The Kabbalah traces its beginning to the time of the biblical patriarch Abraham. In both written and oral form its wisdom has been carefully handed down from master to student, capturing the imagination of religious scholars and spiritual seekers for thousands of years.
In every generation there are men and women who seek to find the meaning of life through this ancient Jewish mystical path. By striving to unlock the mysteries of the universe and to align with the forces of creation, students of the Kabbalah attempt to make their way back to God.
The books that make up the foundation writings of the Kabbalah include the Sefer Yetzirah, or Book of Formation, whose first date of
appearance in written form is unknown, but whose oral teachings date back before the first century; The Sefer haBahir or the Book of Illumination first published in the late 12th century; and the Sefer haZohar known as the Book of Splendor, first printed in the late 13th century.
These books are part of a vital tradition kept alive over the centuries by dedicated spiritual seekers committed to finding answers to questions about the nature of creation, the Creator, and our place within the divinely ordered universe. Their goal is to uncover a mystical path to oneness with God through study of the hidden esoteric meaning of the Tanakh, the Hebrew Holy Scriptures.
One of the most important teachings of Kabbalah is that in addition to our Nefesh, or animal soul, which we share with all living creatures, each human being possesses a Neshamah or higher soul. Our higher soul can never be debased or corrupted and it knows everything we need to know about the universe and our place within it. It is a part of us literally touched by God, and it offers each of us the possibility of direct contact with the angelic world and the forces of creation.
The Kabbalah offers seekers from all faiths a path to the awakening of their higher soul based on an understanding of how our thoughts, speech and actions either elevate or degrade our nature. On this path, the Kabbalah teaches us the power of prayer by deepening our understanding of the true nature of prayer and its effect on ourselves and the upper worlds. Through the study of Kabbalah we come to understand that by strengthening our connection to the upper worlds through the act of prayer we align our spiritual essence, our own vibration with the vibration of the Eternal.
The Kabbalah teaches that this act of aligning ourselves with God is a process that takes place over many lifetimes. Before each birth, we are like a thread in a divine tapestry, a "curtain of souls." The thread of our existence is interwoven with the threads of the All. Descending from the One, we are born into separation and duality. This descent and separation is a painful tearing of the fabric of our existence.
Before our soul descends into the world, we know everything there is to know; we know all the worlds, our reason for being, our destiny, and our connection to All That Is. Then, at birth, an angel touches our lips and this knowledge and our intimate connection to the Creator is forgotten. Compelled by our need for survival, we are drawn inexorably into the stream of life, focusing all our energy on obtaining nourishment, maintaining our physical safety, and mastering our earthly environment.
The angel who touches our lips and causes us to forget does not completely erase our memory. Faint awareness remains of what we once knew. Living with this subtle awareness submerged within, we sense that something important has been lost.
At the same time, there is often an unreality about this sense of loss. What could be missing? How could we begin to look for it? It is like the buried fortunes in fairy tales. The treasure has been buried so long that talk of its existence seems unbelievable. Nonetheless, despite attempts to ignore or dismiss it, memory lingers of our soul's original state of oneness. Hidden but active, this memory exerts a powerful influence. All have felt its pull at one time or another.
To reclaim the treasure of our higher soul's forgotten knowledge, and to heal our original wound of separation, each one of us must embark upon a hero's quest to find this concealed and heavily guarded jewel. The journey beckons us, through many twists and turns, across moats filled with dark creatures and burning fires, to travel beyond the twin dragons of our ego's fear and delusion.
In most cases, this journey begins only after we have gone though the process of developing a separate sense of self, learning how to protect ourselves, physically and emotionally, from others and the world around us. Once this "growing up" takes place, our spiritual journey commences in earnest as each of us is drawn to make our way back, step-by-step, to a state of oneness and connection. In this process of awakening our higher soul, everything that has happened to us in the past and all that will happen to us in the future plays a role.
The rewards of our pilgrimage back to wholeness, and the awakening of our higher soul, include the priceless gift of uncovering our soulï¿½s unique individual purpose here on earth. It is one of the central teachings of Kabbalah that everything in creation has a reason for existing and each human being has a unique purpose on earth, even if it is not apparent to us. Each of us plays an essential role in the structure of the world. This is one reason why we must always have a profound reverence for all human life.
For most of us, unaware of our reason for being, life often seems empty and without meaning. Some question why they exist at all. Finding the answer to the question "Why am I here?" is one of the greatest rewards of spiritual growth.
Many, unfortunately, will succeed in forestalling their spiritual growth, with sad consequences. A stunting of spiritual development exacts a heavy price in physical illness and mental suffering. Regardless of our state of spiritual understanding, however, we are always married to the consciousness of the universe. Not metaphorically, but in a real way, we are interwoven with and inseparable from the Eternal.
The evolution of our spiritual consciousness is a continuous process of development, taking many lifetimes. We are born again and again in order to reach the full expression of our soul's unique purpose. This should not be confused with becoming a perfect being. As humans, living in the world of duality, perfection is neither possible nor expected.
In each life, our spiritual journey does not start from scratch, since we have our soul's lessons from countless lives lived before. We begin life in relationship to our past lives, with debts to pay, and rewards to reap. In addition, the consequences of our past lives influence us to act and react in certain ways, while at the same time, we are continuously creating new consequences from our actions during this life. In this way, nothing that we do, no matter how small, is without consequence.
Regardless of how ordinary our everyday reality may seem, each of us is on this sacred journey across our many lives. Unaware of this truth, most of us mistake the surface of our life for the essence of what it is to be human, but underneath, the real story unfolds––the yearning pulse of our Neshamah, our higher soul, quietly and persistently beats.
In the spiritual journey across our many lives, the destination and the Source are the same. Once we perceive our oneness with God, we understand that the Source points to the destination, and the destination leads to the Source. This is one of the many meanings of the teaching found in the Sefer Yetzirah that––The end is embedded in the beginning and the beginning in the end, like a flame in a burning coal.
© 2004 Shulamit Elson
Part 2 to be published in Mar/Apr edition.
SHULAMIT ELSON teaches the spiritual path of Kabbalah worldwide, to students from many different backgrounds and traditions. She is, also, a pioneer in the use of the sacred sounds of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life for spiritual development, prayer and healing. Author of the highly acclaimed book: "Kabbalah of Prayer ~ Sacred Sounds and the Soul's Journey "and book of poetry: "Brooklyn Bodhisattvas," she has also created CDs: Beyond Words ~ The Sounds of the Kabbalah and Vibration ~ Shulamit & the Drepung Gomang Buddhist Monks.
Shulamit is a frequent lecturer throughout the United States and at SoulSongs, her retreat center in upstate NY. Her journey from successful businesswomen to esteemed spiritual teacher is both fascinating and inspiring. http://www.SoulSongs.com