Kalki in Hinduism and the promise of the rider on the white horse

8 November 2020 | Apocalypse in discussion, Blog, Context and roots, News | 0 comments

Kees Zoeteman

This blog is the result of a collaboration with Jaap Sijmons who made suggestions for the theme and commented on draft versions of it.

Anyone who has had the opportunity to visit the 14th century tapestry of the Apocalypse at the Castle of Angers in France, will have been impressed by the unforgettable brightly lit scene of the first rider on the white horse while entering into the dark exhibition room of the Castle. In this text we will look into the meaning of the rider on the white horse which plays an important role in the Apocalypse and who is also known in other religious movements of the East. Who is this rider and why is he seated on a white horse?

The first horseman, Tapestry of the Apocalypse, Castle of Angers, France, photo: Remi Jouan

At the opening of the first seal in the Apocalypse the rider on the white horse refers already to the rider with his flock of followers, who at the end of the Apocalypse goes out to overcome evil. This last image is an ancient image known in many mystical movements from Persia to India on which hope for the future was placed. Using the example of the rider on the white horse, this blog examines the links between the Apocalypse and mystical movements that go even further back in time than, for example, Egyptian culture (see https://www.project-apocalypse.com/blog/better-understanding-the-apocalypse-by-looking-at-its-egyptian-roots/). There are many other examples to look for such a relationship, but this example gives a good illustration. After all, this rider on the white horse is the main figure, the king of kings, who, at the end of the rounds of time in the Apocalypse, brings salvation from evil and is thus an image of the perspective of human evolution. See for time cycles also: https://www.project-apocalypse.com/blog/can-the-hindu-time-cycles-be-reconciled-with-those-of-the-apocalypse/

Divine Trinity or Trimurti

If we compare the Apocalypse with, for example, the Vedas, we come into contact with a comprehensive world view that brought the highest insight into the spiritual direction of human evolution millennia ago. When Hinduism becomes more philosophical around the beginning of our era, it learns, just like Christianity, that God is characterized as a being manifesting in three parts (Trimurti) which is at the same time one. The creative aspect of God is represented by Brahma; the sustaining and nurturing by Vishnu (God as wisdom) and the destructive and transforming by Shiva (God of asceticism, in the ancient Vedas still the wild Rudra, god of animals, especially cattle). In Hinduism each of these three deities also has his female opposite in Saraswati, Lakshmi and Paravati respectively.

Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva sat on lotus flowers with respectively their partners Saraswati, Lakshmi and Paravati, ca. 1770; Guler, India.

In many ways a similar trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit can be recognized in Christianity.

Apart from the superficial similarities in the trinity between these religions, Rudolf Steiner (GA 137, p.206) also noted differences. In Shiva, for example, Steiner sees Lucifer in the stage that he has not yet been conquered by Christ. In this phase man is not yet objectively opposed to his own soul and mixes the luciferic aspects in himself with the figure of God.

The ten incarnations of Vishnu

A better understanding of the rider on the white horse in Hinduism can be obtained by looking at the Vishnu deity. Vishnu, who in Christianity is thus related to the divine Son, is seen as the leader of the great evolutionary steps of mankind by incarnating in the densifying matter each time when the creation needs to be saved and moved to a higher level. But Vishnu is also the one who leads man on the way back to the spirit and who, like the Egyptian god Horus, brings creation to order and completion.

In India ten incarnations of Vishnu are known. One can also say that there are ten divine qualities that are successively manifested in the material world. In Jewish mysticism, the kabbalah, we find this in the ten sephiroth. These ten incarnations or avatars of Vishnu also have a relation with the Apocalypse. For example, the tenth avatar, called Kalki, shows much resemblance to the rider on the white horse who, at the end of the Apocalypse, defeats evil with his heavenly two-edged sword.

Dashavatara, painting, 19th century (from left to right the avatars: Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, Parashurama, Rama, Krishna, Buddha and Kalki). (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalki)

Of the ten incarnations of Vishnu, nine have past and the tenth is yet to come. Looking at Vishnu’s ten incarnations may help us better understand his last incarnation and how it corresponds to the warrior on the white horse at the end of the Apocalypse.

Steiner devoted an extensive lecture on the ten avatars of Vishnu for a select group of three women in Berlin, including Marie von Sivers, in the summer of 1903 (GA 88, p.149-158). If we follow Steiner’s explanations, which are based on the Vedic writings and the chronicles of the Rosicrucians, the ten metamorphoses or avatars of Vishnu represent the stages in which man’s evolution from animal being to unification with his creator are depicted. The ten avatars are known as the fish (Matsya), the turtle (Kurma), the wild boar (Varaha), the lion-man (Narashima), the dwarf who conquers the lion (Vamana), the Father of Rama (Parashurama), and Rama, the hero and beloved king of the Indians because he is more loving than his austere father. These seven avatars are followed by three more: Krishna, the son of the virgin, learning in the Bhagavad Gita; Buddha and finally Kalki, the rider on the white horse who has yet to come and will cleanse the world and lead mankind to completion.

With each of these avatars the evolution of mankind is taken one step further. In the fish, the ancestor of the vertebrates, the spirit separates itself from the egg-shaped astral body like a center of light. A remnant of this ancient developmental step is the lancet fish that originated from the Cambrian (about 500 million years ago, if we may believe geological dating), from which the fish evolved.

In the second avatar, the turtle, an amphibian, the astral body or world soul is surrounded by a denser shell. The group soul of this animal is the ancestor of the amphibians of which skeletons are found in the Carboniferous (about 350 million years ago).

In the third avatar the spirit retreats further and the astrality, the sensory power, expands, becomes more solid. This incarnation of Vishnu, depicted as a wild boar or sometimes as a bear, lives in great ferocity while the mind is dormant. Around this moment the Earth still does not have a solid state as it does now. We should not forget that the mentioned evolutionary steps are taking place in the astral and etheric world. 

In the fourth avatar this animalistic human becomes ruler and the group soul of the lion-man emerges, the king of the land animals.

In the fifth avatar, the great animal power of this lion man is controlled by a dwarf-like remnant of the all-encompassing human soul. Steiner compares the relationship between the spiritual dwarf and the giant lion force with that of David and the giant Goliath. At this point man is dependent on himself and can hardly be limited. The dwarf, however, is the creator of new spiritual power in animality and the impulse for the erection of the body.

In the sixth avatar, called the Father of Rama, the strict legislator emerges who will control the animal power of the warrior and put the spiritual principle first.

As the seventh avatar Rama comes forward who has a milder attitude towards the law than his father and becomes the beloved king of the nations. It is in this period that the Atlantic era begins in which the jelly-like atmosphere first rains out the solidifying rocks and later the oceans.

With the incarnation of the eighth avatar, Krishna, we arrive in the Post-Atlantic era. Krishna brings man the fruit of love. According to the Vedas, Krishna’s incarnation ends just before the Kali Yuga begins. There are different interpretations about the correct dating of the Kali Yuga (see also https://www.project-apocalypse.com/blog/can-the-hindu-time-cycles-be-reconciled-with-those-of-the-apocalypse/). According to Steiner (GA 142, p.87 ff.), Krishna kills the old clairvoyant way of knowing, which is the cause of the eclipse of the spiritual world. At the end of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna gives Yoga as a new path for rising again in the spiritual world. In Krishna, according to Steiner, the Buddhi consciousness has been realized making him the leader of the Manu’s, the previous great leaders of mankind who had already developed Manas. Krishna is thus a forerunner in the later phase of the realization of Buddhi in mankind.

The ninth avatar of Vishnu is Buddha. Buddha incarnated around 400 BC. There is discussion about the role of Buddha as the avatar of Vishnu. Within Buddhism the role of Buddha as avatar of Vishnu is denied and there are also traditions that see the older brother of Krishna, Balarama, as the eighth avatar and Krishna as the ninth avatar (Krishna, Nanditha, 2010, The Book of Vishnu, Penguin Books India, p.28-29).

Finally, the tenth avatar, the avatar ‘yet to come’, is Kalki on his white horse. This is the one which the Rosicrucians call the Christ, according to Rudolf Steiner. He will appear at the end of the Kali Yuga. That can be explained in several ways. It can be at the end of the Kali Yuga, which according to Rudolf Steiner ended in 1899. He often points to the appearance of the ethereal Christ from the 1930’s onwards, which can be seen as a reference to Kalki. But it can also generally be at a time when the material appearance of the present Earth ends. Then we can see in Kalki the rider on the white horse, who appears at the end of the Apocalypse.

An important conclusion of the appearance of these avatars is that each incarnation is apparently aimed at enabling a next step in the evolution of mankind. With every avatar the consciousness in man is raised, and from the fifth avatar, the dwarf, the upright posture arises. With Rama, the seventh avatar, the descent of the self-consciousness begins. If we think this line through, it can be assumed that the last three avatars prepare the higher qualities of the Manas, the Buddhi and the Atman respectively. The tenth avatar Kalki could then be seen as the representative of Atman, a quality that probably cannot yet be absorbed by mankind at this time.

Temple door of the Shree Balaji Temple in Goa. (Top left Matsya or fish man, bottom right Kalki on white horse)

Who is Kalki?

Kalki appears for the first time in the great war epic Mahabharata. Kalki restores dharma, order and justice to the world. Kalki will appear in the sky with a flaming sword. The weapon comes from the god Agni, the god of fire, and is strengthened by the god of the Sun, Surya. Then he kills the source of all evil in this world, the demon Kali, not to be confused with the goddess Kálii. Through Kalki, a new, better era will dawn.

Kalki on the white horse; source: The Ten Principal Avataras of the Hindus: A Short History of Each Incarnation and Directions for the Representations of the Murtis as Tableaux Vivants by Sourindo Mohun Tagore, 1880, Calcutta.

Can Jesus Christ be seen as an avatar of Vishnu?            

The role and place of Jesus Christ, seen from the series of the ten mentioned avatars of Vishnu, is an issue that raises the question why Kalki is still expected as the tenth avatar of Vishnu, while Christ was already incarnated in Jesus of Nazareth after Buddha. Doesn’t this incarnation count in the Hindu tradition? Why did the Hindus not recognize the Christ incarnation in Jesus? After all, the Hindu religion still took shape after the coming of Jesus Christ until the early Middle Ages. Of course, Rudolf Steiner also had to ask himself this question and he has addressed it at a crucial moment in his biography. When the Anthroposophical Society was founded at the turn of the year 1912-1913 he devoted four lectures to this subject in Cologne (Die Bhagavad Gita und die Paulusbriefe, GA 142). In doing so he elaborates on Krishna, but does not give a direct answer to the question why Jesus Christ is not considered the tenth avatar of Vishnu by the Hindus.

Rudolf Steiner answers the question of who Krishna is by explaining that mankind is occasionally led by an incarnated spiritual being, an avatar, a being developed far beyond the average human being. Steiner defines an avatar as a superhuman spiritual being who, for the good of humanity, incorporates himself into a human body without collecting fruits for his own development (GA 109, p.100). Since the Atlantic era they have become the great leaders of nations and have developed not only the ‘I’ but also the Manas, they are a Manu. Even more exceptional was Krishna because as a Manas bearer he had also developed the more refined Buddhi (GA 142, p.59 ff.). He spoke the divine word and that is why he also got the name of ‘Son of God’, just as John called Jesus a Son of God in the Gospel of John. This Son of God was not ‘born in the flesh’, but ‘virgin born’, that is: immediately from the spirit. That highest characteristic was emphasized in such people. In this respect Krishna was higher than all Manu’s. He represents man in general and the connection between Manas and Buddhi. He teaches the highest human wisdom. Krishna stands in the Bhagavad Gita as Macrocosm versus the human Arjuna as Microcosm. The way in which Arjuna perceives Krishna, when everything around him disappears, shows much resemblance to the first experience of John when he turns around and beholds the radiant Son of Man (Op. 1: 9-20). This is what Steiner calls the greatest world secret, that man in humbleness can get to know his true nature through true self-knowledge. And then he observes (p.78): ‘All this, what has been characterized here, makes a comparison between the two revelations (those of the Bhagavad Gita and those of Paul’s letters) extraordinarily difficult; and whoever compares them only externally will undoubtedly have to place the Bhagavad Gita in its purity and resignation and wisdom higher than the letters of Paul’.  But Paul’s letters show in his eyes a young seed that has yet to grow, while the Bhagavad Gita is a work of art that is millennia old and ripe. Before the mystery of Golgotha, the light of spirit shone from all sides in the human soul. After that, the Christ impulse enters the human being and the spiritual light radiates from within as an inner flame (p.79). That is the new thing.

Vishnu could first be experienced outside the human being in the avatar, but from now on in every human being who opens himself up to him. This would mean that Christ -Vishnu- manifests in Krishna, as well as in Buddha and Kalki. He stands for humanity as a whole. But Christ can not only be experienced as an outer avatar, but also in our I, that is the new thing that becomes visible with Jesus Christ, according to Rudolf Steiner. And Steiner refers to this inner encounter as the encounter that has been possible with the ethereal Christ since 1933.

Image of avatar Kalki on the white horse on the wall of Rani Ki Vav in Patan Gujarat, India.

Why the tenth avatar can have a different character than the previous nine

The first nine avatars are connected with historical events in human evolution. The tenth avatar indicates, like the number 10, that with his arrival a cycle is concluded. It is thus in itself a reference to the future and the completion of the creation of man and Earth. With the tenth avatar of Kalki, a lasting future perspective is painted, beyond the historical incarnation of Christ in Jesus of Nazareth.

This remains remarkable in light of the overwhelming significance of Jesus of Nazareth for the Christians, the Rosicrucians and related movements such as anthroposophy. Rudolf Steiner (GA 88, p.153) characterizes the tenth avatar from the Rosicrucian chronicle as follows:

‘If, however, the times are fulfilled, the eye opens, and people’s destiny lights up in their inner being, electing the shining figure as leader: then fate itself becomes law and loving will.’   

‘Christ was for the Rosicrucians this Coming One. Christ, as the ever-developing crystallization, was the shining example of humanity developing upwards, who as Jesus took on human karma and remains connected with the karma of Christianity through ever renewed incarnation, leading this human species and guiding them to the end’.  

According to Rudolf Steiner, the lives of Buddha and Jesus are distinguished by the fact that, after they were equal until the enlightenment, Jesus took on the fate of the outer death on the cross and resurrection. This last phase of sacrifice of the great teachers of mankind remained hidden from the senses until then.  

When this future perspective is taken as a starting point, both the life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as well as the return of Christ in the ethereal world since 1933, can be placed in the sign of the Kalki expectation.   

Finally, the image of Kalki, as a rider on a white horse, just like the ‘King of kings’ from the Apocalypse (Rev. 19:11-21) , carries the message for future mankind of the spiritualization – represented in the color white – of the intellect. The horse is the representative of our intelligence.

A white horse and who rode it: king of the kings; tapestry of the Apocalypse, castle of Angers, France, photo: Remi Jouan.


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