By Z'ev ben Shimon Halevi
The purpose of the universe has been known for some millennia. This knowledge came about through prophetic visions. In the earliest stages of human evolution ignorance, superstition and custom prevailed. However, as experience increased over many reincarnations, there arose a dim recognition of both a natural and a supernatural order in the universe. Over time, the oldest souls in many ancient cultures identified a single source of Existence. This was usually signified by a special name. Some Native Americans called the Godhead Manitou, the religious philosophers of India spoke of Brahman, while the mystics of China used the word Tao to define the Way of the Deity. Elsewhere there were different terms for the Absolute such as the One, the Good or the Unknowable. In the Bible, God was called by various titles such as the Creator. During the Middle Ages, rabbis coined the terms Ayin, or Absolute Nothing, and En Sof, or the Infinite Without End. Kabbalah, the mystical tradition of Judaism, will be the main frame of reference that our study will use.
The Teaching, or Torah in Hebrew, is the ground-bed of Kabbalah, going back to Abraham's initiation into the Mystery of Creation by Melchizedek around 1850 BCE. Kabbalah is a body of knowledge about the visible and invisible Worlds and their inhabitants, including the methods whereby one may perceive and serve the purpose of Existence. Its key is the diagram known as the Tree of Life. This metaphysical gem of sacred geometry will be used to demonstrate how universal laws operate at every level.
The first esoteric principle to be understood is that the Absolute is the origin of everything. However, before "any-thing" existed, there was just the Holy One, who was beyond existence. Because God wished to behold God, a Cosmic Mirror had to be brought into being. First, a void was generated out of nothingness, willed by the Absolute withdrawing in order to allow it to emerge. Into this void were emanated ten Divine principles which were to be the governing laws of Existence.
The Tree of Life unfolds in the form of a Lightning Flash. Starting at Keter, the Crown, the source of Emanation, the process moves to the expansive sefirah of Hokhmah, or Wisdom, at the head of the right-hand active pillar, and then across to Binah, or Understanding, at the top of the left-hand passive pillar. From here it zigzags down the Tree, through the non-sefirah called Daat, or Knowledge, that is to veil the three supernal sefirot above. The Lightning Flash proceeds to the expansive sefirah Hesed, or Mercy, on the right and then across to the contractive sefirah Gevurah, or Judgement, on the left, before coming to Tiferet, or Beauty, at the centre of the Tree complex. The process then continues down to Nezah, whose Hebrew root meaning is Repetition, which is the dynamic wheel of cycles, and across to Hod whose root meaning is to shimmer or vibrate. From here the Lightning Flash descends to Yesod, or Foundation, on the central axis of the Tree, before terminating at Malkhut, or the Kingdom.
These ten sefirot or numbers and the unmanifest one of Daat, which represents the "Word" of God, compose the ordered pattern of the radiant realm of potentiality. The levels of Divine intellect, emotion and action and the twenty-two paths fuse into the metaphysical and symbolic master model of the Tree of Life. This scheme is the basis of the subsequent Worlds and processes that will come into being and is to be seen in every entity in Existence.
The Tree of Life is sometimes seen as the Kavod, or Glory of God, presented allegorically as a humanoid figure called Adam Kadmon. This is said to be the first radiant outline of a Divine Self-portrait. Much has yet to happen to fill out the details of the image. The twenty-two connecting paths of the Tree between the sefirot begin this process by adding the various triads. These allow different flows within the many circulation systems. The origin of this diagram is found in the seven-branched candlestick, or Menorah, whose design was given to Moses on Mount Sinai. It has eleven nodal points, four divisions, two wings hung on a central column and twenty-two decorations. Made from a single piece of gold, it represents the unity of Existence. The Menorah sets out in metaphysical form the scheme of the primordial World of Emanation, as it came to be called. This is the Divine dimension from which all things come into being and to which they return at the End of Time. As such, this realm of radiance both reveals and conceals the Godhead.
2. FOUR WORLDS
Each sefirah of the Tree of Life has a God Name associated with it. The highest, at the Crown is EHYEH ASHER EHYEH, in Hebrew, or I AM THAT I AM. The first I AM is the Absolute's intention of manifesting as the ultimate SELF. The word THAT is the Mirror of Existence, by which the second I AM may behold itself in the reflection of SELF-realisation.
In order to accomplish this, three lower Worlds were brought into being. The spiritual World, or Heaven, which emerges out of the Divine realm, is described in the Book of Genesis. The first seven Days set out the emergence of Time; that is, actuality arising out of potentiality. Each Day of Creation defines a level of heavenly reality. From this World of Ideas, as Plato defined it, comes the World of Forms, symbolised by Paradise or the Garden of Eden. Thus the Idea or spiritual essence of the Rose is the basic archetype for all forms of roses. The Garden of Eden contains within it the prototype forms of every mineral, plant and animal that will appear on the material plane, the last and lowest of the four Worlds.
The biblical titles "Fowl of the Air" and "Fish of the Sea" are symbolic terms for the archangels, who inhabit the airy World of the Spirit, and the angels, who exist in the watery World of Formation. The "Beasts of the Field" are those creatures that will live in the physical World of the earthy elements. This fourfold scheme is seen in the prophet Ezekiel's vision of a fiery humanoid figure seated upon the Throne of Heaven, which rests upon a vast Chariot hovering above the footstool of the Earth. These four realities and their respective inhabitants make up a hierarchy of levels, with the "Eternal Now" of the vertical Kav line binding time and space together. This locks all the Worlds into a Great Tree, known as Jacob's Ladder. Such a metaphysical scheme shows all the laws and processes of Existence. In general, those that live in the lowest realm of Nature are oblivious of the higher levels, even as most people are unaware that the Sun is the engine of almost everything that moves on Earth.
The primordial World of Emanation is the place from whence humanity comes. This makes mankind quite different from all other creatures. According to Kabbalah, every individual is a spark of pure consciousness within the Divine being of Adam Kadmon. At some point, each one of us is sent down through the Worlds to experience all the levels of Jacob's Ladder so that "God may behold God" through our individual Self-realisation in the process of evolution. However, before humanity could execute its mission, the physical universe had to reach a stage of development into which mankind could incarnate.
Materiality came into being through an intense burst of radiation. Scientists call this the "Big Bang". In some esoteric teachings this event is described as a Divine flower opening out into a vast cosmic bloom of fire. This, according to physics, condensed into the simplest element of hydrogen. Under gravitational compression this atomic unit was transformed into increasingly heavier substances taking up one of the four states of matter; radiance, gas, fluid or solid. The faint resonance of that primal explosion still reverberates throughout the physical universe. The Hindu tradition calls it the sound Aum, while Christian mystics define this first note as the "Word". The sacred echo of this utterance is the second "I AM" returning to its source as galaxies, stars and planets emerge in the process of differentiation and evolution.
According to many spiritual traditions, humanity pre-existed its physical manifestation. Some mythologies speak of a Golden Age or a place where humans walked with the gods in a state of innocence. In Kabbalah, Paradise, or the World of Formation, is called the Treasure House of Souls where Adam and Eve, the archetypes of humanity, dwelt before their descent into matter.
Symbolism was the language of the ancient world, explaining natural and supernatural phenomena with poetic rather than scientific precision. Many myths are symbolic depictions of the non-physical realms. They were not meant to be taken literally but were a way of describing other dimensions. While there were many cultural differences, the accounts of the higher Worlds and their inhabitants were remarkably similar, indicating that there was an objective reality which lay beyond sense perception.
The early shamans, who explored the upper levels of Existence through the vehicle of dreams and visions, presented their revelations through rituals and art. These were developed into a variety of images of the invisible Worlds. At first, explanations were transmitted by the oral tradition and symbols. With the advent of writing, detailed accounts of the origin of Existence were set down. Perhaps the best known is the Hebrew Book of Genesis. While it was set out in story form, it contained many metaphysical ideas. These were hidden in the text so as to avoid confusion among the uninitiated who could not understand, for example, the difference between the One of the Godhead and the ten Divine principles that governed the universe. Divinity was seen as a reflection of the Absolute who was beyond Existence. Kabbalists say the Bible has four levels; literal, allegorical, metaphysical and mystical which correspond to the physical, psychological, spiritual and Divine Worlds. Read at these levels, the Bible is a goldmine of esoteric knowledge. Take the following example.
Adam in the World of Creation was the first humanoid image to be mentioned in the Bible. This androgynous being was a spiritual version of Adam Kadmon, the symbol of the Divine World of Emanation. In the World of Formation, humanity was divided into Adam and Eve, that is, separated out into millions of soul mates. These belonged to specific soul groups associated with particular parts of the anatomy of Adam Kadmon. Here in the Garden of Eden each pair of psyches, originally a single spirit containing a Divine spark, were differentiated into distinctly male and female entities.
In biblical mythology, the story of the temptation of Adam and Eve presents the principle of free will and karma, known in Kabbalah as "Measure for Measure". The couple had but one commandment to obey - not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge - which they chose to break. This is seen as a set-up in which the Creator teaches them their first lesson about consequences and also gets them out of the pleasant comfort zone of the Treasure House of Souls and down to Earth. As they had only themselves to blame for being disobedient, the couple could not complain. When Adam and Eve became incarnate, or put on "coats of skin", as the Bible describes it, they became all too aware of the law of cause and effect at the immediate physical level. However, unlike angels and animals, humanity was not totally subject to cosmic or instinctive limits because, having the faculty of Self-consciousness, humans could reflect upon, adjust and alter their situation for good or ill. This unique capacity marked them out from all other creatures in the Heavens and on the Earth. Humanity is not just a physical entity confined by Nature. Indeed, its composition has the potential to live in all four Worlds. As such, because of their innate capacity to be aware of all the levels, humans have the special role of being the organ of perception for God throughout Existence.
Apes were the most advanced creatures on the planet before humanity arrived. They had, in their physical body, all the experiences of the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms up to that stage of development. However, millions of years ago, somewhere in Africa, two primates, a male and female, were probably born into a clan of apes but with human psyches. When these two matured, one may speculate, they recognised a mutual affinity and left their community, as young ape couples often did, to start a new line. This family developed over thousands of years into quite a different species, despite having almost the same physical genes. They pondered the present and the past and wondered about the future, being more conscious than the cleverest of apes. So it was that they continually improved their terrestrial situation. This is the evolutionary drive in humans.
Over time these early people grew in numbers, spread and separated as more and more souls from the Treasure House of Eden incarnated into their communities. Because of necessity, or perhaps just out of curiosity, some left Africa to explore Europe and Asia. This expansion resulted in the three basic ethnic divisions of humanity, symbolised by the three sons of Noah in the biblical legend. As each generation adapted to different climates and terrains, so the wheels of reincarnation returned most souls to the same geographic area and tribe with which they had been associated. This would be an inevitable process as a common karma and culture would draw mutually familiar souls together. In this situation, those who had been reborn the most times usually became the elders of the tribe.
Because the psyche does not die like the body, experience is carried over from life to life. One effect is that less evolved people tend to recognise and depend upon the inherent wisdom of more advanced individuals and seek their guidance. In time, these natural leaders become the chiefs and shamans of their tribes. Evidence of respect for great men and women is to be seen in prehistoric tombs containing food and possessions for use in the afterlife in which most cultures believed. In some cultures, the dead were seen as the wise ancestors who watched over the living. It was believed that they reincarnated to guide their people. This transmigration of souls over many lives is a major factor in esoteric history and is a reasonable explanation of why some persons are distinctly more intelligent and talented than most people.
This brings us to the concept of the Four Journeys. Reincarnation is a process that relates to human evolution in the context of the Divine plan. The First Journey is the descent of humanity from the highest World of Divinity down through the realms of Creation and Formation into physicality. Upon being incarnate, an individual begins the Second Journey of ascent in the return through general evolution towards the Godhead. This is accomplished both at the personal and collective levels, as seen in people's fates and the progression of humanity from the prehistoric hunter-gatherer culture towards global civilisation.
The Third Journey is concerned with those individuals who are no longer dominated by vegetable and animal compulsions, as they have become fully human. These advanced beings return to Earth, by choice, to aid the development of mankind. They may appear to be ordinary or extraordinary people but their characteristic is quite distinct in that they are clear about their earthly mission and destiny. These are the lesser and greater saints, sages and mystics who know why, when and where to be born.
The final Fourth Journey is at the End of Time when all that is possible in this cosmic cycle has been achieved. This is the Resurrection spoken of in many spiritual traditions.
* Selected chapters from A Kabbalistic View of History: Introduction to the World of Kabbalah. Text and illustrations © Z'ev ben Shimon Halevi. Published by Kabbalah Society (www.kabbalahsociety.org)