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Jacob Boehme and His Teachings

   by Michael Raysson (Sat Sandesh magazine, July, 1976)

   Throughout the ages, however dark they may seem, the Godman has existed on this dark sub-lunary planet holding the key to the inner kingdoms of God and to God Himself. Outwardly he may live an ordinary life as any other man, but inwardly he is an overflowing ocean of Love and Light. The sincere seekers who come to his feet in search of Truth never go away emptyhanded but also have a dip into that Light and they begin to hear the Mystic Music flowing throughout creation. The East has always more or less accepted the need for such sublime teachers, although the idea has generally been frowned upon in the West. Nevertheless the great ones have appeared even so for those few thirsty souls who were after the direct approach to God in their lifetime.

   One such soul was Jacob Boehme, a simple cobbler of Germany who came to revive for his age the forgotten teachings of Christ. Embedded deep in the Christ Power, his teachings came from the universal viewpoint; and while living strictly in the Lutheran faith all his life he nevertheless always maintained that the Kingdom of God was open to all humanity in whatsoever religion they belonged, be it Christian, Muslim, or Hindu.

   Life Sketch

   "There is a small market-town in the upper Lusatia called Old Seidenburg, distant from Gorlitz about a mile and a half, in which lived a man whose name was Jacob and his wife's name Ursula. People they were of the poorest sort, yet of sober and honest behavior. In the year 1575 they had a son whom they named Jacob. This was the divinely-illuminated Jacob Boehme, the Teutonic Theosopher, whom God raised up in the most proper period as to the chiliad and century to show the ground of the Mystery of nature and Grace and open the Wonders of his Wisdom." (1)

   Thus begins the account of Boehme's life. His youth was spent in the fields as a simple herds-boy and when he came of age he became a cobbler's apprentice. One day when his cobbling master was away a stranger of "reverend and grave countenance but mean apparel" came to the shop and wished to buy a certain pair of shoes. Jacob, being barely above sweeping around the shop, knew nothing about the prices so he gave one so high that he knew his master would not be displeased if the man bought them. Nevertheless the poor stranger did buy them and just as he was about to leave the shop called Jacob by name to follow him. Completely surprised at such a stranger calling him so familiarly Jacob followed, quite awed. Alone with Jacob, the old man apparently imparted to him a remarkable spiritual experience. Then fixing his gaze deep into Jacob's eyes he said :

   " 'Jacob, thou art little but shalt be great and become another man, such a one as at whom the world shall wonder. Therefore be pious, fear God and reverence His Word. Read diligently the holy scriptures wherein you have comfort and instruction. For thou must endure much misery and poverty and suffer persecution. But be courageous and persevere for God loves and is gracious to thee'...And therewith pressing his hand he looked with a bright and sparkling eye fixed on his face and departed." (2)

   Thus passed perhaps the most important event of Boehme's life and he cultivated the lesson to its full flower. For days he would be bathed in the Mystic Light and inner music. At length he began to write a book as a private memorial to the inner life. Quite without his sanction the book came to public notice. The local clergy, afraid of the effect such universal teachings might have on their own congregation, brought on Jacob, as foretold, the beginning of a life-long persecution and it was Providence alone that prevented Jacob from living his life in exile. Boehme, who had never wished any public display in the first place, silenced his pen for seven long years. However the secret was out and the seekers began to flock to Boehme's door.

   Shunning the publicity, Jacob brought his practices to bloom, rising to yet higher planes and clearer vision. His pen began to flow again and he sang long and tirelessly the praises of the Mystic Word (the Divine Sound) and the glories of the inner life.

   The Prince of Saxony, hearing of Boehme's strange teachings, had him brought before a tribunal of the most learned men of the day in the studies of philosophy, divinity and mathematics, in order to put him to the test. After conferring with them for a time they all refused to pass any judgment, agreeing that what he showed them far surpassed any earthly reason they could judge him with. The Prince himself had Boehme spend many an hour with him. The many disciples that now congregated around Boehme came from all classes. Among them there were apparently a large group of noble family and scholarly background who sat at the shoemaker's humble feet to learn of the Mysteries of the beyond. One is vividly reminded of the great cobbler-saint of the East, Ravidas, around whom congregated many an earthly king and queen.

   One of Boehme's most intimate disciples was Dr. Walter, a Silesian who had traveled extensively in the East in search of a Master and returned unsuccessful only to find his search crowned at his own front door. In his later years Boehme came to have devotees at many a far clime. In order to better instruct these dear ones he laid down his cobbling tools and became a trader of cloth so he could travel to them in person. He invariably would instruct his disciples that while cultivating the inner life of the spirit they should outwardly keep up a normal life and earn an honest living.

   It was the custom then in Germany to keep autograph books in which all callers would leave some remembrance. In such books Boehme always would insert such verses as:

   "To whom Time and Eternity Harmoniously as One agree; His soul is safe, his life's amended, His battle's o'er, his strife is ended. Whose time and ever all are One, His soul's at rest, His warfare's done."

   At length the time came for this simple Godman to take his final leave of this frail human body. The family was congregated around the bed, and to his son Tobias who had failed to cultivate the inner lie he turned his head. Speaking of the inner Sound Current Boehme asked him if he heard "that sweet harmonious music." As all was outwardly quiet, young Tobias said he heard nothing. "Then open up the door," said Boehme, "that you may better hear."

   Boehme's simple existence was a perfect example of a godly life, living in the world but out of it. He always earned his living, however poor it may have been, by the sweat of his own brow; while keeping a normal family life he always reflected chastity and the highest virtues; despite great persecution he was always loving even to his enemies, although never timid in upholding the grand truth he had found by long inner practice. Lastly and most important of all his life and teachings were steeped in the effulgent Word, "the Divine Sound," ringing in the depths of the human body, without contacting which, he claimed, all outer churches and rituals and all good deeds were of no avail.

   His Teachings

   Mystical experience is a subject of infinite communion and any writings on the subject can only feebly reflect on the immeasurable vastness of the original experience. This and the alchemical metaphors in which Boehme often couched his writings has tended to make almost all the translators and commentators, themselves unversed in practical mystical experience, ignore the whole inner basis of his writings. Drawing away the dross of time and clearing the misinterpretations that have come down, the message sings forth in crystal clear tones (as have all Masters' past and present) of the Divine Sound and Light ringing and shining in the man body. Boehme describes this Divine principle in terms that leave no doubt of its true nature:

   "In the Light of God which is called the Kingdom of Heaven the Sound is wholly soft, pleasant, lovely, pure and thin, yea as a stillness in reference to our outward gross shrillness in our pronouncing, speaking, sounding, singing and chanting as if the mind did play and melodize in a Kingdom of Joy within itself, and did hear in a most entire inward manner such a sweet pleasing melody and tune and yet outwardly did neither hear or understand it. For in the Essence of Light all is subtle."

   "If you should in this world bring many thousand sorts of musical instruments together, and all should be tuned in the best manner most artificially, and the most skillful masters of music should play on them in concert together, all would be no more than the howlings and barkings of dogs in comparison of the Divine Music, which rises through the Divine Sound and tunes from Eternity to Eternity." (5)

   It is by this Divine Sound, Boehme tells us, that the soul is manifested, that all powers are moved and by which all of "man's science of knowledge of the invisible and visible essence" is made known and from that contemplation he himself learned everything. Man, says Boehme, has nothing more necessary or profitable in this lifetime than to know himself and then to know God of whom he is the same essence. And to do so one must come in contact with the Divine Light and Sound Principle in the human body. And Christ teaches the same (saying) "That His Light shineth in us."

   "All Christian Religion consisteth in this: to learn to know ourselves . . . Where will you seek God? In the deep above the stars? You will not find Him there. Seek Him in your Heart in the center of your birth." (6)

   "O! Thou blind mind full of darkness, the Heaven where God dwells is also in thee." (7)

   "Now go whither thou wilt, thou hast the center of the Deity in thee in the Sound." (8)

   So far so good...But alas, steeped in duality and identified with the outward things as we are, we find it well-nigh impossible to contact this Divine Principle which holds the "Open Sesame" to the inner kingdoms. For this contact we need a true teacher or Master of this science, one who (like Boehme himself) is already centered in the Godhead and through whom the Godpower works:

   "And man wants nothing but the wise Master that can strike his Instrument which is the true spirit of the high might of eternity. If that be quickened in man, that it stirs and acts in the center of the mind, then it plays on the instrument of the human form and even then the form is uttered with the Sound in the Word."

   "Now the Father is manifested to us in the Son; and when they now do call upon the Father, He hears them only in His Son, viz. in His Voice manifest in the human property. And yet they serve the Son in the Father...For the Father has manifested Himself toward us with His Voice in the Son." (10)

   And the Son works through and for all (no matter what religion).

   "Now when the Turks worship the Father, He hears them in the Son, and receives them to adoption in the Son, in whom God has manifested Himself in the human property and in no other property besides." (11)

   "So God has sent His officer, viz., His Holy Word by His servant in the world to the true man... and He causes His servants to sit down by the Fountain of His Holy Word with command that they should in their ofice and charge committed to them call upon God and pray and teach His Word till God draws the virgin's Heart and brings her to the Fountain of His Word to draw water out of the well-spring of God's Word." (12)

   Such a teacher, says Boehme, will not merely teach out of the outward letter, but from the Love and Light of Divine knowledge which flows out of His every pore; the Spirit of God speaks through him and his tongue is filled with the essence of the five divine Names. He speaks without regard for a man's personality, for he sees the inner man and is free from the hold of mind. He is God-in-him and he enlivens the God-in- us.

   "And therefore God became man that He might again repair His Glorious Instrument which He had made for His praise, which perished as to Him and would not sound according to the desire of His Joy and Love and introduce again the true Love-Sound into the strings. He has introduced the Voice which sounds in His Presence again into us, viz., into His Instrument. He is become that which I am and made me that which he is." (I3)

   In a very rare statement Boehme tells us of his attainment of at-one-ment with God and even goes on further to unequivocally state that what Jesus had done in his ministry, he in his lifetime was also doing and so also was that work being continued by his "fellowmembers" :

   "Whatever Jesus has done through the Christ, viz., through his and my humanity, the same he does yet today in me and in all my Fellow-Members...Thus now I live in God and my selfhood does not know it."

   Having found such a Master the secrets of the "Mysterium Magnum" or great mystery are revealed both in theory and practice and one begins to journey to inner regions. The Masters speak of the inner realms as containing a vast network of planes of differing degrees of spirituality leading up to the pure spiritual region from whence the Masters themselves have come. The traversing of these inner realms is a most subtle and tricky undertaking and thus there is all the more need of'a Guide who knows the Way from beginning to end. Boehme through long devotion and discipline had mastered this inner science and become an adept. He was a knower of the inner regions and the True Home and in his own words gives revelations of his experiences. Sometimes he conceals himself in alchemical language and at other times he speaks of the inner regions in the Christian idiom, speaking of the different Angelical kingdoms and principalities and describing the inner music as it changed from region to region in terms of changing angelical choirs. As the Saints always speak from an exalted viewpoint Boehme never failed to emphasize that all the inner planes were but different degrees of the One Divine Word or Sound, the Voice of God:

   "For all whatsoever has life, liveth in the Speaking Word, the Angels in the Eternal Speaking and the temporal spirits in the re-expression or echoing forth of the formings of time, out of the sound or breath of Time and the angels out of the Sound of Eternity, viz., out of the Voice of the Manifested Word of God. And therefore they bear the Names of the several Degrees in the Manifested Voice of God. And one Degree is more holy in the Power than another. Therefore the angels also in their Choirs are diflerenced in the Power of the Divine Might. And one has a more holy function to discharge than another."

   The Masters of the highest order generally speak of five principal manifestations of the Sound Current, forming five main planes of creation, speaking of the five-sounded Word or the five Holy Names, etc. Boehme, likewise, tells of the five holy Speeches, five head Speeches, five Names, etc., in a most revealing way:

   "These FIVE Names figure out and set forth as in a type the FIVE HEAD SPEECHES of the spiritual Tongue through the formed Word, proceeding from the high NAME of God out of which Tongues the prophetical and apostolical spirit speaks...For the spirit does also under the Names point at the Kingdoms and Dominions, and they are God's, who with His Name does order, govern, guide and lead every kingdom according to the property of His Name...Not that there is more than ONE God, only we understand therein the Divine Manifestation, how God gives Himself forth in His manifestation in the formed Word."

   "Through the five holy Speeches proceeding from the Eye of Eternity the spirit in the formed Word of nature speaks holy divine words in the children of the Saints." (17)

   "The five Speeches belong to the Spirit of God who speaks by His Children when and how He pleases." (18)

   Of course it is to the highest region, the region of pure spirit or Love, that the Masters wish to take us. It is the origin and essence of all creation. Boehme calls it the "Principle of all principles" being far above the Heavens and angelical kingdoms :

   "Its Power supports the Heavens; by this thou wilt come to understand that as the Heavens, visible and invisible, are originated from this great Principle, so are they likewise necessarily sustained by it. And therefore if this should be but never so little withdrawn all the Lights, glories, beauties and forms of the heavenly worlds would presently sink into darkness and chaos."

   "Its height is higher than the highest heavens. This thou mayest also understand within thyself. For shouldest thou ascend in spirit through all the Orders of the Angels and Heavenly Powers, yet the Power of Love still is undeniably superior to them all." (20)

   "It is higher than the highest and greater than the greatest. Thou mayest hereby perceive as in a glimpse the supreme height and greatness of OMNIPOTENT LOVE which infinitely transcends all that human sense and reason can reach to." (21)

   "Whoever finds it, finds nothing and All things...He that findeth it findeth a supernatural supersensual Abyss which hath no ground or byss to stand on and where there is no place to dwell in, and he findeth also nothing is like unto it." (22)

   There is a secret gate, the seat of the soul in the human body, where one begins the inner journey to these higher realms. It is the Master alone who can bring us in contact and open up this grand gateway which lies behind and between the two outward eyes. Here the inner music begins to resound and one sees the light:

   "Behold here you find the beginning of the Life and the tincture wherein the Life exist...the breaking open of the dark gate stands in the Sounding and has its gate open next the fire-flash near the eyes and receives the noise of whatsoever sounds."

   This gateway Boehme calls "the single eye." Other Masters have called it the third eye, latent eye, etc. And all of them have enjoined meditation upon this point to begin the Way back to God. Here "through a pillar of fire and Thunder-clouds" the inner way opens up and one awakens into the "Supersensual Life." Boehme clearly reveals his method of inner concentration where by single-pointed attention the inner goal is reached:

   "Cease but from thine own activity steadfastly fixing thine Eye upon ONE POINT and with a strong purpose relying upon the promised grace of God in Christ to bring thee out of thy darkness into His marvellous Light. For this end gather in all thy thoughts and by faith press into the center laying hold upon the Word of God which is infallible and which hath called thee. Be thou then obedient to this : Call and be silent before the Lord sitting alone with Him in thy inmost and most hidden cell, thy mind being centrally united in itself, and attending His Will in the patience of hope. So shall thy Light break forth as the morning; and after the redness thereof is passed, the Sun himself, which thou waitest for, shall arise unto thee, and under his most healing wings thou shalt greatly rejoice ascending and descending in his bright and salutiferous beams. Behold this is the true Supersensual Ground of Life."

   To achieve the single-pointed inner vision to proceed on the inner Way is indeed a great and arduous task for our vision has long been bound and darkened by duality. Man's heart is broken in a million pieces and he finds no real peace or rest in all the world. True rest and peace and all bliss lies in the Light of God which we must make our true lord.

   There are now two wills in the soul of man...Boehme spoke of them as the Will of Time and the Will of Eternity, the "Inferior and Superior Will." To put these in proper order and transform them into Unity is the first great work of man in reaching back to God:

   "A thing that is one that has one only will contends not against itself but where there are many wills in a thing they become contending for each would go its own conceived way...and thus we give you to understand life's contrariety, for life consists of many wills...the life of man is at enmity with itself. Each form is hostile to the other, and not only in man but in all creatures. Unless the forms of life obtain a gentle, gracious lord under whose control they must be, then who can break their might and will. That is found in the Light of Life, which is the Lord of all forms, and can subdue them all. They must all give their will to the Light. And they do it gladly for the Light gives them gentleness and power so that their harsh, stern, bitter, anguishful forms are transformed into loveliness. They all give their will to the Light of Life and the Light gives them gentleness. Plurality is thus transformed into Unity, into One Will. God's Kingdom is found only in the bright clear light, in freedom, in love, in gentleness; for that is the property of the white clear light."

   "Know then, my beloved son, that if thou wilt keep the light of nature within its own proper bounds and make use thereof in just subordination to the Light of God thou must consider that there are in thy soul two Wills, inferior Will which is for drawing thee to things without and below and a Superior Will which is for drawing to things within and above. These two Wills are now set together, as it were back to back, and in a direct contrariety to each other. But in the beginning it was not so, for this contraposition of the soul in these two is no more than the effect of the fallen state. Before that they were placed one under the other - the Superior Will above, as the Lord, and the Inferior below, as the subject." (26)

   "Mark now what I say: the right eye looketh forward in thee into Eternity. The left eye looketh backward in thee into time. If now thou sufferest thyself to be always looking into nature and the things of time and to be leading the Will and to be seeking somewhat for itself in the Desire, it will be impossible for thee ever to arrive at the Unity which thou wishest for. Remember this and be upon thy watch." (27)

   "Both these eyes therefore must be made to unite by a concentration of rays, there being nothing more dangeyous than for the mind to abide thus in the duplicity." (28)

   Thus, Boehme spoke from the most Universal standpoint. Seeing the Godhood in all he loved all mankind:

   "As a tree in many boughs and branches where the boughs and twigs do not perfectly and wholly seem alike or the same in form, but all have one only sap and virtue; so likewise is the creature of mankind among Jews, Christians, Turks and heathen."


1. William Law, trans: THE WORKS OF JACOB BOEHME, in four volumes, London, 1764-1781, Vol. I, The Life of Jacob Boehme, p. xii
2. Ibid, p. xiii
3. Ibid, p. xxii
4. Ibid, Vol. III, Mysterium Magnum (a commentary on Genesis in three parts) Part I, p. 22
5. Ibid, Vol. I, The Aurora (The "Dawning of the Red Rising Sun"), p. 43
6. Ibid, Vol. IV, The Way to Christ: Of Regeneration, p. 67
7. Ibid, Vol. I, The Three Principles of the Divine Essence, p. 158
8. Ibid, Vol. 11, Treatise of the Incarnation, Part II, p. 130
9. Ibid, Vol. IV, Signatura Rerum ("The Signature of All Things"), p. 10
10. Ibid, Vol. III, Mysterium Magnum, Part II, p. 235
11. Ibid
12. Ibid, p. 299
13. Ibid, Vol. IV , Signatura Rerurn, p. 99
14. Ibid
15. Ibid., Vol. III, Mysterium Magnum, Part I, pp. 34-35
16. Ibid., p. 193-4
17. Ibid., p. 189
18. Ibid
19. Ibid., Vol. IV, Of the Supersensual Life (dialogues between a Master and his disciple) Dialogue I, p. 84
20. Ibid, pp. 84-5
21. Ibid, p. 85
22. Ibid
23. Ibid, Vol. I, The Three Principles of the Divine Essence, p. 134
24. Ibid, Vol. IV, Of the Supersensual Life, Dialogue II, p. 89
25. Six Theosophical Points
26. Law, op. cit., Vol. IV, Of the Supersensual Life, Dialogue II, pp. 89-9
27. Ibid, p. 90
28. Ibid
29. Ibid, Vol. III, Mysterium Magnum, Part I , p. 203