Kabbalah, the down side

This article is really more than about Kabbalah, it is about any system the describes a reality beyond the physical senses and that has a method to achieve altered states of consciousness and personal growth. Many of them are rooted in a spiritual tradition that goes back many hundreds of years.

These systems make me uneasy and this post is really a personal exploration to the source of that uneasiness. It concerns me that the systems we live our lives by and structure our thoughts on were developed in a different age to ours. In these times sexism was normal, the body sinful and sexuality a corruption. It is true that they are supposed to describe a reality that is beyond our changeable world of forms, although we have to take their word for it. How much of the junk of the ages have stuck to them?

My main teacher said he always turns back to the Safed Kabbalists in the 16th century because the city had the most number of saints. We could trust the purity of their theories and their methods. Yet we still have to take it on faith, at least long enough to give it a shot and try it for ourselves. Does it work for us? Do we feel more joy? Perhaps that is the measure of the effectiveness of a practice: Do you experience more love and joy? Joseph Campbell said we must follow our bliss. It is bliss, the yogis say, that is the destination. Yet yogis work within the Hindu framework and it could be moksa (freedom) is the extreme internalisation of the very framework they wish to escape.

What if we were forcing reality into a box it does not fit neatly into and the box becomes our reality? It could be limitation is built into the very practices we use to find freedom. This is the reason Theravadan Buddhism has favoured simple awareness practices as their primary method. They have recognised the self deception that comes with a well intentioned technique. So we could start here on our spiritual path, with simple awareness practices and that would be one of the surest ways to discover truth and avoid deception.

But imagine if each new scientist started at the beginning of scientific discoveries, even if they were born today. What if they had to rediscover the fundamental laws of motion like Newton did before anything new could be built on that, like quantum theory? We would not progress very quickly in our understanding of the world around us. It feels similar when we apply a spiritual technology to life. We need to build on the discoveries made by spiritual scientists and at the same time be sceptical of these theories. There should be a sense of freedom to question the very fundamental premises of any esoteric model like scientists did when they discovered quantum theory, the standard model broke down.

In family constellations a facilitator would base their healing interventions on what they see before them in a constellation. This is called phenomenology. It is unfortunate we cannot use the same method to check the accuracy of an esoteric system (or maybe we can?). An esoteric system is a model of the world from the most concrete to the most abstract, it works on a vertical axis – and this is the challenge. Unlike science that works objectively from the bottom up, on theory and proofs, the esoteric model works subjectively and proved through application. Sometimes it needs to be applied for months or years to prove its subjective worth. The Buddha supposedly tried yoga for 10 years before giving it up.

Or you could have a functional brain scan and compare all the methods from the various traditions. This may be a study that happens in the future and I sincerely hope it does. Until then, we need to be honest with ourselves and open enough to explore. To explore, be grounded and have a healthy dose of scepticism – though not so much that we destroy the very intuition that put us on the quest for the sublime in the first place.

In answer to this, be sure to read the post “What is real? A brief metaphor“.





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