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The School of Spiritual Development – Kabbalistic view by Yuliya Grinberg

The most important attribute in ascending the spiritual ladder is the “intention”, or Kavannah in Hebrew. Bringing God Consciousness into focus will assure the progress. One’s Awakening is solely a matter of Divine Grace. But like a good farmer we prepare the soil, plant the seeds, water them, tend to the crop and pray that the harvest will be rich.

“Religion is to seek after that which you
Never lost
It is to find that which was always there
It is stopping to be that which you never were
It is to meet anew that which never left
It is to return to that place you have never left
It is to return to God.
It is to return.
That is “Thsuva”, returning.
Because God, Blessed be he, is found where
You let him in.”

– Master Har-Tzion.

In her book “Kabbalah: Key to your Inner Power”, Elizabeth Clare Prophet writes: “If there is common ground among the world’s religions, it is to be found in mysticism. Adventurers of the spirit, the mystics have dared to push beyond the boundaries of orthodox tradition to pursue a common goal: the direct experience of God. Mystics long to see God, to know God, to be one with God – not in the here after, but in the here and now. And they teach that while you may seek him in the temple or mosque or church, you must ultimately find him in your own heart.”

Exploring different traditions and trying to comprehend the principles of spiritual work, I’ve been continuously searching for the Path that would lead me to self-realization and return me to my “true nature”. To satisfy my longing, at first, I threw myself into the books and studies of sacred texts as well as various practices under the guidance of many remarkable teachers that I’ve been fortunate to come across in New York City. Becoming a student of religion at the “All Faith Seminary” gave me a chance to meet with seekers from a multiplicity of walks. I understood that in spiritual work, an individual can only go so far without the proper guidance. Beyond a certain point the Path becomes obscure because it enters the Unknown and one will need assistance on the way. Fortunately, mystics and teachers from different traditions provided some instructions for the seekers. If one is serious, one realizes that in order to cross the land between the natural world and the Kingdom of the Spirit one needs a School.

Such schools existed since ancient times around the globe. With certain effort one can find traces of different lineages if one desires so. I tried to see if I could find some universal model of a spiritual school that may be used by modern man that would incorporate interdisciplinary principles. I came across a book called “School of the Soul: Its Path and Pitfalls”, and later met its author Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi- contemporary Kabbalist from London, that spoke to me at once. I’d like to ponder upon its wisdom.

Like Elizabeth Clare Prophet, Z’ev focuses on a direct experience of the Divine. “Every spiritual tradition has its various Schools and Lines here on Earth. Although the further up the hierarchy of Heaven goes, the closer the Lines draw together, in principle, until one can not tell the difference between Sufi, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish or Christian Mystics. Here the Teaching is the same, as the form dissolves into content and essential meaning. It can be found only when one is in union with the Divine where no separation occurs. Until then, many different gates exist to lead a seeker into contact with others on the Path.” One of the most powerful tools in spiritual work is a burning desire to cleave to the Divine.

Basic Concepts

Examining different traditions on my own path, I was deeply affected by two esoteric Teachings: by the Teaching of G. I. Gurdjieff and by the Jewish Mystical Teaching of Kabbalah. I would like to incorporate the concepts from these traditions into the model of the “School of Spiritual Development”.

According to Mr. Gurdjieff, there are three traditional paths to the awakening of a man. The first Way is the way of the fakir, demanding physical control and excruciating asceticism; the second is the Way of the monk: the way of devotion, faith, the way of the heart; the third is the Way of the yogi: the path of knowledge, of the mind. Gurdjieff’s own Fourth Way combines all elements. In the Fourth way, the effort is made in all three: body, feeling and mind. This is a harmonious development, and it is further distinct in that it calls its practitioners to work within themselves while functioning in the ordinary, workaday world. It requires no monastic withdrawal from life – ordinary life being its basic material. “I wish to create,” – Gurdjieff wrote, “conditions in which a man would be continuously reminded of the sense and aim of his existence by an unavoidable friction between his conscience and the automatic manifestations of his nature.” In ordinary life, each and every encounter lived consciously can teach us something about ourselves. I’ve became fascinated with the idea of working simultaneously on ones body, feelings, mind and spirit. These paths are also described in the Bhagavad-Gita as Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga and Raja Yoga. Accordingly, in the Jewish tradition, the four levels of PARDES (mystical garden) correspond to the four methods of inquiry into truth.

The teaching of Kabbalah incorporates these principles. The basic working tool of the Kabbalah is the mandala of the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life is based upon the relationship between the Ten Sefirot, and one non-sefirah (an “interval” in Gurdjieff’s terms). These Divine aspects are the manifestation of the Absolute in Existence. They form a pattern for both divine and human action and interaction. The arrangement of sefirot is the model for all that exists. “All the Powers of the Blessed Holy One are arranged in a series of layers like a Tree, and as a tree brings forth fruit when watered so do the Divine Powers when charged with the water of the Blessed Holy One.” (The Book Bahir) These are the names of ten sefirot: Keter(Crown); Hokhmah(Wisdom), Binah(Understanding), Hesed(Love), Gevurah (Justice), Tiferet(Beauty), Netzah(Victory), Hod(Splendor), Yesod(Foundation), Malkhut (Kingdom).

Kabbalists group these sefirot into three columns, or pillars, within the Tree of Life. The right column is called the Pillar of Mercy, the left column the Pillar of Judgment or the Pillar of Severity. These two columns are associated with the opposing forces of the universe. The extremes are balanced by the sefirot in the center column, called the Pillar of Compassion or the Pillar of Equilibrium. Gurdjieff calls this principle “The Low of Three”. This law states that every whole phenomenon is composed of three separate sources, which are Active, Passive and Reconciling, or Neutral. This law applies to everything in the universe and humanity, as well as all the structures and processes. The Three Centers in a human, which Gurdjieff said were the Intellectual Centre, the Emotional Centre and the Moving Centre, are an expression of the law of three. Gurdjieff taught his students to think of the law of three forces as essential to transforming the energy of the human being. The process of transformation requires the three actions of affirmation, denial and reconciliation.

Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi sketches the anatomy of a spiritual school set up on the Tree, revealing its various levels and how they operate (see the diagram below). “The Tree corresponds roughly to the psyche of an individual in that it has a physical aspect and emotional and intellectual levels… The left-hand side composes the structure upon which the group relies to support its efforts, while the right-hand triads give it the dynamics. The bottom triad of Hod, Netzah and Malkhut, with Yesod at its center represents the working area of the group. Here are the meeting-place, the theory and practices, and the various activities of contemplation, devotion, and rituals of the group. Above is the awakening triad where discrimination or Gevurah, and love or Hesed, work with Truth, Tiferet, to make a collective heart, linking members, containing the emotional experiences and concepts that emerge during the group’s work.

The pivot of the group Tree is the teacher, situated in Tiferet. He watches over and guides those who go beyond to the triad of the soul. Only those who have that degree of self-consciousness can enter this place, which is sometimes called the upper room.”

“The great triad of Binah, Hokhmah and Tiferet defines the spiritual aspect of the group, which will only manifest if the group reaches a sufficiently high level of consciousness, going beyond the group soul and entering into the cosmic dimension. In the triad concerned is the sefirah of the Holy Spirit, at Daat, and it is from here that the Teaching comes. Binah represents Tradition and Hokhmah represents Revelation, and these help facilitate the flow of Grace that can descent from the Divine triad headed by the Crown to the teacher at Tiferet and through to the group below.”

Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi warns that this scheme of the school takes many stages to fill out its full capacity. It requires great diligence and much humility on the part of everyone, but if it is held long enough the call will be heard in Heaven, and Providence will step in.

Departments of the school

Let us walk the Tree from the bottom to the top and see what activities and disciplines belong to each sefirah. First stop is Malkhut – the meeting place. The meeting place can vary from gathering at someone’s apartment to a specially organized space in the city or countryside, depending on the budget and location of the group members. Perhaps, the most important is to set a “sacred space”, an altar or a ritual of evocation, to separate the gathering from the outside world and invite the Holy Spirit to be present.

Sefirah Yesod represents the ego level. Any imbalances of the ego will stand in the way of spiritual work and will corrupt whatever is being reflected. Therefore, it is crucial, and probably the most difficult, to work on the transformation of one’s ego. In our times it is advisable for spiritual seekers to go through psychotherapy of their choice to clear the traumas of the past, so they will not interfere with the Work. A lot is written lately on “spiritual bypassing” – ignoring one’s psychological difficulties under the name of “spirituality”.

It helps to do “Karma Yoga”, like gardening, working in the kitchen or volunteering at a hospital. Self-observation exercises like Gurdjieff’s “self-remembering” – the observation of different I’s in oneself help realize that there is no unity in us and special efforts are needed to achieve it. According to Gurdjieff,what we call “I” is a confused tangle of little I’s in perpetual conflict with each other. “Man is plural. The name of man is legion”. The goal of the Work is to construct a Higher Center, around which to agglutinate a certain number of I’s and to proceed from a multiplicity to a unity.

The next sefirah, Hod – facilitates theoretical studies. This department would include the studies of major scriptures, sacred texts, philosophies and esoteric principles, the studies of herbs, nutrition or even astrology. Any theoretical knowledge, teaching, lecturing, discussion groups belong here. It is important to root oneself in fundamental knowledge as ignorance is not bliss! Netzah is the place for all kinds of practices – Hatha Yoga, Martial Arts, dance, movements, various healing practices, playing music, painting, and crafts. It is interesting to note that arts and crafts played a crucial role in the development of students of mystical orders. In Asia, traditionally, students studied weaving, pottery, smith, glass blowing or jewelry making. In Europe, the schools of arts were hidden esoteric schools. Mastering an art or a craft develops certain qualities in the apprentices. The “objective” art produced by esoteric schools reflect the higher spiritual principles.

It is important to perform regular exhibitions, shows, concerts, and performances to demonstrate acquired skills. It lifts the spirit of the group and stimulates the growth, reminding all of the higher purpose of the Work and serving as a vehicle for Divine creativity.

Thus, we arrive at the emotional triad of the group. It is vital to maintain loving relationships between the students. The old principle of “love thy neighbor” cannot be underestimated in spiritual work. One must clearly see that members of the group are partners mirroring each other, and that the group has a greater capacity to receive higher knowledge, in the early stages of development, than any individual person does. Here, by collective meditations and prayers the group becomes one entity, one soul. These common practices may vary from passive silent meditations, to chanting, Zikr, or traditional daily prayers. By awakening unified consciousness, the group may be capable of entering the spiritual realm and perceiving the presence of living connection with the Celestial Academy. And it could happen that the group will bring some Light back to the Earth.

Our task as human beings is to realize the God Consciousness that lies at the root of our existence and pervades the universe. Climbing up the Tree of Life is the process of return or Tshuva. Schools are brought into being to aid this process and place it in the widest and deepest context.

Nowadays, there are many spiritual centers and retreats all over the world. They combine different spiritual disciplines and practices of various traditions, and form spiritual communities. While many of such schools focus in varying degrees on one or another of the four different levels of being, Kabbalah asserts that we must be able to balance and embody all four levels in order to be whole. In other words, our bodies and souls must become interconnected with our thoughts and emotions, so our physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual selves support and balance each other. When these four aspects of our being are in harmonious balance, we become whole vessels, capable of containing the immense light of our full being. If we are not sufficiently integrated, mystical states can pose a danger to our psychic integrity.

The most important attribute in ascending the spiritual ladder is the “intention”, or Kavannah in Hebrew. Bringing God Consciousness into focus will assure the progress. One’s Awakening is solely a matter of Divine Grace. But like a good farmer we prepare the soil, plant the seeds, water them, tend to the crop and pray that the harvest will be rich.

Yuliya Grinberg, New York, 2002-2011

Bibliography

  1. Elizabeth Clare Prophet, “Kabbalah: Key to your inner Power”.
  2. Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi, “School of the Soul: Its Path and Pitfalls”
  3. Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi, “The work of the Kabbalist”
  4. Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi, “The way of Kabbalah”
  5. P. D. Uspensky, “The Fourth Way”
  6. P. D Uspensky, “In search of the miraculous”
  7. G. I. Gurdjieff, “Meetings with remarkable men”
  8. Rafael Lefort, “The Teachers of Gurdjieff”
  9. Idries Shah, “To learn how to learn”
  10. Estelle Frankel “Sacred Therapy”
  11. Arieh Kaplan, “The Bahir” (translated from ancient text)
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