact is far broader than that of just the 7th century Arab conquerors  of the Middle East; it includes the fruits of the much more sophisticated and long-developed cultures of the region – Syria, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia. To a very large degree, western natural science is the product of this Middle Eastern culture – the offspring of the intercourse between Christian Crusaders and Muslim Holy Warriors in a martial age. When peoples fight, karma is created between them. There is enmity, hatred, and rejection, but there can  also be respect, mutual learning, and even love between individuals in the groups involved. Like teenagers, in getting to know each other, they ‘bounce off’ each other. Self-knowledge results from these struggles with ‘the other’, until, like Parsifal and his Eastern opponent Feirifis, one realises that the other is actually part of oneself, one’s own brother in fact.

In addition to the physical battles of attack and defence waged by the Crusaders against ‘the infidel’ during the 200 years of  the period of the Crusades, there were also spiritual battles waged by the intellectual defenders of Christendom. Thomas Aquinas and the Scholastics felt that they had to refute in the strongest possible terms the powerful seductions of the Middle Eastern, not merely Islamic, philosophy of Averroes and Avicenna which had entered western culture via the schools of Islamic Spain. Men like Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas  felt that all that was new and ‘progressive’ about western culture – which was connected with the sanctity of the individual soul and its relation to Christ – would be fatally undermined by what were essentially pre-Christian ideas re-cast in Islamic form by Muslim philosophers: the individual would once again be subsumed within the group; after death the individual soul would lose its being like a drop in the cosmic ocean.

There can be no doubt that the Scholastics were right to wage that struggle, and if they had lost it, the consequences for European, and indeed human, civilisation would have been dire indeed. As it was, the consequences were difficult enough, because the Middle Eastern yearning for the transcendent Father did make its way into the heads of such as Roger Bacon and William of Occam and transformed itself into the longing to know the overarching, all-powerful world of Nature. However, just as the physical Crusaders were losing their own battles against the Muslim armies of Saladin and later, against the Mamelukes, the European Scholastics, the intellectual Crusaders of the 13th century, succeeded in stemming the tide of Muslim Middle Eastern thought long enough for mediaeval Christendom to create a culture that would  enable the individual soul to feel its self-worth before the  Father,  Christ, and the spiritual world. This victory was ultimately to contribute greatly to the individual European souls being able, at the end of the Middle Ages, to break free from what had become the stifling spiritual control exercised by the self-appointed guardian of Catholic Christendom – the Papacy.

But another, and equally vital contribution came from another, more hidden, direction. It was also the result of the meeting between the Christian West and the Middle Eastern Islamic world which lasted for some 700 years.  The encounter had begun with the eruption of the Muslim Holy War against the byzantine ‘infidels’ in the mid-7th century after the death of the Prophet Mohammed, and culminated with the ejection of the western Crusaders from the Middle East at the end of the 13th century. This other contribution, working  by  subterranean cultural channels less visible to the document-bound historian,  resulted in the “Parsifal” of von Eschenbach, inspired by his mysterious teacher: his kinsman Kiot of Katalang’n who found in Toledo  the star wisdom of the pre-Christian Middle Eastern astronomer Flegetanis written in Arabic. It resulted also from the Templars’ social and economic initiatives and cultural toleration and the effects they had on the souls of many; it resulted in the Passion and persecution of the Cathars and other groups, most of which had their roots in the Middle East and  sought a Christianity more inspired by the Holy Spirit that could speak to the individual, free from church-controlled dogma. It resulted from the journeyings in the Middle East of Christian Rosenkreutz; indeed, much of what has come to be called ‘western’, as distinct from Indian or  East Asian, traditional esotericism owes its origins to the Middle East   and to Egypt . It resulted from contact with the Kabbalistic and esoteric teachings of the Jewish people, which both pointed to an inner way of salvation that the individual could take, as well as to the relation between the individual soul and the world of Nature and Cosmos shown in the Tree of  the Kabbalah.

There were two sides then, to the Middle Eastern spiritual influence that came towards the West in that 700 year period – an exoteric intellectual one, which had to be resisted if  the fragile  seeds of  Christian individuality in the soul were not to be overwhelmed, and a more mystical esoteric one, which  could help the West to understand both itself and the place of Christ in human evolution. However, during the culmination of that  particular East-West  meeting in the mid-13th century,  the West momentarily came into direct  contact with something even more powerful and elemental than Middle Eastern spirituality. It was suddenly confronted by the awesome forces of  the ‘ Far East ’ – awesome, because they were not dualistic in the theocratic sense of Middle Eastern culture. Here was no yearning for a transcendent Father or an overshadowing by the Holy Spirit as the result of hard spiritual training, but rather spiritual-physical, monodic immanence, a people seemingly possessed by a spiritual power and a sense of unity that moved them with elemental force. In what Rudolf Steiner, following Trithemius of Sponheim and other esoteric writers, called the Age of the   Mars Archangel Samael (1171-1525),(1)  European humanity suddenly and with shock for the first time really perceived the peoples known to esotericists as the peoples of Mars,(2)  most notably the Mongols, but through contact with them, Europeans also learned of the lands of China and even Japan. Against these forces of the Far East,  both the Middle Eastern Islamic and the Christian European cultures seemed outwardly powerless as army after army, town after town, went down to ignominious defeat or utter destruction.

The effect of that shock was so great upon the European mind that the Europeans spent the next 200 years trying to fathom what this cultural phenomenon was and where it originated. It is one of the greatest ironies of history and a deep-rooted mystery that this desire to understand and explore the  Far East was ultimately to lead Europeans to America ! However, despite some slender contact with China and Japan in the Age of  the Moon Archangel Gabriel (1525-1879), it was not until the  onset of the Age of  the Sun Archangel Michael ( 1879-2233 ) that more wide-ranging contacts with the Far East were possible. During the Age of Gabriel, the period between the Mars and Sun epochs,  the West got to know the truly ‘middle’ eastern culture of India ,(3)  which previously, it had only momentarily directly touched  as a result of the campaigns of Alexander . The spiritual influence of India upon the West has been great in the 20th century, culminating perhaps with the hippy generation of the 1960s and 70s that are now, middle-aged, in positions of authority in the western world. Many are those in the West who, when they think ‘spirituality’ think immediately of  yoga, of  TM (transcendantal meditation), of Hare Krishna, of  Gandhi, Aurobindo, Rajneesh or other Indian gurus, and who, when they need release from the pressures and uncertainties of their busy modern lives, turn to ancient Indian philosophies or gurus for solace and  certitude. Compared to the monochrome and book-bound abstractions of Judaism and Islam, the highly coloured Indian spirituality is above all one of all-embracing feeling, of warmth, even passion and sensuality – it is multiplicity in unity, ten thousand Gods as One. For very many westerners who are comfortable with the idea of pluralism, the spirituality of their own culture – the Christianity of the churches or the cold rationalism of western  philosophers and natural scientists  – cannot  compete with the spiritual efficacy of the heart that still beats within Indian culture.

Enter the Dragon

But now on the brink of the 21st century, ‘the West’ – by which is meant that part of humanity that has been profoundly and for centuries deeply affected by Christianity, if only of the Church -  is facing an even greater challenge to its identity. 700 years after the culmination of the meeting with the Islamic Middle East, which resulted in European natural science, not to mention trends in art and music such as Gothic architecture and abstract arabesques in music, and 700 years after that first brief contact with a Mongoloid people, the West is about to  engage seriously with the world’s oldest living civilisation – China, which now accounts for  a quarter of  the world’s population, and  with the cultures already profoundly affected by Chinese civilisation – Japan, Korea, Tibet,  Mongolia, Vietnam.

Japan’s modernisation in the 19th century was led by the samurai class who had dominated the nation for 700 years, and so Japan has been in the advance guard of this East Asian wave for a century already, and has been the most westernised as a result. Japanese Zen Buddhism since  the 1950s and martial arts since the 1960s have had a significant effect on varied groups within western society: both intellectuals, artists, scientists, as well as streetfighting youth.  Japanese business and managerial practices have had both salutary and negative effects on western business culture.  The example of the ‘successes’ of the Japanese education system has been almost entirely negative in the West as politicians ignorant of the realities of Japanese educational practice scramble to get their own peoples to emulate  high Japanese scores in maths and science tests that, it is believed, will ensure economic victory in the saurian battle of national economies. The same western politicians seek to emulate also the close degree of general control over education exercised by the government in Japan . The Japanese example, for instance, contributed greatly to the introduction in the 1980s of Britain ’s first ever standardised National Curriculum in which the State presumed to tell teachers what to teach. This was carried through by Margaret Thatcher ’s Conservative government which trumpeted itself as the party of liberty and individual freedom. If teachers themselves are shackled by government as to what they see fit to teach, how can their pupils be educated to think freely? But such an absurdity was overlooked by politicians who were mesmerised by the seeming success of Japan ‘s economy. History has moved on; it is now felt by the business and media pundits that the rising sun may now have set. Typical of Mars, the ever erratic planet, it has been Japan’s military destiny thoroughout the ages to have been spectacularly successful in attack, but not so good in sustaining momentum. Having had its day in the 1970s and 80s and having helped to set China on the road to a  modern capitalist economy by its investments, its loans, and its know-how, Japan is now felt by western and even some Japanese observers to be passé, or at least, very much stalled.  All eyes are now on China, and the next century.

Meanwhile, an aggressive, thrusting, and modernising China has violated  the ancient and static culture of Tibet in much the same way that China’s own ancient and static culture was violated by an equally aggressive and modernising Japan between 1894 and 1945. This enforced modernisation of Tibet has had the signal effect of exporting Tibetan Buddhism throughout the West, where it is now the fastest-growing form of that religion, and the one that, for many westerners, almost has a monopoly when it comes to ideas about reincarnation and karma. For a sensual spirituality, go to the Indians; for knowledge of reincarnation, ask the Tibetans, for an aesthetic and innocent, even spartan spirituality, turn to the Japanese – such is the path for western spiritual consumers down the aisles of the Asian spiritual supermarket. But  for the ingredients for the main course, the culinary experts are increasingly being felt to be  – the Chinese.

Taoism, the I Ching (the Book of Changes),  the philosophy of  Yin-Yang, Chinese astrology, Feng Shui (telluric energies within the Earth and the biosphere), Chinese medicine and its knowledge of chi, acupuncture,  Tai Chi, Kung Fu and other Chinese martial arts, etheric life streams within the body – all these very profound forms of spiritual knowledge, which ultimately reach back to Atlantean wisdom, represent a powerful magnet for westerners, artists and scientists alike, and constitute both a great challenge and a great opportunity for Western culture. Artists are drawn to the dynamic flexibility and purity of form in these ideas as much as to their seemingly eternal verity; scientists focus on their non-theistic impersonality which can often, though by no means always, be rendered in highly abstract forms that seem to support western scientific intuitions.

In meeting this cornucopia of East Asian wisdom, one senses that the West, as it had to do 700 years ago, will have both to resist and to constructively engage with different aspects of it. The East in general, from Palestine to Japan tends to undervalue the worth of the individual  vis-à-vis the collective. The West cannot afford to be overwhelmed in this regard by East Asian thinking anymore than it was by Middle Eastern thinking 700 years ago. By the 13th century, as the 4th Post-Atlantean  epoch (747 BC – AD 1413), the epoch of intellectual development, was drawing to a close, Christian Europe had learned to think for itself. We are only some 600 years into the epoch of Consciousness Soul development, the 5th Post-Atlantean epoch (AD 1413 – 3573) when we are to learn how to wed moral conscience to intellectuality. If the rationalist thinking of western philosophy is rooted in the logic of the head, a head-knowledge that learned much from the Middle East, then Indian thinking can be said to be a thinking of the heart-lung region, while East Asian thinking is preeminently a thinking that reflects the metabolism and the organs below the solar plexus. It is an unconscious  thinking from the guts, from the hara, as the Japanese say. It is thus endowed with will, with an almost magical and irresistible power. In an echo from the Age of  Atlantis, when a subordinate’s will  would be directly imprinted by his master’s speech, the Japanese have a word for the power of speech  – kotodama (literally, the soul of speech). This is no mere western-style rhetoricising. It can still be heard in Japanese temples and shrines and even in the speeches of Japanese politicians in the Diet, where indeed, it may be on its way, historically, to degenerating into empty rhetoric, but the feeling for that willpower in speech and for the sacred magic of speech can still be amply felt.

The Crusade of the 21st Century

In the next century there will need to be  a new generation of western spiritual Templars, politically incorrect though this may sound, to defend  the key spiritual achievements of the West. These achievements are not, of course,  those of  the churches, but rather, have to do with the very concept of  the individual spirit, which is unbound by any bodily or genetic attachment. They also have to do with the fragile beginnings of the Consciousness Soul that has been developing since the 15th century. East Asian thought, being Atlantean in origin, rather than post-Atlantean,  hardly recognises the I, which in Indian thought, begins to be visible. East Asian thought  respects  the We that is bound by blood and soil, the spiritual being that is felt to be moving within blood, soil, climate, and language – in other words, direct experience of the people’s guardian folk-spirit, the archangel. It could be argued that people everywhere feel something of this – we all have some kind of feeling for, say, “Englishness”, and indeed that may be true, but few feel it as intensely as East Asians, where attachment to blood group runs very deep indeed. It is not mere nationalist brain-derived ideology, as with European rightists, who too often turn their hate-filled ideas against other peoples, but something much less conscious, something that resides in the force of love in and for one’s own people  – a love that the Gods long ago in Atlantis placed in the blood. It might seem strange to speak of love and then think of the samurai, Genghis Khan, and  Japanese atrocities in World War II, but there is really no contradiction.

In the East Asian community one lives in love; one feels totally part of the community; there is little  individual alienation as in the West. One has to be in East Asia to feel this communal love.  Violence against others in East Asia is often  violence against members of other groups who are not part of one’s shared communal love. This idea also goes some way to explaining the high degree of competition in Japanese corporate culture. Western nationalism, by contrast, is all too often a reflection of the hatred and isolation felt by individuals in Western society, and a subconscious desire to get beyond this isolation into a substitute family. This  fear and loathing felt by individuals in the West is projected outwards against others in the form of aggressive nationalisms such as we have seen in Bosnia and N.Ireland, or on  English, French, and German streets. This is no value judgment; it is a reflection of a world archetype: light, love and respect in the East; darkness, fear and hatred in the West. The surprising result of living within this East-West archetype is that the greatest  pride and arrogance can sometimes be seen in  East Asia, and the greatest  compassion in the West.                                                                                 

Just as there will need to be Crusaders however, there will also need to be  the builders of bridges between the West and East Asia, new Templars perhaps – those who can find a way for East Asian wisdom to illuminate the still delicate western spiritual achievements without destroying them. If this becomes possible, then westerners will be enabled to see how their culture fits into the vast panorama of  the evolution of human consciousness and that it truly has its own worth, and a reason to exist and  develop further. They will also understand more of the nature of the etheric world from Chinese wisdom and of the nature of movement and dynamic flow. Despite the Chinese inclination towards the concrete and material, their knowledge of flow and movement (especially in the Book of Changes, I Ching) in the natural world will help westerners  to overcome the static sterility of  western science which tends to be  body-bound and  brain-bound. From the Middle East, the West learned star wisdom, the knowledge of the astral body and the astral cosmos. It was learned, for example, how the different planetary and zodiacal influences were directly related to the various parts of the human body; Shakespeare’s plays are full of this knowledge.

From East Asia, the West is about to learn something of flow wisdom, the knowledge of the etheric body and of the etheric Earth. But as with the star wisdom of the Middle East, this “new” wisdom from East Asia, will not be a Christianised wisdom. Unfortunately, the knowledge of the etheric from a Christian esoteric viewpoint, which is one of the key results of Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual research, has been unable to penetrate western culture widely over the last 100 years for a variety of reasons, which have to do both with the complacency of  Anthroposophers and with a near-conspiracy in  academia and the media to ignore Rudolf Steiner and his work. Perhaps this East Asian etheric knowledge, if interpreted rightly, will nevertheless contribute to developing perception of the Christ Who is now working in the etheric mantle of the Earth. For its part, East Asia will learn from the West the knowledge of the physical body, the physical world and of the individual Ego. East Asians did not so much appreciate Indian Buddhism’s emphasis on freeing oneself from this physical world, for they are very much drawn to the beauties of the world. What they got from Buddhism – those of them who were already moving on in their soul development – was its teaching of love and compassion  in this physical human life that is often so painful.

The Return of Mani

700 years ago, the distance travelled by the Mongol armies, the area ruled by Kublai Khan, was almost the same as that which had been covered by the adherents to the teachings of  Mani  some 700 years before. In the third century Mani had founded the first truly Eurasian religion in the Christian era. He saw it as syncretic and cosmopolitan. The Christ Being, he taught, was at the centre of a colossal struggle between spiritual light and spiritual darkness, and the aim was to enlighten darkness and evil from within, not to destroy it from without. The words ‘Manichaeism’ or ‘Manichaean’ are used almost exclusively as derogatory terms by many intellectuals today, who know little or nothing about Mani and what he taught, so conditioned are they by centuries of misinformation and negative propaganda from ecclesiastical authorities (notably St. Augustine) and scholars. Such terms are often used by left-leaning intellectuals to cast scorn on narrow-minded, simplistic dualist thinking, such as that of a Senator Joseph McCarthy, a Pat Buchanan, or of Christian fundamentalists in general. But nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to Mani himself whose teaching was complex and multi-faceted. Mani was put to death in the Sassanian Persian city of Gondishapur in 276, but 357 years later, according to Rudolf Steiner,  in the year 333, the individuality who had lived as Mani, the individuality whom Steiner  described as the greatest of all human teachers, convoked a mighty spiritual conference  at which were planted the seeds of what, a thousand years later, was to become Rosicrucianism.

Mani was said by Steiner to have been the young man of Nain in the New Testament, the widow’s son initiated by Christ Himself, and reincarnated as the individuality Parsifal in the 9th  century (the  characters in the Grail story were apparently based on historical figures) and showed western humanity the way to the 5th Post-Atlantean epoch through the Passion of self-knowledge and conscience. Finally,  Parsifal’s conscience enabled him to re-cognise the mighty and invincible Eastern warrior Feirifis as his brother, part of himself. Through the darkness of struggle against the other, through engaging with him, the westerner Parsifal and the easterner Feirifis reach the light of  mutual recognition: they truly see each other. This spiritual seeing Eschenbach calls the land of Anschau (lit. ‘seeing’ in the spirit). In the 21st century, the Ego century of the Christian era, Manichaeism, the Christianity of Eurasia, may be about to arise again in a new form, as those in different Eastern and Western spiritual streams seek to find common spiritual ‘ground’ and overcome the isolating chasms of misunderstanding and ignorance that keep them apart. Westerners will strive with East Asians, East Asians with Westerners. There will be those short-sighted or malevolent  people in both cultures, no doubt, who will seek to turn this striving into physical war and bitter enmity. One sees signs of this already in the statements of a man like the foreign policy specialist and former Presidential adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski (in his book The Grand Chessboard). Brzezinski is already urging policymakers and media hacks to look upon Eurasia as the chessboard of the 21st century where the crucial power games will be fought out. This is his view of the Eurasian continent, a view he of course considers to be ‘realistic’. Only insight into spiritual and historical realities – in a word, individual and cultural self-knowledge – will serve to illuminate the spiritual blinkeredness or the sheer malevolence of such people. If sufficient insight is forthcoming in this Sun Age of Michael, the pre-eminent age for the development of such self-knowledge, then we can hope that by the end of the Michael Age (c.2233), enough East Asians and Westerners  will  have arrived in Anschau together to create the basis for real harmony in the future destiny of the Eurasian continent.


1. Western esotericism has known, since at least the time of Trithemius of Sponheim (1462-1516), that specific periods of history, some 350 years in length are overseen by spiritual beings of the rank of the archangels, known as Time Regents. Trithemius calculated these periods to be 354 years and 4 months long, a number based on the 12 synodic periods of the Moon, the lower guardian of the celestial sphere. This is only some 10 months longer than the 353 years and 6 months it takes for Saturn, the planet of Time and upper guardian of the celestial sphere, to complete 12 circuits of the Zodiac. During these periods, we all live within the spiritual “atmosphere” exuded by these 7 beings, and human history is affected accordingly. Esotericism does not view Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto as being related to the human organism. Despite their physical membership of  our solar system, they are thus regarded as being effectively outside the solar system. No Time Regents are therefore related to them, but only to the 7 traditional celestial bodies. The three ‘modern’ planets have a more macrohistorical  function, affecting humanity in general, rather than individual souls.

 2.  During the Age of Atlantis (pre-8000 BC), the human races were first evolved, and spiritual centres, or  oracles, were established to guide the different races. These oracles received their impulses from spiritual beings related to 7 planetary spheres: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Mercury, Venus, and Vulcan. The 5 present human races (native Americans, Caucasians, Mongoloids, Africans, and south Asians) were under the guidance of  the Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, and Venus oracles respectively. The Sun and Vulcan oracles were cosmopolitan, related to no particular race. See Rudolf Steiner, An Outline of Esoteric Science and Cosmic Memory.

 3. Mesopotamia, Palestine, Arabia and Egypt are more accurately described by the now largely obsolete term ‘the Near East’. However, since the terms Near and Far East are Eurocentric and thus subject to the charge of political incorrectness, perhaps Western Asia, Central  Asia (including the Indian subcontinent), and East Asia might be more appropriate.

                                                     ©Terry Boardman   April 1998

This page was first uploaded by Terry Boardman Dec 1999. Last updated 1.7.2012