CONCERNING JACOB BOEHME

Martin Buber

Originally: Martin Buber, "Ueber Jakob Boehme", Wiener Rundschau V, 12(June 15, 1901), pp. 251-253. Translation: Bruce Janz & Eve Sommerfeld. References in parentheses are as follows:


Boehme's basic concern, that which is the summation of his thought, is the problem of the relation of the individual to the world.

The world remains a riddle, influencing and being influenced, and yet always distant and strange. The individual consumes himself in silence, hopeless in its silence. "We find that life is a burning fire which consumes, and when it can no longer consume, it goes out."

God and nature are one for Boehme, as the soul and body or even more, as energy and organism. He states, "You also see how the powers of God cannot be distinguished from nature, but it is actually all one body. We recognize that God in his own being is no Being, but is merely the power or the understanding toward Being, as a groundless [ungrundlicher] eternal will." [Indiv., p. 34, MM 5:1]

Now it is questionable, how this unity of power can produce the individual and multiple things in the world, or in other words, how man arose from God. He explains this Becoming through the element of play, in which the power is inherent. All creative self-operation are in him a play, even as play and work are related to being for us, both are an emanation of organic energy surplus, and they are freed from a useful purpose. God moves in nature "so that his power might come in differentiation and sensitivity, and that there is a movement and a play in him, since the powers play with one another, and in their love-play and in their struggle they also reveal themselves, find themselves, and discover themselves." [Indiv., p. 37, Gnad. 2.128] Thus those who are in playful original force arise out of their sleeping forms. And so all Being is there for play and for the sake of the creative struggle; the world has no other meaning and purpose than this. It is the location of the powers "in which they can play out their love-play, as if in a vessel, so that they have something, so that and in which they can play with themselves in their struggling love-play."

Because the oneness of all power only becomes apparent through the activity of the powers in nature because, as Boehme's master, the eccentric Valentin Weigel argued, God only becomes God through the creation of the world, the world is therefore not a being [Sein], but a becoming [Werden] [Erkenne dich Selbst 11, 16ff]. In Boehme's words, "therefore even today all things stand in the creating." So therefore we do not have to take the world, rather we are constantly creating it. The so-called laws of nature, which govern that which has become, only ease our finding and the necessary conservation of power of our thinking. However, reality itself is new every day, and every morning it offers itself anew to our formed hands. We create the world even in that we lend our perceptions unconsciously to the concentration and firmness, which they make into reality, through which, that at every moment in us an unconscious existential judgment to the things, which means, to the sense-impressions, says: This is. However, deeper and more introspectively we consciously create in that we allow our power to flow into the Becoming, in that we ourselves reach into the fate and become an element of the great becoming [geschehen], until the changes which our creating awakened have themselves become a spring of countless new liberating sense-impressions of many beings. So we are not the slaves but rather the loved ones of our world, and "therefore even today all things stand in the creating."1

According to Boehme, all things will be moved through two powers of the Grund: the struggle and the love-passion. But for him these are not the old powers of Empedocles, which have nothing in common and who yet tear the world from one extreme to the other depending on whether one or the other will become lord. For Boehme struggle and love are one: the yearning movement of things for each other, which takes on different forms. The movement of the struggle leads to the individual, the movement of love leads to God. This point needs more elaboration.

Struggle and love are nothing other than yearning. The multiplicity of things, which begets both, is there for the sake of the yearning and the movement; Boehme says, "for if this would not be so, there would be no nature, rather an eternal stillness and no will; for the Aversion [wider wille, opposing will] makes mobility and the primitive state of seeking, so that the repugnant anguish seeks peace and in that search only uplifts itself, and becomes more inflamed." The struggle unfolds the individual thing into a personality. "In nature one thing has always been set against another, so that one is the enemy of the other, and yet not to that end that it is it's enemy, but rather that one moves the other in struggle, and reveals the other in itself. For if there was only one will, then all beings would only do one thing, but in the opposition to each other, each one in itself rises to its own victory and enhancement; and all life and growing stands within this struggle." Love, however, leads the individual thing to the rebirth of the unity of power. "Every Being longs for the other, the higher for the lower and the lower for the higher, for they are differentiated from each other, and in such Hunger they receive each other in desire." [Indiv., p. 43, Clavis 110] But this is, according to Boehme, the right way to the new God, which we create, to the new unity of the powers. This understanding has been affirmed and mentioned in a passage of Ludwig Feuerbach ". . .Man in himself is man (in the conventional sense); Man with Man -- the unity of I and Thou -- is God." Feuerbach wants to protect the unity of which he speaks, for the "reality of the difference between I and Thou". However today we are closer to Boehme than we are to the teachings of Feuerbach, the ideas of St. Francis of Assisi, who called the trees, birds, and stars his brothers and sisters, and nearer yet to the Vedanta.

For Boehme struggle and love reconciliations and the conquering of schisms are bridges between the I and the world; struggle, because in it and through it, the I and another I are unfolded and revealed in its beauty, and love because in it the essences unite themselves to God. Life originates when the essences mutually reach into each other, in that the things do not exist in total seclusion, but also do not totally fuse with one another, rather they mutually cause each other. This mutual causation is for Boehme related to the existence of the individual. He says, "But now form is not able to reveal itself, only in the eternal birth, for one is a member of the other, and one would be nothing without the other."

The unity of all individual beings and their individuality is united with each other. The world is for Boehme a harmony of individuals, in their uniqueness full of unfolded tones, but who are born of one movement; "just as an organ of many voices is driven by one uniform current of air, so that each voice, each pipe even, produces its sound, and yet it is just one kind of air in all voices, which sounds in each voice, after the instrument or organ has been made." [Indiv., p. 38, SR 16:63]

But Boehme is not satisfied with this bridge, and this is how he is nearest to us. He desires a deeper unity. It is not enough that the I unites itself with the world. The I is the world. But that is not in the sense which Berkeley meant it, for whom the world was a series of perceptions of the I, nor in the sense of Fichte, for whom not the individual, but rather the "Ego" especially "the identity of the one who is conscious and that which the one is conscious of" composes the world and allows it to expose itself to itself, but rather in the sense of the great Renaissance teachings of the microcosm, which Leibnitz and Goethe brought across to us. This teaching was only alluded to in antiquity and haunted scholastics in a schematic and lifeless form. Cusa, Agrippa, Paracelsus, and Weigel developed it, and Boehme carried it through to the most enchanting and most sensitive extent: "God is not divisible, but rather is completely whole, and where he reveals himself there he is completely revealed." And since God is the unity of all powers, each individual thing carries the characteristics of all things in itself, and that which we call its individuality is only the greater degree of development of one or the other quality. "When I lift up a stone or a clod and take a look at it I see the top and the bottom, the whole world even in it, only that in each thing one characteristic is most dominant, after which it is named. The other properties are also contained altogether, only in different degrees and centres." [Indiv., p. 40, MM 2:6] But since the essence of this view for Boehme was in its application to the I, he repeatedly relates it to man, and repeats "that in Man all of creation lies; heaven and earth with all essences including God himself lies in man." This wonderful view of the world has become too unique for us. We have woven it into our own inner experience. When I take a piece of fruit to my mouth, I feel that it is my body, when I take wine to my lips, I feel that it is my blood. And sometimes we feel the desire to throw our arms around a young tree and to feel the same surge of life [as in ourselves] or to read our innermost secrets in the eyes of a dumb animal. We experience the waxing and waning of the most distant stars as something that happens to us. And there are moments in which our organism is a totally different piece of nature.

But if for Boehme everything is within man, then for him its development can only be an unfolding. Everything grows from within. We know the world because we have it within us. Even Weigel had said "It may be things which one would suppose, the outer attacks (that is, the objects of our perception) would allow man to carry every knowledge, yet it is still only an awakening through the same; that which man is and should be by nature and through grace, he must have that within himself". Boehme adds "God does not send a foreign spirit into us, rather with his spirit he opens up our spirit." From all of this we feel that in spite of all the changes in theoretical knowledge, this one thing remains, that nothing is carried into us and everything can be obliterated, because we have the world within us.

Because for Boehme everything is within everything, therefore he does not recognize any differing value of things. Because for him everything is within everything, therefore for him the giving of a natural characteristic is a necessary prerequisite of self unfolding. Therefore he says "The sun gives of its power without distinction, it loves every fruit and growing thing and does not withdraw itself from anything; it wants nothing other than that every plant, or whatever there may be, should produce a good fruit; it accepts all whether they are good or bad and gives them its love-will; for it cannot do otherwise, it is no other essence than that which it is." -- "All words which the mouth has spoken, which the air has taken on itself and the words which have served the speaker must be brought back again by the air."2

1. Compare with Schopenauer: Presuppose the objects of the sentence with sufficient reason.

2. By "air" is here understood the idea of astral material.

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