Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Monism - the Essentials

Supreme Oneness is perfect,
 He's devoid of any parts at all.

Entities with parts are not one,
 As parts betray inner multiplicity.

Absence of parts means no ...
  Beginnings, middles or ends,

No beginning, middle or end,
 Equals being Absolutely Infinite.

True Infinity has no "outside".
 Hence, He's all encompassing.

He contains the entire creation,
 All the realms - spiritual n' earthly.

Hence, we're inside Oneness,
 Yet, we only sense fragmentation.

Seamless Oneness is elusive,
 Even while immersed within Him.

Such a contradiction! How?
 By having our perceptions limited,

He shapes our world into form;
 The very form we all perceive.

So all we see is so really real,
 But also so highly edited of edited.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Reflections on Jewish Monism

I think about the mystics of the world religions, such as Rumi, who were true monists. In passionate bursts of ecstasy they sought to annihilate themselves in a Divine loving embrace. They were ready to be gone! They seemed ready to abandon what they viewed as the confines of earthly existence, what they viewed as walls or barriers between themselves as the Supreme Being. This sentiment can be heard in Rumi’s poetic quest, “Why do I seek the door, when the whole wall between us is but an illusion?”  

The attuned reader gets the sense that he’d rather just meditate away the wall than bother with a door which leaves intact what he viewed untruth or illusion. This is Sufism, mystical Islam, not mystical Judaism. So there’s probably no tradition (at least that I am aware of) of “vessels” or stated differently, the protracted process of developing stable channels of revelation. Rumi is ready to literally disappear with a burst of ecstasy in the Seamless Oneness - without as much as a  thought about returning to earthly life. He’s literally ready to abandon it all.

His is not the Jewish path. Why? Isn’t what Rumi suggested simply the logical outcome of monism, that specialized version of monotheism which believes that only the Creator truly exists and were it not for the limits on our senses and sensations we’d all be dissolved in the continuity of Seamless Oneness? Following along this line of logic, the fact that we are not dissolved and feel ourselves as separate entities is not really a fact at all. Rather, it’s an illusion.

So when Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi introduced the notion of monism to Jewish society, centuries later, why didn’t he also suggest along with it the path that Rumi already plod? It would only seem so logical. If Seamless Oneness is the truth then separation is a lie. So meditate away the lie. Play some music, trance out and reach where human identity merges with it’s source in the Creator’s Identity. Yet, for all Rabbi Shneur Zalman’s insight and erudition, he never seemed to have made such a suggestion.  

One cannot say that such an idea never occurred to him. Firstly, it was too easy not to. Secondly, I remember the discussion of such a possibility when I was 18 years old, almost 30 years ago, in a Rabbinic school which followed Rabbi Shneur Zalman’s path. It was explained that generally speaking Jews and non-Jews naturally have differences in their respective spiritual paths. These differences are sanctioned and even celebrated by the Creator. Jews are largely called upon to bring sanctity to what’s earthly. When this mission reaches a certain state of success, the earthly realm becomes sufficiently sanctified for the revelation of the Messiah - at which point earth starts taking on the characteristics of paradise. In contrast, non-Jews are largely called upon to transcend the earthly. They’re generally called upon to reach beyond. This is why monasticism and withdrawal from the physical often plays a strong role in their spiritual efforts. Of course, these distinctions are just sweeping generalizations of spiritual orientations and are not intended to be taken as absolutes.

These distinctions are reflected in the sacrifices brought to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Non-Jews brought burnt offerings, sacrifices which were entirely burnt on the alter. Every aspect of the sacrifice transcended into the spiritual realms. In contrast, besides bringing burnt offerings, Jews also brought peace offerings. Peace offerings leave over earthly portions which are to be eaten by the owners and priests.

It seems likely that Rabbi Shneur Zalman arrived at a more advanced understanding of monism than his predecessors. He communicated that if Oneness is truly Oneness than nothing contained within it can truly block it. This would be tantamount to something blocking itself from itself. Nothing can block the reality of the Oneness. However, what can possibly be blocked is the perception of Oneness.  

To Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the real priority is to live in the reality of Oneness, even if one remains closed to the perception of Oneness. The perception of Oneness can wait. It’s only human perception. And if chasing the perception blinds one from living in the reality, then what’s the point?

A person’s entire life situation is a passage happening within the reality of Oneness. To meditate away one’s necessary concentration on his/her life situation in order to chase greater perceptions of Oneness is a huge lie. Then the Oneness notion itself acts as bait to lure people away from living in the reality of Oneness. Ultimately, people can become addicted to a bliss which interferes with real life.

This could be why monism became a public teaching in Judaism much later than it had in Sufism. Since “vessels” are a feature of the Jewish spiritual style, when this teaching became public in Judaism it had to come with “vessels” - stable pathways of thought and practice to handle the notion correctly. Since “vessels” take time to develop, the notion waited centuries to become public.


So what does it mean to live in the reality of Oneness?

I suspect that Rabbi Shneur Zalman and the line of Chassidic masters who followed in his path intended to bring humanity to this state. Part of what makes this question difficult to answer is that there’s no such a thing as an “outside” to the reality of Oneness.   So no matter what one thinks, speaks or does, it all happens within the reality of Oneness. One can’t help but live inside the reality of Oneness. It just goes with existing.

While one can’t shut off or on the reality of Oneness, one can choose to live his/her life actively responsive to the Creator’s Oneness. So effectively, to some extent, one can modulate his/her own relationship level with Oneness.

Our life situations serve as stages upon which we are given the choice to become active partners in this relationship. Our attitudes and behaviors can be either reflect acceptance or rejection of the reality of Oneness. In the long run (and possibly even in the short run) blessings follow the choice to live in relationship with Oneness.

All this follows from what the ancient sages teach are the only two utterances of the Ten Commandments which the Jews heard directly from the Creator. The other eight were conveyed by Moses. These two commandments are the first two. First, “I am God, your Lord, who took you out of the land of Egypt.” Second, “You shall have no other deities before me.” What these first two statements are effective saying is firstly, “Live in the reality of My Oneness” and secondly, “Don’t reject the reality of My Oneness”. An idolatrous perspective is a fragmented view of divinity for there’s a deity for everything. It’s the very opposite of the acceptance of Oneness.

The rest of the Torah’s commandments are essentially commentaries of these first two, for they are instructions to a Jew (and in some ways the rest of humanity) on how to live in a relationship with Oneness. Each commandment is somehow a vehicle in this relationship. With some commandments it’s easy to see. For example, those which are centered around social justice and kind behavior bring humans to interact with each other with an attitude of shared overall life force, like right and left hands of the same person or as two dream characters sharing the seamless mental space of a single Dreamer.

Those commandments which are centered on property rights (like Sabbatical year, Jubilee, ownership issues and property rights) bring humans to interact with each other in a way which is aligned with the Will of Oneness. If we’re in an active relationship with the Oneness then how the Oneness wishes to run His earthly realm should be reflected in us.

Of course, there’s a lot more to explore on the topic of how the Biblical commandments bring us into relationship with Oneness. The above examples are only intended as nascent probings. One can clearly sense that Rabbi Shneur Zalman had unwittingly fashioned a new Jewish mysticism based on Oneness and living in relationship with Oneness; i.e. Jewish monism and its implications.        

This doesn’t supplant any earlier expressions of Jewish mysticism which predate him. It’s relationship with the earlier expressions is something akin to the relationship between Quantum Mechanics and Newtonian Physics; where the new actually validates the old as an important region within its larger landscape. Since the Creator’s Oneness is all encompassing, logically it would include any of the spiritual dynamics which dominate the discussions of any other mystical systems of thought and practice. For example, Lurianic Kabbalah mostly focuses on the spiritual dynamics occurring in the realm of “Atzilut” (Emanations). Though this is a very transcendent realm, it is still contained within the Creator’s Oneness. So any discussion of Oneness has to also incorporate it.

In a sense by reaching higher Rabbi Shneur Zalman, as appropriate for such an all embracing topic as Monism, has also reached lower. Consequently, he achieved a more user friendly mysticism, a mysticism applicable just by living one’s standard daily life. Furthermore, he demonstrated that Abraham’s work of declaring to humanity the Creator’s Oneness has found a very fresh and contemporary expression.


Friday, December 25, 2015

Forays in Mindscape

I am a traveler of a unique sort.
I visit regions few have ventured.

Some enjoy distant exotic venues,
Plodding as tourist on planet earth.

I journey in the mindscape of Torah,
Kissing sites in Divine mental space.

They indulge their pleasures on vacation.
My forays can be enjoyed on staycation.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

At Freedom's Edge

Here I sit at freedom's edge,
 Yet, I don't know where to go.

Like an inmate sprung from jail,
 My sense of direction feels mush.  

I will soon hold a license.
 Yet, I don't know what to do.

While it brings much privilege,
 Responsibility snags at it's hems.  

Yes, I dream of deep love,
 But not of the random sort.

I cry for my life partner,
 I'll meet her on the road.

On which road? Shrug!
 Can I read the map of my soul?

Her map projects on my heart,
 But my heart's too cloudy to see.

Inner silence will part her clouds,
 Casting his rays on my life's road.

This takes time n' self nurturing,
 Visions occur by gentle invitation.

My road already exists innately,
 Awaiting discovery, not creation!


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Alternate Goal: Midpoint!

Usually we say, “The end deed is the earliest in thought.” With this phrase we justify how the lowest levels are actually the end goal of the creation or for that matter how the end of anything is the very goal of its process.

However, as much as I believe in this idea and subscribe to it, I am beginning to see another angle which might be equally true. I am not bothered much by “two truths”, as we already know that any truth besides the Creator Himself is somehow a relative truth. Hence, we have the Talmudic principle, “Both these and those are the words of the Living Divine Being.”

Perhaps, actually the middle of a process is its goal, with the end just serving as an extreme to provide the balance point on which the middle thrives. For example, in the temperate zone spring and autumn are usually the most comfortable seasons. Winter and summer are just the extremities which provide the balance, allowing for the nice weather during spring and autumn.

This reminds me of a discussion I had with my brother, a Kabbalist, some years back about which realm is the goal of the creation. Is it the spiritual realm of emanations or is it the earthly realm we walk on? Based on Kabbalah, he claimed that the realm of emanations is the goal. I was so entrenched in the idea “the end deed is the earliest in thought” that I couldn’t easily wrap my head around what he was saying. So I countered based on Chabad Chassidic philosophy that, having been created last, really the earthly realm is the ultimate goal of creation.

Today, I can appreciate that maybe the spiritual realm of emanations is somehow “center cosmos” and the earthly realm is merely the nethermost physical counterbalance to the highest spiritual extremes, allowing the realm of emanations to be the realm of emanations; who as any midpoint needs to be tethered by flanking extremes to exist.


One Tethered by Both

The practical n' mystical squabbled.
Each thought humans had to choose.
Each sought to be the dominant one;
Humanity's main inner guiding voice.
The mystical claimed, "Highest logic!"
The practical claimed, "Real results."
Around n' round they dizzily spun;
Gathered followers, bolstered ranks.
Till one tethered by both arrived;
Blending the two streams as one.
He discovered their shared soul.
He found it behind "highest logic".
What lay beyond its mountains?
A meta mystical terrain of prelogic.
The prelogical makes no sense,
For it transcends making sense.
From here, prophecy emerged,
From here, came forth scripture.
A new mysticism was identified,
A flow from a vastly higher level,
One which supports paradoxes,
Coexistence of opposite streams.
Often one needs to reach higher,
To reach lower n' all in between.


Friday, October 23, 2015

A Single Rose

A single rose, stately placed, speaks more louder than a dozen whose voices get lost in the crowd.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Upstream Flow

Free choice is on the move.
 It's direction, like a flowing river.

Today's choice, tomorrow's habit.
 Today's block, tomorrow's choice.
Your choice range matters less,
 Than maintaining upstream flow.


Potted Willows

So how do you like my willows;
 Potted, stately, supple n' leafy?

You think I'm crazy, "magnoon".
 I ought grow only what's useful!

Plants blossoming flowers,
 Plants exuding fragrances,
Plants brimming with spices,
 Plants delectable with edibles.

"What do you grow!", You demand.
 "I am growing potential", I respond.

Still you pester and protest,
 As if potential is "ever present".

I disagree, it's not effortless.
 Ever toil to fertilize the soil?

Soil is ripe with such potential.
 It becomes every tree n' plant.

Yet the soil must be prepared,
 With concoctions so nutrient rich.

A college grad's only a potential,
 A mere future professional in waiting.

Yet what sweat n' tears over years,
 Shaped so many potential careers?

A banker amasses much money,
 Look how he brazenly claws his way.

For what? He can't eat or drink it.
 It's not fabric for home or clothes.

It's only an elusive potential,
 Yet, he pays dearly in hot pursuit.

Often it's like a slippery fish,
 Escaping while firmly in grip.

You see, how much sweat n' toil,
 Just to bring life's potential to a boil.

Don't take my willows for a weed,
 For I sow a truly a valuable breed.

---------------~ O ~---------------

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

My Willow, My Baby

My inner date palm frond,
 My higher intellectual self,

My inner brightly lit citron,
 Balanced mind/heart self.

My inner fragrant myrtle,
 Best self, doing kindness.

My inner tender willow,
 Lacks taste or fragrance;

Still developing self, a baby.
 Potential filled, needs prayer.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Succot Reflection on Happiness

Happiness seems to come in two flavors: "just because" and "because of". The "just because" variety is beyond reason. It's simply inherent. If you are spiritually alight, you are happy, The "because of" variety requires a life situation prop. The prop could be a new friend, a raise, an accomplishment, a new idea, a date, a marriage, etc. 

The festival of Succot offers both flavors of happiness. It is referred to in the Torah as the "harvest festival". It's the time of the year when we sit amid a vast amount of bounty and thank the One Who gave it to us. We begin the Holiday happy "because of". 

As we continue the festival into the second night, we arrive at the "Celebration of the water drawing". Our sages remark that anyone who has not seen this celebration has never ever seen happiness at all. This celebration is sheer happiness with abandon! It's a happiness "just because".

(Though this water drawing celebration took place in Jerusalem's Temple while it still stood, countless Jewish communities do have Succot celebrations named after this celebration. I am sure that if one is properly tuned in, one can experience a  sheer happiness with abandon during one of these Succoth celebrations.)

To me the lesson is, that sometimes happiness works like a ladder. It's possible that one may first need to experience a happiness  "because of" before experiencing a happiness of "just because". Therefore, it's good to latch onto any reason to be happy, even if it feels like an excuse, because it may an opening leading further to purer levels of happiness.



Monday, September 21, 2015

Taste the Now

Your heart has a delicate tongue,
 Which can taste the subtle divine.

With a plentiful variety of tastes,
  They make for a very, very long list.

High on the list is a potent drop,
 A spark of the Messiah's own light.

Rebbe Nachman leads the way,
 Teaching us, "Live in the moment."

Be absorbed in God's gift of “now”.
 It’s the highest faith, a light so sweet.


Why Pride?

Why pride in writing a poem?
 I wrote an already written poem.

Why pride in financial gain?
 I earned already earned money.

Why pride in being someone's love?
 I wooed she who was already wooed.

Why pride in conceptual growth?
 I absorbed already absorbed ideas.

Why pride in my depth of prayers?
 I prayed already prayed prayers.

Why pride in helping the needy?
 I merely helped the already helped.

So why do I think I'm "doing"?
 It's the illusion of fragmentation.

So what's a human's accomplishment?
 To be a "willing" vessel for the King's use.


Stratified Fishing

We're immersed in a spiritual sea,
An ocean of varied stratified depth.
We inhabit a tiny earth realm,
An air bubble in midst of the sea;
A bubble of bare significance,
A mere drop in a vast watery enclave.
Can we reach outside the bubble?
Yes, not with hands, with our souls.
Shorter souls reach nearby strata,
While longer souls reach further out.
Each strata has unique species of fish,
Packets of light awaiting soulful grasp.
Those closer in are plentifully caught,
While those further out, rarely reached.
They're on reserve for longer souls,
Whose soul length extends out there.
They have special fishing methods,
But don't try them, unless you're them;
For any absence in soul length,
Will render their methods useless.
Best to befriend the longer souls.
Then they'll share their unique catch.
The taste may be second hand,
But still better than your own cuisine.
Yet don't abandon your own gatherings,
For they help you digest the higher fish.