Right: A postcard from Bayreuth showing the original 1882 scenery for the Grail scenes.
Jesus of Nazareth - Buddha (The Victors) - Parsifal - continued
[An English translation of Wagner's sketch and notes for this projected drama can be found in volume 8 of Ellis' Prose Works, pages 283-340. It is worth keeping in mind when reading what follows here, that Heckel is discussing the characters and events of Wagner's projected drama, rather that those found in his source material, the New Testament.]
n order to understand the character of Kundry, it might be useful to examine the character of Mary Magdalen as she appears in the draft for Jesus of Nazareth. According to the memoirs of Frau Eliza Wille1, in whose house in Mariafeld the artist stayed for some time, he had considered showing in his drama Mary Magdalen filled with sinful love for Jesus. In the 1848 draft recently published, however, this does not appear. The plan of the first act shows Mary Magdalen identified with the woman taken in adultery (John chapter 8).
n the second act we see the sale of possessions and their proceeds handed over to Judas Iscariot, treasurer of the community of Jesus. This act begins beside the lake Genessaret at daybreak. We find Jesus asleep under a tree. Mary Magdalen is kneeling at his feet and kissing the hem of his garb, while she expresses her deep devotion and love for her Redeemer. As Mary, the Mother, enters, ary Magdalen begs Mary [the mother] to use her influence on her son in the Mary Magdalen's favour, because she desires to be allowed to serve as his humblest servant. Mary comforts and dismisses her. Towards the end of the act we meet them both again, this time distributing bread and wine to the crowds.
fter Mary Magdalen (in act three) has observed and overheard Judas conversing with the Pharisees from Tiberias, she (in act four) approaches Jesus at
the supper table with the question,
n the draft of Jesus of Nazareth, Wagner allows Mary Magdalen to understand the significance of Jesus' death before the disciples do so. After
he alternative titles offered to the Buddha, world conqueror or world overcomer remind us of the alternatives offered to Jesus, according to Wagner's notes on the draft: David's inheritance or God's son. We cannot for a moment overlook the importance of such a choice, which proved to be a more important one for Jesus than for the teacher of Indian wisdom.
his fact could not have escaped the attention of the poet. As a direct descendant of the oldest lineage, Jesus could have claimed to be the ruler of the world, even if it were worthless despotism. But he renounced his Davidic inheritance. He knew that he could not free mankind -- his brothers -- from their misery through authority of earthly monarchy but only by the fulfilment of his divine mission. The people and the aristocracy, however, expected that he would lead the Jewish people to world domination. Therefore it frightens the people and strengthens the authority of the Pharisees, when Jesus (in the third act) announces from the temple stairs his nature as God's son, his mission and that through it all peoples, not the Jewish people alone, will be redeemed. Then he discovers that the people do not understand his teaching. He will do everything in his power to ensure that at least his disciples understand. This can be achieved only through his sacrificial death.
he picture of Jesus of Nazareth presented above can only become clear to us if we keep in mind that Wagner has left for us the draft for a
drama. As with all of Wagner's dramatic works, in this drama we must investigate his methods, if we want to discover his intentions. Then we will not misjudge the similarities and
differences between the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth as he appears in this draft, and that
he crucial importance of Schopenhauer's philosophy for Wagner's world-view, informed his later study of the Saviour, an
investigation which increasingly appears to us "Bayreuthians" as the noblest task one might set oneself. If we find the opinion and the theory of the first [Christian] believers - that Jesus issued
from the royal house of David - uncritically accepted in the draft discussed above, then we can set against it the later opinion that:
[An English translation of Wagner's sketch for this projected drama can be found in volume 8 of Ellis' translation of the Prose Works, pages 385-6. Heckel does not appear to have been familiar with the additional material concerning this Buddhist drama which became available in 1904 with the publication of Prof. Wolfgang Golther's edition of Wagner's letters to Mathilde Wesendonk.]
f we consider, however, that Schopenhauer's and Wagner's respective paths to the acquisition of a purified world-view were
guided by Brahminism and Buddhism, then it might seem advisable also to consider the influence of Indian wisdom on the stage-dedicatory festival-drama [i.e. Parsifal]. Later we will consider
whether the direct source of the poetic conception of Klingsor's magic garden might be found in Indian legends. Before proceeding with that investigation, I wish to consider the sketch of The Victors [Die Sieger], in particular concerning the subject of Buddhism. This sketch is printed in the Drafts, Thoughts and
Fragments compiled from papers left unpublished by Wagner. It was committed to paper on 16 May 1856 in Zurich. I am grateful for the information kindly provided by a noble
friend of the artist3 (who reported to us in her Memoirs of an Idealist about Wagner's suffering in Paris), that Wagner took the material of
The Victors from a story in Burnouf's Introduction to the History of Indian Buddhism. She writes:
he persons of the drama given by the sketch are: Shakyamuni, Ananda, Prakriti, her mother, Brahmins, disciples, people. It is widely known that Buddha is a generic name meaning:
ccording to the teachings which prevailed in India before the time of the Buddha, the path of redemption could only be found by the Brahmins. So the only hope for those born into other castes was that, as the reward for good works, they might be reborn as Brahmins. Far beneath all other castes were the Pariahs and Chandalas, with whom the Brahmins were allowed no contact. Shakyamuni appeared as the liberator of these outcasts for whom the Brahmins had neither mercy nor compassion.
ccording to Wagner his drama is set at the time of the last journey of the Buddha [before his final enlightenment]. Wagner wanted to show the Chandala maiden Prakriti full of [sexual] love for Ananda and in her spiritual struggle with the pangs of love. Ananda, however, responds to her advances with weeping and runs away from her. A comparison with the scene between Parsifal and Kundry in the second act of the stage-dedication festival-play is unavoidable - also where dramatic structure is concerned - when we read in the sketch:
n the further course of the drama, the Buddha responds to the reproaches of the Brahmins concerning his contact with a Chandala maiden and he attacks the idea of caste. The Buddha goes on to reveal Prakriti's existence in an earlier birth, in a dramatically pivotal narration. It is because, when she was the daughter of a Brahmin, she had proudly rejected the son of a Chandala king, he relates, and because she had mocked the unfortunate young man, that she has been reborn as a Chandala maiden. In her present life it is intended that she would herself experience the agonies of hopeless love. Her redemption can be found in renunciation and full acceptance in the Buddha's community.
ndian legends tell of many conversions made by the Buddha, in which the unfortunate one was told how all their suffering is only the necessary consequence of and penalty for sins committed in their previous lives, and how their atonement for these sins leads them on the path of redemption. In the sketch by Wagner discussed here, after the Buddha's narration, Prakriti announces herself ready to make the vow demanded by him, by answering his question with a joyful yes. She is then welcomed by Ananda as a sister. The Buddha then announces his last teachings, and now that everything has become clear to him, goes on his way to the place of his final and complete enlightenment.
f we compare Wagner's sketch with the more extensive account of the legend in Burnouf's book (pages 183-187 of the second edition [or pages 205-209 of the first edition]), then we find almost complete agreement, which is not surprising, given the flow of the narrative. In the legend that equivocal discussion under the tree by the city gates is already of substantial importance. According to Burnouf:
urnouf lets the original legend speak only rarely, mostly retelling it in his own words and compressed. A substantial change that appears in Wagner's sketch concerns the Buddha's revelation of Prakriti's experiences in a previous life. According to the legend, which is clearly intended to proselytize, in her former life it was not Prakriti who rejected the suit of the Chandala king but her father, a haughty Brahmin, who did so without her knowledge. Since the Buddhist religion does not know of any visiting of the sins of the father upon the children, there is no sin of Prakriti in the legend, such as becomes clearly visible in Wagner's sketch. This reworking by the dramatist is carried out completely in the spirit of the Buddhist myth. Indeed, I am inclined to say that this Indian legend communicated by Burnouf was one that had been adapted to the end of proselytizing and that Wagner, by transforming it poetically, has in all probability recovered its original form. The primary purpose of the legend, in the version retold by Burnouf, is the condemnation of the hypocrisy of the Brahmins, and for this purpose the conversation between Prakriti's father and the Chandala king is more appropriate than the psychologically important conversation between the king and Prakriti.
hus the reworking of the legend by Wagner touched upon elements that appear significant when we compare the sketch and his
stage-dedicatory festival-play. The sin for which Prakriti must atone, like that of Kundry, was essentially one of contempt for the suffering of others. In both cases, desire and longing are revealed as obstacles to redemption, which Ananda and Parsifal successfully overcome by their resistance, and in both cases we are shown how their great compassion reveals the path. That which in the sketch only appears within the limitations of historical context, would be revealed in the stage-dedicatory festival-play as
he theory of metempsychosis, which is common to all Indian religions, states that all the suffering one has
caused to a living being, one will oneself have to suffer in future lives, even if one has atoned in this world5. The inner core of a living being, its
karma, is not destroyed on the death of an individual, but survives and at once seeks another dwelling place. The nature of this new incarnation is determined by the
condition of the personal record associated with this inner core, in terms of good and bad actions in previous lives.
t might be the task of the philosophy of the future, itself inclining towards Buddhism's esoteric theory of palingenesis - as Schopenhauer's genius recognized - to climb from the deepest valleys of physical research up to the furthest heights of metaphysical realization and to combine modern scientific theories with the wise doctrine of karma. We are permitted to perceive in the picture created by the word-tone poet that which a philosophical system will probably never be able perfectly to teach us, and which religious allegory only could communicate symbolically. So we can be satisfied with Wagner's utterance:
he often repeated designation of Kundry as
arlier, when she was woken by Klingsor's necromancy, we heard the words sleep and death juxtaposed. Her sounds are
ith these words [in act one] Kundry expresses her fear of the
ans von Wolzogen and after him Löffler have explained the meaning and thus the choice of these names according to their respective investigations. The
original Herodias legend was summarised by Löffler, as follows,:
would have been the first occasion and actual cause of her endless agony, as in the sketch for The Victors the causative action was Prakriti's sin in scorning her suitor. Löffler says:
e have to understand Kundry's "laughter" not only as laughter
at and mockery of the appearance of the Redeemer but also and indeed primarily as an expression of desire. Ever thirsting for the
lso the communication of the ideality of time and space should not be ignored. It is recognisably represented both in the first and third acts of Parsifal. This composed wonder presents us with the Grail domain as the domain of perfect ideality7. Of course it is only with the greatest caution that one should attempt to explain a work of art in terms of abstract concepts, since, as has been pointed out again and again, the contents of a true work of art cannot reveal any abstract concept but can only suggest, because the artwork is able to represent directly that which, in terms of abstract concepts, cannot be proven. Anyone who ignores this, might find it difficult to defend themselves against the charge of presumptuous superficiality, no less than that of reducing religious allegories to plain rationalism.
oncerning the theory of palingenesis8 I should like to point out that it would be insufficient to consider only those of Parsifal's sins for which he could atone by his reaction to the sight of Amfortas in pain, while we are compelled deeply to reflect on these words of Parsifal:
appear as an answer to that painful outburst of the intended Grail king. Only now is Parsifal absolved and healed. In this respect he does not resemble Jesus of
Nazareth, who did not have to wander
Above: In this mural from Cambodia we see an episode from the life of the Buddha. On his first outing from the palace the future Buddha, the prince Shakyamuni, meets with instances of old age, sickness and death. He also sees an ascetic hermit.
ccording to Buddhist legend, Shakyamuni was born a son of the king Sudhodana and received the name Siddhartta; but he is more often referred to, in accordance with his descent, as Shakyamuni or Gautama. Wise Brahmins, who were consulted by Sudhodana, predicted that the prince would become a most powerful king, provided he did not become a hermit. When the king asked how the latter was to be prevented, they answered that the prince must not be allowed to see any of these four things: no man weakened by old age, no sick person, no dead body and no hermit. Despite all precautions taken by his father, however, one day the prince happened to see a man bent by old age: at which he grieved over the transience of human strength and beauty. He saw a sick man, at which he was seized by deep compassion. He saw a dead body, at which he was seized by deep grief, and with it lost all desire for life. Finally, when he saw the peace and blessedness of a hermit, he renounced all splendour and wealth, in order to experience all kinds of suffering and testing, in pursuit of a single goal: to become Buddha and thus redeemer of all beings who are subjected to desire and pain, birth and death. The final tests which Shakyamuni overcame, in his awareness of visible and recognized misery, remind us of Parsifal's resistance [to the temptations of Klingsor's magic garden], which was made possible by the power of his compassion.
or the purposes of this article, we will give particular attention to the temptations and struggles, by which Mára (who can be compared to Klingsor)
attempts to overcome the Bodhisat. Bodhisat meant,
hen Mára provoked a terrible thunderstorm but neither lightning accompanied by roaring thunder nor floods could harm the Bodhisat. He was merely refreshed as if by a light shower and his happy smile was like the silver light of the full moon in a cloudless sky. Mára seized stones and rocks which he cast at the Bodhi-tree, in an attempt to smash to pieces the one who was seeking the Buddhahood. He flung sharp swords and pointed arrows so that they rained down around the Bodhisat; but all of them were transformed into buds and blossoms, or into garlands of flowers, which fell like friendly floral tributes at his feet. The face of the Bodhisat now resembled a golden mirror, in which was reflected his deep composure; it shone as clearly as the flower petals of a water-lily. Mára wanted to destroy him by fire; but the burning coals, which should have burned him, were transformed in the proximity of the Bodhi-tree into precious ruby stones; the glowing ashes became fragrant sandalwood powder; the white-hot sand became pearls; the smoke, which should have surrounded him in darkness and choked him, was dispersed by his shining appearance like morning mist by the rising sun.
ára now ordered his entire army against the Bodhisat. He mounted his elephant, brandished his mighty discus which, as he came near to the prince, Mára threw at him with all his force. This weapon was so powerful that it could have split a mighty mountain in twain; despite this, Mára was not able to wound the prince who sought to bring redemption. Through his great merit the weapon flew slowly, like a dry leaf, through the air and stopped, remaining suspended over the head of the Bodhisat; who reached his hand down to the earth, to the accompaniment of a loud thunderclap and as sheets of fire shot up out of the earth. Mára's army fled; he was himself thrown to the ground and forced to recognise the greater power of the Bodhisat.
ára's daughters, who were called Desire, Disorder and Lust10, now made a last attempt. They transformed themselves into the forms of six hundred wonderfully beautiful maidens of various ages and dressed seductively. The maidens approached the prince, praising his beauty, flattering him and teasing him with all kinds of questions. But the Bodhisat was not distracted by them and, after they had persevered with their arts of seduction for a long time, they left him alone.11
here is not necessarily any specific reference here, in which the weapon thrown by Mára can be identified with the holy spear, or his daughters with the
girls in Klingsor's magic garden12. On the other hand it might benefit a wider view to compare the absolution of Kundry
by Parsifal with those legends, which tell of how the Buddha admitted to his community both Prajapati, the faithful nurse of his childhood, and Yasodhara, formerly his
wife13, giving as his reason:
declared the purpose of this study to be an examination of specific factors, which might help to guide us towards an appreciation of the sum of the metaphysical, or more properly emotional, contents of Wagner's dramas. We see now the possibility of the performance of all of these dramas, a process that already began in 1886 in Bayreuth, so that in 1891 there could be performed the three works Tannhäuser, Tristan and Parsifal, which between them encompass the high points of the metaphysical-religious world-view of the artist.
o we must continue to investigate the common contents of the dramas. We conclude our study with words of the Master, which offer to us the possibility of
answering every one of our questions. He says:
e recognize these ideas both in the dramas of Wagner's first period, in which they are expressed with unconscious necessity, and
in the later works, in which conscious artistic effort reveals them to us. These ideas speak to us in the lament of the Flying Dutchman, then they grow silent and speak to us again in other
forms, other words, other tones, probably at the most extreme in the spiritual struggle of Tannhäuser, or in the death-seeking delirium of Tristan. They arrive in their final and most
satisfactory form in the stage-dedicatory festival-play, with the
Footnote 1: Frau Eliza Wille recalled, from 1852, Wagner's words concerning the prophet from Nazareth in her Erinnerungen an Richard Wagner (Atlantis Verlag, Zürich, 1982, page 34). [Translator's note]
The blood of the Saviour, the issue from his head, his wounds upon the cross; who impiously would ask its race, if white or other? Divine we call it and its source might dimly be approached in what we termed the uniting bond of the human species: its aptitude for conscious suffering.(Herodom and Christendom) [Author's note]. This comment appears in the context of Wagner's critique of Gobineau, who had introduced the term white race. Wagner by contrast acknowledged only one race, the human species, which was distinguished from the animals by
its aptitude for conscious suffering, which Wagner identified with the blood of Christ. [Translator's note]
Footnote 3: Malwida von Meysenbug. [Translator's note]
Footnote 4: Heckel has slightly compressed Burnouf's original, in which this passage reads as follows:
Çâkyamuni se présente en effet, et il apprend de la bouche de la jeune fille l'amour qu'elle ressent pour Ânanda et la détermination où elle est de le suivre. Profitant de cette passion pour convertir Prakriti, le Buddha, par une suite de questions que Prakriti peut prendre dans le sens de son amour, mais qu'il fait sciemment dans un sens tout religieux, finit par ouvrir à la lumière les yeux de la jeune fille et par lui inspirer le désir d'embrasser la vie ascétique. C'est ainsi qu'il lui demande si elle consent à suivre Ânanda, c'est à-dire à l'imiter dans ca conduite; si elle veut porter les mêmes vêtements que lui, c'est-à-dire le vêtements des personnes religieuses; si elle est autorisée par ses parents: questions que la loi de la Discipline exige qu'on adresse à ceux qui veulent se faire mendiants buddhistes.[Translator's note]
Footnote 5: This is an odd statement in view of the author's later reference to the Buddhist teaching of palingenesis. Since, according to a central doctrine attributed to the historical Buddha, there is no soul or ātman, in contrast to the teachings of other religions such as Brahminism, it would be difficult for Buddhists to believe in the transmigration of souls or metempsychosis. Schopenhauer had difficulty in distinguishing these doctrines and, at least as late as 1855, so too did Richard Wagner, who referred to metempsychosis as
a beautiful Buddhist doctrine. It might also be noted here that a Buddhist might have spoken of Prakriti's negative karma, akusala, rather than of her sin. [Translator's note]
O benighted madness of the world: that while feverishly seeking salvation - still thirsts for the fount of perdition![Lines from act 2 of Parsifal, author's note]
Footnote 7: Also in Wolfram's Parzival is a location described as a domain of perfect ideality, the Grail mountain Monsalvat. The relevant lines read:
Footnote 8: See: Karl Heckel, Die Idee der Wiedergeburt (dissertation), Leipzig, Max Spohr. [Author's note]
Footnote 9: Bodhisat is a Pali term for which the Sanskrit equivalent is Bodhisattva. Although these terms do mean
one striving after the Buddhahood, their literal meaning is closer to
one whose body is bodhi, where bodhi, meaning enlightenment or awareness, is the goal of the one who strives after the Buddhahood. [Translator's note]
Footnote 10: In Heckel's source, the Manual of Buddhism, the daughters are named as Tanhá (craving), Ranga (disorder) and Rati (lust or attachment). In this Pali tradition the last-named is displaced by Arati (aversion, discontent or unrest), e.g. in the Sutta Nipáta. In Sanskrit sources they appear as Rati, Arati and Trsná (craving, desire or thirst). [Translator's note]
Footnote 11: After Spence Hardy, A Manual of Buddhism, a most valuable work for the study of Buddhism, a German translation of which was advocated by Schopenhauer. [Author's note]. In the original source, Spence Hardy's book, this account of the struggle between the deva Mára and the future Buddha is described in greater detail on pages 171 to 179. Spence Hardy, who almost certainly found this version of the legend in Ceylon, noted that the Hungarian scholar Csoma Körösi had described Mára as
the god of pleasures, although he might also be described as
the lord of illusion. Carl Suneson reports a similar version of the legend in the anonymous text Apadanatthakatha, which contains these lines:
The wrathful Mára, unable to contain his surge of anger, hurled his discus towards the future Buddha. This weapon remained standing like a canopy of flowers above the one who was absorbed in meditation on the different perfections.Similar statements are found in other Buddhist texts. [Translator's note]
Footnote 12: It is likely that this Buddhist legend and the tale of the Indian flowermaidens related in the Roman d'Alexandre (translated by Pfaffen Lamprecht as Alexanderlied, see Bayreuther Blätter, 1886, pages 47 ff., Hans von Wolzogen, Tristan and Parsifal) originated in the same ancient Indian source. [Author's note; his suggestion is speculative.]
Footnote 13: This appears to be an alternative legend about the admission of women to the Buddha's community. In the legend which Wagner took as the basis for The Victors it was Prakriti who was the first woman to be admitted to the community, i.e. she became the first Buddhist nun. It is generally accepted, as Wagner noted, that it was his disciple Ananda who persuaded the Buddha to admit women to the community. [Translator's note]
Footnote 14: An English translation appears in volume 8 of the Prose Works, pages 396-8. [Translator's note]
The translator is grateful to Laon for providing him with a copy of the article in the original German.