Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Lurianic Doctrine of Creation

Garden of Eden Before the Fall

Isaac Luria spent much of his time seeking to discover and expound on certain specific revisions in the Qabbalah of Spain and Sefed so that he might more effectively answer some of the most puzzling questions about the nature of creation and the manifestation of evil. This is very likely where Luria showed his unique brilliance and insightful understanding of those more abstruse speculations. Many of these ideas were later incorporated into the occult variation of the Qabbalah of the 19th and 20th century without either questioning their significance or citing the sources where they were found. However, after examining some of Luria’s ideas and thoughts about these questions, it will be fairly obvious that the later occult Qabbalah took its ideas from him.

Much of this speculation has to do with the mythic concept of the fall of human kind, and the overall impact that event had on the spiritual and material nature of the world. Many cultures believed in a previous golden age epoch that occurred not long after the origin of the world, and that subsequent epochs have resulted in a kind of devolution, particularly in the disposition of the human race and the manifestation of the material world. In the golden age there was no sickness or death, and that humanity lived in a kind of peaceful equality with all creatures and the Godhead itself. This was the fabled Garden of Eden, from which humanity, as Adam and Eve, through sin and transgressions, were expelled, ending the time of idyllic perfection and beginning the time of suffering, trials, sickness and death.

Even Greek myth had such a devaluation of ages, from gold, to silver, bronze and then, to iron, which is our current and much debased age. At each devaluation, the world became less perfect, and humanity became less ennobled and idealized. This process continued until human nature had been completely debased in nature as to be indistinguishable from it. Mythic world views from most cultures talk about the fall of mankind from a greater estate, that this fall also produced a chasm between humanity and the Godhead, and allowed for the inclusion of many disharmonious elements, such as sickness, death, evil and worldly catastrophes, all of which didn’t happen when humanity was in its original sublime state.

Humanity’s fall from grace would then seem to be a way of explaining how the world became imperfect, and why suffering, sickness and death seem to be the lot of all living things. Yet another way of looking at this progression is to see it as the natural process of incarnation within a world where Spirit and Mind existed before matter, and that the fall was actually the process whereby humanity acquired a physical existence. A physical existence has both its positive aspects and negative, where the positives would be the ability to live, experience, grow and acquire wisdom and ultimately, to rejoin with the Deity at the end of life. The negatives, of course, would be having to deal with the innate limitations of being in a physical body, locked within time and space for the duration of that life, however brief or long.

We should also keep in mind that from the standpoint of science, we have physically evolved through a very long chain of living creatures, from primitive single celled life forms, to completely self-conscious, self-determined and individuated human beings. To science, humanity has been engaging in an ascending arc from its most humble beginning; and to religion, humanity has fallen to its lowest estate, yet it now has the opportunity to rise once again to its original height.

As a pagan occultist, I would find truth in both perspectives, seeing the human saga from the perspective of both an involutionary and evolutionary process. This dual manner of perceiving human history allows me to acknowledge that there was no original fault or sin that precipitated the fall of humanity, because all that has occurred is part of the natural overall physical and spiritual process of emanation and evolution. In my opinion, there is no guilt associated with being a human being, and there was no fall from grace. There was just the natural involution, incarnation, physical evolution and ultimate spiritual evolution of our species. So for this reason, I find myself somewhat at odds with the monotheistic perspective of original sin, guilt and the fall of humanity due to its inherent willful nature and predisposition to evil. I believe that there are other ways to frame these concepts, therefore, I have amended the Qabbalistic speculation that is based upon that theological premise.

Now that I have satisfied my need to emphasize this point, I can continue with my discussion about the important Lurian contributions to the modern Qabbalah.

One of the first problems that Luria tackled was the problem associated with the act of creation within the Godhead itself. If the Deity was all that existed, even though it was in a state where it was unmanifest, how could it create anything if there wasn’t any space for that creation to occur? Before one can create something, there has to be empty space for that something to occupy.

Luria proposed that the Ein Sof contracted (zimtzum) into itself, and therefore, produced an empty space (a vacuum), which was the first requirement for manifestation. The second requirement was a form of self-limitation, which is how an infinite Deity would be capable of creating a limited and finite material world. The third requirement was concealment, because the act of creation would essentially reveal what is incapable of being revealed and known, so the Deity contracted, established self-limitations (boundaries) and concealed itself in order to create the world and not violate its integrity.

Thus, the will to create generated the transmission of a “Yod,” as a formulation of power and organization imprinted with divine mercy that proceeded to create the first manifestation.  (It should be recalled that Yod is the first letter of the Tetragrammaton, which is the secret name of the Deity.) What was first created was a manifested aspect of the Deity itself, which was the symbolic act of creating the proto-man known as “Adam Kadmon.” This proto-man as God was a necessary first step, since humanity was created in the image of the Deity, and the Godhead would have to be materialized in order to have an image. Another attribute for this proto-man was called the Glory of the Godhead, who was the driver that sat upon the Throne of Glory in the Divine Chariot, or Merkabah.

This primary phase of creation produced a geometric world consisting of concentric circles, but also simultaneously, one that had a uni-linear structure (as the outer body or skeleton of Adam Kadmon), which formed diagonal zigzags, like the Lightening Flash. The arbitration of these two processes (circles and lines, egression and regression, inner light and outer light, substance and vessels, direct light and reflected light) produced the dialectic process whereby all creation was made manifest, bringing forth the Tree of Life through the three pillars of mercy, severity and mediation. Thus lines and circles joined together to fashion the Tree as we know it. The lines were defined as emanations of the ruach, and the circles were emanations from the nephesh, and combined they produced the body and soul of the proto-man, Adam Kadmon.

Breaking and Restoration of the Vessels  
Luria’s qabbalistic speculation answered the problems associated with the speculation of an infinite and unmanifest Deity being able to create a limited and manifest world, but now he needed to explain in a similarly refined manner the nature of evil; how imperfection caused a catastrophe to occur and how the Deity sought to redeem and rectify that creation afterwards. Luria brought into qabbalistic speculation a succinct explanation of the Fall, how it occurred, what happened afterwards, and how it was supposed to be rectified and restored. Luria not only discussed the nature of this redemption, but also talked about when it would occur and who would be its agent in the material world - that agent would be the messiah. For Luria, the messiah wasn’t a military leader or a political leader who would seek to liberate the Jewish people, but a cosmic spiritual agency that would redeem all of mankind, beginning, of course, with the Chosen People.

Luria taught that the Fall was not the fault of humanity, but an inherent weakness in the creation of the lower “vessels” or sephiroth. This inherent weakness was fostered in the subtle effects of what was called “reshimu,” or residual remnants of creation, particularly, the leftover judgement (from Geburah) and the imperfectly reflected or refracted lights from the Ein Sof. This produced what Gershom Scholem has called, using a Gnostic term, a kind of “hylic” substance, or pure matter divorced from Spirit. Another way of looking at this substance is that it could be leftover proto-matter that was used in the creation of the Tree of Life. Regardless, that residual matter, and the periodic leaking transmission of negativity from Geburah, as the sitra achra, joined at the lowest levels of manifested being, where it formed a kind of pool - inchoate and completely inert.

The outer form of the Sephiroth were perceived as acting like vessels, which like a chalice, could contain a form of liquid light, and these were formed out of the circles and lines that made up the body of the Adam Kadmon. The light that filled these vessels had its origin in the light of the negative veils, so it was a pure emanation of the Ein Sof that flowed through them. However, because of the inherent flaw in the vessel of the sephirah Geburah, (due to the potential excess of judgement), the light caused that vessel to shatter, creating a cascading event that proceeded down the Tree of Life, all the way to Malkuth. Another theory was that the light was too great for the lesser sephirah to hold, and so, due to stresses that were overwhelming, they shattered. All six of the lower sephirah shattered, but the lowest, Malkuth, wasn’t broken into pieces and cast down into the realms below as were the rest. Instead, it was broken, cracked, but still managed to function. Some of the light was deflected and returned to its source, but the rest fell down to where the shards of the vessels had fallen and was trapped there. These shards became known as the “Qliphoth,” the dark forms of the sitra achra. This catastrophe profoundly affected the world, from Geburah down to Malkuth, and allowed for the generation of evil forces to infect all of the lower sephiroth. The sinful actions of mankind did not bring forth this calamity, it was due instead to forces and designs that were far greater. Yet the empowerment and release of evil into the world that this event caused had many ramifications, including the expulsion of mankind from the Garden of Eden. It was the fall of a greater portion of the macrocosm, and the creation of great chasm between the Godhead and much of the manifested world - this chasm would be called the Greater Abyss.

Despite this terrible calamity, the core of the Adam Kadmon was not touched by it - only the lower vessels were effected. Therefore, the proto-man, as Adam Kadmon, took steps to redeem what had been broken, and to restore what had been lost, namely, the light of emanation. This restoration, which was called “tikkun,” first emerged as a light shining from the forehead of Adam Kadmon. That light was the medium through which the chaos that had been unleashed would be calmed and reorganized, and the shattered vessels replaced by a new formulation. The attributes of the effected sephiroth would be merged with the power and majesty of the Adam Kadmon, and new inviolable vessels would thus be created, and these were called “faces” (parzufim). Therefore, through this intercession, the lower six vessels were replaced or repaired, and the light from the Ein Sof continued to flow uninterrupted from level to level. However, the final task was to be the most difficult, for that entailed gathering up all of the points of light that had fallen to the lowest level.

The task of collecting the various points of light was made more complex because they had found their way into the souls of individual human beings and other entities as well. It is not a task that the Adam Kadmon can perform, but is instead the destiny of the messiah to complete it. Such a being is a special incarnation of the Adam Kadmon, but formulated in a microcosmic expression. Therefore, as a godlike messianic figure, he will gather together all of those lost points of light until none are left in the material world. Then, having been united with these points of light, he will ascend again to the greater Adam Kadmon, and therein return the light to its source. When this happens, of course, the material world will become dormant once again, and the light of the Spirit will recede from it, thus marking an end of all space and time.

A cosmic messiah has the central role in the Lurian Qabbalah, and when he manifests in the world, it will represent that the end times have arrived. The Lurian Qabbalah mixed both messianic aspirations along with a belief in the apocalypse or end times, and this was a very intoxicating combination, particularly because Luria believed those end times to be immanent. It was only a matter of time before someone would claim this role as cosmic messiah, and that someone was Shabbatai Zevi . Not only did he not turn out to be the messiah, he probably single handedly helped to invalidate the Qabbalah as a serious form of Jewish Theology. His ignoble end hastened the end of the Qabbalah, which had all but disappeared from mainstream Judaism by the advent of the 19th century.

Garden of Eden After the Fall
Two beautiful illustrations, which are found in the Golden Dawn corpus, encapsulate these ideas of the state before the Fall, and the state that existed afterwards. These illustrations appear to incorporate some elements of the Lurian Qabbalah, although there is a third in the series, which is called the Restoration, and is decidedly Christian. However, the first illustration is entitled “Garden of Eden Before the Fall,” and depicts the harmonious state of the Tree of Life and the 10 Vessels before they were broken. The second illustration is entitled “Garden of Eden After the Fall,” and shows the awakening and arising serpents of the Qliphoth below Malkuth encircling the lower six Sephiroth and completely invading Malkuth itself. These illustrations are part of the temple equipment for a Golden Dawn Temple, and are discussed in the lessons of the Practicus and Philosophus grades. While these illustrations are not perfect exemplars of the Lurianic Qabbalistic doctrine, they do show a variation of these concepts, as depicted within a Christian occult context. You can find these two illustrations as part of the colored plates in the beginning of the book “Golden Dawn” written by Israel Regardie, and the associated text can be found in volume 3, pages 14 - 18.

Final Considerations

We have examined the tenets of the Spanish and Sefed Qabbalah, and also looked over the doctrines of the Lurian Qabbalah in regards to the nature of creation, the occurrence of evil and the imperfections found in the natural world. There are a number of different directions that one can mentally travel with these many speculations. I have found the Lurian perspective, although brilliant and fascinating, to be the most antinomian and Gnostic of these different approaches. The question is how the modern occult Qabbalist will use these different perspectives, and that depends on whether one is Christian, Jew or pagan.

My opinion is that the nature of evil and imperfection in the natural world, although real and quite compelling, are in fact illusions. How can I say this, and doesn’t it devalue or dis-empower the issues that confront humanity living in the material world? To that I will reply that whatever is a realized and living part of the One is wholly vested in that which is good. Whatever is divided against itself is also diminished and not part of the One - such a thing has no absolute reality. That is how I judge the phenomenon of evil in the world.

This is another way of saying that something that is negative, imperfect and thereby evil, only exists in the moment, and will perish as all physical things perish. Evil is divided against itself, and therefore, tends toward complete self destruction; whereas good draws all things to it, thus forming a greater union in emulation of the One. As time is allowed to take its natural course, eventually evil will cease to exist, and only good will survive. However, once that happens, then good will cease to exist as well, and all that will be left is the One. I think that is a good general approximation of what Luria was attempting to teach, and therefore, I will choose that as a way of defining the nature of evil, imperfection, and the ultimate destiny of those individual points of light called the human spirit.

Adopting this perspective will in no way devalue or put aside the many concerns that self-aware beings have living in this world. There are a multitude of problems to solve, and they will not solve themselves if we ignore them or pretend that they don’t exist because they are somehow “illusory” in the long term. The Qabbalah teaches us that the material world in which we reside is important and even has a degree of sacredness associated with it. This is because Kether is reflected in Malkuth, and visa versa. What that means is that we have a responsibility to our spiritual selves as well as our bodies and the world that we live in. Life and the material world are a precious gift given to us, and how we treat them will ultimately demonstrate our true worth as human beings.

It is my belief that an enlightened person will be more sensitive to the needs of everyone, and the needs of the environment and the world itself. A person who is closed off and completely self absorbed is the opposite of what I consider to be fully and spiritually awakened. To be aware of the moment, and everything that is contained in that moment, from the most sublime to the most mundane, is to be truly awakened and engaged with the One. May I be so blessed if such a thing occurs in my life, and then to know intrinsically whatever is to happen beyond that life.

Frater Barrabbas

No comments:

Post a Comment