Archive for 2006
I look, I listen.
The words I’ve written
tell me more than I’d ever wished to know.
Days grow longer…
thoughts dwell, expand, explode – implode…on overload.
I see air swirling in circles around my hand,
tiny particles of violet light
caress my canvased skin.
A humming in my brain
deep dark caverns of parts untouched.
In response, my temples pound pain
– shooting nerves never ending.
The veins in my eyes bulge and swell
I shed a tiny tear.
salty and sweet
to the taste of my tongue,
more real than any thought
I’ve ever touched.
- Mark Allan Kaplan
*Published in J. Campbell (Ed.) (1983).Our western world’s greatest poems. Sacramento, California: World of Poetry Press.
Welcome to Kabbalah Q&A. Since I have been asked many questions about Kabbalah throughout this blogging journey, I thought I would try to answer some of the most basic questions here.
WHO SHOULD STUDY?
Traditionally, the study of Kabbalah in Judaism was reserved for Jewish men over the age of 40. Aside from the cultural and patriarchal issues involved in this stance, these constructs represented the belief within the tradition that the study of these mystical teachings required a high level of maturity, and extensive knowledge and training within the other, more exoteric teachings of the tradition (Torah and Talmud). The age of 40 also has a mystical meaning to it as well; 40 is the total number of the 10 Sefirah or branches of the Tree of Life, manifesting through the Four Worlds of Creation (see below).
My own belief is that these traditional conditions for the study of Kabbalah still hold true on a symbolic and/or archetypal level: For me, being Jewish means to be a devoted seeker of the Divine Oneness; since it is believed that the Divine Presence (Shekhinah) is a feminine energy, those who study Kabbalah should symbolically hold the masculine stance towards this presence in order to attain union with it; and one must be psychologically healthy, emotionally mature, and have some knowledge of the tradition before entering into the experiential mystical practices of Kabbalah.
There are also those who say that it is dangerous to study the Kabbalah if these traditional conditions are not met, and once again, I would agree on a more symbolic/archetypal level: It is my belief that any advanced psycho-spiritual practice like that of the Kabbalah, can be dangerous for those not prepared to loosen the perceptual bounds of the traditional constructs of both personal and consensual reality.
WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF THE KABBALISTIC MATERIAL?
In my view, there are three major theories about the origin of the Kabbalah: One theory holds that the teachings that would one day become the Kabbalah were communicated to Abraham and passed down from one generation to the next through an ever-expanding oral tradition; Another theory holds that the Kabbalah was transmitted to Moses at the same time that he was given the Torah and the other Oral Teachings that would eventually become the Talmud, or the codified Jewish Law; and still another theory holds that the teachings of Kabbalah were developed by Judaic mystics after the first millennium CE.
It is my understanding that there is historic evidence for the existence of Kabbalistic teachings dating back to the early Talmudic period (74 CE). Many Kabbalists and Biblical historians also point to hints of Kabbalistic teachings and practices in the writings of the Prophets, and within the Torah itself.
My own belief is that all three theories are true on some level; that the teachings of the Kabbalah slowly developed over the span of Judaic history, first beginning as simple mystical understandings and practices, then developing into more and more complex system of oral teachings and spiritual exercises, and finally becoming a codified and written tradition.
WHAT ABOUT ALL THE DIFFERENT KABBALISTIC SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT AND PRACTICE?
There are many different schools of Kabbalistic thought and practice both within and outside of Judaism. Within Judaism, there are many different systems of Kabbalah related to the different mystics who codified the teachings and practices to fit their particular mystical approach; these include the Kabbalistic teachings and systems of Moses Cordovero, Isaac Luria, Moses Luzzatto, Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai, Abraham Abulafia, and the Baal Shem Tov. There are also more recent permutations within the tradition, including more pop culture oriented movements like that of The Rav and the Kabbalah Center.
There are also many systems of Kabbalah (Cabala, Cabbala, or Qabalah) outside of Judaism, including Hermetic traditions like that of the Order of the Golden Dawn, along with various other Alchemic and esoteric traditions. Many of these teachings come from a long list of non-Judaic mystics and spiritualists including Franz Bardon, Madame Blavatsky, Aleister Crowley, A. E. Waite, Israel Regardie, and Paul Foster Case.
Kabbalah has also influenced and been influenced by other mystical systems; one can find Kabbalistic signs on most Tarot decks, and many see traces of neo-Aristotelian and Neo-Platonic thought within the teachings of Judaic and non-Judaic systems of Kabbalah.
My personal position on all these different schools and influences is…that it is all God in Drag (as Ram Dass likes to say). It is my belief that each method speaks to different people, and/or speaks to each of us at different times and phases of our journey. There is a poem I often like to remember when I am asked to comment on what I think of all these different and often seemingly divergent mystical paths…it says: “Oh Stream of Life, Run Ye Slow, or Run Ye Fast, All Streams Reach the Sea at Last.” So for me, if a path speaks to me, then I take it; and if that path stops speaking to me and another path calls me, then I take that one; because in my heart and mind I feel a single great river running through all these streams, all rushing towards that wondrous mystical ocean of oneness.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BASIC CONCEPTS IN KABBALAH?
While Kabbalah is a very complex system with a vast cosmology, I believe there are some basic concepts common to most, if not all, of the different Kabbalistic traditions. My perception of these basic concepts includes the idea of a formless, nameless Source of existence (EIN SOF); the emergence of the energy of that source through a process of emanation, creation, formation, and manifestation (THE FOUR WORLDS); the movement of this energy through the different worlds is channeled through a mystical structure (THE TREE OF LIFE) with numerous pathways (32 PATHS) and ten main branches or hubs (THE TEN SEFIROT).
These are just a few of the basic concepts of the tradition, and each of them is merely a tiny spark on the edge of a vast mystical universe of teachings and practices.
Here are some resources for further exploration of the vast mystical universe of the teachings and practices of the Judaic Kabbalah, which is the form of Kabbalah I am personally drawn to.
Some Classic Books of the Judaic Kabbalah Tradition
Sefer Yetzirah: The Book of Creation. Translated by Aryeh Kaplan. York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser.
Sefer Bahir. Translated by Aryeh Kaplan. York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser.
The Zohar. Translated by Harry Sperling and Maurice Simon. New York: The Soncino Press.
Derech HaShem: The Way of God by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto. Translated by Aryeh Kaplan. Jerusalem: Feldheim Publishers.
Da’ath Tevunoth, The Knowing Heart: The Philosophy of God’s Oneness by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto. Translated by Shraga Silverstein. Jerusalem: Feldheim Publishers.
Sha’arey Orah: Gates of Light by Rabbi Joseph Gikatilla. Translated by Avi Weinstein. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
Some Modern Books About Judaic Kabbalah
Daniel C. Matt. The Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism. New York: Harper-Collins Publishers, 1995.
Perle Epstein. Kabbalah: The Way of the Jewish Mystic. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1978.
Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi (Warren Kenton). Kabbalah: Tradition of Hidden Knowledge. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1979.
Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi (Warren Kenton). Kabbalah and Exodus. York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, 1980
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan. Meditation and Kabbalah. York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, 1982.
Rabbi Arthur Green. Seek My Face, Speak My Name. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1992.
Rabbi David A. Cooper. God is a Verb: Kabbalah and the Practice of Mystical Judaism. New York: Riverhead Books, 1997.
Rabbi Shoni Labowitz. Miraculous Living: A Guided Journey in Kabbalah through the Ten Gates of the Tree of Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996.
Rabbi Steven A. Fisdel. The Practice of Kabbalah: Meditation in Judaism. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1996.
Dr. Philip S. Berg. Kabbalah for the Layman. Jerusalem, Israel: Research Centre of Kabbalah, 1981.
My heart has wept many times over the last few years over the seemingly endless and violent conflicts between some of the worlds religious traditions and cultures. Like so many others, I have yearned to find a way to help bring about peace between the faiths. From this place of deep yearning, I began developing an interfaith daily practice to see if I could personally find and affirm an energetic harmony between the traditions. To my amazement the practices of the different faiths that I was exploring merged into one long beautiful sacred dance of movement, meditation, contemplation, chanting, and visualization. As part of this sacred dance I was guided to look up the words for peace in different languages and was further moved to develop an Interspiritual Peace Mantra which I now perform several times a day.
This Interspiritual Peace Mantra that emerged from my practice is a compilation of eight words for PEACE from eight different languages used to represent the eight major streams of world religions: Primal Traditions, Paganism, Hinduism, Judaism, Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. The words are arranged in the chronological/historical order of the emergence of each of these faiths. The purpose and intent of this mantra is to nurture and amplify personal and collective peace.
The eight words of the Interspiritual Peace Mantra are:
Sipala Sith Shanti Shalom T’ai Sidi Pax Salaam.
Sipala is the Hopi word for peace and represents the Primal Traditions (Shamanic , Aboriginal, etc).
Sith is the Gaelic word for peace and represents the Pagan Traditions (Goddess, Druid, Celtic, Wicca , Greek, etc.).
Shanti is the Hindi word for peace and represents the Hindu and Sikh traditions.
Shalom is the Hebrew word for peace and represents the Judaic and Kabbalistic traditions.
T’ai is a Chinese word for peace and represents the Taoist and Confucian traditions.
Sidi is the Tibetan word for peace and represents the Buddhist tradition.
Pax is the Latin word for peace and represents Christianity .
Salaam is the Aramaic word for peace and represents Islam and Sufism.
As part of this practice, I also developed the above Interspiritual Peace Mandala with the words of the Interspiritual Peace Mantra and symbols from each tradition set within a mandala pattern created by a dear friend of mine, artist Maja Apolonia Rode.
The Interspiritual Peace Mantra and Mandala can be found at the Interspiritul Peace Project web page.
One of the most difficult elements of the Passover story for me has always been the ten plagues. As a child I was terrified at the description of a God who would administer such suffering. As I studied the mystical interpretations of these events I found a deeper meaning that has helped me hold these archetypal elements in a way that brings me closer to spirit.
The world was created with ten Divine statements.
The ten statements of creation brought the world into being
in a manner in which the energy of spirit
that maintains its existence
The ten plagues were actually ten lessons
that sought to break through
the veils of concealment
and allow for
to enter our consciousness
through the giving of
the Ten Commandments,
the Ten Precepts.
-Rabbi Yehudah Arieh Leib of Gur.
According to this mystical interpretation, each lesson or plague shattered an illusion of human power over nature and of the powers of idolized gods, thus revealing that there was a single Divine force at work in the world. Once all ten lessons occurred, the human ego (Pharaoh) surrendered its control to the higher Self (Moses) and the rest of the human psyche (the children of Israel) so that the mind and heart of each person who was to receive the Ten Precepts would be open to receiving them.
This process was created by the Divine to establish a profound experience for humanity to aid in the awakening of the Divine self within all beings. It was a symbolic and a literal example of Divine principles at work within the individual, collective, and unitive heart and mind. To this end, the Divine led the children of Israel, the Awakening Self, into the land of bondage/narrowness (Egypt/Mitzrayim) with the intention of freeing them by means of the Ten Lessons.
And the Divine “…hardened Pharaoh’s heart in order to have the opportunity to display many miraculous signs and wonders in the land of narrowness;” (Exodus 7:3) proving the existence of the one true Source of Life and shattering the belief in false gods and human powers.
These are the Ten Lessons
that the Divine
brought upon the land of Mitzrayim,
the consciousness of narrowness;
each lesson revealing
a Divine aspect
|Lesson/Plague (Hebrew)||Lesson/Plague (English)||Represented Divine Aspects of Creation|
|Dom||Blood||All sustenance comes from the Divine|
|Tzifardeyah||Frogs||All support comes from the Divine|
|Keenim||Lice||All integrity comes from the Divine|
|Arov||Wild Beasts||All endurance comes from the Divine|
|Dever||Pestilence||All beauty comes from the Divine|
|Shicheen||Boils||All justice comes from the Divine|
|Barahd||Hail||All mercy comes from the Divine|
|Arbeh||Locusts||All understanding comes from the Divine|
|Choshech||Darkness||All wisdom comes from the Divine|
|Makat Bichorot||Death of Firstborn||All life and death comes from the Divine|
Buber, M. (1947). Ten Rungs. New York: Citadel Press.
Kaplan, M. A. (2003). A Mystical Passover: A Transformational Passover Haggadah. Pacific Grove, CA: Original Gravity.
Touger, E. (1988). The Chassidic Haggadah. New York: Moznaim Publishing.
*Image: The Ten Plagues
The Jewish holiday of Passover (Pesach) is approaching. As part of my personal journey of healing, studies, and return to the Judaic path, I have explored the meaning, purpose, and practices of this important holiday through a process of spiritual exegesis. This process consisted of a radical interpretation of the Passover rituals and prayers into a language and process that resonated with my own heart while also attempting to honor the heart of Judaism itself. Through this technique I endeavored to heal old wounds and purge myself of the obstacles between the Divine and myself in relation to this important Judaic ritual of liberation.
There are three basic levels of text interpretation in the Jewish tradition: Literal-Biblical, Theoretical-Talmudic, and Mystical-Kabbalistic (Fishbane, 1998; Kenton, 1980). Literal-Biblical text interpretation includes the historical, biblical and narrative levels of the material. Theoretical-Talmudic text interpretation consists of the extrapolation of the philosophical, ethical, moral and religious doctrines, laws and teachings that are woven into the fabric of the written material. Mystical-Kabbalistic text interpretation seeks to unearth the hidden and concealed metaphysical teachings buried in the text.
On the literal level of interpretation, Passover is a ritualistic retelling of the story of a historical biblical event, the Israelites’ liberation from bondage in Egypt. On the theoretical level, the story and rituals of Passover have many philosophical, ethical, moral and religious lessons to teach us about human behavior and the human endeavor to live according to the teachings of the religion of Judaism. Traditionally, the rituals of Passover, including the Passover Seder, tend to focus on these two levels of interpretation and understanding.
In the Jewish mystical tradition, Passover can also be seen as a powerful vehicle for personal and communal psycho-spiritual development. From the Mystical-Kabbalistic perspective, the Passover story of a people being freed from the bondage of slavery is transformed into a road map for how an individual can be freed from the bondage of limited consciousness (Kenton, 1980); the land of Egypt becomes the realm of narrowness of body and mind, and Moses becomes the Higher Self being called upon by the Divine to free all the different voices of the psyche (the children of Israel, the Awakening Self) from the bondage of the ego (Pharaoh).
This mystical level of interpretation became my pathway through the metaphysical gates of these ancient and sacred rites of inner and outer freedom, leading me to the discovery a personally transformative psycho-spiritual Passover experience. The final product of this endeavor was the creation of a Mystical Passover handbook or Haggadah (Kaplan, 2003) which I now use ever year at this time.
Fishbane, M. (1998). The Exegetical Imagination: On Jewish Thought and Theology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Kaplan, M. A. (2003). A Mystical Passover: A Transformational Passover Haggadah. Pacific Grove, CA: Original Gravity.
Kenton, W. (1980). Kabbalah and Exodus. York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, Inc.
*Image: Mystical Sedar Plate revealing the inner dimensions of the physical symbols.
Announcing the publication of…
Transpersonal Dimensions of the Cinema
By Mark Allan Kaplan, Ph.D.
ABSTRACT: Transpersonal dimensions of the cinematic art form are explored, including transpersonal elements inherent in the nature of the cinematic medium; transpersonal influences on cinematic content, structure, and style; and potential transpersonal effects of the cinematic experience. A preliminary classification of transpersonal cinematic effects indicates potential synchronization effects between constructed cinematic reality and various aspects of creator/viewer realities. Personal filmmaker observations and a review of theoretical, empirical, anecdotal, and historical sources suggests that the transpersonal or boundary-transcending nature and capacities of the cinematic medium make it a potentially powerful and valuable tool for the mediation of transpersonal experience and perception.
Published in The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 2005, Volume 37, Number 1, Pages 9-22.
View and Download the Complete Article at: http://www.markallankaplan.com/text/tpcinema.htm
There are many different ways in which the Judaic tradition views the idea of the Name of the Divine. On one level, the Divine has no name because the Divine is that which is beyond naming. On another level, the Divine has a name but it is a name not to be spoken; this is called the Tetragrammaton or the four-letter (YHVH) name of the Divine. When this name appears in prayer or in the sacred texts another divine name (Adonai or HaShem) is spoken in its place.
On still another level, there are many names of the Divine; names which seek to comprehend the Divine by naming its attributes, qualities, and the ways in which it relates to humanity and all of creation.
There are Kabbalistic meditative practices for all of these levels of divine naming. Kabbalists have also discovered and constructed additional names of the Divine that are mystical combinations of Hebrew letters related to the Divine. These “Lettered Names” are used in advanced Kabbalistic practices to help the individual practitioner unite with the Divine (see below).
Here is a list of some of the Judaic Names of the Divine and a mystical interpretation of the divine attributes, qualities, and ways of relating they represent. It is said that the reading and speaking of these Divine names can be a powerful spiritual practice in and of itself.
Abir: Strong One.
Adonai: Guardian; Keeper.
Avinu Malkeinu: Patron; Wise Counselor.
Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh: I Am That I Am (Exodus 3:14).
E’in Sof: The Endless; The Infinite (Kabbalistic name of God).
El: The Source; That Which Calls; That Which Invokes.
El De’ot: Source of Knowledge (1 Samuel 2:3).
El Echad: Source of Oneness (Malachi 2:10).
El Elyon: Source Most High (Genesis 14:18).
El Emet: Source of Truth: (Psalm 31:6).
El HaGadol: Source of Greatness (Deuteronomy 10:17).
El HaGibbor: Source of Courage and Strength.
El HaKadosh: Source of Holiness (Isaiah 5:16).
El HaNe’eman: Source of Faithfulness (Deuteronomy 7:9).
El HaShamayim: Source of the Heavens: (Psalm 136:26).
El Olam: Source of Eternity (Genesis 21:33).
El Yeshuati: Source of Salvation (Isaiah 12:2).
El Yisrael: Source of Awakening (Psalm 68:35).
Elah Sh’maya: The Source and Calling of Heaven (Ezra 7:23).
Elah Sh’maya V’Arah: The Source and Calling of Heaven and Earth (Ezra 5:11).
Elah Yerush’lem: The Source of the Vision of Peace (Ezra 7:19).
Elah Yisrael: The Source and Calling of the Awakening Self (Ezra 5:1).
Elohay (or Elohim): Honored One; That which is to be revered.
Elohay Avraham, Elohay Yitzchak ve Elohay Ya`aqov: Honored One of the father of great multitudes, the one who brings laughter, and the one who prevails.
Elohay Kedem: Honored One of the Beginning (Deuteronomy 33:27).
Elohay Mishpat: Honored One of Justice (Isaiah 30:18).
Elohay Selichot: Honored One of Forgiveness: (Nehemiah 9:17).
Elohay Marom: Honored One of Heights: (Micah 6:6).
Elohay Mikarov: The Honored One Who Is Near (Jeremiah 23:23).
Elohay Mauzi: Honored One of Strength (Psalm 43:2).
Elohay Tehilati: Honored One of Praise (Psalm 109:1).
Elohay Yishi: Honored One of Salvation (Psalm 18:47, 25:5).
Elohay Elohim: Honored One of Calling (Deuteronomy 10:17).
Elohim (or Elohay): Honored One; That which is to be revered.
Elohim Kedoshim: Holy Honored One (Leviticus 19:2, Joshua 24:19).
Elohim Chaiyim: Living Honored One (Jeremiah 10:10).
Elyon: The One that is Most High.
HaKaddosh, Baruch Hu: The Holy One, Blessed be.
HaShem: The Name.
Immanu El: The Source who is with us (Isaiah 7:14).
Kaddosh Israel: Holy One of the Awakening Self.
Magen Avraham: Protector of the father of great multitudes.
Makom: The Omnipresent One.
Melech ha-Melachim: Counselor of Counselors.
Ro’eh Yisrael: Guide of the Awakening Self.
Shaddai: Almighty Source of Blessing.
Shekhinah: Divine Presence.
Tzur Israel: Rock of the Awakening Self.
YHVH (Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey): That Which Is and Will be; the Source and Author of Life.
YHVH-Elohim: That Which Is and Will Be Honored (Genesis 2:4).
YHVH-M’kadesh: That Which Makes Holy (Ezekiel 37:28).
YHVH-Nissi: That Which Is and Will Be Our Banner (Exodus 17:8-15).
YHVH-O’saynu: That Which Is and Always Will Be Our Maker (Psalm 95:6).
YHVH-Ra-ah: That Which Is and Will Be My Shepherd (Psalms 23:1).
YHVH-Rapha: That Which Healeth (Exodus 15:26).
YHVH-Shalom: That Which Is and Always Will Be Our Peace (Judges 6:24).
YHVH-Shammah: That Which Is and Always Will Be Present (Ezekiel 48:35).
YHVH-Tsidkenu: That Which Is the Source of Righteousness (Jeremiah 23:6).
YHVH Tzva’ot: That Which Brings All Things Together.
YHVH-Yireh: That Which Will Provide (Genesis 22:13, 14).
And here are some of the Kabbalistic Lettered Names of the Divine used in Judaic mystical practices. These practices include gazing at the Hebrew letters of the Name, repeating the letter sounds or the letter Names like a mantra, and meditating on the hidden patterns of meaning within and between each letter of the Name. (Note that Hebrew is read from right to left)
The Four-Letter Name:
The Tetragrammaton or the Name of that which is Nameless.
The Eight-Letter Name:
The Tetragrammaton interspersed with the word Adonai.
The Ten-Letter Name:
Derived from the first three Sefirot of the Tree of Life; Keter (Crown), Hokhmah (Wisdom), and Binah (Understanding).
The Forteen-Letter Name:
Derived through the transposition of letters of the phrase “Adonai Elohainu Adonai” from the Shema prayer.
The Twenty-Two-Letter Name:
Derived from the Priestly Blessing.
The Forty-Two-Lettered Name:
Derived from the first 42 letters of the Torah.
The Seventy-Two Lettered Name:
Derived from three verses in Exodus (14:19-21); each of the verses contains 72 letters, and when combined they form 72 names.
The Hebrew word Yisrael, or Israel, has been used in the Judaic tradition as a label for the Judaic “tribe” as a whole, and for the land that the tradition has held as sacred.
The name Yisrael was first used in Genesis 32 in the story of Jacob wrestling with a “stranger” from Heaven. In this story Jacob is at a crossroads in his life and he heads off alone in the middle of the night and ends up wrestling with a divine force in order to receive a blessing. This blessing finally was given to Jacob in the form of a new name, Yisrael.
This name has several mystical meanings that all relate to the process described in the story (Gordis, 1995). These definitions include: One who wrestles or struggles with the Divine; one who yearns for the Divine; the song of the Divine; and the Awakening Self (the Self that struggles to awaken to it’s true oneness with the Divine).
A mystical translation of this biblical story reveals the archetypal psycho-spiritual pattern of our struggle to awaken to our true Self and the Divine:
In the middle of the night Jacob arose
and sent his loved ones and all his possessions
across the river of struggles.
Jacob remained alone.
A stranger appeared and wrestled with him
until the break of day.
The stranger saw that Jacob was strong in faith
and touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh,
causing a great strain.
The stranger said:
“Let me leave for the dawn is breaking.”
Jacob told the stranger:
“I will not let go until I am blessed.”
The stranger replied:
“Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel,
the one who strives to awaken
and know the truth of the Divine.”
Jacob asked the stranger’s name.
The stranger replied:
“Why do you seek my name?”
He then blessed Jacob.
Jacob named the place Divine Face and said:
“I have seen the Divine face to face,
and my soul has withstood it.”
The sun rose and was shinning on him
as he continued on his way.
- Genesis 32:23-32
Gordis, D. (1995). God was not in the fire. New York: Scribner.
*Image: Jacob wrestling with the Angel of God