The Kaballah seems to be the talk of the moment, and yet so few understand it. It reminds me of the time the word "kundalini" first entered into the mainstream of the Western spiritual audience over thirty years ago. "Kundalini this" and "kundalini that" was all you ever heard but almost no one then, and even today, understands or understood what kundalini really is.
But we're talking about the Kabbalah, so let's note a few brief but important points and seek the parallels between this spiritual training system and the many others, for as often noted, each champions itself supreme, but only to keep the tradition alive. Underneath it all, the rules of spiritual striving and practice are common, non-denominational principles and the stages of attainment are called the "shared practices" because they are common stages. People loyal to each tradition object to this, each cliaming theirs supreme and the only one, but this is the way it works and the way it HAS to work if you think about it clearly.
Whether we are speaking of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai or other philosophical schools of the Kabbalah, the situation is no different than we find with the ancient tantric literature of India or Tibet. The authors wrote down their teachings with specific meanings intended, but it is not clear whether or not people today understand their meanings. This is especially the case with Indian and Tibetan tantric literature because it deals with how to manipulate and cultivate the energy currents of the body, along with chakras and energy flows, and how they might be harnessed and used to change the physical body and the world of surrounding matter. In the past, even in Western alchemy, such knowledge and teaching -- even in Taoism -- were considered secret. They were not taught openly to the publicly because of all the harm they might cause in the hands of the ignorant, and yet to keep the methods alive wise masters wrote books, veiling the meanings so that only an initiate might know them.
Most tantric literature is secretive because it deals with various ways to manipulate the energies of the body and the environment that can cause much trouble if the practitioner is not qualified, such as not having purity of heart. This is why a long apprenticeship, as much as twenty years, is required in Tibetan Buddhism. You can read of the many types of superpowers available in Measuring Meditation, or in my Stages course, one such quote appearing below:
Then the time arrived for the competition in evidence of siddhi [supernormal abilities]. Vairotsana held the three realms in the palm of his hand. Namkhai Nyingpo, riding on the sun’s rays, demonstrated many miracles. Sangye Yeshe summoned malevolent spirits with a gesture of his purbha, slew his enemies with a movement of his phurba, and pierced a stone with a thrust of his phurba [just as in the Story of King Arthur]. Dorje Dunjom ran like the wind, encircling the four continents in a flash, and offered the King seven different kinds of treasure as proof of his feat. Gyelwa Chokyang projected Hayagriva, the Horse-necked, from his fontanelle, instantaneously filling the microcosmic universes with the sound of his neighing. Tsang-ri Gompo conquered the three realms in an instant, and offered the god Brahma’s nine-spoked wheel as proof of his feat. Gyelwa Lodro walked on water. Denma Tsemang conclusively defeated the Bon in religious debate, explaining the Kanjur Rochok from memory, projecting the forms of the vowels and consonants into the sky. Kaba Peltsek enslaved the legions of arrogant spirits. Odren Zhonnu swam like a fish in the ocean. Jnana Kumara drew ambrosia from a rock. Ma Rinchen Chok ate pebbles, chewing them like dough. Pelgyi Dorje moved unimpeded through rocks and mountains. Sokpo Lhapel summoned a female tiger in heat from the south by means of his hook-mudra, his mantra of summons and his samadhi. Drenpa Namkha summoned a wild yak from the north. Chokro Lui Gyeltsen invoked the manifest forms of the Three Lords of the Buddha’s Three Aspects in the sky in front of him. Langdro Konchok Jungden brought down thirteen thunderbolts at once, and despatched them like arrows wherever he wished. Kyeuchung caught and bought all the Dakinis with his samadhi. Gyelmo Yudra Nyingpo disciplined the Bon in grammar, logic and science, and overpowering external appearances through the penetrating insight of his samadhi, he effected many transformations. Gyelwa Jangchub levitated in lotus posture. Tingdzin Zangpo flew in the sky, his vision encompassing the four continents simultaneously. In this manner all of the Twenty-five Mahasiddhas of Chimphu demonstrated evidence of their siddhi [attained through the practice of dhyana]. Furthermore, the Eight Siddhas of Yerpa, the Thirty Tantric Priests of Sheldrak, the Fifty-five Recluses of Yong Dzong, etc., all showed a particular dissimilar sign of siddhi. They transmuted fire into water and water into fire. They danced in the sky, passed unimpeded through mountains and rocks, walked on water, reduced many to a few and increased a few into a multitude [like Jesus’ feeding of the loaves of Bread to the multitude]. All the Tibetan people could not help but gain great faith in the Buddha, and the Bon could not help their defeat. The Bonpo ministers amongst the ministers were speechless.
In the various yoga schools, a similar period of testing is required to see the purity of the student and their merit. In Judaism, one is required to be spiritually mature before they start studying the Kabbalah, which is the Jewish tradition's training manual for meditation and chi mai practice for tansforming the body and achieving form attainments. This idea of "maturity required first" is no different in any of the Form schools of tantric cultivation - Taoism, yoga tantra, the Esoteric School of Buddhism, Kabbalah, Western alchemy, Shingon and others.
The Judaic tradition says that the students of the original Kabbalah practices could use specific techniques "to bend the forces of nature and actually alter one reality for another." Once again this is no different than the many stories that come to us from Taoism or Tibetan Buddhism or even Hindu yoga. Absolutely no different - you must throw you prejudice and denominationality and ideas of prominence aside. The esoteric physics of manipulation are pretty standard across traditions for anyone who reaches a certain rudimentary level of cultivation. You can read The Magus of Strolov to see examples in the Greek Orthodox tradition, too, just to exemplify this in yet another spiritual stream. You've got your chi channels and chakras opened, you've unlocked the secrets of the powers of the mind, you can reach certain heavens according to the stage of your samadhi, so of course you can do certain things...but his is not cultivation. This is gong-fu, the outcome of cultivation, and if your cutlivation clings to this type of path it usually never makes it past the first or second dhyana yet the indiviual thinks themselves supreme and cannot accept there is a different way. As my teacher said, these are the real catastrophes on the road of spiritual practice.
Incidentally, this difference in stages and philosophy is why various priests and schools would compete with each other in the past -- to see whose cultivation depth was higher than the other. Elijah's taunting of the Baal worshipers was one such example, and such contests appear in many other traditions as well. That the Old testament story in Numbers 22 of Balaam denotes that he, though not an Israelite, was a samadhi master as well, which is why his words (supernatural abilities) might have power over them. If you think about this story deeply, you can see where my words ring true.
For instance, anyone of any tradition who cultivates near to the first dhyana can develop an invisible yin shen body that, like an astral body, can travel to different realms to learn various things. If they work harder and cultivate a yang shen tangible body after three more years of quiet practice, they can even bring back objects from a distance. But these are just considered low level things on the cultivation path, as are the abilities of a divine eye no matter how wondrous and marvelous it is.
The number of special powers people can attain are best catalogued in the yoga schools more than anything else, and these powers are once again non-denominational attainments in reach of anyone, Kabbalah practitioner or other. That's why they appear in countless traditions to countless spiritual practitioners. There is no "special grace" or "love from God" that is the special cause of this. It is solely due to the practitioner's own stage of samadhi attainment - their own hard work at cultivation. Whether you use the Jewish, Moslem, Christian, Buddhist, Shingon, Taoist, Hindu, Jain or other tradition to achieve this is of no matter as long as you strive to free yourself from the ordinary mind and cultivate attainment of the original nature, compassion and effort on behalf of others. But the target or objective that defines "what attainment is" may differ greatly across cultivation traditions. Wehn mixed in with the teachings for the masses promulgated by religions, and twisted by political forces or expedient means interjected for survival, it becomes a real mess to differentiate out the fact that no people, religion, spiritual sect, country, race, or whatever is supreme. All such claims are the propaganda necessary for survival and propagation of a religion-race-people-country-sect to help it survive and stay alive, no more. Whent he early Romans raped the Sabine women, similar propaganda was espoused just as it always is and always will be. It is unfortunate that the narrow and weak minded buy into it, for the purpose is only to make the actions more palatable when abherrent.
Taoism traditionally has adepts who simply demonstrated these samadhi and pre-samadhi powers rather than catalog them. In Buddhism they are taught, but the Buddhist top aim is enlightenment and so these lower level powers are not emphasized. In fact, it is considered a breach of discipline for monks to run after and demonstrate them. If a great enlightened master actually demonstrate them, usually he is saying that he has not long to live. In fact, most cultivation schools commonly disdain them as they distract you from the real path of cultivation practice and its ultimate aim or target.
But let's put this aside. The important thing to note is that the Kabbalah originally a branch of Torah study devoted to the pursuit of natural science and cultivation psychology. Infact, this is very reminescent of Taoism. Various little-understood Hebrew names were applied to various aspects of these pursuits. Perhaps the most notable are "Ma'aseh Bereshit" and "Ma'aseh Merkava." Since "Ma'aseh" means action or doing, the name itself implies that these "studies" were actual experiential types of activities rather than just some academic intellectual pursuit. The idea was hads on mastery or attainment rather than the empty talk of the later Flowery school of Zen. This is the main idea behind all spiritual cultivation in general in that you must prove and authenticate everything not through study but through PERSONAL spiritual practice and experience, so from this we know that the Kabbalah was a cultivation text. So in Kabbalah studies you're not talking about the law or studying it, the aim is for you to personally cultivate and achieve advanced spiritual states. As to how far "advanced" they are is just another matter that you can surmise by comparing across traditions once again. Although the tendency of all the tantric schools (especially in Tibetan Buddhism) is to say theirs is the only way, the only one that has it, the only school whose members will be saved, are priviliged and so forth, this is just not so. Only the ignorant - meaning those who don't know -- tend to think this way.
Today many of the people studying the Kabbalah have no clues about any of its actual methods of spiritual cultivation -- either how to do them, or that those in other traditions practice them as well, or even that they exist in other traditions. In the ancient spiritual battles between schools you not only had to attain gong-fu, but know lots of spiritual traditions rather than one book in order to be even qualified to contest, and so we don't find anyone qualified along these lines today (other than those who say "my book and my tradition are right" without knowing of any others). Of course, all sorts of strange notions related to Kabbalah practice have risen because people's understanding is not deep enough.
One modern idea is that just by scanning the Torah or Kabbalah you will receive great merit as opposed to studying it and trying to master comprehension. For sure it is of merit to try to establish a connection with any holy text that might lead you upwards, but past this initial connection, what will help you is the practice and comprehension, not the scanning. To rely upon this as a means of good luck and salvation, rather than the hard work of actual cultivation itself, falls nearer to the realm of superstition than anything else. All religions have this superstitious aspect adopted by practitoners who lack sufficient wisdom and do not think deep enough.
Another idea is that wearing a red woolen thread will in some way protect you. I am sure that the rabbis of old with attainment, upon hearing these things, might look at you as if you had lost you mind, but such are the notions readily adopted today when intertwined with modern marketing. The idea of a thread protecting you is no different, in principle, than the idea in Brahmanism of wearing a thread, or the Chinese traditon of wearing your animal sign, or the rituals of other traditions. People today have lost their wisdom and get confused in maya, confusing the rituals with what they are to remind you of and their ultimate goal of the cultivation path in general. To some in Sikhism, to remove their turban also has connotations fraught with danger, and yet billions of people in the world perfectly go around every day without such a headdress.
Another idea is that by carrying around with you a copy of the Zohar you will be protected from evil, but karma pays no respect to a book when it is your personal self who must pay. In fact, the Western idea that vampires hate the Bible is simply tapping into the principle that yin beings dislike yang chi of any form, and in that case, any Holy book that leads to liberation would suffice. But to think that any Holy book will help protect you is once again leaning to superstitious flights of fancy. Practical wordly wisdom, good behavior that creates good karma, and just being worldy smart is the best wordly protection there is. It is certainly how you get ahead in the world.
Basically, what you must come to realize is that the Kabbalah is the book of energy and mind cultivation within the Jewish tradition. If you were born in India you might be studying tantric yoga texts instead. In Tibet, you might be studying esoteric yoga texts or Bon works. All schools have these things, but they only correspond to cultivating the lowest form aspects of the path -- chi channels, kundalini, chakras, heavens, and so forth. The meanings in the past were hidden to keep regular people from playing around with these things and getting into trouble, for I could cite case after case of individuals who messed up their chi channels by wrongly cultivating various tantric techniques. Of course the Jewish must have these types of teachings as well. But whether you can find a good teacher who understands them and has mastered them is another story.
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