This essay first appeared in Esoterica (later Magick) magazine,
issue no.7, 1996. Apart from converting it to HTML, but it's basically the same as how I originally wrote it
Some material from this essay has also been copied in other pages on this site
Of all the esoteric systems of thought that describe the various planes and subdivisions of reality, Kabbalah (also spelt "Qabalah", "Cabala", etc) is the most complex. Although there are many different schools of interpretation, the general consensus refers to four (or in the case of the Lurianic school, five) successive worlds or universes; each of which is divided into ten sefirot: Divine Archetypes or Essences. The first world, which emanates directly from the Absolute Godhead (or En Sof), forms the basis for the second world, and so on. Thus there are forty (or in the Lurianic system fifty) planes of existence altogether.
Each successive sefirot and each world or Universe represents a veiling or diminishing of the original Divine Light, progressing from subtle to gross, with each universe being "spirit" or "soul" relative to the one below it, and "matter" or "body" relative to the one above it, until one comes to the lowest sefirah of the lowest universe, Malkut of Asiyah (or "Malkuth of Assiah" in the Hermetic transliteration), representing the physical creation [Krakovsky, pp.83-84]. Reference is also made to the Klippot ("Qlippoth") or "shells" or "husks" or in modern occultism "unbalanced forces", that exist outside this divine sequence of creation.
The following Kabbalistic cosmology is based on the teachings of the sixteenth century Kabbalists of Safed, northern Palestine, specifically the two greatest figures of the time, Rabbi Moses Cordovero (1522-1570) and Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-1572) . These kabbalists present an interpretation of the nature of the four Universes a little different to that preferred by modern occultists (Golden Dawn and later).
In Kabbalah, the Absolute Godhead is referred to as En Sof, literally "no end", i.e., "The Infinite," which is not only infinite, eternal, and unitary, but ineffable and indescribable as well. Most Kabbalists, being good monotheists, identified the En Sof with the God of Revealed Religion (the "God of Israel", etc). Rabbi Luria however was very perceptive in allocating the Personal God to a lower station, the World of Atzilut, so that the En Sof becomes the Transcendent Absolute, equivalent perhaps to the Nirguna Brahman of Vedanta, and the original Tao of Taoism. Modern occultists tend to understand the En Sof in this manner too.
The Lurianic system is unique for another reason too. Whereas his immediate predecessor Cordovero refers to the conventional four Universes of Atzilut (Emanation), Beriah (Creation), Yetzirah (Formation), and Asiyah (Making), Luria adds a fifth world, "Adam Kadmon", that precedes Atzilut and is the first to emanate from the En Sof or Infinite Light. In Kabbalah Adam Kadmon or the "Primordial Man" is usually taken to mean the original spiritual archetype of humanity - equivalent to the spiritual anthropos of Gnosticism and Manichaeism. Luria however gave this term an eccentric meaning (hence my use here of inverted commas); he made it refer to the original and ineffable manifest Absolute itself. As such it constitutes the original transcendent and ineffable archetypes, which are described as "Divine Names", and can only be known by analogy with the four worlds of creation [Luzzatto, pp.14-15].
Atzilut ("Atziluth") is the first Universes to exist apart from the Absolute. Its ten Sefirot are the ten archetypal manifestations of the Godhead, analogous perhaps to the Christian three persons of the Trinity, or the Hindu three-fold God(s) of Brahma (Creation), Vishnu (Preservation) and Shiva (Dissolution). So we can contrast the Unmanifest Absolute - Nirguna Brahman or En Sof - with the Manifest Absolute or Godhead - Saguna Brahman or the Universe of Atzilut..
The next Universe to emanate is the Universe of Beriah ("Briah") or Creation, which is the realm of the mystical ascent to the Throne of God, and consists of ten archangelic sefirot. Here then we have the first grade beneath the pure Godhead of Atzilut. Beriah corresponds not only to the Throne of God (representing perhaps higher spiritual illumination), but also to the Soul [Kaplan, p.209], and more specifically the Neshamah or "Divine Soul" in Man, the inner divine Spark which emanated from the Divine Intellect [Binah] of the Godhead [Scholem, 1961, p.241]
From the Universe of Beriah in turn there originates the Universe of Yetzirah or Formation, made up of ten angelic Sefirot. This constitutes the lowest of the "untainted" spiritual worlds. In the teachings of the Safed Kabbalists, the angels or maggidim are spirit guides or thought-forms, created through the prayers and actions of the Kabbalist himself [Kaplan, p.223]. This universe also corresponds to the Ruah or "Spirit" in Man, which is the source of moral consciousness [Scholem, 1974, p.156] (although modern occultists identify it with the "Rational Soul" [Denning & Phillips, p.238; Stoltz, p.78]).
Finally we have the Universe of Asiyah
("Assiah") or Making. In the Safed
teachings this corresponds not to the physical world (as it does in contemporary
occultism), but the creative archetypes behind the world [Scholem, 1961,
p.272], or alternatively to the "Astral
Plane", where good and evil, or Truth and Falsehood, are intermixed
and it is very difficult to separate them [Kaplan,
p.40]. Here the pure sefirot have been tainted by the klippot, which,
according to the Lurianic schema, has come about through the Fall of the
primordial Adam [Scholem,
1974, p.162]. Psychologically, Asiyah corresponds to the Nefesh or
lower soul, the seat of unrefined passions [Zalman,
pp.3-5 ], which has to be purified through the spiritual ascent [Krakovsky,
The conventional Kabbalistic cosmology - taught for example both by Cordovero and in the modern Golden Dawn system, sees creation simply as a series of emanations, with each successive emanation being more "dense" or "material" than the preceding one. This is also the understanding of the universe that one finds in the Neoplatonism of the Hellenistic, Islamic, and Renaissance civilisations, in the Vedanta (especially the Pratyabijna or Trika school of Kashmir Shaivism) of India, and in the Theosophy of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
An alternative to the "neoplatonic" hypothesis is the "gnostic" hypothesis, represented by occult cosmologies such as Hellenistic Gnosticism, Manichaeism, and the Lurianic form of Kabbalah. This adds to the "vertical" dimension of planes of existence a "temporal" dimension of Fall and Restitution. These teachings interpret the origin of the cosmos in terms of a sort of Pre-Creation "Fall" or Crisis in the lowest of the Divine planes. To translate this concept into a familiar idiom: according to conventional Christianity, the present unsatisfactory state of the universe is due to the "fall" of Man (Adam and Eve and all that stuff). But according to Gnostic and Lurianic speculation, it was not Man, but God (or at least an aspect thereof), who fell (the Biblical fall being simply a later echo), and this fall was the first stage in the formation of matter and the universe. The whole of existence is then tied up with the rectification of this original Crisis. The Gnostics, being radical dualists, were concerned only with the salvation of the individual Divine Sparks (Souls). The more subtle teachings of Lurianic Kabbalah, in contrast, were directed to the redemption (tikkun) of the universe as a whole .
We have seen that the Lurianic cosmology refers to five successive Worlds - "Adam Kadmon", Atzilut, Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah - that emanated from the En Sof or Infinite Light. The sefirot of the Worlds of "Adam Kadmon" are of the nature of pure unmanifest Light. They only acquire a "vessel", or manifest characteristics, in the lowest of the "Adam Kadmonic" worlds, the Bound World, so called because all its ten Lights resided in a single vessel. This was itself only a prelude to the "World of Chaos" (Olam ha-Tohu) or "World of Points" (Nekudot), the first World to be emanated from "Adam Kadmon" and thus have actual manifest existence [Luzzatto, pp.29-30]. The word Tohu refers to the state of the original Sefirot, as unformed and unordered points. It comes from Genesis 1:2, "And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep." The "World of Points" was so called because at this time the sefirot did not relate to each other, but were in the form of unorganised (chaotic) atomistic separateness (hence the term World of Points). The Sefirot, apart from the first three, were not or-ganised in three columns as they are in the present world of Atzilut, but in a single row, making it impossible for them to in-terrelate [Luzzatto, pp.26, 30; Krakovsky, p.145] .
So when the pure Light of Adam Kadmon shone down into them, these
atomistic sefirot could not take the strain, and they shattered and fell
(this is called "the breaking of the vessels" or "the death of the kings";
the latter term being derived from a reference in the book of Genesis to
the "seven kings of Edom who died"). The fallen vessels became the
or "husks" of evil, which held trapped the sparks of sefirotic light [Luzzatto,
Chapter 3; and Scholem, 1961,
p.266, and 1974, pp.138-139].
Now, some of this doctrine actually relates quite well to modern scientific speculation regarding unified field theory. According to this, the original vacuum state from which the universe emerged consisted of ten dimensions, in which all the disparate forces of nature were united in a single "supersymmetric" state.
Now, the existence of ten, eleven, or even twenty-six dimensions of space, or of space-time, is required by various forms of Unified Field Theory, such as "Supersymmetry" and "Superstring Theory". Later some physicists, including Michael Green, one of the original founders of the theory, had second thoughts about this, and suggested that these higher dimensions "were not really dimensions at all", and that "dimensions" as we understand them only pertain to the ordinary macroscopic world, and not to the micro-quantum world of superstrings [Peat, pp.320-321]. Other physicists however, such as superstring theorist Michio Kaku, retain the idea of actual higher physical dimensions. So the jury is still out on this one. But, in view of the curious parallels between the Lurianic and the ten-dimensional Unified Physics cosmology, I have decided to opt for an interpretation that these hyperspace dimensions are real rather than imaginary.
So, this original ten-dimensional vacuum state may have been unstable, or what physicists call a false vacuum. If so, it would inevitably make a "quantum leap" to a more stable, but less symmetrical , vacuum energy state. Current Unification Physics however gives no explanation is given as to why the original vacuum was unstable to begin with, or what preceded this unstable state.
According to Kaku and Trainer [p.158], the result of the collapse of the false vacuum would have been a violent rupture in the ten dimensional fabric of space-time - a truly Lurianic scenario! - which rapidly reformed into two lower energy states or universes. One of these is made up of six of the space-time dimensions, which had become contracted or curled up into sub-atomic size. The other consists of the remaining four dimensions - three of space and one of time - that define our mundane or ordinary reality.
However, F.D. Peat simply refers to the contraction of these higher dimensions - the term used in physics is compactification - which then coexist in and as part of our own universe, on a sub-atomic level, and are responsible for the number of families of elementary particles, and the existence of the forces of nature. Hence the six hidden dimensions are necessary to fully explain phenomena in our four obvious dimensions [Peat, p.161].
Apart from compactification, another result of the original "symmetry breaking" would be that the original "E(8) x E(8)" supersymmetric state would have broken into two lesser symmetry "E(8)" states, each representing a different universe. (The notation E(8) x E(8) refers to a particular mathematical symmetry group, used in modern Superstring Theory. E(8) is a subset of this. There may well be a connection here with the 8 x 8 geometry of the I Ching, with its 8 trigrams and 64 hexagrams, but I am not knowledgable enough in this area to say).
Of these two "E(8)" universes, one is our own, the other is a
parallel "shadow universe." Both these universes coexist, but because
the only force they share is gravity, it is difficult for them to interact.
Hence, we cannot really know anything about what physical forces developed
in the "shadow universe" [Peat, pp.147-151]. Meanwhile, in our universe,
further "symmetry breaking" generates the strong and weak nuclear and the
electromagnetic forces, and the various subatomic particles [Peat, p.151].
If we assume the standpoint of the Lurianic gnosis, that this world is the result of a pre-creation crisis, it may be asked why this whole situation came about in the first place. Why wasn't the cosmos created or emanated in an original pure state? The answer given is that the first sefirot were of the nature of nefesh alone [Luzzatto, p.20], this being, as we have seen, the lowest of the grades of soul in Kabbalistic theory.
This statement by itself is still meaningless. Why should the first sefirot consist of nefesh? However, modern Astrophysics offers as one possible theory an oscillating universe in which each successive cycle develops from the accumulated radiation of the preceding one [Barrow & Silk, pp.70-71]. So perhaps the "nefesh" in question is energy, or, to give a more esoteric interpretation, the karmic energy residue - the Sanskrit term karma literally means work, action or activity, hence the connection with "energy" - of the preceding universe. So if the "karma" of the preceding universe wasn't perfect, that of the present universe won't be either. Hence the original "fall" or "symmetry breaking".
So far we have discussed tohu, or the formation of the universe. But what about tikkun, its spiritual restitution?
According to Luria, immediately after the "breaking of the vessels", and hence before the creation of the physical universe, a new emanation of the World of Atzilut was required to rectify (tikkun) this situation. This involved not Sefirot (which belonged to the old order) but Divine Partzufim("faces" or "physiognomies"). The Universe of "Adam Kadmon" itself is orientated according to Partzufim rather than Sefirot, each identified by a Divine Name of a particular numerical value.
Within "Adam Kadmon" then, the "Name 72" and the "Name 63" (the higher octaves of the Hokmah and Binah respectively) united in a mystical marriage to give birth to the "Name 54" (= higher Tifaret) and "Name 45" (= higher Malkut) [Luzzatto, p.68]. These two Divine Names descended into the Universe of Atzilut, and transformed the defective sefirot there. Recall that the "Breaking of the Vessels" had primarily affected the seven (or, if one includes Daat, eight) lower sefirot. Keter of Atzilut, which, being the closest to the En Sof had suffered least, became the Arik Anpin or "Macroposopus" (greater countenance). Hokmah and Binah, which had suffered a defect, but hadn't actually shattered, became the "Father" and "Mother" partzufim. The essence of the next six or seven lower sefirot that had risen and returned to their source, became the basis of Ze'er Anpin or "Microposopus" (lesser countenance), the male polarity of Deity. And Malkut, which hadn't broken to the degree of the six or seven above it, became Nukvah, the female polarity of Deity [Luzzatto, pp.71-73].
Thus there came about the new or restored Universe of Atzilut, in which the ten sefirot of the earlier Atzilut are replaced by the five Partzufim or Divine Faces.
This appearance of successive Divine Partzufim as a result of the marriage of two Divine Names in the World of Adam Kadmon has clear Gnostic overtones, with the idea of the creation and emanation of transcendent divine entities through the sexual union of even more transcendent Divine essences.
From this "Mystical Marriage" came about the World of Restitution, Olam ha-Tikkun, the opposite of the World of Tohu, and the beginning of the spiritualisation of Creation.
According to the Lurianic gnosis, the restoration of creation would then have been assured, were it not for the Fall of Adam. As in the theology of Paul of Tarsus and his successors (who gave us Christianity, the religion, as opposed to the teachings of the historical Yeshua (Jesus)), this simple Biblical myth is taken out of context and made the basis of an extended cosmological drama. Adam is a cosmic supra-physical being, composed of al the worlds and made up of 613 limbs or partzufim or "great roots", each of which contains 613 - or in other accounts, 600,000 - "small roots" or "great souls", each of which in turn consists of a further 600,000 "sparks" or souls [Scholem p. 162]. The nature of Adam's sin was never agreed on by different Kabbalistic writers; worshipping one sefirah (usually Malkut) apart from the others ("the cutting of the shoots") and hurrying to complete the tikkun before the appointed time (on the first Sabbath) being two common versions [Scholem, 1974, pp.163-164].
Anyway, as a result, instead of uplifting and restoring creation, he caused it to fall further. In Atzilut there was a separation (also called "the cutting of the shoots") of the "Tree of Knowledge" from the "Tree of Life" [Scholem, 1974, p.124]. Because of this, the primordial Torah, residing in Hokmah of Atzilut (as with the Muslims, the Jews see their Earthly Scripture as a material copy of a pre-Creation celestial Scripture), is torn into white and black letters, the white letters descending to Tifaret and becoming the visible or unwritten Torah, and the black letters to Malkut to become the written or manifest Torah, and corresponds to the exiled Shekinah or female polarity of God, who fell from her supernal position as well [Marshall, p.106].
Moreover, the entire spiritual universe of Asiyah, which had previously stood securely on its own foundation, was now immersed in the realm of klippot and subjected to their domination [Scholem, 1974, p.162]. This entrapment of the lower hierarchies of the powers of Light (the higher hierarchies being beyond reach) by the powers of Darkness is a very typical Gnostic one.
As a result of the mixture of the World of Asiyah and the Klippot, Adam acquired a material body, and the unity of his soul shattered into fragments. The higher of these, who had refused to participate in Adam's sin, immediately ascended to the spiritual realms above. The others though, became subject to the klippot, and must achieve their tikkun through a long process of reincarnation (in Kabbalah called gilgul - "return") [Scholem, 1974, p.163; pp.347-348].
But to this "Hindu-Buddhist" orientation another, unique, component
must be added. The group-soul theory means that souls descended from
a single "root" comprised "families" who had a special affinity and hence
were able to help each other [Scholem,
1974, p.163]. Moreover, before any one soul in a particular family
or root is able to develop beyond a certain point, all the other souls
in that family or root must also be raised up. So salvation cannot
be individual, as it is in much of the Indian tradition (with the exception
of Mahayana Buddhism);
it becomes a collective affair.
It is interesting to consider the parallels between the quantum physical ten-dimensional theory (assuming of course that these other dimensions are actual dimensions in the same way that the ordinary four dimensions of space-time are) and the "Breaking of the Vessels" of Lurianic Kabbalah. The parallels can be set out as follows:
(1) Both begin with an unstable ten-fold state: in Kabbalah the ten sefirot of the "World of Points"; and in physics a supercharged vacuum of the original ten-dimensional hyperspace.
(2) Both referred to a "phase shift", a sort of cosmic fracturing, preceding the present sequence of creation, whether a mythological "Breaking of the Vessels" or a mathematical "breaking" of an original "supersymmetry". It was this "phase shift" that defines the present nature of physical existence.
(3) Both refer to a resulting two-fold order; an undistorted and a distorted series, so to speak. In Kabbalah the undistorted series constitutes the three higher sefirot that did not shatter; in physics our familiar four dimensions of space-time. As for the lower or contracted or hidden series, in Kabbalah this is made up of the seven unstable lower sefirot; in physics the six dimensions that were compacted to sub-atomic scale.
(4) In Kabbalah (as a result of the fall of Adam), the unmanifest or unwritten Torah was torn into two; in Physics, as a result of the afore-mentioned "symmetry breaking," the single "Superforce" that defined all phenomena became the four distinct forces of nature.
(5) As a result, according to Kabbalah, the world of opposites, including good and evil, came into existence, and hence the existence of history with its moment toward cosmic restitution. In physics, time and entropy (the determinator of "the arrow of time", and hence history or sequence) came about.
Does this mean then that a Kabbalist like Luria was somehow "intuitively" able to perceive astrophysical cosmological events, which he then described according to his own mystical and religious understanding? Fritjof Capra, in his book The Tao of Physics, argues that modern physicists and ancient mystics are actually describing the same reality, but approaching it in different ways.
Yet even in this particular example (to say nothing of the Buddhistic examples Capra deals with) there are still many clear differences between the two. For example, Luria is concerned primarily with spiritual, supra-physical events, accessible to the inner mystical intuition, and in which the physical plane is only one aspect. Physics on the other hand deals solely with external material reality. For Luria and his successors, time is primarily redemptive, moving towards the final glorious tikkun or restoration of the original unity; but in physics and materialistic science all one has is a gloomy choice between an entropic "heat-death", in which all the stars have expended their fuel, and no life is possible anywhere in the universe, and a "big crunch," the reverse of the Big Bang, where everything comes together and all matter is annihilated (or reconverted to featureless energy).
So there are parallels, certainly, but not necessarily an identity
of doctrine. Perhaps one could say that Luria was intuitively attuned
to a more inner or subtle reality, whereas what physics is describing is
the activity of this phenomena on the gross or outer physical level.
The Lurianic scheme sees the final tikkun as the uniting of all that was previously rendered asunder. According to this, the conjunction or sacred marriage of Father (Abba) and Mother (Imma) begins the task of transformation. A further and very important conjunction involves Ze'er Anpin and Nukvah (including the Shekinah), the Male and Female polarities of God. These unite as the King (Melekh) and Queen (Malkah), which incidentally is also a common alchemical metaphor [Marshall, p.112]. Through the union of these two partzufim, the visible and invisible letters of the Torah are also united, and rise once again to the home of the original Torah in Hokmah. The exiled Shekinah then ascends to Binah and unites with the Supernal Shekinah. The final conjunction involves the uniting of the male and female polarities within Arik Anpin itself, which reunites the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge, and enables the Light of Keter to flow down to the lower worlds. This in turn is a prelude to the final Messianic redemption - through a downpouring of the Light of "Adam Kadmon" - and restitution of the Cosmos. [Krakovsky, p.99; Marshall, pp.114-116].
Thus, according to Lurianic Kabbalah, and the various Messianic Sabbatean and Hassidic schools it inspired and gave rise to in later centuries (one of which, the Lubavitch sect of Hassidism still flourishes to this day), mankind alone is able to repair the primal fault, and restore the connection between the lower and higher worlds. Hence there is a shift from the "external" Messiah of conventional religion to the "internal" Messiah of occultism; a sort of "esoteric empowerment," if you will.
Yet how does one participate in this act of cosmic redemption? Here is where things become very disappointing. It is achieved, so the Kabbalists and Hassidics claim, through outward observance of the Torah and its precepts, and inward prayer and meditation [Luzzatto, p.69; Scholem, 1974, p.165]. In other words, through being an orthodox religious Jew. This of course applies only to people of Jewish origin, and ultimately is nothing but an apology for religious conservatism. That is why the Lurianic system is only really of value through its incredible occult and mythopoeic insights, but is of literal practical value as regards the actual transmutation of the Earth. See however the effort of a current new Sabbatean movement that provide a more universal teaching and system of tikkun (restitution) within the Kabbalistic tradition.
There are also two other great spiritual adepts who have given a practical side to the cosmology of cosmic redemption.
Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) was an English-educated poet, philosopher, and yogi, who settled in the French colony of Pondicherry, where he set up an ashram, dedicated to the spiritual transformation of life on Earth.
The Mother (1878-1973 - not to be confused with a number of female gurus who bear the same title), originally known as Mirra Alfassa, was a Parisian of Egyptian descent, who, after many spiritual and occult experiences of her own, encountered Sri Aurobindo, and worked with him at their ashram at Pondicherry.
The Aurobindoan Cosmology is as follows:
The Supreme or Divine Reality consists of four planes or attributes: Sat or Infinite Being, Chit-Tapas or Infinite Consciousness and Consciousness-Force, Ananda or Infinite Bliss and Delight, and a fourth plane. The three higher Planes together make up the eternal, unchanging, reality of Sacchidananda (Sat-Chit-Ananda), the Supreme Absolute. But this Absolute in its own intrinsic transcendence could not manifest or creates anything. Hence the need for the fourth plane of the Absolute, the dynamic, infinite Truth-Consciousness that is the cause or Source or First Principle of all subsequent Creation [Aurobindo, pp. 125-6, 262]. Sri Aurobindo referred to this as the "Supermind", as it is the principle beyond finite mental existence [Aurobindo, pp.127ff].
From the Supermind arises the three planes of finite existence: Mind, then Life, and finally Matter. Transitional between Mind and Supermind are a number of Spiritual or Divine regions: Higher Mind, Illumined Mind, Intuitive Mind, and Overmind [Aurobindo, pp.276ff, pp.938ff], which last is the region of the Gods or Cosmic Creative powers [Aurobindo, pp.280-283]. It is the Overmind that, up until now, has supervised the Creation.
Now, one could think of Sacchidananda as equivalent to the Kabbalistic En Sof, and the Supermind, as the mediator between that Absolute and creation, as similar to the Lurianic "Adam Kadmon." The Overmind seems to be pretty similar to the universe of Atzilut, and the three spiritual grades of Mind (above ordinary consciousness and pertaining to the spiritual-mental ascent) can be compared with Beriah, the universe of the merkava ("chariot") and hence likewise of the visionary ascent. Thus there are a number of parallels between the Lurianic and the Aurobindoan systems.
Sri Aurobindo sees the world in which we exist, and not only the physical world but all the subtle or psychic and spiritual worlds as well, is a world dominated by ignorance and nonconsciousness; by what he called the Inconscient, the utter lack of Consciousness in matter and in the lowest existence. Again, this is more or less equivalent to the Kabbalistic conception of Klippot. It is because of all this Ignorance and Incon-science that the world is so imperfect, so ruled by negativity, so full of suffering and disharmony.
And quite apart from agreement regarding the basic planes of existence, Sri Aurobindo's teachings are in agreement with those of Lurianic Kabbalah regarding the most central facet of his message, that of Supramentalisation.
Previous spiritual teachers, according to Sri Aurobindo, followed the Yoga of Ascent. Correctly interpreting the nature of the world as one of ignorance and suffering, saw the only solu-tion to be a radical transcendence of this existence, through a return to the Absolute; what the Hindus call "Liberation" and the Buddhists "Nirvana".
In contrast to this world-denying mysticism is the Yoga of Descent. This involves drawing the Divine or Supramental Consciousness down into this world, the gross physical world of matter, into one's physical body (the individual centre of inconscience), and by doing so transform, perfect, and Divinise it [Aurobindo pp.967ff; see also Mother's Agenda]. In other words, the final state of Tikkun, the state of Divine Restitution.
The result of this would be a glorified Supramental Body, in which all disharmony - all sickness, old age, death (there will still be transformation, but not death as we know it), ignorance, and imperfection disappear.
Here we see a clear parallel with the Zoroastrian and later Judaeo-Christian idea of immortality as a sort of bodily resurrection or transcendence of death. This was an idea popularised and beautifully expressed by Paul of Tarsus. He spoke of a "Spiritual body" as opposed to the present "fleshly" body. These terms refer not to spirit verses matter, as the modern reader would assume, but rather of the transformation from the present imperfect and corruptible physical and psychic condition to a incorruptible Christlike psychophysical divinity [Cullmann, pp.25ff]. Reference is likewise made to a glorified body: "At the end Christ will transform our lowly bodies into the body of his own glory (doxa)" [Phil. 3:21], and that "We are being transformed into his own likeness from glory to glory" [II Cor. 3:18; quoted in Cullmann p.36].
The thesis of bodily transmutation and divinisation is in marked contrast to the dualistic and spiritualistic idea of the body dying and the soul or spirit continuing in some aetherial heaven or spirit-realm [Cullmann, pp.12ff]. This is not to deny (as some unfortunately so often do) the reality of higher or more subtle planes of existence in which consciousness continues after death (and before rebirth), but only to suggest that what is being referring to here is something other than that.
As with the Lurianic theory of redemption of souls, the importance of transforming every member of the group also appears in the Sri Aurobindo and the Mother's teachings. According to the former, "this illumination and change...must take form not only in the life of the individual but as a collective life of gnostic beings..." [Aurobindo, p.1018]. Their ashram was to be a "laboratory of Yoga" whereby the group as a whole had to be transformed, if the "new creation" was to manifest itself.
Supramentalisation can be approached both in terms of the work of the individual adept (the microcosm) and in terms of transformation of the world as a whole (the macrocosm). Previously, the various spiritual and religious teachers were obsessed with the macrocosmic vision, but utterly unable to manifest or achieve anything on the microcosmic or individual level.
The yoga of Supramentalisation involves what Sri Aurobindo terms a "triple transformation."
"...(T)here must first be the psychic change, the conversion of our whole present nature into a soul-instrumentation; ...along with that there must be the spiritual change, the descent of higher Light, Knowledge, Power, Force, Bliss, Purity into the whole being,...even into the darkness of our subconscience; last, there must supervene the supramental transformation....as the crowning movement the ascent into the Supermind and the transforming descent of the supramental Consciousness into our entire being and nature." [Aurobindo, p.891]
The terminology is a little confusing: "psychic" refers not to the psychic planes, but do what Aurobindo and Mirra call the "Psychic Being", the immortal reincarnating Divine self, pretty much equivalent to the Qabalistic and Thelemite "Holy Guardian Angel." This is an inward movement, an awakening of the inner being [Aurobindo, p.907].
Moreover the "spiritual change" involves not only a descent, but, as a necessary precursor to that, a spiritual ascent as well:
"...(T)he mind rises into a higher plane of pure Self,...or...into regions of Light...or into planes where it feels an infinite Power or a divine Presence..." [Aurobindo, p.911]
So even before the supramental transformation, there has to be an inward movement, and ascending movement, and a descent of higher Spirit.
This same theme of ascent and descent, of integrating above and below, is referred to in the famous Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus:
"It ascends from the earth into the heaven, and again descends into the earth and receives the power of the superiors and inferiors." [Taylor, p.78]
The interesting thing about the Aurobindoan path is that it starts where most other teachings leave off. Usually it is Enlightenment that is the goal; but in the way of Supramentalisation it is only one of the beginning stages.
Sri Aurobindo talks about his own spiritual development in terms of three realisations: the first being the realisation of the "silent Self" or Brahman, the second (while in prison for sedition against the British) of the personal Divine or Vasudeva, and the third being the realisation of the Overmind.
It seems then that the higher regions of the Absolute are, paradoxically, easier to attain than the lower. This is because to attain the higher Absolute nothing is added; one simply Realises that one always was, is, and will be that very same Absolute Reality. It is harder to realise one's identity with the Godhead possessing qualities, and harder again to actualise these qualities within one's being; to oneself become Divine.
Neither Sri Aurobindo nor the Mother left a specific set of techniques that everyone had to follow. They worked on the principle that each spiritual aspirant is an individual with specific strengths and weaknesses, who will obviously pursue the spiritual path in different ways. Hence they left a huge body of teachings behind that the aspirant that peruse and select from according to his or her own inclination.
Having attained this Supramental state, the physical body becomes universal in extent (comparable perhaps to the primordial Adam or Anthropos), and this universal body has a constant restoring or healing task. Says the Mother:
"I am conscious of my body, but I don't mean this (Mother touches her body): I am conscious of THE body - it could be anyone's body! I am conscious of these vibrations of disorder, which come most often in the form of suggestions of disorder: a suggestion of haemorrhage for example....The battle begins to be fought...between what we can call "the will to haemorrhage" and the reaction of the cells of the body....But suddenly, the body is seized with a very strong determination and proclaims an order, an immediately the effect begins to be felt and everything returns gradually to normal. All this happens in the material consciousness. My body has all the physical sensations except the (actual) haemorrhage....A few days later, I receive a letter from someone, and in the letter is the whole story: the attack, the haemorrhage, and suddenly the being is seized with an overpowering determination and hears the words - the very words uttered HERE. In the end he is cured, saved. In the end he is cured, saved....And so I began to realise that my body is everywhere! You see, it is not just a matter of these cells: they are cells in, who knows how many, perhaps hundreds or thousands of people...It is THE body..."
[Mother's Agenda vol.4, pp.109-110]
It would seem that the universal body is a body that has incorporated (or is in the process of incorporating) not only the higher, spiritual dimensions and Universes of existence, but also the lower, "inconscient" dimensions. Because the Supramental, or Manifest Absolute, includes and transcends both the highest and the lowest Universes, the Supramentalised body is transformed in both these dimensions. And it is precisely because the body becomes universalised in this way, that it brings about a collective or global evolutionary transformation, rather than the purely individual transformation of conventional mysticism.
Perhaps the most amazing thing of all (at least to mundane consciousness) about this new state of being is that there is no longer the dichotomy between life and death that so characterises our present existence. As the Mother explained in 1962:
"I spent at least two hours in a world...the subtle physical, where the living and the dead are side by side without feeling the difference!...There were...what WE call "living people", and what WE call "dead people": they were there together, moved together, played together. And all that was in a lovely light, quiet, very pleasant indeed..." [Mother's Agenda, vol.3, pp.373-4]
Ponders her associate and biographer Satprem:
"Could there be a place in physical, material consciousness - let's say the next earthly consciousness - where life and death change in nature? That would really mean a new state on earth: not life as we know it nor death as we know it."
Again, there are remarkable parallels with Christianity and other religions. As one theologian proposes, through Christ's resurrection, death has already been overcome (death, be it noted, not the body); there is already a new creation, not a [spiritual] immortality which the soul has always possessed, and the resurrection age is already inaugurated [Cullmann, p.31].
Yet although early Christianity says so much that is in tune with Mirra's experiences, it are also bound by an attitude of ignorance. We read for example that Christ has conquered death, that death will be conquered as the last enemy, that it will be cast into a pool of fire, etc [Cullmann, p.37]. Yet all this is really missing the point of what Satprem suggested: a new state of existence where both life as they are and death as they are transcended in some higher state, an "overlife".
Since the Supramental transformation involves the Physical Reality, is it possible to explain it in terms of physics? I would suggest that it is.
Basically, the process of Supramentalisation, or what the Christian would call "the victory over death", pertains to the overcoming of entropy. Entropy, or the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which says that heat always flows from a hot to a cold object, but never the reverse. Assuming the oscillating universe theory is true, the present universe will end in a "big crunch" in which everything is contracted to a single point or "singularity". If this isn't the case, then after countless billions of years all the stars will have exhausted their fuel and be cold and dead, and the entire universe will be exactly the same temperature (a few degrees above absolute zero. In such a universe, all life, and all activity would be impossible (because activity or work can only occur if there is a difference in temperature).
In terms of physical structures or organisation, entropy means the breakdown of complex ordered systems (e.g. a living organism) into disordered equilibrium ones, (e.g. inanimate matter). Hence a building will eventually crumble into rubble, but rubble by itself won't reform itself into a building.
Although it has been argued that the existence of life itself indicates a principle opposite to entropy - "negative entropy" or "negentropy" - since living organisms grow and evolve from simple to complex structures, this statement is not correct. For life on Earth still depends on the energy from the sun; life involves a local reversal of entropy, but not an absolute reversal. The overall energy in the universe is still "running down".
I would suggest that Supramentalisation is the only way to escape the tyranny of entropy, and in fact in a supramentalised universe, there automatically would be no such thing as entropy, except as part of the overall yin-yang anabolic-catabolic diastole-systole cycle of existence.
The conquest of entropy, and hence of death, can also be understood on a deeper level through the unified field theory. We have seen that according to modern Scientific quantum cosmology, originally all the forces of nature existed as a single unified super-force. This original mathematical "supersymmetry" was broken, resulting in the compactification of six of the original ten space-time dimensions, and a division of the original unity into two universes, our own, and a parallel "shadow universe," and into the four fundamental forces of physical reality we know today.
Now, suppose that through the process of Supramentalisation - i.e. the descent of the Manifest-Absolute or Supramental Consciousness into the physical and subphysical, and its integration into the material realm - this process is somehow reversed, and the original "supersymmetry" is re-established, this time in a more stable form. There would then be a single quantum-physical law determining all physical existence. Phenomena that characterise our present universe, such as entropy, and the limitation of each consciousness to a single body or brain, as by-products of the present physical conditions, would not then be the case. Hence there would no longer be illness or old age, or limited individual existence. And the world in which "the living" and "the dead" exist together could be the result of the re-unification of the gross or outer Physical and the Subtle or Inner Physical.
Assuming the existence of a cyclic universe (and indeed this seems by far the most reasonable theory of the nature of things), we have to admit that Supramentalisation has never been achieved in any previous cycle (or kalpa). Why? Because if Supramentalisation had been achieved in a previous cycle, then we wouldn't be in our present imperfect state now, because that state, once attained, can never be lost. And even if it had been achieved on some distant world karmically unconnected to the Earth, the present universe would have still turned out better than it did. So we have to assume that what is being described as "Supramentalisation" is something totally new, at least as far as the cyclic evolution of this series of universes is concerned. Indeed, Supramentalisation - and following that even greater and greater states of Supreme Divinisation - could be the logical goal towards which all oscillating universes (our own and an infinite number of other ones) are evolving.
 Luria himself wrote very little down, so his teachings were transmitted via his disciples, the most important of which was Rabbi Hayyim Vital (1542-1620). back
 the word sefirah (sing. of sefirot) can be roughly translated as "sphere" or "number". It is worth mentioning one good reference: The Golden Dawn Journal - Qabalah: Theory and Magic, edited by C. and S.T. Cicero (reviewed in Esoterica no.6). back
 The Lurianic system is extremely complex, and only some parts of it have been translated into English. What follows is of course a simplified account. back
 Thus Modern Hermetic or "Magical" Kabbalah (Qabalah) relates to the present Atzilut and its subsequent emanated worlds, and not the original "World of Points". back
 The word "symmetry" is here used in an abstract mathematical sense. It refers to complex mathematical equations that allow elementary particles to be grouped together into families, and explain how one elementary particle can be transformed into another. back
Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine (Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1977)
John D. Barrow and Joseph Silk, 1983, The Left Hand of Creation (Unwin Paperbacks)
Oscar Cullmann, 1965, "Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead?" in Krister Stendahl (ed.) Immortality and Resurrection (Macmillan)
Melita Denning and Osborne Phillips, 1985, The Llewellyn Practical Guide to Astral Projection (Llewellyn)
Michio Kaku and Jennifer Trainer, 1987, Beyond Einstein - the Cosmic Quest for the Theory of the Universe (Bantam)
Areyah Kaplan, Meditation and Kabbalah
Rabbi Levi I. Krakovsky, 1970, Kabbalah, the Light of Redemption (Research Centre of Kabbalah)
Rabbi Moses Luzzatto, 1970, General Principles of the Kabbalah (Research Centre of Kabbalah)
Steve Marshall, 1994, "The Restoration and Alchemy", in C. and S.T. Cicero (ed.) The Golden Dawn Journal - Qabalah: Theory and Magic (Llewellyn).
Mother's Agenda, 13 vols (Institute for Evolutionary Research).
F. David Peat, 1988, Superstrings and the Search for the Theory of Everything, (Abacus)
Satprem, 1982, The Mind of the Cells, (Institute for Evolutionary Research).
Gershom Scholem, 1961, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (Schocken Books).
Gershom Scholem, 1974, Kabbalah (Meridian - New American Library).
William Stoltz, 1994, "Sacred Images - A Qabalistic Analysis of the Neophyte Formula", in C. and S.T. Cicero (ed.) The Golden Dawn Journal - Qabalah: Theory and Magic (Llewellyn).
F. Sherwood Taylor, The Alchemists (Paladin, 1976)
Rabbi Shneur Zalman, Tanya (Kehot Publication Society, 1981)
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