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6 years ago  ::  Jan 10, 2009 - 2:35AM #1
Svipdagr
Posts: 34
Shalom,

Are there any Jews on here who practice some form of mysticism in their faith?  If so, what sort of practices?  How have these changed how you view your Jewish beliefs or how you view certain ideas(like the World to Come or reincarnation or string-theory or whatever)?  How do you view God and are there any conflicting iedeological and practical points?
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6 years ago  ::  Jan 10, 2009 - 3:37PM #2
Yesh
Posts: 69
Svipdagr: Are there any Jews on here who practice some form of mysticism in their faith?

Yesh: I do. I study Jewish mysticism, Kabala. Specifically I focus on the stream of tradition that passes thru the 12th-century book Bahir to the 13th-century book Zohar to the 16th-century rabbi nicknamed the Ari to the 20th-century rabbi Ashlag.

Svd: What sort of practices?

Yesh: Actually, in Kabala, there are no 'mystical practices'. A Jewish mystic simply does normal Jewish stuff with mystical mindfulness. Ultimately, Kabala is just a way of interpreting the Tora (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible), by scrutinizing the details to reconstruct how Gods spirituality works.

Judaism teaches that mystical awareness, in itself, is worthless. The only thing that matters is ethical behavior. That said, some individuals need to know 'why' they should do an action before they can do it with full conviction, and these are the people who need to study Kabala - only because it will inspire them perform the ethical actions more effectively.

Kabala also has a few meditation techniques based on various forms of the names of God. The point of these can be either 'cosmic'-'spiritual' (where each name signfies how a spiritual force of God operates in this universe) or 'transcendent'-'mystical' (to induce trances to experience the ineffable God, often involving serious deprivation like fasting or isolation). This latter transcendental catagory is considered especially dangerous, personally and socially, and only sane people who are already experiencing disruptive spiritual experiences should study it to make some sense of their experiences. Even then, the techniques must avoid excess, and again, must somehow promote practical ethical behavior.

Kabala also has a number of healing and empowerment techniques - the 'magical' practices - but Kabala didnt invent these. Altho Judaism guards against superstitious behavior, it tolerates superstitions that are used to cure people of illnesses. (Even in our modern world, we recognize the medical effectiveness of the placebo effect.) As such, these healing superstitions were already part of Jewish customs, and Kabala simply reinterpreted them to signify specific spiritual principles. According to Kabala, the greatest 'magical' power (sgula) in this universe that a Jew can have, is simply being Jewish and celebrating ones Jewish identity.

Svd: How do you view God?

In my life, I have been exposed to and explored many religions. Kabala has the best, most satisfying, answers to the universal questions.

Kabala covers so many topics and can be so confusing, its easy to get lost in the maze of Kabala. You cant understand Kabala, except by learning it from someone who already understands it. But if someone feels a need to study Kabala, I strongly recommend going deeper. You always discover something valuable when studying Kabala, often in a surprising way. Just remember, the knowledge itself is moot, only the reallife ethical actions matter.

An important point in Kabala is, there are two ways to describe God. Theres God Godself - the Infinite (En Sof) that is utterly, infinitely, beyond human understanding. Then there is our limited ability to perceive God, which the 'Tree of Life' diagram maps out. Obviously, we can only engage God to the degree that we can perceive and conceptualize God. However, Jews also need 'faith' (Emuna), which means to trust God is fully present even when we cant perceive or understand God. There is no 'leap of faith'. A person cautiously learns to trust God, based on past experiences when God was more clearly present.

A surprising point that Kabala makes: God seems to not exist. The whole point of this physical universe is to shut God out. Of course, the absence of God equals pain, suffering, and frustration of desire. The reason for this absence of God is so humans have an opportunity to become God. In Paradise, without the limitations of time and space, God satisfies every desire, immediately and infinitely. Altho *receiving* love from God might feel good, it means *giving* love is impossible in Paradise. No one has any needs. In Paradise, no one is hungry to provide an opportunity to share food, no one is poor to provide an opportunity to share money, no one is sick to provide an opportunity to visit. In Paradise it is impossible to show compassion. Thus, God manifests this physical universe to block God out and to prevent God from fulfilling our needs. Only here can we have an opportunity to be compassionate in the same way God is compassionate, by fulfilling other eachothers needs.

In fact, in this physical universe of time and space, God virtually doesnt exist. The only time it is possible to experience God in this world is when some human does a compassionate action. Humans are the 'image of God', literally. There is no way to see God except thru humans. When humans do compassionate actions, they do what God does, thus reveal the 'light' of God within this dark world. This divine light equals the people around us, the food that we share, the ways we empower eachother, the challenges we overcome. This light is actually God Godself, the fulfillment of desire, experienced like daylight seen thru a rip in a curtain.

When you see someone do some act of kindness, you are literally seeing God. This is why ethical behavior - real physical actions - is so important in Judaism. This is why 'heaven must be on earth'. We must learn to express divine compassion thru our own painstaking effort. We humans can never return to Paradise again. We can never escape our obligations to make this world a better place. But God promises us: eventually, humans will figure out how to turn this universe into Paradise. Each of us must make an effort to contribute to this great destiny awaiting humanity.

This is why there must be a physical resurrection. The transcendent aspect of our consciousness is insufficient without the physical aspect here in this world to *give* love.

One way or the other, humans will inevitably learn to express love for other humans, as God expresses love for humans: immediately and infinitely. Then there will be no distinction between God and humans. All will be 'one'.
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6 years ago  ::  Jan 10, 2009 - 7:26PM #3
nieciedo
Posts: 5,617
[QUOTE=Svipdagr;1009147]Shalom,

Are there any Jews on here who practice some form of mysticism in their faith?  If so, what sort of practices?  How have these changed how you view your Jewish beliefs or how you view certain ideas(like the World to Come or reincarnation or string-theory or whatever)?  How do you view God and are there any conflicting iedeological and practical points?[/QUOTE]

Hi, as Yesh said Judaism has a very rich mystical tradition called Kabbalah (not to be confused with the New Age cult promoted by the likes of Madonna), but there is very little in the way of mystical "practices." Kabbalah is rather the study of the mystical interpretation of the Torah and the regular practices of Jewish religious life. Kabbalah is not a separate doctrine or disciple from mainstream Judaism; rather it purports to hold the deeper meanings of things that stand behind the surface and prima facie interpretations.

My study of Kabbalah is, admitted, from a post-modern point of view. I have been heavily influenced/inspired by the work of authors such as Rabbi Arthur Green who is currently head of the rabbinical school at Hebrew College as is one of the foremost modern scholars on Jewish mystical tradition.

What I like about the mystical traditions that are, for the most part, based on the same principles across all religions, is that their basic tenets are very much in harmony with what we are beginning to learn about the nature of reality through such things as quantum physics and string theory, as well as the dialectical philosophy that I've internalized through Hegel and Marx. I would consider my primarily a dialectical historical materialist, and I can see in the mystical teachings of Kabbalah a spiritualized and symbolic reflection of that philosophy. Of primary importance is the fundamental notion that all things are one, that all existence is a single organic and internally interrelated totality and that the universe functions best when all of its elements work together as part of a single system. For us humans who, for some reason have been blessed/cursed by evolution with individual consciousness, that means overcoming the inherent selfishness that individuality cultivates and striving for unity and harmony with all thins in our thoughts and actions, to nullify the self and become a more perfect part of the whole.

I do not believe in any kind of supernatural World to Come, nor do I really believe in any kind of afterlife. I'm not saying I disbelieve in them -- it would be awesome if they existed -- but I've seen no evidence for them and am not counting on them. Based on the mystical beliefs I've internalized, I look for unity and shun ideas that require dualism. Hoping for some future other world makes no sense when we have a world right here. I do not believe in a specific "World To Come"; rather I see the World To Come as the future each generation makes for itself by transmitting as much of the good we have into the next generation and trying to rid the world of as much of the bad. So, we are living in the World To Come of the generations before us and we are building the World To Come for our children.

I have nothing against reincarnation, but I doubt it just as much as doubt a more traditional afterlife. It implies a duality of matter versus spirit that goes against my belief in a much deeper unity. Perhaps one could suggest that matter and spirit are just two modes of the same basic essence like matter and energy, but that's stretching it. Since I believe all things are one and that Oneness is what we call God, I don't think it makes any sense to posit a separate afterlife for the individual. Our individuality is, I think, illusory to the extent that we are all elements of the One organic totality we call God. Our selves are like individual clay vessels that hold water from the same well. Or, we are all live waves on the ocean that crash on the shore and cease to be, but the water that comprised them returns to its source.

And so, God means two things to me. The deeper meaning is that God IS. God is the totality of being, the fundamental unity that underlies all things and grows and evolves through internal contradiction to manifest all of things we perceive in the universe, including us. God is also a projection that our minds create, a face and name  that we as Parts give to the Whole from which come and onto which we project our highest ideals and the surpassing of our limitations. God is One, and all things are One in God.
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6 years ago  ::  Jan 10, 2009 - 11:51PM #4
gavrie
Posts: 807
I've always wondered if kabbalah is actually mystical, or if mystical is a Christian thing. Seriously.

Yes, another kabbalist-alchemist even here, and kabbalah can certainly bring on altered states of perception - but those are what I call 'clarity'. The illusions get stripped away and you see things for what they are - mostly things in yourself and in the world - this one, that is.

Which is maybe? why there are so many cautions against kabbalistic practise in some of the rabbinical literature. I don't know.

What I do know is that once you know you're responsible for what you know, and that almost invariably requires action on your part to improve yourself and the state of this sad, sorry world in some way.

So it all comes back to being supremely practical. Is that indeed the definition of mystical? Because I've always associated mystical with Christian.

This might just be semantic hair-splitting, but possibly not.
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6 years ago  ::  Jan 11, 2009 - 12:53AM #5
nieciedo
Posts: 5,617
Pretty much every religion has a mystical tradition. Mysticism means going beyond the surface of a religion's scripture and ritual to seek out deeper esoteric meaning that usually implies union of the soul with God. The Jewish version is Kabbalah. The Muslim version is Sufism. The Hindu version is Vedanta. I think Christian mysticism is the only one that doesn't seem to have its own name.
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6 years ago  ::  Jan 11, 2009 - 12:53AM #6
nieciedo
Posts: 5,617
Pretty much every religion has a mystical tradition. Mysticism means going beyond the surface of a religion's scripture and ritual to seek out deeper esoteric meaning that usually implies union of the soul with God. The Jewish version is Kabbalah. The Muslim version is Sufism. The Hindu version is Vedanta. I think Christian mysticism is the only one that doesn't seem to have its own name.
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6 years ago  ::  Feb 15, 2009 - 8:34AM #7
Seeker2009
Posts: 8
nieciedo said:
And so, God means two things to me. The deeper meaning is that God IS. God is the totality of being, the fundamental unity that underlies all things and grows and evolves through internal contradiction to manifest all of things we perceive in the universe, including us. God is also a projection that our minds create, a face and name  that we as Parts give to the Whole from which come and onto which we project our highest ideals and the surpassing of our limitations. God is One, and all things are One in God.

Although I have only been here a short time I am generally impressed by nieciedo's commentary, even though I do not necessarily agree with her.  It seems to me that when talking about the supernatural it is hard to not see it as somewhat mystical.  In discussing God we run into a hard limit of our knowledge.  We apprehend, but we cannot explain.  We are drawn, but we do not understand our destination.  I would agree with nieciedo that God IS.  God is the great, I AM that I AM.  I have found no parallel in other belief systems which reject the Torah.  I am not so sure the formulation that "God is also a projetion that our minds create" is the best definition of God, although nieciedo employes this as a descriptive device for something which is more than the seeming sum of its individual human parts.  (I'd love to have a discussion some day on the ontological proof of God). 

There seems, however, to be a mystical formulation in niecido's formulation in how we are all connected in the universe.  Let me suggest a slightly different interpetation (you knew this was coming).  God is separate from his creation, and yet the paradox can still exist he is stil present in his creation.  If man is created in the image of God, then that reflection may appear to be like God, but such reflection should not be confused with God.
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6 years ago  ::  Feb 15, 2009 - 9:05AM #8
LeahOne
Posts: 16,571
Don't let Nieciedo's avatar fool you!

She's really a toaster (you watch Battlestar Galactica, right?)......and Nieciedo is really a 'him'.  But yeah, he's got a really huge ............................... INTELLECT.  Oh, and he's a nice guy, too  : ))

Still studying Torah here, over 40 but not quite ready for Kabbalah.
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6 years ago  ::  Feb 15, 2009 - 11:42AM #9
nieciedo
Posts: 5,617

Seeker2009 wrote:

I would agree with nieciedo that God IS.  God is the great, I AM that I AM.  I have found no parallel in other belief systems which reject the Torah.


I'm going to go off on a limb here and ask what you mean by belief systems that "reject" the Torah. IMO, Torah permeates all existence. Torah is that by which all things exist and through which all things come into being. Torah is within all existence and perceptible by all human minds. The Torah that is in our hands in that supernal wisdom as received and formulated by the Jewish people; other peoples and other religions have -- by dint of being humans engaged with the same universe as we are -- perceived the same thing but have, as unique individuals participating in unique cultures, interpreted it differently in their own unique way.

I am not so sure the formulation that "God is also a projetion that our minds create" is the best definition of God, although nieciedo employes this as a descriptive device for something which is more than the seeming sum of its individual human parts.  (I'd love to have a discussion some day on the ontological proof of God).


Ontological proofs, while interesting philosophically, are dependent on the human mind being the measure of all things: if something exists in the mind, it must necessarily exist in reality. That is not necessarily so, as we can postulate many things in the mind that do not exist in reality by analogy with things that do exist. Take an invisible pink unicorn. There is no such thing. But we can create such a thing in our minds and even the contradiction between "invisible" and "pink" can be resolved in the imagination. Most conceptions of "God" are formed by taking authority figures like parents and kings and combining them with the negations of our own existence: we are mortal so God is immortal; we are finite so God is infinite, there are limits to our abilities so God is omnipotent; we are flawed so God is perfect, etc.

There seems, however, to be a mystical formulation in niecido's formulation in how we are all connected in the universe.  Let me suggest a slightly different interpetation (you knew this was coming).  God is separate from his creation, and yet the paradox can still exist he is stil present in his creation.  If man is created in the image of God, then that reflection may appear to be like God, but such reflection should not be confused with God.


The notion of God being separate and distinct from creation, philosophies based on duality, are problematic largely because they necessitate the existence of more bodies than are necessary to construct a coherent model of existence (Occam's Razor) while creation ex nihilo requires explaining how something can simply be brought into existence out of nothing and if God is totally transcendent and spiritual it would be hard to understand how God can then create things that are immanent and physical: how can something come forth from something else that is completely alien to it? For all of these reasons and more, the notion of two fundamental substances -- God and the material universe -- is not as convincing to me as the postulation of one single fundamental substance that comprises all things, with that substance being what we call "God."

If God is the fundamental substance of the universe and if God and creation are one, that obviates the problem of creation ex nihilo and the contradiction between a supposedly infinite God and a finite universe. There remains the problem of "Why is there something instead of nothing," but a self-existent God that is at the same time the substance of all existence is simpler than than a self-existent God that creates the substance of the universe out of nothing. It reduces the number of unnecessary bodies.

The God we worship and pray to and tell stories about in our scriptures is the concept of God that we create in our minds and project onto the reality of God that permeates the cosmos.

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6 years ago  ::  Feb 15, 2009 - 5:02PM #10
Seeker2009
Posts: 8

nieciedo wrote:

I'm going to go off on a limb here and ask what you mean by belief systems that "reject" the Torah. IMO, Torah permeates all existence. Torah is that by which all things exist and through which all things come into being. Torah is within all existence and perceptible by all human minds. The Torah that is in our hands in that supernal wisdom as received and formulated by the Jewish people; other peoples and other religions have -- by dint of being humans engaged with the same universe as we are -- perceived the same thing but have, as unique individuals participating in unique cultures, interpreted it differently in their own unique way.

Wow, I don't think I can begin to reconcile all of the different strands which came out of your post.  If I understand you correctly everything is of one substance. This seems to permeate your writing. But when you say other human being have perceived the same thing I put limits on this. If God reveals certain aspects of himself directly to the Jewish people, then it is unfair to equate that revelation as identical to whatever perceptions of other cultures in the world. After a point, It is not so much an issue of interpreting it differently in their own unique way as not having any equivalent revelation.

Ontological proofs, while interesting philosophically, are dependent on the human mind being the measure of all things: if something exists in the mind, it must necessarily exist in reality. That is not necessarily so, as we can postulate many things in the mind that do not exist in reality by analogy with things that do exist. Take an invisible pink unicorn. There is no such thing. But we can create such a thing in our minds and even the contradiction between "invisible" and "pink" can be resolved in the imagination. Most conceptions of "God" are formed by taking authority figures like parents and kings and combining them with the negations of our own existence: we are mortal so God is immortal; we are finite so God is infinite, there are limits to our abilities so God is omnipotent; we are flawed so God is perfect, etc.

What is the limit of the human mind?  One ontological proof of God is begins by defining God as, "that which no greater can be thought".  A friend of mine pointed out that God is at least "that which no greater than could be thought".  He implied God is more than my definition. But my friend missed the point.  I was not attempting an exhaustive definition of God, but something much more modest.The validity of the definition is not invalidated based upon the limits of the human mind.  Rather, it is an argument within the limitations of it. I may not have been able satisfy his desire for a more complete definition of God, but neither was my definition invalidated by the limits of the mind. 

As for your second point it seems to be a psychological explanation of God.  So what?  Even if your argument is true (and I am not sure that is the only way we apprehend God although it may be one of many) so what?  The idea of God, even if derived in a manner which you appear to disprove of does not negate God's existence.  There is a distinction between justification and warrant.


The notion of God being separate and distinct from creation, philosophies based on duality, are problematic largely because they necessitate the existence of more bodies than are necessary to construct a coherent model of existence (Occam's Razor) while creation ex nihilo requires explaining how something can simply be brought into existence out of nothing and if God is totally transcendent and spiritual it would be hard to understand how God can then create things that are immanent and physical: how can something come forth from something else that is completely alien to it? For all of these reasons and more, the notion of two fundamental substances -- God and the material universe -- is not as convincing to me as the postulation of one single fundamental substance that comprises all things, with that substance being what we call "God."

I am not sure I follow all your thoughts on your next point. You seem to say based on Occam's Razor that it would be a much more elegant explanation to presume all things are made of one substance. My problem with this approach is that there are many things in the universe my senses perceive as I approach this analysis. There is light and there is darkness. I perceive a duality.  I see no conflict in this and I could begin to reason by analogy.  But I also fail to see why I should see any need to argue from the premise of a duality. I have no idea what you mean by a duality other than you are contrasting it with a notion of God as a singularity. Simply because we can describe something does not mean we can explain it. My approach is much simpler.  Physics more and more supports the idea of the Big Bang.  I suppose you can still have Big Bang and say that the force behind the Bang is not different than the effect of the Big Bang. But what has changed is that you had nothing and then you had something.  That is a phenomenal change. 



If God is the fundamental substance of the universe and if God and creation are one, that obviates the problem of creation ex nihilo and the contradiction between a supposedly infinite God and a finite universe. There remains the problem of "Why is there something instead of nothing," but a self-existent God that is at the same time the substance of all existence is simpler than than a self-existent God that creates the substance of the universe out of nothing. It reduces the number of unnecessary bodies.

You make a statement which I do not understand when you conclude "that obviates the problem of creation ex nihilo". I do not see this as a problem. You say one thing is finite and another infinite and see a contradiction. I fail to see the contradiction. The finite is certainly distinct from the infinite but how is it contrary to it. But let me give you an example of the finite contained within the infinite. Imagine a line segment six inches long. Between the six inch points are an infinite number of points.  Now imagine a shorter 3 inch segment within the six inch segment. Within that 3 inches you have another infinite set of points. Amazingly you can say not only is the finite contained in the infinite, but you can also say the infinite is contained in the finite. What appears to be a contradiction really is not a contradiction, but really a matter of how we approach the problem.

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