Archives for posts with tag: kabbalah

There appears to be a common thread going through all three of the mystical traditions we’ve looked at. This is, which goes through Kabbalah, Chrisitian mysticism and Sufism is love. Each tradition places a slightly different accent on it but all of them include love and the heart as important aspects of the mystic’s life, the mystic’s relationship with the Divine and the mystic’s relationship with humanity.

In Lurianic Kabbalah the Divine’s desire to share was the initial impetus that led to the act of creation. The interplay between the desire to give and the desire to receive is one of the strongest themes in Kabbalah and is the focus of the process of tikkun. We undergo the process of tikkun in order to transform our desire to receive for the sake of the self alone to a desire to receive for the sake of sharing. This is a process of letting go in which the heart learns to relax the self-constriction and open up to receive the divine light.

In Christian Mysticism we see on one side the mystic’s love for the Divine which manifests as an urgency and eagerness to unite with the Divine. This love is expressed by many mystics and sometimes takes on erotic overtones as exemplified in the work of Hadewijch of Antwer. On the other side, the love of the Divine for the soul is described as a powerful force that purges the soul from its imperfections. This entire love affair is probably best described by the mystic works based on the Song of Songs, in itself a mystical text that describes the love between the Divine and the people of Israel.

Finally, for the Sufis love and longing are central to the spiritual path. The creation itself, according to the Sufis, is an act of longing: “I was a hidden treasure and I longed to be known” (Hadith Qudsi). The end of the path is the ecstatic union of lover and beloved in the seeker’s heart. This relationship between lover and beloved is also echoed in the relationship between seeker and teacher as we can see in Rumi’s love for his teacher Shams Tabrizi. Since nothing is separate from the Divine, the sufi’s love and devotion to the Divine translate to love and service for all beings. This allows the sufi tradition to be open and inclusive of people of various faiths.

Obviously these different variations of love are each grounded in specific time and culture but what all of them share is the importance of the open heart. From the open heart shine forth love, generosity, kindness, compassion, joy and more but what does a heart need in order to continue being open? I think that the answer offered by the mystics is faith (or trust) in the heart’s capacity to love, to be loved and, eventually, to be love. At the end of the mystical path lies the union between lover and beloved. In this union the seeker discovers that the Divine’s love for the seeker is in fact the seeker’s own love for himself, for the Divine and for all of creation.

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Reading about some of the myths of Kabbalah I am once again reminded of the power of myth to hold and support us in life and on the spiritual path. I recognize this containment in Rabbi Isaac Luria‘s myth of the broken vessels, in the practice of tikkun ha-nefesh and most especially in the practice of tikkun olam. In many ways, tikkun olam seems to be a jewish version of the Bodhisatva ideal which is often presented as the highest ideal of the spiritual path. And yet, I find myself more easily able to connect to tikkun olam than the ideal of the Bodhisatva.

According to Lurianic myth, during the creation of the world God poured a ray of light into several vessels created to hold this divine light. Some of the vessels, unable to contain the owner of this divine light, shattered and spilled the divine light into the heart of creation. Most of this light returned to the source but some of the sparks were left behind, trapped in this world. By living the holy life, acting righteously and recognizing the divinity that is in everyone and everything we can help elevate those sparks and unite them back with the source; this is the work of tikkun olam.

In tikkun olam we are each asked to take a small part in the big, perhaps infinite, project of collecting the sparks of divine light. I feel invited to participate to the best of my ability in this massive project and to do my part along with everyone else. I see this as an invitation to recognize and to support the light in everyone around me, to bring about healing in small ways as well as large. It appears to be a task that everyone can participate in, and in fact we do even without knowing. This myth has the power to inspire which I can feel to a degree and yet, at the same time I still feel as if there is something missing.

There’s an internal resistance to allowing Luria’s myth in. It is as if there’s an internal conflict between the rational mind and the mythic mind. While the mythic mind enjoys and even craves the kind of support it gets from myth and story, the rational mind resists and is unwilling to let go of its own ways of making sense in the world. Paradoxically, I know that the more I’m able to lean into the myth, the more I’ll be able to let go of the need for rational understanding but this is not enough to resolve the conflict. I can see two ways out: one way is finding or creating a mythology that is acceptable to the rational mind; the other way involves relaxing the rational mind’s need to hold on to old stories and trusting that things will still work out.

This conflict between the rational and the mythical is the same conflict that kabbalists of all ages had to contend with. In their case it was the conflict between established religious organization and the mythical/mystical world that they’ve been exploring. Kabbalah survived partly because it managed to follow the second solution I outlined above; it managed to find a way to combine both worlds, to walk the seemingly narrow path of religious doctrine while at the same time creating a larger context through myth and symbols. In this way, I see the path of Kabbalah as integrating myth and rationality and I wonder once again about my own capacity to integrate those forces in my mind as well.

Having grown up in Israel in the 1980s and 1990s, I have a complex relationship with judaism as a religion and as a culture. As a young child I enjoyed studying the stories of the bible at school and would even read through the bible on my own occasionally. In later years, around middle-school or high-school, we took a more critical and analytic view of the bible, looking at it as an important text but not taking it for granted. This approach fit very well with my rational mind and I found the different layers it revealed to be interesting. Looking at the bible as a constructed artifact as opposed to a God-given text served to solidify my secular stance in regards to judaism and religion in general.

Later in life, some sociopolitical shifts in Israel pushed me even farther away from religion. I watched the ultra-orthodox parties grow in power and then use that power in order to gain unfair advantages to benefit small segments of the population and to promote a way of living that I did not agree with. This became the beginning of a new split in Israeli society and in this split I chose to be squarely and without a doubt on the secular or modern side.

In later years I’ve come to find a way to relate to spiritual matters that was not as dogmatic and seemed to allow more room for me to be the way that I am. It may have taken moving to California and discovering Buddhist practice but through this practice I was able to come to terms with a part of myself that had very little opportunity for expression until this point. A large part of my practice over the last year has been to integrate the rational and spiritual aspects of myself. Decades of conflict between these two forces just about convinced me that this kind of integration is not possible but I’m finding that to be false.

Today, I am more interested in looking back at my own roots as represented by jewish religion and israeli culture. Through my spiritual and psychological practice and probably as a result of growing older, I find that I’m more easily able to come into relationship with those aspects of myself that I’ve left behind. I could see that in my recent visit to Israel and I see that in a new-found interest in the jewish view of the mystical experience.

I first learned about Kabbalah through the story of the four sages who entered the Pardes: one died, one went insane, one became an apostate and only one – Rabbi Akiva – exited in peace. This story serves as a warning that it not enough to be wise and studious before studying the Kabbalah, one must also be psychologically grounded, pure and able to withstand the subtlest temptations. At the time, I doubted the message of the story but, still, did not explore further. Today, I know that there is at least some truth to this story as I’ve experienced some of the difficulties of the spiritual path. Having done so, and finding my self ready to come back into relationship with my jewish roots, I think this is a good time to venture in.