Asmodeus

Kabbalistic Texts on Meditation

from, Renewing the Covenant: A Kabbalistic Guide to Jewish Spirituality {pp. 46–57}; see: The Kabbalah of the Soul: The Transformative Psychology and Practices of Jewish Mysticism {pp. 152–159} by Leonora Leet. [Chapter 2 Notes]

Aryeh Kaplan's Meditation and Kabbalah is a remarkable compendium of relevant kabbalistic texts on meditation that makes the whole tradition of kabbalistic meditation available for study and practice as never before. As this book makes abundantly clear, the major technique for achieving the meditative state in the kabbalistic tradition involved written, visualized, and spoken permutations and unifications (Yichudim) of Hebrew letters and divine names. But beyond this initial technique, the texts quoted by Kaplan provide an understanding of the deepest levels and purposes of meditation. We shall start with a discussion of the Yichudim.

There are two main purposes to all techniques involving the visual and auditory inner senses. The first is to alter the consciousness, in terms of the kabbalistic concept of soul levels lifting it from Nefesh constriction to Ruach expansion, and the second is to train the expanded consciousness to use its verbal and visual perceptual modes properly. The verbal mode is taught to combine the spoken or mental pronunciation of divine names and other letter combinations with controlled breathing and, in Abraham Abulafia's system, specific head movements. Even more important is the training of the visual imagination. This is necessary for all higher spiritual work and not normally as well developed as the linguistic capability. Such training can be accomplished by the distinctive kabbalistic practice of letter permutations, a practice going back at least as far as the third century Sefer Yetzirah [Aryeh Kaplan] and its most overt meditative technique, one later developed into a fine art in Abulafia's system and still later in the yet more elaborate Yichudim of Isaac Luria.

In its very simplest form, this involves the four-letter holiest Name {47} of God termed the Tetragrammaton. This practice is discussed in the Lurianic writings as follows:

It is very good for a person to depict the letters of the name YHVH before the eyes of his mind…[+][+]

It is especially fitting and necessary that you meditate in this manner when you pray. Through this, your prayers will be accepted and you will be answered. Through such meditations, you bind all the Universes together, and the Highest Holiness then rests on you and pertains to you.3 [Chaim Vital, Sha'ar Ruach ha-Kodesh in Kaplan, Meditation and Kabbalah... pp. 255, 257]

In this teaching we can see how visualization and a verbalized focusing of intention can be unified to ensure a desired result, the answering of one's prayers. Whether verbal, visual, or both, the Yichudim, by the more usual and elaborate technique of combining and thus unifying two divine names, primarily the Tetragrammaton with Adonai, symbolize and facilitate the unification not only of the upper and lower worlds and human faculties but, as importantly, of the mental functions identified with the right and left sides of the Tree, in this context the visual and the verbal, respectively. [see Kaplan, Sefer Yetzirah: verbal Binah consciousness & nonverbal Chakhmah consciousness].

The Zohar tells us that the tradition of Yichudim goes back to biblical understanding of the meditative function of the Sh'ma:

This is the mystery of Unification (Yichud). The individual who is worthy of the World To Come must unify the name of the Blessed Holy One. He must unify the upper and lower levels and limbs, uniting them all and bringing them all to the necessary place, where the knot can be bound.

This is the mystery of, "Hear O Israel, God is our Lord, God is One."…

Yod is the mystery of the Holy Covenant. Heh is the chamber, the place in which the Holy Covenant, which is the Yod, is concealed. And even though we have stated [elsewhere] that this is the Vav [in the Tetragrammaton, YHVH] here it is a Yod. The mystery is that the two are united as one…

One must elevate the mind so as to bind them all in one knot, and then, one must elevate the mind with awe and love unit it {48} reaches the Infinite Being (Ain Sof). At the same time, however, one must not allow the mind to leave all the other levels and limbs. But the mind should ascend with all of them, binding them so that all of them are a single knot in the Infinite Being (Ain Sof).

This is the Unification (Yichud) of the Elder Rav Hamnuna. He learned it from his father, and his father learned it from his master, who had a tradition from the lips of the Prophet Elijah.4

[{33–34} Meditation & Kabbalah: Tikuney Zohar 66 (98a)]

The Zohar here provides two unifications of the Name. There is the vertical unification of the lower limbs — the vav signifying the torso and the Partzuf of Ze'ir Anpin while the lower heh signifies the legs and the Nukvah — as well as of the upper limbs — the yod signifying the head and Abba with the upper heh signifying the arms and Imma. Then we have a more sexually graphic depiction of the upper Yichud. Here the identification of the yod with the "Holy Covenant" is an allusion to circumcision and the revealed glans, and if the letter heh is turned around to face the yod — such a face-to-face position as signifies the Tikkun in the later Lurianic Kabbalah — it can be seen that the yod can be "concealed" in the space between the attached upper portion and the unattached line of the reversed heh: ה.

All of this sexual symbolism is related to the Zoharic interpretation of the Sh'ma as a Unification. For what it tells us Israel is meant to hear (Sh'ma Yisrael) is what YHVH Eloheinu, the personal Lord our God, and YHVH, the level of the Godhead beyond all qualifications, are one (echad). In this twice-daily declaration of Judaic faith, the Tetragrammaton, normally vocalized as Adonai (the Lord), is thus associated first with a form of the divine name Elohim and is then given without such qualification. Now since Elohim is a plural designation of the divine, it would seem to specify the manifesting aspect of the Tetragrammaton in the world of multiplicity, that identified with the feminine Shekhinah, in contrast to its transcendent state, equated with the Holy One, blessed be He. Thus what is being unified is the God immanent within and relating to cosmic multiplicity with the transcendent God of unity. As earlier suggested, in this Yichud the meditative consciousness unifies "the upper and lower levels and limbs" of the Tetragrammaton in its vertical arrangement, a traditional arrangement suggestive of the anthropomorphic divine body but also {49} understood to represent the upper and lower male and female Partzufim, and binds itself to it "in one know." It then must elevate itself to the Infinite while still being bound to its finite body, realizing in the human mind and body the same unified duality as that understood to be expressed in the Sh'ma. If this is correctly accomplished, the soul will experience its ultimate Yichud of particularity with infinitude, recognizing itself, in what is surely one of the greatest definitions of Devekut (the "clinging" to the divine that signifies communion), as "a single knot in the Infinite Being."

We have thus far been considering the most basic kabbalistic techniques of achieving the meditative state, those that involve pronouncing or visualizing divine names, in particular that of the Tetragrammaton. Although both the Lurianic and Zoharic discussions go beyond the simple elucidation of initial techniques to depict the ultimate results of meditation, they do not specify what one is to do to achieve these results beyond the various techniques of attunement. Their techniques are all aimed at establishing the initial conditions for the expansion of consciousness and are directed, for the most part, to activating the meditative switching mechanism into expanded consciousness. But there are a few kabbalistic texts that do take us further, and we shall now turn to these for the illumination they can afford into the more advanced techniques of kabbalistic meditation.

The most important of these is the Chayyei ha-Olam ha-Bah (Life of the Future World [Chayay Olam HaBah]) of Abulafia, a work later quoted in an unpublished section of Chaim Vital's Sha'arei Kedushah (Gates of Holiness [Shaarey Kedushah]) some three centuries later and an accepted guide to meditative practice in kabbalistic traditions continuing to the present day.5 Abulafia begins with the process of attunement through letter permutations, which affects the emotional system centered in the heart. He then takes us to the higher spiritual work that may be accomplished after the Shefa, the spiritual influx, is experienced:

Meditate (hitboded) alone… begin to permute a number of letters… until your heart is warmed as a results of these permutations… The influx will then come, bestowed to you…

Then prepare your inner thoughts to depict God and His Highest angels. Depict them in your heart as if they were human beings, {50} sitting or standing around you. You are in their midst, like a messenger whom the King and His servants wish to send on a mission. You are ready to hear the words of the message…

After you have depicted all this, prepare your mind and heart so that your thoughts should understand the many things that come to you through the letters that your heart imagines. Understand each concept and its reasons, both as a whole and in its parts. Ponder them, like a person who has a parable or example revealed in a dream, or like one who delves into a very deep concept in a book of wisdom.

Take each concept that you hear, and interpret it with the best and closest interpretation that you can. Judge yourself according to what you understand from it. And what you are told can also relate to others.

All this will take place after you have cast the tablet from your hand and the pen from between your fingers, or after they have fallen of their own accord because of your many thoughts.6

[{96–106} Meditation & Kabbalah: Excerpt from Life of the Future World]

Once the Shefa comes, the real work of the imagination can commence. And in this text we can see Abulafia guiding the meditative process toward a precise imaginative projection of an astral scene containing God and his angels that is meant to facilitate the reception of a divine message. In this state of prepared readiness for higher knowledge, the message will be transmitted through what the "heart imagines." This may come as letters, concepts, or symbolic images as in a dream. But the imaginative reception of the symbolic message is only half of the process. What is next required is that the image be interpreted, and this is a function of the rational mind.

In writing that the meditatively received symbolic image be interpreted as one would a dream, Abulafia was undoubtedly assuming in his readers a knowledge of the midrashic discussion of dreams. The Midrash tells us that in Jerusalem there were twenty-four schools of dream interpretation and that all the interpretations were fulfilled, whatever the school Its summary statement, "all dreams follow the mouth," contains the surprising understanding that a dream means whatever one says it does, that the dream will become a reality in accordance with the interpretation given to it, whether for good or ill, and that, therefore, the interpreter has a certain power.7 It might {51} be pointed out that the talmudic understanding of dreams explains the success that the various schools of psychoanalysis have had with psychic healing through dream interpretation despite their rival interpretations of dream symbolism. But just as a positive construction of dream symbolism can aid in healing, so a negative construction can be injurious for the combination of image with idea is very powerful and can affect reality.

Thus after Abulafia's instruction to "interpret it with the best and closest interpretation that you can," he concludes: "Judge yourself according to what you understand from it." If one can rightly judge what one's condition and prospects may be from the way one interprets such imaginatively projected material, the implication is that this mental process can impress itself on reality with the force of truth, that it can determine one's own reality and also that of others to whom it is applied: "And what you are told can also relate to others." Abulafia's method can be taken as a model for psychic healing, bot of oneself and others, and I shall shortly expand upon this topic in conjunction with a full model of kabbalistic meditation. But there are two further kabbalistic texts whose concepts will aid in the development of this final model.

The first of these is a work contemporaneous with those of Abulafia, the Sha'ar ha-Kavanah la-Mekubbalim ha-Rishonim (The Gate of Kavanah of the Early Kabbalists [Shaar HaKavanah LeMekubalim HaRishonim]), attributed to Rabbi Azriel of Gerona, a disciple of the Provençal Kabbalist Isaac the Blind. This short work is quoted in its entirety in the unpublished fourth section of Vital’s Sha’arei Kedushah, and it merits the closest study. In the following I shall not enter into the details of the light meditation it gives, the varieties and positions of the lights to be visualized, but focus rather on its basic methodology. Unlike the previous techniques examined, which emphasize the pronunciation or visualization of divine names, this moves directly to the power of meditating on light:


QWERTY 4606 = HATFUL OF HOLLOW IS A COMPILATION ALBUM BY THE SMITHS THAT FEATURES BBC RADIO 1 STUDIO RECORDINGS AND TWO CONTEMPORARY SINGLES WITH THEIR B-SIDES. IT WAS RELEASED ON NOVEMBER 12, 1984 BY THE BAND'S BRITISH RECORD COMPANY, ROUGH TRADE, JUST MONTHS AFTER THE BAND'S DEBUT, THE SMITHS. THE ALBUM REACHED NO. 7 ON THE UK ALBUM CHART AND STAYED ON THE CHART FOR 46 WEEKS. [1] EVENTUALLY, ON NOVEMBER 9, 1993, IT WAS ALSO RELEASED BY THEIR AMERICAN LABEL, SIRE RECORDS, WHICH HAD INITIALLY DECLINED TO RELEASE THE ALBUM. IN 2000 Q MAGAZINE PLACED HATFUL OF HOLLOW AT NUMBER 44 IN ITS LIST OF THE 100 GREATEST BRITISH ALBUMS EVER (Track 16: Ferris Bueller's Day Off) = THE UNPUBLISHED FOURTH SECTION OF VITAL'S SHA'AREI KEDUSHA (GATES OF HOLINESS) INCORPORATES A TEXT TITLED SHAAR HA-KAVVANAH LE-MEKUBALIM HA-RISHONIM (THE GATE OF KAVVANAH OF THE FIRST KABBALISTS). ARYEH KAPLAN TELLS US THAT IT WAS PROBABLY WRITTEN BY AZRIEL BEN MENACHEM OF GERONA (13TH CENTURY). THIS TEXT PROVIDES A WONDERFUL MEDITATION TECHNIQUE IN WHICH THE DIFFERENT GRADES OF LIGHT ARE IDENTIFIED AND VISUALISED IN A VERY SPECIFIC MANNER. A RELATED AND EQUALLY IMPORTANT 13TH CENTURY WORK CALLED SHEKEL HA-KODESH (THE HOLY COIN) WAS PENNED BY MOSES DE LEON OF ZOHAR FAME, WHO APPEARS TO HAVE BEEN ACQUAINTED WITH THE "GATE OF KAVVANAH." (Kabbalistic Curiosities: Wheel of Lights).

QWERTY 416 = THE UNPUBLISHED FOURTH SECTION OF VITAL'S SHA'AREI KEDUSHA (Kabbalistic Curiosities{49 & 51} Renewing the Covenant{59, 93, 118, 127, 140, 187, 190-1} Meditation and Kabbalah) = HIS POWER INVOLVES A MASTERY OF THE FIFTH DIMENSION OF PROVIDENCE [+] = THE RIGHT STUFF, A MOST DESIRABLE AND ENVIABLE QUALITY.

When a person sets his mind on something, its essence returns to him.

Therefore, if you wish to pray, or if you wish to grasp the true nature of an idea, do the following:

Imagine that you yourself are light, and that all of your surroundings, on every side, are also light.

{52} In the middle of this light is a Throne of light…

This is the light that crowns the desires of the mind and illuminates the paths of the imagination, enhancing the radiance (zohar) of the vision. This light has no end…

When there is no other thought or desire intermingled with [his concentration] it can become so strong, that it can transmit an influence from the Infinite (Ain Sof).8 [Meditation & Kabbalah, p119–120]

The text tells us that a focusing of the will powerful enough to elevate an object of desire to the Infinite becomes a channel by which a reciprocal influence powerful enough to fullfill that desire can be transmitted from the Infinite. Concentration on this objective is facilitated by a visualization of oneself as a center of light surrounded by the Infinite Light (Or Ein Sof). Such a visualization reveals the essential unity of the self with the Infinite, since all is light, while it maintains the distinction between the inner light of the self and the surrounding Infinite Light.

Maintaining this distinction is of the utmost importance for the next and most vital step in this spiritual process, and it is this that truly distinguishes the practice of a spiritual master:

An individual thus ascends with the power of his concentration from one thing to the next, until he reaches the Infinite (Ain Sof).

He must then direct his concentration in a proper manner so as to perfect it, so that the Highest Will should be clothed in his will, and not only that his will should be clothed in the Highest Will.

The highest influx does not descend except when the individual does this correctly…

The Highest Will and the lower will are then unified. The individual identifies himself with his attachment to the Unity. The divine influx can then be transmitted in order to perfect him.

The lower will is not perfected when the individual approaches for his own needs. Rather, one must approach while clothed in the will and desire to reveal the identification that is hidden in the concealed Mystery.

When one approaches in this manner, the Highest Will then brings itself close to him. It increases his power and motivates his {53} will until he can accomplish anything. This will even include things that he himself desires, in which the Highest Will does not have any portion.9 [Meditation & Kabbalah, p121–122]

Whereas most spiritual teachings are directed only to the attainment of Devekut, to that communion with the divine that clothes the individual will in the Highest Will, the practice taught here retains and so directs the master's will "that the Highest Will should be clothed in his will." Rather than dissolving his will in the bliss of the Infinite, the aspirant to spiritual mastery is taught to perfect his will by attaching itself to Unity not as final consummation but "to reveal the identification that is hidden in the concealed Mystery." As the work later concludes: "This is one of the ways of prophecy. One who accustoms himself to it will be worthy of attaining the prophetic level."10 The master is one whose words and deeds "reveal the identification" of such an individual with the divine power, and his purpose is to perfect himself into an instrument of divine revelation. Such an instrument "can accomplish anything" but only so long as he does not use his power of concentration "for his own needs." Yet if his will is properly directed toward revealing the Highest Will working through all his words and deeds, his purified personal desires will also be fulfilled and all his needs met. The spiritual master is one who can perform miracles through the power of his concentration, his Kavanah. Abulafia also speaks of "the mystery of the true discipline, through which you can alter the laws of nature."11

For both Abulafia and the author of the Sha'ar ha-Kavanah, the mystery of this true discipline involves three things — influx, symbols, and words: first, a process of attunement that can initiate the divine influx, then a process employing both visual symbols and words. The concluding discussion of the Sha'ar ha-Kavanah defines these three elements of master meditation and relates them to the description of the spiritual practices of the early Hasidim in Mishnah, Berakhot 5:1:

The individual must be clothed in spirit (ruach), expressing his concentration with words, and making a symbolic act. According to how he does this, the influx will be transmitted from potential to potential, from cause to cause, until the result is completed according to his will.

{54} It was in this manner that the early [saints] would linger an hour before praying [alluding to Berakhot 5:1]. During this period, they would dispel all other thoughts, fixing the paths of their concentration and the power of its direction.

They would then spend an hour in prayer, verbally expressing this concentration with words. Finally, they would spend an hour after their prayers, contemplating how the power of their verbally expressed concentration would have a visible effect.12 [Meditation & Kabbalah, p122]

The sentence with which this extract begins defines the three essential elements of what can be called "transformational meditation." To change the course of events or "alter the laws of nature," the master must be filled with spirit and focus this spirit with words while "making a symbolic act." This last phrase can be understood in two ways. The first way is that suggested by the last sentence, the use of the imagination to symbolize visually the desired result. But another possibility involves the creation or reenactment of an empowering ritual. For this is precisely the way in which ritual originates. A charismatic master sacramentalizes a certain way of doing something, be it the way he cleanses his body before the Sabbath or piles up the loaves of bread on the Sabbath table, so that by repeating his words and actions, a symbolic ritual is performed that transmits the spirit of the master. The creation of ritual is, then, one way in which the spirit of a master can work in the world and continue to transmit to the participant in such a ritual the highest influx he, himself, has received. But if the phrase is understood in its first suggested meaning, the use of the symbolic imagination during meditation, it defines the more general technique by which the master accomplishes his will in the world.

According to how powerfully he is able to focus his spirit through words and visible symbols "the influx will be transmitted from potential to potential, from cause to cause, until the result is completed according to his will." From this it seems clear that the spiritual master can alter the workings of causality by effectuating certain potentialities that might otherwise haye remained dormant but are still available within the realm of possibility. His power involves a mastery of the higher dimension of Providence, a dimension that influences the apparent randomness of events to bring about a desired result consistent {55} with justice and that may operate through the improbably possibilities at the farther limits of the curve of probability. [+]


{152 & 157} The Kabbalah of the Soul

His power involves a mastery of the fifth dimension of Providence, a dimension that influences the apparent randomness of events to bring about a desired result that is consistent with justice and that may operate through the improbable possibilities at the further limits of the bell-shaped curve of probability.

In the first paragraph of the last quotation, the three elements appear to be simultaneous. With a properly attuned spirit, the master visualizes a desired result and decrees its manifestation with such words as "Let there be…"13 [The Hebrew word vehayah, normally translated "And it shall come to pass," can also be used as a manifesting power word. It will be employed in this way in the kabbalistic meditation to be developed shortly. The appendix to this volume will provide comprehensive treatment of its widespread biblical usage.] But the description in the Sha'ar ha-Kavanah of the three-hour meditative practice of the early Hasidim, in correlating these three elements with a three-stage process, appears to add a step. Here the visualization does not accompany the verbal affirmation but appears in response to a verbal prayer, as a symbolic answer to a question and guide to future action. As the Sha'ar ha-Kavanah opens with instructions for visualizing light, it is clear, however, that it also understands the first stage of the process, where the Hasidim spent an hour "fixing the paths of their concentration and the power of its direction," as involving a visual focusing of the imagination toward a specific purpose. It would seem, then, that there are two separate visualizations, a first visualization of a problem, whether internal or external, that impedes spiritual perfection, a verbal carrying of this visualized problem to the Infinite, and a revisualization of the transmitted solution that, Abulafia tells us, must then be verbally interpreted to give it potency. Abulafia also presents the initial visualization of God and the angels as an aid to reception of a divine message, which would come through what the "heart imagines," that is, as a second visualization.

But the clearest treatment of the magical power of meditative revisualization appears some five hundred years later with the modern Hasidim, in particular in the writings of Dov Baer, the Mezhirecher Maggid and chief disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the hasidic movement. In Dov Baer's works the concept of Ayin, "nothingness" or, more precisely, "no-thingness," is developed. Ayin is identified with the first kabbalistic world of Atzilut, Emanation, and is the goal of a meditative technique that begins with letter permutations and carries the spirit up through all the supernal worlds to the highest level of Ayin. In the thought of the Mezhirecher Maggid, it is only through such an ascent to Ayin that the alchemy of transformation can be explained:

If you consider yourself as "something," and ask for your own needs, then God cannot clothe Himself in you. God is infinite, and no {56} vessel can hold Him at all, except when a person makes himself like Nothing.14 [Meditation & Kabbalah, p301]

Nothing can change from one thing to another [without first losing its original identity]. Thus, for example, before an egg can grow into a chicken, it must first cease totally to be an egg. Each thing must lose its original identity before it can be something else.

Therefore, before a thing is transformed into something else, it must come to the level of Nothingness.

This is how a miracle comes about, changing the laws of nature. First the thing must be elevated to the Emanation of Nothingness. Influence then comes from the Emanation to produce the miracle.

When a person gazes at an object, he elevates it into his thought. It his thought is then attached to the supernal Thought, he can elevate it to the supernal Thought. From there it can be elevated to the level of Nothingness, where the object itself becomes absolute nothingness.

This person can then lower it once again to the level of Thought, which is somethingness. At the end of all levels, he can transform it into gold.15 [Meditation & Kabbalah, p301–2]

The alchemical process by which lead can be transformed into gold is here explained as a wholly spiritual exercise. Beginning with concentration on an actual physical object, the person visualizes this leaden object imaginatively. If this visualization can be properly attached to the supernal Thought, it can then be further elevated to that state of Nothingness beyond all visualization in which the image is dissolved. At this stage the true mastery of the spiritual alchemist is tested. For rather than resting in this state of Ayin, his will must actively revisualize the original object as transformed into gold. This is in the world of Creation, Beriah. He must then lower this image through Yetzirah to Asiyah, the world of physical manifestation, with such power of concentration as can carry "Influence… from that Emanation to produce the miracle," the physical object transformed into gold when he opens his eyes.

But such physical alchemy is only a sign of the more profound personal transformation that the master has undergone prior to performing {57} such miracles. He must first dissolve his own ego and make "himself like Nothing." In the words of the Mezhirecher Maggid: "To enter the Universe of Thought where all is the same, you must relinquish your ego, and forget all your troubles. You cannot reach this level if you attach yourself to physical worldly things."16 [Meditation & Kabbalah, p301] But he does not remain in this state of Nothingness. He must then lower himself transformed into a vessel of divine power, clothing God. As the Sha'ar ha-Kavanah had said, "The Highest Will should be clothed in his will." Once he has so transformed himself, he can perform all miracles through the same process of visualization, dissolution, and revisualization. All the masters of kabbalistic meditation whose works we have examined convey the same essential understanding of meditation as a discipline not aimed solely at spiritual purification for the purpose of eternal union with God but at purification for the purpose of channeling the divine energy back into the human realm as a means of perfecting that realm. It is aimed not at the dissolution of personality as an end in itself but as a means toward the achievement of the transformed personality of the master who, in the words of the Sha'ar ha- Kavanah, "can accomplish anything." This study of the advanced classic texts of kabbalistic meditation should lay the foundation for the following development of a kabbalistic model of mediation suitable for the Aquarian Age, one that will here be prefaced by suggestions for a mode of performing the essential Sh'ma that, when used to introduce this meditative technique, can bring it within the sanctity of Torah.