Thursday, July 26, 2012
Thursday, July 19, 2012
Sunday, July 8, 2012
The following two ideas that I had learned some 25 years ago from Rabbi Saadia Gaon’s Philosophical work the “Book of Beliefs & Opinions” (circa 6th or 7th Century) had inspired my faith in moments of doubt:
A) Addressing those who question whether the world has a Creator, Rabbi Saadia wrote that if the world created itself before it existed, it was not yet present to create itself. On the other hand, if the world created itself after it already came into existence, what’s the point in creating what already exists? Since either way the world couldn't create itself, it has to have a Creator.
B) Addressing those who question the belief in a soul, Rabbi Saadia wrote that nothing can give what it can't access. One who denies the existence of a soul is really claiming that non-consciousness gave rise to consciousness. Since non-consciousness can’t access consciousness, it can't make a being conscious. Therefore, the source of consciousness has to be elsewhere, i.e. a soul.
Thursday, July 5, 2012
The Talmud suggests imitating the Creator’s ways as a pathway to spiritual growth. This suggestion can be traced to the verse, “...you shall walk in His ways.” (Deuteronomy 28:9) The Talmud explains that what this means to us is,”Just as He’s kind, so you be kind. Just as He’s compassionate, so you too be compassionate.” (Shabbat 133b)
Mystically speaking, imitating His ways works on the cosmic principle of similarity and dissimilarity. The way we draw closer to the Creator is by becoming similar to Him. The more our behavior resemble His, the closer we become. The reason why imitation bonds us to Him has to do with what closeness and distance means in spiritual space; a different notion of space than pervades our physical realm.
What’s the spiritual notion of space? It’s based on how similar or dissimilar entities are to each other. If two items are similar they’re close. If they are dissimilar then they’re distant. Psychological distance and closeness works the same way. A friend in a distant country can feel really close, while a next door neighbor, with little in common, can feel very distant. The reason why spiritual space is experienced psychologically is because our minds are continuous with our souls - the self that participates in spiritual reality.
The closeness or distance between two entities is variable and can change over time. By becoming more similar, they draw closer and increase their alignment with each other. If similarity between them becomes extreme, they can come so close that they actually become each other - merging into a single identity. In such deep states of closeness, they can actually channel each other. This is why when two people identify closely with each other, deeply love, they might become telepathic and know what the other is thinking. In the highest expressions of soul union, it’s beyond being two people in deep communion, but, a oneness of core being. Here the couple is exposed to be a single merged identity - like two arms of the same body/soul.
Attempts to imitate the Creator work the same way, except the bond is not between two equals or near equals, like two spirits or two people. It’s a bond between the finite and the Infinite. This widens the gap to seemingly unbridgeable proportions. Surprisingly, much of the dynamics of the relationship on the human side is similar to any other relationship. Its just cosmically complicated to explain why a relationship with the Ultimate of Existence should be so “human friendly”, when the dissimilarity between them is so extreme and ought to be fundamentally unbridgeable.
As with any other relationship based on sharing similarities, imitating the Creator’s ways is a human attempt to draw closer to Him. Surprisingly, a real relationship grows as a human’s deeds more closely match the Creator’s, forming an alignment which allows access to spiritual lights normally associated with the Creator alone. Knowingly or unknowingly, the person channels these lights into the earthly realm, where they transform into life enhancing blessings - quite possibly in a wide variety of areas that touch human life. For example, by giving alms to the needy, one is imitating the Creator’s kindness. S/he not only brings immediate relief to a needy person, but, also taps into a system spiritual lights which channel further blessings into the world.
The ease of this relationship is entirely amazing! In all honesty, there should be no pathway for human deeds to be considered similar to the Creator’s. When held up against the Infinite, the finite is entirely inadequate. Expecting a finite being’s deeds to resemble what the Infinite Being does should be more outlandish than expecting fire and water to blend. In reality, no matter how good and kind-hearted a human being is, it is impossible to mirror the perfection of the Creator's deeds. If examined realistically, it becomes self evident that a true resemblance between them doesn’t even begin.
So how do humans imitate the One Who is too perfect to imitate and ultimately, impossible to imitate?
The only possible answer can be because the Creator plays along. He carries out all the dynamics necessary to make the relationship work. He doesn’t meet His partner halfway. He meets His partner all the way. It’s on this basis that the sages accepted imitation as a legitimate path for spiritual growth - even on the very tiny scale attainable by humans.
Adapted for a contemporary audience, the following is an old Jewish parable designed to explain how the Creator meets the person all the way:
A little boy shuffles himself along in a motorless toy car, imagining that he’s behaving just like his daddy. “Weeeeeee … I’m driving like daddy!”, He exclaims.
His daddy gets really excited that his boy wants to be just like him. So what does daddy do?
He gets behind the car and while running at top speed, pushes it with all his might, allowing his boy to imagine that his efforts are really paying off. He’s now a real driver!
What did the boy do? He only tried to imitate his daddy in his own playful way. However, daddy was deeply touched by his son's sentiment. So he took over and turned his son's yearning into something closer to real. Now both are excited!
Our imitation of His ways are like the child in the toy car. Our efforts only do something because they excite our Divine Daddy to give a running push!
Granted this magic happens when we imitate His ways. However, can this same magic also happen when we attempt to imitate His Being? Can imitating His Being also become a legitimate path to attain closeness to Him? Is it even reasonable to expect as possible, given the Whom He is and whom we are?
Here are several considerations:
(A) The Bible and Talmud's absence of direct comment about attaching oneself to Him by imitating His Being, is not an automatic indication that the path is not available. It’s just silence, not necessarily anything more.
(B) Since behavior is secondary to being, what one does is secondary to whom one is. So if imitating His ways brings closeness to Him then certainly imitating His Being should do so even more. If what's secondary to Him elicits closeness, then certainly what's primary to Him should. And if He can play along with the dynamic of one, He can play along with the other - for ultimately, regardless of spiritual dynamics, He decides what brings one close to Him.
(C) Deeper yet, in His Oneness - all is seamlessly present. Therefore, there's no separation in Him between deeds and Being. They’re a single continuum. The noun (Being) and verb (actions) are One. Therefore, both modes of imitation should bring us into contact with Him.
How do we imitate His Being?
To begin formulating “how”, we first need to examine what can be humanly known about His Being. Otherwise, our efforts can end up misguided. There’s no way to describe the Creator. Just as it's impossible for a human hand to grasp a thought, it's impossible for the human mind to grasp the Creator. The hand is simply not a tool for grasping thought. So too, the mind is simply not a tool for grasping the Creator. In this spirit, a Medieval Jewish poet mused, "If I knew Him, I'd be Him. If I’d be Him, I’d cease being me."
We can only know of Him based on what He has shared about Himself. Besides His own Beingness, He shared through prophets and sages that He's One and Infinite. Surprisingly, both concepts shed almost no light on Him, but, do wonders to shed a lot of light on the fundamentals of why we can’t grasp Him.
Oneness means that He's absolutely seamless. His Being contains no parts or pieces - exhibiting a complete absence of multiplicity. Since we ourselves are the fruits of fragmentation, our minds are designed to segment. So every entity we think of as “one” can be further segmented. Its a condition we can’t escape. By contrast, His Being is totally indivisible. In fancy English His perfect state of Oneness is called a “non-composite Oneness”. Which makes Him the only entity in all reality that’s honestly One or as the sages write “perfectly One”. Every other entity called “one” is merely borrowing the term “one” to ease communication.
Just like His Oneness is most perfect, so too is His Infinity. Infinity means possessing no beginning, middle or end - truly Unlimited!
Both His Oneness and Infinity ultimately end up meaning the same thing. Which isn't surprising given that His Oneness is non-composite. The complete absence of parts or pieces, means there’s nothing to introduce borders; hence, no beginnings, middles and ends.
Also, there's no room to say that there are two separate realities going on inside Him, like Infinity being one reality and Oneness another. Such a notion would violate the overall seamlessness of non-composite Oneness. So as with everything about Him, both Infinity and Oneness has to be seamlessly One and the same reality - Infinity has to be Oneness and Oneness has to be Infinity.
As can be seen, the human mind cannot truly wrap itself around either the concept of Oneness or Infinity. At best, it can describe what they’re not: (a) no pieces or parts and (b) no beginnings, middles and ends. These descriptions don’t build an exact matching image in our minds. They only boggle our minds with the knowledge of why such images can’t even begin to take hold. If we try imagining perfect Oneness, our contrived mental image will be exposed as composite. If we try imaging absolute Infinity, our expansive mental image won’t escape somehow having a beginning, middle and end.
So what's the "toy car" people bring out to try to mirror His Being, whether as Oneness or as Infinity? His Oneness can be imitated by people gathering into a state of unity with each other. Obviously, humans sharing connection with each other, is not at all a true mirror of the Creator's Oneness. The Creator's Oneness is not physical and as mentioned above is free from any parts or pieces, i.e. non-composite. When we unify, we have no choice but to end up a unity of parts.
Yet, human unification very slightly tilts in the direction of Oneness. As mentioned earlier any imitation of the Creator is by definition highly imperfect. Still, even a tiny human tilt towards Oneness, works to affect the needed imitation.
If His Oneness can be tilted towards by people unifying then His Infinity can be tilted towards by having a large group, for Infinity is about largess. The more the group expands, the more it tends in the direction of Infinity. Again, this is only like the "toy car". However, the Divine Daddy gives a running push and atmosphere around and within the group is flavored with a taste of Divine Vastness and Oneness.
During this season known as the three weeks between the Jewish fast days of the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av, we're reminded of how we're waiting for people to make the choice to unify and openly care for each other in a vast group, with oneness/largess below mirroring Oneness/Infinity above. While this season provides a nice impetus, the message is fully applicable all year long.