KosherTorah School for Biblical, Judaic & Spiritual Studies
Secrets of the After-Life, 1
The Way of Enlightenment, Part 2
by Ariel Bar Tzadok
Copyright © 2015 by Ariel Bar Tzadok. All rights reserved.
Describing the after-life in Torah tradition is certainly not simple. Unlike in Christianity, and Islam, Torah does not teach that there is an eternal Heaven, or an eternal Hell. As much as we might want to believe in these myths, Torah teaches a more sophisticated system of where one goes, and what one experiences on the other side of life.
Of course, Torah believes that the death of the body is nothing more than the end of one style of life, and the beginning of another. Yet, the nature of this afterlife is entirely dependent upon how one lived in this life. Sounds simple, yes? Well, maybe it is, and maybe it isn't. Let's find out.
A solid Torah foundation is that the soul (regardless of what we call it), and the spiritual (astral) body it will inhabit in the after-life are not made of any type of matter that we presently understand. The existence in the after-life is, by our present understanding, non-corporeal. Again, this might sound simple enough to understand. But then again, if this is true, and we are essentially born into a non-corporeal world, how is it that the after-life is then experienced as having a form not too different from those forms here on Earth?
The answer to this question is that Heaven and Hell will often take on the appearance of the beliefs of the individual. These appearances are not necessarily real, but are believed to be real in the eye of the beholder. Many near-death experiences, and religious dreams and visions each describe Heaven and Hell in individualized, personal ways, with each experience reflecting the religious views of the individual.
If Heaven and Hell are only appearances experienced in the mind of the beholder, then what exactly is the after-life? Are Heaven and Hell real places, be they spiritual or otherwise? Are these places in an actual location, or being that we are talking about a non-corporeal world, does the concept of actual location even apply?
If Heaven and Hell are not actual places, but let's say, states of mind, then essentially each person isn't really going anywhere, are they? If Heaven and Hell are states of mind, then is the after-life simply living in the state of mind that leaves the body with its death? Or, is the state of mind of the soul something imposed on it from God, or the Heavenly Court?
Like I said above, when we begin to think about these thing, we find that they are not as simple as they seem.
States of mind defines for
us both our lives, and our after-lives. It is amazing what c-r-a-p people are
willing, and even desirous to put into their heads, thus contaminating both our
lives, and after-lives.
Think about this. What most interests the average person, an exciting movie, or a hard work-out in the dojo, or gym? What most interests a person, a heated debate about politics, and/or some relevant social issue, or learning and practicing meditative techniques? If you are unique you may be more interested in the dojo, or the meditation, but what about the average person?
The average person is always more inclined towards their physical and emotional desires, and pleasures. The dojo and meditation both require mental discipline, and are thus hard work. The average person does not like hard work, and will seek the easy path, the path of least work, and most relaxation. In other words, the average person is lazy. The average person does not make the disciplined efforts for anything not absolutely necessary.
The state of mind of the average person is so radically different from the state of mind of the one who pursues wisdom, and enlightenment. The state of the average mind is very immature in comparison to the disciplined mind. The disciplined mind controls all around it. The average mind is controlled by all around it.
States of mind defines for us both our lives, and our after-lives. The average person experiences the after-life in one way, and the superior, trained, and disciplined person experiences the after-life in a very different way. The state of one's mind controls what one sees, both here, and there.
Certain souls will experience one of the many envisioned forms of Hell in the after-life. We will discuss these in a later essay. For the moment, we will focus only of the experience of what is perceived as Heaven.
In Torah tradition, Heaven is referred to as the Garden of Eden (Gan Eden). Further tradition reveals that there are actually two Edens, there is the Upper Gan Eden, and the Lower Gan Eden. Each one is considered to be radically different from the other. Two different domains of Heaven in the after-life? Why is there a need for two? Why isn't one sufficient?
The answer for this is found in many sources. Philosophy, mysticism and Kabbalah all seem to provide the answer for why there are two Gan Edens, and what is most interesting is that, in spite of the different terminologies used by each school to describe their answers, they are, in fact, saying the same thing, and describing the same reality of the after-life.
Where one ends up in the after-life depends entirely upon how one lives, and what one accomplishes in this world. Granted, one whose behavior is righteous, lives religiously, and performs acts of kindness will be rewarded in the after-life with Gan Eden. But, which one?
One whose heart is pure, and whose behavior is good will be blessed to awaken in Gan Eden. This Gan Eden will have all the feel of being a real world, just like this one, with all its sensual pleasures. The only things lacking will be negative ones. In this Gan Eden there is no pain, no evil, no wrongdoing, no want, no unfulfilled wishes or fantasies.
This Gan Eden is literally everything that one has wished for, and dreamed about. It is truly Heaven. And, this is why the perception of it will be different for each and every soul therein. The righteous of each and every religion and culture will experience themselves transported to a perfect world in accordance to the individual designs that one has always dreamed of.
As individual dreams, and perceptions of reality are different, so too will be the perceptions of this Eden. Everything is individualized. And it is for this reason, that this Gan Eden is only a temporary home, a rest, a pit stop in between lives in the reincarnation cycle. This is why this Gan Eden is called the lower Gan Eden. The pure of heart go to this place. But being pure of heart is not the final stop on the road towards spiritual evolution (or rectification).
After one has purified one's heart, one must then continue to purify one's mind. This process is a far more difficult task that refining one's heart. To know good, and to shun evil, this is the rectification (tikun) at the heart level. This is an emotional recognition. Being righteous and kind purifies one's heart. Being able to think sharply, clearly, analytically, and rationally, only this is the rectification of the mind.
Knowing the difference good and evil is one thing, a first thing. Knowing the difference between truth and falsehood intellectually, and instinctively, in all ways, and in all things, and being able to explain the difference, demonstrate it, and prove it, this is what the Bible refers to as Da'at (knowledge). Achieving this Da'at, one is said to rectify eating of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, Good and Evil. Without this knowledge, one cannot draw close to partake of the fruit of the Tree of Life, and thereby gain immortality, and freedom from the continuous cycles of reincarnation.
As long as one's mind is not pure, one does not have enlightenment of the mind. Without this level of enlightenment one cannot escape the continuing cycles of spiritual growth. As such, such a soul is not yet ready to ascend to the upper Gan Eden. Even the soul that has achieved enlightenment of the heart, and acts with all proper morals and values, and observes one's religion within the context of one's limited understanding, even such a soul is not yet ready for the upper Gan.
As for what the upper Gan is like, no one can say. No words can describe it. No image can embrace it. No eye has seen it, no ear understands it. The upper Gan is a dimensional plane outside of what we know as creation. As such, no one, or no thing in creation can ascend therein, and descend back out, in order to bring us here any kind of description.
These upper and lower Gans are referred to in Kabbalistic literature as the worlds of Beriah and Yetzirah respectively. Lurianic kabbalistic literature is full of information and revelations about these worlds. What the Lurianic Kabbalah reveals about these worlds is greatly insightful, and helpful for us, at least to imagine things, that, in all due respect can never be imaged accurately. Then again, the reasons why there are limitations to human imagination is also revealed, and explained within the context of the Lurianic system.
The secrets of the after-life are thus bound up in, and dependent upon, the secrets of the human consciousness. Human emotions, and human intellect are both part and parcel of consciousness. Greater consciousness also includes the human unconscious. The human unconscious is that part of consciousness that the human being is presently unaware of. This unawareness is due to the lack of enlightenment in both the heart and the mind.
Expanding consciousness is how enlightenment is pursued. What is accomplished at the end of the life here on Earth is what one experiences when one enters the after-life. The teachings and legends about the upper and lower Gans, and the worlds of Yetzirah and Beriah reveal to us many things that when reflected within ourselves, enable us to embrace and integrate their lessons.
In Lurianic terminology, the enlightenment of the heart is called the rectification (tikun) of the Ruah level of soul. The enlightenment of the mind is called the rectification (tikun) of the Neshama level of soul. The Ruah, the heart, Yetzirah, and the lower Gan Eden are together one concept. The Neshama, the mind, Beriah, and the upper Gan Eden together are another concept. We must elaborate more on each of these.
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The Written Works of Ariel Bar Tzadok
Copyright (C) 1997 - 2015 by Ariel Bar Tzadok. All rights reserved.