The Eyes of the Eternal Brother. Theosophical Thoughts on a Work by Stefan Zweig

Virata aspires to live his life without sin, to find the truth, to be just, to be free

The Eyes of the Eternal Brother. Theosophical Thoughts on a Work by Stefan Zweig

Is it the conscience or the inner voice – or the “voice of silence”? Is it the Daimonion [1] of Socrates or the Buddhic principle? Or the indwelling Christos who said of Himself: “Behold, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matth. 28, 20)? In any case, Virata [2] is taken by Him, the “eternal brother”.

He is in the service of King Rajputa and is highly respected as a bold warrior. Everyone calls Virata the “lightning of the sword”. He does not know yet that human evolution is actually about the “diamond ray of lightning” (constancy, clarity, inner strength and above all impersonality [3]). Until he reaches this insight, he has to live through four great shocks.

The unintentional fratricide

In the battle against the renegades of his king, Virata unintentionally kills his brother, whom he did not suspect to be in the enemy camp. At night he comes across the body: “The open eyes of the slain man stood fixed, and their black balls bored into his heart.“ Virata then lets his sword slide into the waters of the river, and he declares to the king:

“The Invisible One sent me a sign, and my heart understood it. I slew my brother, that I may now know that whoever slays a man slays his brother.”

In whose mind the concept of “reverence for life” has entered, he can fill this thought with love and compassion, even with enthusiasm.

Virata shows his indomitable will to meet the requirements of life and not the desires of his king or his fellow men. He seeks truth. Not to listen to his inner voice would have meant acting against his best judgement. Nevertheless, the wide eyes into which he looked will haunt him all his life.

Pilate’s question (John 18/37): “What is truth?” is often understood as an expression of doubt, as an indication of the limited human capacity for knowledge. Goethe’s Faust also resignedly declares: “… that we can know nothing”.

But how do we approach the so-called truth? There is no recipe for this, and there is no such thing as the truth, because it moves within us and outside of us and on every level (evolutionary period) in a new code that is adapted to the state of consciousness of that level. However, there is an instinctive or preconscious knowledge from past existences that shapes our character. It is through this that Virata is sensitised to the communication from the cosmic formation of ideas: “… anyone who slays a man …”

All the mysteries of the universe lie latent within us, all its secrets are to be found within us, and every advance in esoteric knowledge and wisdom is but an unfolding of what is already present within.[4] “But instinct itself is the psychoastral memory”. [5]

The impossibility of a completely just judgement

In order not to have to dismiss the noble Virata, Rajputas entrusts him with the office of chief judge, which Virata fills to the best of his ability. He wrestles for at least one night over every verdict and rejects the death penalty for good reason. People now call him the “source of justice”.

But when a condemned man, a multiple murderer, asks for the death penalty rather than endure the sentence of living in a dungeon underground and being scourged every month, Virata becomes uneasy. “The eyes of the man as he was dragged away were focussed ferociously on him. And with a shudder it became apparent in Virata’s heart how similar they were to his dead brother’s eyes.”

Virata dares to experiment on himself by taking the place of the condemned man in the dungeon for a month through a ruse. He is scourged and witnesses the gatekeeper’s wife “sorrowfully spongeing his brow. And by the burning of his body he knew the meaning of all suffering in the grace of goodness”.

At first Virata has luminous experiences in the darkness of the dungeon, but then he experiences “worlds of horror” at the thought that the condemned man might not keep his promise to deliver a letter to the king after a month.

But he is released from the dungeon. Now the certainty lives in him that a completely just judgement is not possible because of our limited vision. He is ashamed to be called a righteous man and asks the king for his release: “I will live my life without guilt.”

Virata understands why those wide eyes of the condemned man also frightened him. His courageous step leads him closer to his truth. No man knows the extent of his moral strength until it has been tested.

King Rajputas complies with Virata’s wish. Now he helps others with advice and deeds and gains new fame; his honourable name is now “Field of Advice”. Six years later, however, the next bad experience awaits him.

The mistreatment of a slave by his sons

Once again Virata looks into the wide, fear-filled eyes of a tormented man. Deeply shaken, he spends the whole night searching within himself, also taking note of scriptures, and comes to the conclusion that freedom is man’s deepest right. He asks the “thousand-shaped God”: “Grant that I may recognise the messengers that you send to me in the eternally accusing eyes of the eternal brother who meets me at all places, who sees with my gaze and whose sufferings I suffer, that I may walk my life in purity and breathe without guilt.”

He who strives towards the light challenges the darkness to resist. Nature has infinite ways to deceive us and it is also there to test us.[6] Virata’s courageous intervention is met with incomprehension by his sons. Their selfishness and greed make them angry. They do not perceive the influence of the dark forces, the “spirit of delusion and madness. … The true devil is the poor human judgment, which is wrong and will always be wrong if it wants to be right vis-à-vis the Spirit.” [7]


The third wrong that he feels deeply leads Virata to the supposedly guiltless life of a hermit. He informs his king, who visits him after some time in his hut in the forest, that nothing is now his: “The homeless man has the world, the detached man the whole of life, the guiltless man peace.”

Virata’s fame as a saint spreads and several house fathers do the same, so that “a settlement of the pious” arises. Virata is now called the “Star of Solitude”. Because he hears of a deceased brother, he goes to the next village. At the end of the village, he looks into the hateful eyes of a woman whose husband had left her to follow Virata’s example. Her three sons died because they had nothing to eat.

Virata “recoiled, for he felt as if he had seen again the staring eyes of his murdered brother, forgotten for years”. He bows to the woman who accuses him. “You speak true, and I see: there is always more knowledge of truth in a painful experience than in all wise serenity. What I know I have learned from the wretched, and what I have looked upon mentally I have seen through the gaze of the afflicted, the gaze of the eternal brother. Not a humble one of God, as I thought, but haughty have I been: this I know by thy sorrow which I now suffer. […] even the lonely man lives in all his brothers. Forgive me, woman! I will return from the forest, that Paratika [the woman’s husband] may also return and awaken new life for thee in the womb for that which is past.”

He gives up his life as a hermit, returns to the city and confesses to his king: “Not with knowledge have I done wrong, I have fled guilt, but our foot is bound to the earth and our deed to the Eternal Laws. Even inaction is an act; I could not escape the eyes of the Eternal Brother, on whom we do good and evil eternally, against our will. Now I want to serve again. […] I no longer want to be free of my will. […] Only he who serves is free, who gives his will to another, who puts his strength into a work without question. Only the centre of the deed is our work – its beginning and its end, its cause and its working is with the gods.”

In the Bhagavad-Gita Krishna declares:

It is not by avoiding every deed that one is truly freed from doing, never can one be free from all action even for a moment. (3rd Canto)

And in the Voice of Silence it says:

When mercy is needed, inaction becomes an act of mortal sin. [8]

Every individuality has a duty to fulfil. It is incumbent upon each one to recognise the duty imposed upon him. What a person has to sacrifice is a secret that can only be revealed to him.[9]  The universe cannot do without anyone, it needs everyone.

Virata’s story ends in a deeply moving way. He lets the king assign him the most menial work there is in the palace; he takes it upon himself to be the “guardian of the dogs in the barn in front of the palace”. Stefan Zweig leaves open the question of whether Virata wins the highest in this way, whether he finds grace before the “eyes of the eternal brother”. **It’s up to the reader to inquire this within himself. The other people began to forget Virata. „The dogs, however, loved him more than any of the palace.”


[1] Daimonion: warning inner voice (of the deity) in Socrates

[2] A king in the Indian epic Mahabharata

[3] H.P. Blavatsky refers to these character traits in the Voice of Silence when she speaks of the diamond soul.

[4] Gottfried de Purucker, Quelle des Okkultismus Band 1 (Fountain-source of occultism, Vol. 1), Theosophischer Verlag, 1990, p. 23

[5] Gottfried de Purucker, Dialoge Band 5 (Dialogues Vol. 5), Theosophische Gesellschaft, p. 67

[6] After Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Die Stimme der Stille (The voice of silence), Theosophical Universal Press, 1993

[7] Levi, Eliphas, Einweihungsbriefe in die Hohe Magie und Zahlenmystik, Ansata Verlag, 1990, p. 81 and 82

[8] Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, op. cit.

[9] Albert Schweitzer, Kultur und Ethik in den Weltreligionen, C.H. Beck Verlag

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Share this article

Don't Miss Out

Would you like to receive updates on our latest articles, sent no more than once a month? Sign up for our newsletter!

Our latest articles

Article info

Date: February 1, 2022
Author: Traudl Elsas (Germany)
Photo: SplitShire auf Pixabay CCO

Featured image: