KosherTorah School for Biblical, Judaic & Spiritual Studies
The Dangers of Studying Kabbalah Without Correlative Spiritual Experience
by Ariel B Tzadok
Copyright © 2015 by Ariel Bar Tzadok. All rights reserved.
The Kabbalah teaches its practitioners ways of psychic ascent into what we call the spiritual domains. If these realms truly exist as tangible realities, then they must be subject to whatever natural laws dominate in those dimensional planes. In other words, just as the Earth is ruled by the laws of nature, so too is “Heaven” ruled by its own laws.
If one wishes to make use of the techniques, which enables one to ascend to what we call Heaven, then one must obey the rules that underlie these techniques. Rules, rules, rules, everything is built upon, and is subject to the rules. It is important for one to know the rules, and to understand not just what they are, but why they are.
Empirical investigation, discovery, and verifiable evidence must be the criteria used to support the existence of any rule, or law of nature. This is so with regards to our studies of the natural laws that govern our universe, and so must it be with our understanding of the laws of spiritual domains. One cannot simply make-believe, and then actually ascend, any more than one can make-believe, and actually fly.
There is physical gravity that governs mass, and there is a “spiritual” gravity that governs consciousness. Only by knowing the natural laws of the spiritual universe can one understand them well enough to use them as one uses physical natural laws here on Earth to fly airplanes, and launch ships into space.
The spiritual dimensions have long been referred to as the realm of metaphysics. The realms of metaphysics, by definition are above and beyond our present understandings of natural law. Therefore, when we claim that the spiritual domain is ruled by metaphysical law, then our compliance with these laws is imperative for us being able to experience the spiritual realms. We have to be sure that we know, understand, and obey these rules. But how do we go about learning them, when we do not have the means to verify and confirm that what we believe is actually true, and valid? This is a significant problem, and underlies the reality why so many people believe that they are having authentic spiritual experiences, when, in fact, they are having nothing of the sort.
The Kabbalah outlines spiritual reality using the metaphor of the four worlds. These worlds, Atzilut, Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah represent the domains of the unconscious and conscious minds (Atzilut and Beriah), the realm of the emotions (Yetzirah), and finally, the domains of form (Asiyah).
This physical universe of ours is part of the world of Asiyah. It is the world of forms. Form and structure in the natural world of Asiyah were built upon preexisting patterns in the higher supernal planes. In scientific terms, this means that there are the laws of nature that dominate this universe, and that these natural laws themselves are subject to even higher laws of dimensions yet undiscovered by science.
We see, and know the laws of science. Rational deduction dictates that these laws come from somewhere. Otherwise how could we call them laws? Laws need to be followed. The universe operates in strict compliance with natural laws, not even a fraction of which we know, and understand today. The Kabbalah teaches that our universe is the lowest dimension (Malkhut) of the Asiyah universe. Our physical universe is thus metaphorically considered to be only one-tenth of the whole of physical space. In light of modern understandings of the existence of dark matter, and dark energy, this old Kabbalistic teaching might have some actual modern verification.
The path of spiritual ascent is essentially a mental process. In other words, no one is ascending to the spiritual domain in a space ship, or a time/space dimensional portal. This later type of transportation makes for great science fiction, but has absolutely no foundation in science fact. Spiritual ascent is a mental process. This means that spiritual travel occurs within the mind. Spiritual ascent is a psychological process, and has everything to do with expanded, altered states of human consciousness. These states of consciousness are part, and parcel of the domain of psychology, and are thus, therefore, subject to the natural laws that govern both the organic brain, and the inorganic mind.
Psychological “travel” can take one anywhere that the human imagination can create. We have many genres of human imagination in the forms of books, and films. Their numbers will forever increase, just as the human imagination will. While within our imaginations the imaged worlds therein can seem real, nevertheless, this does not make them so. One can read as many novels as one wishes, or watch as many movies as one desires, and still the characters of Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, and all the other genres will remain fictional. It is an important rule of mental health, and thus psychological health that the images in one's imagination not become confused with actual realities outside of one's mind.
Spiritual reality is experienced within one's mind, alongside the imagined imagery of mental fantasy. Inside the mind, both perceptions can look identical, and can easily be confused for one another. So, how is one to tell the difference between an imagined character of one's own creation, and an identical character which is being used by the imaginative faculty of the mind to represent an archetypal reality of some deeper dimension? In other words, when is Master Yoda a dream, and when is his image actually a “vision”? Questions of this nature pop up all the time with meditation practitioners influenced by images from western culture. This influence is certainly not a negative thing, it just needs to be properly understood.
Centuries ago, the merkava meditators would experience visions of heavenly chariots, and all kinds of (what for us seem to be) strange, and unusual entities, and forms. What they saw was not any objective experience of an external reality. Rather, they saw what their individual minds prepared for them to see. Each of the ancient ones dreamed dreams, and saw visions, each within the psychological context of one's own internal state of mind. This is a foundational law of prophetic vision. Even Maimonides, in his famous law code, enumerated this psychological fact.
Centuries later, Avraham Abulafia, the practitioner of the Prophetic Kabbalah wrote in his book “Sefer Heshek” about visualizing the image of a being of light, and that one should initiate conversation with him. This form, and this visualization was to act as the beginning of one's mental journey into spiritual experience. This meditative technique is psychological in nature, and was meant to jump-start a process of inner exploration that would be led by an archetypal image of one's higher self (referred to in other Kabbalistic literature as one's Magid, spiritual guide).
Three hundred years after Abulafia,
Hayim Vital wrote in his “Sha'rei Kedusha” that one should should visualize the
Name of God, YHWH, and that one should approach the letters of the Name, and
engage them in dialogue. This inner dialogue within the mind was also to serve
the same psychological purpose of jump-starting one's active imagination for the
sake of enabling one to receive inner guidance along one's subjective spiritual
All of these practices, be they of the ancient merkava meditators, Abulafia, or Vital revolve around a single truth, this being the psychological rules of spiritual ascent.
In today's world, we have no shortage of individuals interested in spirituality, and religion. We do, however, at the same time, have a severe shortage of sincere spiritual practitioners who seek to experience spiritual reality first-hand, as was practiced in centuries past. This discrepancy is dangerous in that it can mislead an entire generation (and beyond).
If one comes to mystical or Kabbalistic texts, and reads descriptions about spiritual ascents, and the subjective experiences of the spiritual dimension, one without an understanding of the psychological subjectivity of the material will often mistakenly come to interpret all the subjective, and metaphorical experiences described therein as being literal fact, mistakenly believing them to represent a form of some tangible, external reality.
Once one confuses subjective reality for objective reality, one becomes convinced that the greater universe of the spiritual domain has a specific form. The religious faithful then become convinced that all other people's beliefs and actions must be brought into compliance with this (misunderstood) image (form). The believer believes that all others who do not embrace, what they consider to be the objective truth about the universe, are actually causing irreparable harm to the entire universe. The delusional believer then comes to look at all others as being enemies of the universe, enemies of the Creator, and thus subject to removal, by whatever means necessary.
This type of religious delusion leads to the social separation of peoples and religions, and often leads to prejudice, and outright violence. It is this simple lack of direct subjective spiritual experience that leads religious individuals to misinterpret spiritual literature. This leads religious people to draw all kinds of false assumptions, and conclusions, such as those just described. We have here the root cause of religious fundamentalist beliefs, and it is clearly seen how dangerous such beliefs can be.
We conclude from this a simple lesson. One who violates spiritual law is as much a “criminal” as is one who violates human law. If one were to violate the laws of nature, one would quickly discover that “mother nature” is not to be trifled with. Violations of natural law, such as those of electricity, and gravity are very strict. The spiritual laws of psychic descent are psychological, and thus universal. As such, these laws also are part and parcel of the natural universe, and are as fundamental as the natural laws of biology, and chemistry. One cannot, and must not violate natural law, and expect no consequences. One cannot expect spirituality and religions to be perverted without severe psychological, human consequences.
It is important for every sincere spiritual seeker who is exposed to religious, and mystical literature to understand the material properly within its subjective, psychological format. Otherwise such literature can be dangerous to one's mental health. This is the underlying reason why many Sages throughout the centuries sought to prevent the public from having exposure to Kabbalistic literature before reaching an age of intellectual maturity. They foresaw the danger of unprepared minds being exposed to literature that they would not be ready to properly understand, and absorb.
Nothing is new under the sun. Nothing has changed. The dangers of the past are still dangerous today. The study of Kabbalah, and mysticism, (Jewish or otherwise), outside of a proper subjective, and psychological understanding can lead one to false assumptions about spiritual reality, and this can lead one to psychological, and social disaster. This is what is happening now all around us.
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