Kabbalah, Psychedelics and Zen
Q. It seems to me that a lot of the symbols from my meditation can be placed on the Kabbalistic tree...? And now I understand how you say you can have a sense of from what level symbols are operating.
A. Yes, exactly. Use the Tree to analyse and think about anything or situation you are exploring -- people and their motivations etc. You'll always be able to see the principles at work, especially if something's gone wrong—you’ll see where the imbalance is.
Drawing up the Tree helps you own it, and pin it up as a constant reminder so it is absorbed into your fabric. Read the sensible stuff to get a solid feel for the dynamics, but the rest is what you build on it yourself. You don't need other people's 'building.' That's where it gets murky.
You're right that you need to establish the external system before the internalising. Internalising is the magic—Once you have spent some time studying the structure etc, you have internalised more than you think. Now just pull out the threads. (......to ‘claim Knowledge as power’ Don Juan)
And one can see why 'shopping around' is counter-productive; it blocks the internalising process and drives insight into the head.
At the central pillar (consciousness) one takes a stand on identity. The side pillar functions need to be cultivated. Let’s take Gevurah, for example:
Gevurah (Judgement, Severity)
This sephirot is partly the fierceness missing from modern spiritual cosiness. It is rigour and discipline, the ability to judge truly when emotions have taken over the ship.
Think in terms of limiting excess, any excess, or anything which could become excess without it.
And of course, there is a negative side to each sephira --if not balanced by the other side.
A Judge watches with his steely eye, is aware when everyone is trying to pull the wool over his eyes, and bangs his gavel down to bring everyone to attention because he knows the Law. He knows the way things work, and will stand in warrior mode if necessary.
Hod is study and communication, but Gevurah can take it to a higher arc of insight, and by limiting, power is generated.
I think, the hallmark of a properly functioning Gevurah , combined with Hesed, is power.
Power is energy when it is channeled, and real love needs both, or it quickly descends to the interactivity, personal needs and seductiveness of Netzah.
Q. I am watching the videos of W (Kabbalist teacher)….
I see how he presents the material in very elaborated ways, cloaked in folklore, myth and religion, and sometimes it gives flesh on the bones for me...other times it seems just too elaborated.
I hear from the questions people ask that his teaching tends to be received on quite a literal level, where angels and abstract principles are made to fit a human frame and become like any other literal interpretation, 'and then God said...and then the angels said...'
He talked in metaphorical ways about Guides, 'a spirit of good on his right and one of bad on his left' who were always with him, and that his guide on his left side was an old teacher and friend who now is dead, an incredible person, but 'with a great shadow aspect to him' and who kept saying 'W, you are on the wrong path!" I was imagining that to be G.
I also see how I have been stuck in a lower level of the tree, and somehow missing the mark for a long time, being out of balance. I have a sense of coming back to something real behind all the symbolism.
A. I'm very admiring of what W has achieved in the world, from those early days. But it is a different job from G's, in creating fat flesh round the mechanism of the Tree, elaborating and concretising psychological structures in a very orderly, almost computer-like way. It is the 'level' of ordinary psychology, not super-ordinary (so to speak). It is Hod-Netzah, formulating and perpetuating, generating more forms and ideas, and concretising into Malkut. More subtle experience is readily brought 'down' into form and personified into recognisable human-ish form (spirit guides, angels). It becomes a bit routine, a less mature and fathomable approach to the Unknowable.
I don't catch the fragrance of Infinity in an approach like this.
G was comparatively high-voltage. You could never pin him down or see where he was coming from. He was a wind from far-away places, and he pretty much blew one's life away. W needed structure and form, to be a guru, to establish roots and lineage so he had authority, and G wouldn't play that game. However, W’s achievement is to give people structure and form and community, and represents the normal development of a religious/spiritual way, intelligent, insightful, useful to many, as far as it goes. How many people have had contact with G and his work! You see? It's a different operation.
I am looking at spiritual 'experiences' whether meditational or chemically induced, and finding the Tree to be an instructive frame.
For example, meditation and psycho-active drugs apparently knock out the default-mode-network (sense of self = Yesod?) It’s probably a bit superficial, but I would locate all these more common spiritual experiences as circulating around the lower part of the Tree. So, the LSD-type of 'expansive, spacey, all-is-one' might be on the Right-hand pillar, while DMT and some meditation experiences might tend to the Left-hand side, especially those involving Form in the shape of 'Beings' and entities.
However, I think they are mostly all Hod-Netzah, with some forays higher to Gevurah-Hesed, The problem is that Yesod easily comes back into the picture and claims all the experience to itself, and most often this is what happens.
To be established at Tipheret is something else, more like being enthroned in Emptiness. Then all the lower sephirot work in consciousness, and the pathway across the Abyss can be traversed as necessary. This fits the bill for Enlightenment, not all those ‘wow-experiences’ people expect to characterise it.
Some interesting implications for Zen in America, given how many in the early days (especially in SF--practically everyone except Suzuki it seems!) came to Zen via hallucinogens! Is this experience still shaping their expectations and view of Enlightenment -- and contributing to the sense of staleness, of somehow still missing something?
And also could it be why adapting Japanese Zen to American conditions nowadays seems to be taking the route of including psychotherapy and coaching techniques as part of the package, along with other newly devised modalities. Despite joyfully adopting Zen back in the 60's as a particularly suitable vehicle for newly-enlivened spiritual psychonauts in the New World, it is a fact that 20-21st century America is not 14th C Japan! Adaptations have to be made! But what adaptations?
An interesting question. Some Zen communities I've looked at have gone down the route of radical re-visioning techniques and approaches, but nonetheless continue to wear 14th C Japanese black attire, with kesas, white socks, plenty of bowing, manicured gardens with gong, and a fierce adherence to lineage authority. Formal and ritual practices are useful, but is there not a teensy disconnect here? As for sex----right-hand pillar far-out-free-love meets left-hand pillar formalised container. Explosive!
An established eye of Tipheret neither seeks experiences, nor is beguiled by forms. I think only from this perspective, can grounded adaptations arise, but perhaps Time is also an action of Tipheret: the Tipheret of humanity as a species, of Adam Kadmon. Right now, humanity and its institutions are working through the turbulences of the lower triads.
Q. I very much appreciate you using the language of the 'Tree' in reflecting on various phenomena! I get it, and see where your discernment is coming from, and it is also starting to give some shape to my own understanding.
I see where the mindfulness, therapy, American Zen strand is located. I feel I have been lost in that realm for too long, and long for some establishing in Tipheret.
What sparked your current interest in psychedelic drugs and spirituality ? I follow your reasoning about the obsession with experience...finally! ( I am reminded how Rudy used to quote Swami Muktananda, saying 'God is an amazing experience..')
And I am not that interested anymore...in the amazing experience for its own sake...
A. I got interested in the psychedelic when reading the biography of a Zen teacher whose origin was in extensive drug-taking. So, it is about trying to see fruitful avenues to compare the similarity of 'experiences' with meditative practice, neurophysiology, sociological/historical developments etc, and the Tree is providing a useful frame to organise and evaluate. But at present it's all a big heap of salad in my understanding. The information is voluminous and accessible: hours of YouTube talks etc, but it's time-consuming. I'm not in a position to draw any conclusions, but I get exciting flashes.
I have no doubt of the potential value of powerful chemically-induced experience for end-of-life, some depression and mental health issues, under carefully set conditions. Only once or twice can be all it takes to kick the brain into a change of outlook and useful positive emotion.
But here's a question: if 30 mins of DMT can produce a life-changing experience of 'satori', why spend 30 years striving for the same? Daft or what? Is it the same? What does the discipline offer--other than the obvious advantage of stability and general maturity? Could it be simply the human hamster-wheel, whereby we feel we are achieving something by repetition and graft, and earn our kicks in the just the same way bird-watchers will devote their lives and spare time to gazing through binoculars and logging their sightings? We are peculiar creatures that way!
Having followed up the course of the Zen teacher and those around him, the limitations became clearer and clearer to me. Psycho-therapeutic and other modalities have become more and more integral to the methodology; there is a desire to connect with other teachers so they can bring their modalities to the table, along with a lust for ‘Experiences’ which the therapy work enthrones as central, not merely preliminary; and the inevitable scandals and lapses in discipline and moral conduct. It's a very modern package!
Good in many ways, but flawed and limited for lack, in my view, of a big enough impersonal grasp of abstract perennial Law, such as the Kabbalah offers. Is the drug experience ever really left behind, or does its emotional pull colour every expectation of what spirituality is about? To me it's so personal! How can it ultimately be all about Me, my experience, my states, my emotions?
One thing the Tree does bring into view, which is potentially illuminating, is God and gods: the missing hubs in our secular, self-referential age! Not the Judaic God, but the God-principle, god in us. The Tree cannot be understood without it; is simply meaningless. So Meaning and its symbols are the heart of the issue, and I think we need new symbolic understanding of the sephirot principles.
I have been emphasizing learning the mechanics of the Tree as a basis, and I still do, otherwise we're back to the woolly jackets of spiritual philosophizing. But here's the log-splitter: the Kabbalah is a theism. I am a theist. G was a theist, and that is the source of his power. Oh, he didn't talk about God much, and I don't either, because in the true tradition of Knowledge, there is nothing which can be said.
Judaism knows it and forbids pronouncing the Name, Islam knows it and forbids making an Image, the Buddha knew it and refused to answer questions which came near (the ten unanswered questions).
It is the heart of the heart, and we'll never fully understand in wisdom, unless something in us acknowledges this, and kneels.
I tried to capture something of it in my early writings, so I've dug up the extracts and attached. The out-of-this-world setting of these narratives is already entering the outer court of the Temple. I don't think I can convey any better now.
I really consider that the many convulsions of faith driving us all round the bend have their origin in forgetfulness of Divine origin, through intellectualism, pride and individualism just as much as the more obvious greed, hatred or delusional follies.
Wasn't it Lucifer who fell from heaven for such pride --with all his angels--Lucifer: Son of the Morning--what a way to fall....
From: A Visit to the King
Jemar entered an immense hall, so lofty it seemed forever empty, but filled with the rustle and vibrancy of many beings gathered, The walls were ringed with fire, and across a chasm set with swords were ranged the Hosts of Might, guarding this way and that, and ready to cut down the unworthy with bars of iron, glinting in the light of the fire.
His breath stopped with the terror of the situation, Jemar felt himself advancing past the swords and the Hosts, beyond the clang of steel, into a space vibrating with power, like great wheels turning and generating the lives and deaths of many worlds.
He did not cry out. He did not turn back. Some inner drive propelled him to walk steadily onward, looking neither to the right nor left as he became aware of music, a multitudinous singing almost beyond the range of his hearing. The singing began to draw him, in waves of sound, rising and falling. At the same time, his ears caught the flutter of wings, beating upon the air.
"This must be the court of the King", he thought from some knowledge deep in himself.
"Perhaps I will see Him. Perhaps at last I can kneel in homage to Him who is the beginning, and the end, and the centre of all for which my soul has longed"
A wind blew. The choirs fell silent; the wings were stilled.
Alone, upright, in the depths of that deep silence, the man from Earth stood and looked towards the Throne, raised on crimson folds of cloth that cascaded to his feet.
He saw the One who was seated upon it. He saw, but could not speak.
Afterwards all he could remember were His eyes; the eyes of the Great One who had looked upon him, lovingly, humorously.
For they were human eyes.
From: The Galactic Ecumenical Council
The proceedings began when the Galactic Elders rose. One stepped forward and lifted his hands to encircle the room. Silence entered the space, and the Temple at the centre of the Galaxy was established.
"We will begin by evoking the Lord."
Immediately He was present, His vast wings filled the chamber, and all the dragons outside who had transported the representatives across Space, and in some cases Time, folded their wings in a gesture of obeisance.
A tremendous awe touched the hearts of all beings present, and a sense of love, for each one knew Him as the father of their race, and His gaze was tender, almost humorous, though His form so great and strange.
Then He was gone, and the envoys of three hundred worlds were quiet, startled by the immediacy and power of this meeting with One whom some of them had but very recently come to perceive and acknowledge.