MENDING THE SOUL AND THE WORLD WITH MESSIANIC CONSCIOUSNESS
The body is composed of different organs and millions of cells. Each cell is a shell containing a soul-spark. The body itself is a physical shell for millions of soul-sparks.
Who "owns" the physical shell? Is this my body? Is that your body? And if it is mine, where am I? Where does the "I" live that owns it?
When we follow an inquiry of where, who, what, why, and how in reference to our "selves," it becomes a hall of mirrors that regresses into infinity. We are not our names. We are not our addresses or our telephone numbers. We are not our identities. We are something other than the person we watch as we brush our teeth. We are something more than the accumulation of experiences since birth. Indeed, as we pursue this inquire, we ultimately come to realize that this body is a caretaker for the source that gives it its light. Our body is not our essence, it is simply physical matter.
We call the accumulated sparks that give life to this physical matter the soul. However, the body does not "own" the soul; the soul does not belong to it, for the soul is simply a vital force that gives existence to physical matter. Just as each soul-spark of every living cell in our bodies make up that which we call our soul, so too do all living souls in the world cumulatively make up part of a universal soul. Indeed, Jewish mysticism teaches that the soul giving us vitality is connected to, and draws sustenance from, a universal soul.
One of the most important concepts in Kabbalah teaches that whatever happens anywhere in the universe reverberates throughout the totality of creation. It means that our lives are affected by what is happening everywhere; moreover, whatever we do in our lives affects everything in the universe.
Perhaps this sounds a bit pretentious. We often view ourselves as inconsequential specks of dust in a universe in which distances are measured in light-years, and the number of known stars exceeds the limits of our imagination. This sense of individual limitation is a natural outcome of our linear thought process. As we saw earlier, however, the kabbalistic approach is that awareness is a holistic continuum. Once we enter a holistic frame of reference in which all parts are complete and are replicas of the whole, then everything in the universe, by definition, is integrally connected.1
Whereas lower forms of consciousness have limited choice in the way their lives will unfold, human consciousness enters an entirely new level: It can commune with its source and it has the quality of free will. We can analyze and contemplate the implications of life and can freely move in a chosen direction. Thus we can engage in activities that we calculate will raise our consciousness and the consciousness of those around us.
Each time we do something that raises consciousness, we lift sparks of holiness to new levels. This is called tikkun ha-nefesh, mending the soul, and tikkun ha-olam, mending the world, bringing it closer to its source. Although initially the ideas of mending the soul and mending the world seem different, in reality they cannot be separated; we cannot raise sparks in ourselves without raising those in the world, and vice versa. Even more important, according to Kabbalah, the process of expanding awareness in ourselves and the world is the fundamental reason for our existence. In fact, when we make no effort to raise our own consciousness and that of the world, we abdicate our "humanness."
We can help ourselves and others in many ways. The Talmud says: "These are the precepts whose fruits a person enjoys in this world but whose principal remains intact for him or her in the world to come. They are honoring mother and father, acts of loving kindness, early attendance at the house of study, hospitality to guests, visiting the sick, providing for a bride, escorting the dead, absorption in prayer, bringing peace to fellow human beings...."1
Additionally, Jewish mystical teachings describe hundreds of other spiritual practices to mend the souls and raise holy sparks. In modern life, we often learn to cultivate negativity. Most radio talk shows epitomize this process. But the sages teach us that this separates us from humanity and God by psychologically covering our hearts with a thick membrane. We are strongly advised to avoid thinking negative thoughts or saying negative things about others. Rather, the idea is to cultivate positive states of mind. We can accomplish this in many ways: spend quality time daily in contemplation, meditation and prayer; live skillfully so as not to cause harm directly or indirectly to any form of life; be modest in our needs; be satisfied with our station in life; let go of pride and envy and be respectful of the needs of others.
Of course, these are ideas that have been around for a long time. As thoughts, they are noble. As actions, they are transformative. We not only live more harmonious lives, we bring the world ever closer to messianic consciousness.
The mystical side of Judaism has always been focused on the development of spiritual practices that carry an aspirant to ever expanded states of awareness. Greater awareness includes more caring about everything that exists: people, animals, plants, and all of nature. Along with greater awareness comes a new love and compassion for all beings. By definition, greater awareness means less self-identity, for the sense of self continuously dissolves as we merge into a vast interconnectedness of all creation.
In biblical times, the goal of this kind of awareness practice was prophesy. In talmudic times, the goal was to gain access to the mystical chariot so that one could dwell in higher realms of consciousness. In hasidic times, the goal was to annihilate one's sense of self in order to merge with God.
In our times, the goal of raising holy sparks is nothing less than the attainment of messianic consciousness for all of humankind. In this context, the individual can not be separated from the integrated whole, all thus the collective enlightenment of humanity is clearly as relevant as any focus on individual attainment. Thus, the practices we will discuss not only enhance personal development, they move the totality of creation ever closer to the goal of higher awareness.
THE MESSIANIC IDEAL
Although the messianic ideal was never mentioned in the Torah, the sages of the Talmud discuss it in considerable length. They say that seven things were created before the world: the Torah, repentance, the Garden of Eden, Gehinnom, the Throne of Glory, the Temple, and the name of the Messiah.1
This suggests that these seven features are pillars upon which the creation of the world depends. It also implies that as the seven things mentioned were created before creation itself, they are realities not limited by time and space.
Talmudic sages believe that the messiah symbolizes the end of evil. Discussions in the Talmud often center upon how things will be in messianic times.1
However, one sage, Rabbi Zera pleaded with everyone who calculated the coming of messianic consciousness, saying: "I beg you not to postpone it [by wasting your time and getting confused with conjecture], for it has been taught that three things come when you least expect them: messiah, finding a lost article, and a scorpion."
According to Rabbi Zera, as long as we are anticipating the messiah, our hopes and expectations might have the opposite effect.1
Rabbi Zera's subtle point is that we must be present in the here and now to attain a level of awareness necessary to attain messianic consciousness. Anticipation, by its nature, pulls out of the moment.
Actually there are two messiahs in Kabbalah, one from the lineage of Joseph and the other from the lineage of David. As with all mystical concepts, there are widely divergent predictions regarding how these messiahs manifest, how long they live and what life will be like when they exist.
Abraham Abulafia felt that the messiah represents the human intellect developed to its highest capacity.2
Rabbi Levi ben Abraham, who lived during Abulafia's time, compared the messiah of Joseph's lineage with the practical intellect, and the messiah of David's lineage with the speculative intellect.2
The Lurianic approach is that the messiah comes through the continuous preparation of humans who constantly raise holy sparks until the world ultimately attains a higher consciousness. At that time the appearance of a being who embodies all of the characteristics of a messiah will be the result of this new awareness rather than its herald.2
Luria's depiction is the context in which messianic consciousness has been presented in this book.
The old model of the messiah suggests that a savior will come in one of two ways: the world will be primed, or the world will be so debased that it will be on the edge of total collapse. In either instance, the messiah is the hope for the future.
These teachings suggest that the messiah is a savior. This savior has a presence that emanates peace which affects everyone and everything. A simple meditation gives us insight into what this experience might be like.
You may want to try this. Give yourself a few minutes, and imagine what would happen if the messiah were to come into the room. Reflect on an event of the past day or two, and imagine how this event might have unfolded had the messiah been present. How would you have acted? How would others have acted? How would you have felt? Close your eyes for a few minutes and think about this.
When we imagine the presence of the messiah, we typically think about things like more loving kindness, great gentleness, pure calmness, extraordinary peacefulness, deep understanding, infinite caring, enormous sympathy and so forth. The presence of the messiah is a dream hidden in all of our hearts.
The question we must ask ourselves, however, is this: "What are we waiting for?"
The new paradigm suggests that while waiting for something to happen, we are unbalanced because we are constantly "leaning into the future." Whenever we dwell on the future, we miss what is happening right now. As Rabbi Zera indicated, whenever we conjecture about the coming of the messiah, we are drawn away from the essential element required for messianic consciousness, which is to be fully present in the here and now.
It is not difficult to stumble into the pitfall of missing what is happening as we plan for the future. My dear parents, God rest their souls, took a number of vacations in their eldering years to foreign countries and sites they had dreamed about all of their lives. While traveling, anxious to be on time for connections, worried about hotel reservations and where they were going to eat their next meal, they were constantly preparing for what was going to happen. They would arrive hours before a scheduled departure, and often would not sleep the previous night for fear of missing the alarm. They prided themselves for never missing a train or airplane; but, of course, they often did not appreciate where they were. Only photographs after the fact brought them back to an experience, and even then they frequently disagreed about where the photo had been taken.
We all do this, in one way or another. We say to ourselves, "When I retire, I am going to have more quality in my life." "When the kids leave home, we will have time to really enjoy things." "When I finish this task, I will feel much better." We are leaning into the future, filling ourselves with hope.
These expectations for the future desensitize us to what is happening right now. We shut off, attempting to avoid the discomforts of our present experience by contemplating what we hope or expect to be a better future. But the truth is that although each nuisance in our lives eventually ends, a new one is certain to arise. As a result of ignoring this fact, many of us spend our lives in numbness and denial, waiting for the problems and difficulties of life to end.
Waiting is self-defeating. We have whatever we need. We may not realize this because it is often hidden behind veils, but as we peel these veils away through our awareness practices and our actions to improve ourselves and the world, we discover that everything we ever wanted is right here.
Messianic consciousness is not something that comes in the future, it is our intrinsic nature. It is our birthright, available to all of us here and now. Although obscured over the millennia by clouds of ignorance, its light continues to shine in the divine sparks at the core of our being. Despite the fact that it seems to be an ideal that is unreachable, the teachings of Kabbalah are that all we need do is make a place in ourselves for higher consciousness, and we will immediately be filled with new luminescence. As the Holy One says, "Offer me an opening no bigger than the eye of a needle, and I will widen it into openings through which wagons and carriages can pass."2