Torah and Tantra Parallel Paths to the Experience of God by William Blank The experience of God is the ultimate, peak human experience. It is tremendous and wonderful, a phenomenon which puts all other life experience into proper perspective. The experience of God is one which most humans yearn to have. Many people are willing to give up a great deal to reach it. Some will even sacrifice all other human goals - fame, fortune, family, knowledge and excitement - to reach it. Until the Industrial Revolution, there were relatively few experiences with the power to touch ones soul. Most of these were derivative of the spiritual: art, music, architectural design and literature existed to facilitate the experience of God. Now anyone can get a high power experience through anything from Bruce Springsteen to Bungie jumping. Yet the experience of God is still in a class by itself. Most everyone perceives a hint of awe or numinosity from time to time. People often describe a day walking in the woods or at the ocean as being somehow closer to God. The "experience of God," however, connotes something greater, more unusual, more overpowering. Very few people have such an experience more than a few moments of a lifetime. Within the Jewish world, there is misguided tendency to relegate all descriptions of the experience of God to a particular category called "Jewish mysticism" or "the Kabbalah" (literally, "what has been received.") However, the books which are ascribed to that category, such as the Zohar, Sefer Yezirah, and the Hasidic literature are part of the Jewish whole. These works are no less essential to mainstream Judaism's conglomerate whole than the Talmud, and their authors are no more or less "mystic" than the authors of the Talmud's "legalism." The experience of God is neither regression to preconscious infant experience, nor an acute psychotic event. Like both of these, it involves breaking the ego's normal boundaries and altering the distinction between self and other. However, it is also a distinct experience unto itself. There is a Jewish path to that experience. It is facilitated by the spiritual insights of Torah and the directed spiritual disciple of halakhah, the Way. However, any human experience is perceived through the body. We speak of "a fear in gut," "a pain in the ass," "a broken (or open or stolen) heart," "a lump in the throat" because those overworked metaphors rather precisely describe the experience as it resides in the body. The experience of God is no different. In most respects, we are no different from our ancestors who lived 5000 years ago. While our range of knowledge and experience exceeds their reality or imagination, in the deepest, most essential sense, we remain the same. Our bodies are identical to their bodies, our emotional make up is relatively the same. We feel love and anger, security and fear, compassion and violence, just as they did. Our hunger to learn and grow is much the same. While our intellect is more developed, we gothrough the same process of developing our natural talents. We are born knowing nothing, and spend our lives acquiring knowledge. Though our medical abilities give us a lot of power over life and death, we still need guidance in moral and ethical action, just as they did. Nor have we changed very much from our ancestors' drive to reunite with the Source of All Life. Within Jewish myth, it begins with the Abraham, the Primordial Ancestor who first experiences the Oneness of God. For all of our advanced contemporary technology and communications, the quest to copy something of Abraham's experience has not become much easier or quicker. Sacred technology is, for the most part, very ancient. Prayer, medication, dream interpretation, celebration and oracles have only evolved minimally in the last few thousand years. The Physiology of God Any human experience can be described in terms of the changes it produces in the body. The experience of stage fright, for instance, is a variety of physical tensions in the muscles. Performer feels the muscular tension and calls it "fear." The experience of love is the name we give a specific set of physiological responses: quickening heartbeat, increased adrenaline flow, heightened sensual and sexual responses. The experience of God has a set of very subtle but real physiological responses which accompany it. These have been identified and described through the ages by different sacred technicians of various cultures. In India and China, the physiologic structures which are effected by the experience of God are called chakras. In Judaism they are sephirot. Chakras and Sephirot The Indian chakras (Sanskrit for "centers") and Jewish sephirot (literally, "spheres") are essentially the same, although there are differences between the two systems. Each system describes the inner workings of the "God experience." They answer the question: "What happens in your mind and body when that experience unfolds?" The chakra system emphasizes the internal experience, while the sephirot emphasizes the physically transcendent, metaphysical nature of reality. In both systems the alchemical dictum applies: "As above, so below." The internal map is an exact replica of the external universal map. Our Western orientation tends to regard laboratory experimentation as the only means to learn what is happening to an organism. But the experience of God is rare and illusive. It is unpredictable and defies patterns of cause and effect. In the East, intuitive, introspective physiological observation is taken seriously. Eastern medicine considers a variety of energies which Western science has not yet observed, much less studied. For example, acupuncture is still a curiosity in the West, whereas in China it has been used for centuries. In the West, because its claims have not been measured, it is not yet considered a valid healing tool. Eastern physiology recognizes seven energy centers located in the body. Called chakras, they are psychic sense organs, the places where the sensation of energy is concentrated in any human experience. These chakras are mapped in a "lower to higher" configuration, with the lowest chakra found in the base of the spine. The second chakra is at the genitals, the third at the navel, the fourth at the heart region. Thefifth chakra lies at the throat, the sixth is between the eyebrows (the "third eye"), and the seventh sits right at the crown of the head. There is no system of identifiable anatomic structures in Western medicine which correspond to these seven locations, even though there is a tantalizing parallel between them and the seven endocrine glands: adrenals, gonads, pancreas, thymus, thyroid, pituitary and pineal. At any given moment, our psychological and physiological states can be described by evaluating the levels of vital energy at each chakra. In the normal resting state, our energy is concentrated a the three lower chakras. As we progress physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually closer to God, the vital energies shift their concentration to the higher chakras. This vital energy is called kundalini (Sanskrit, "serpent power"). It is usually described as a coiled snake dwelling in the lowest chakra, waiting to be awakened. Through yoga, meditation, chanting, exercise and other spiritual disciplines, the kundalini rises up the path of the spine, filling the higher chakras and opening new levels of human experience. Raising the kundalini is the psycho-physiological key to increased consciousness, and ultimately the experience of God. The Chakras The lowest chakra, the muladhara, holds the energy needed for locomotion. It is described as a disc of red light and is located at the coccyx or the base of the spine. It is the center of energy needed to meet the basic physical needs to move, to gather food, to escape danger. The second chakra, the swadhisthana, controls the sexual drive and is described as a disc of vermillion light. After meeting basic survival needs, the next most important need is preserving the species. The third chakra, the manipura, is the center of the ego drive, the will and desire for power and mastery. Located at the navel, pictured as a disc of blue or green light. In the Japanese adaptation of the chakra system, it is called the hara and is essential for balance, strength and grace in the martial arts. Our inclinations to lead and rule, to build and be in control are aspects of the manipura. The fourth chakra, the anahata, is the seat of compassion, love and unselfishness. Located between the breasts, it controls the heart and is perceived as a disc of red or golden light. It accounts for the feeling of "falling in love," as well as compassion, when "one heart goes out to another." Altruism begins in the fourth chakra. It is the gateway between the physical energies of the lowerthree chakras and the more spiritual energies of the higher three chakras. Each major approach of Western psychology has developed a deep understanding of one piece of the chakra map. Freud was the master of the second chakra. He saw all unresolved human conflict and feeling as extensions of sexuality. Adler was a master of the third chakra, interpreting all human problems as resulting from ego deficiencies and inferiority complexes. Jung was the first modern Western thinker to probe in o the subtleties of the fourth through seventh chakra experiences. He believed that psychic problems were the result of our inability to relate to the archetypal ideal, intrinsic to our species. The fifth chakra, the vishuddah, is located at the center of the throat. It is most frequently experienced as a "lump in the throat," signifying intense, overflowing love and compassion. It is also activated at those moments where we "don't know whether to laugh or cry." The vishuddah is perceived as a disc of violet light. Its energy controls the respiratory and auditory sensations, and it also allows for extrase nsory perception, psychic ability and intuition. The sixth chakra, the anja, is located between the eyebrows, in the place often portrayed in Eastern art as the "third eye." Perceived as a disc of intense white light, it controls all higher intellectual functions and is felt to control the secretions of the pituitary gland. Energizing the sixth chakra also causes the experience of the "astral body," the pure consciousness which is only loosely attached to the physical body. The experience of the "guru within," a "spirit guide" or "guardian angle" comes from sixth chakra energy. The seventh chakra, the sarasrara, is located at the crown of the head or a few inches above. It is activated at moments of highest experience of the Oneness of God. Connected to the pineal gland, this center is said to have control over every aspect of body and mind. Energy from this center is perceived as the "Great White Light." This light atop the head of highly spiritual individuals is depicted as halos in Western artwork. The purpose of yoga, meditation and other Eastern spiritual practices is to raise the kundalini from lower to highest chakras. This is difficult because of the body's physical armor. Tension in the muscles pinch off the flow of energy up the spine. Usually, raising the energy requires a deliberate physical, as well as spiritual disciple. Yoga stretches the muscles to break up the dams that restrict flow. Breath control relaxes the muscles. Meditation focuses attention so that physical distress can fade. The Sephirot As with the chakras, the sephirot designate energy centers in the body. There are ten sephirot. The third, fifth and sixth chakras each translate into two sephirot, a complimentary pair of harmonious opposites. The chakras are usually delineated from the lowest to the highest. The sephirot are usually counted from the top down. The sephirot are frequently depicted in the pattern of Adam kadmon, "archetypal human." Adam kadmon is both the blueprint for all other human beings and also the metaphysical pattern of the universe. The sephirot in th is configuration are referred to as the archetypal tree of life, the etz hayyim. The highest sephirah (singular for sephirot), keter, "infinity," sits at the crown of Adam kadmon's head and corresponds directly to the seventh chakra. It represents Gods' essence, the "Oneness-of-All." It can be experienced but its mystery can never be understood. Even the experience is only a hint of an Infinity beyond the realm of human experience. The second and third sephirot, hokhmah and binah, correspond the sixth chakra. Placed at Adam kadmon's right and left brain hemispheres, they are the primary qualities that pervade all the universe. Hokhmah is masculine, yang, active, pure abstract power. Binah is feminine, yin, receptive, pure intuitive power. They sit on the opposite temples, balancing each other in harmonious opposition. The fourth and fifth sephirot, hesed and gevurah, correspond to the fifth chakra. They are also a pair in dynamic harmony, at either sides of the throat. Hesed is God's nurturing love, but it sits beneath hokhmah. Gevurah is the power of God to move one to action, but it sits on the side of binah. Hesed and gevurah evolve from hokhmah and binah while they involve their opposites in their synthesis. Abraham and Sarah are said to archetypify hesed. Isaac and Rebecca personify gevurah. The sixth sephirah, tiferet, rests at the heart. It synthesizes hesed and gevurah into the experience of God as a "You," who can be approached and communicated with. Tiferet is both a funnel and a synthesis between the purely metaphysical sephirot above and the more earthly sephirot below. Tiferet is stimulated by the experience of the archetypes. Jacob, Rachel and Leah personify tiferet. The seventh and eighth sephirot, nezah and hod are another pair. Jointly corresponding to the third chakra, nezah is "dominance" and hod is submissiveness. They are usually depicted at either hip. As they are more enmeshed in the material world, they represent experiences which are more familiar to everyday life. At this level the harmonious opposites sometimes struggle together. The ninth sephirah, yesod, corresponds to the genital chakra. Although the figure of Adam kadmon is usually masculine and yesod is located at the penis, occasionally yesod is a fig leaf, suggesting an androgynous character. Like tiferet directly above it, yesod synthesizes the higher realms and funnels them. Thus yesod is the gateway to the spiritual realm from the material. Yesod's dynamic force impregnates malkhut below. The lowest sephirah, malkhut, translates to "God's kingdom," that is, the physical world which contains hints of the spiritual realm. Although malkhut is inert and lifeless without an infusion of spiritual energy from above, it is included in the fullness of God. This sephirah is also identified with Shekhinah, ("Proximity"). Shekhinah, a common Jewish name for God, stresses God's feminine, immanent aspects. Thus, God in the physical world is dependent on the spiritual activity of humanity for God's spiritual process to unfold. The Sephirot and Metaphysics The sephirot structure has three levels of meaning. Keter on the high end, malkhut at the base, indicate gradations in a continuum. First, this structure explains how God and humans are different ends of the same spectrum. Second, it concertizes the intuition that God is both transcendent and immanent and many shades in between. Third it indicates that our experiences of God are not the true reality of God. A simplistic reading of the Torah (or any other spiritual text) might indicate that God and human are separate from one another, that God is only experienced as transcendent, and that the experiences of God that Torah records are all that God is. A simplistic view of metaphysics, on the other hand, might claim that the human is God, that God is totally immanent, and that what we experience is all God is. The sephirot mediate these two extremes. The sephirot are part of every human experience. In an extreme form, a victim of a serious accident recovers and the next of kin experience hesed, God's loving nurturance. Were that same victim to die, the next of kin are consoled with an awareness of gevurah, God's justice inherent in the laws of cause and effect. In a less extreme form, an experience of the beauty of a leaf's veins is an expression of tiferet, interacting with malkhut. An awareness of the fundamental interaction of qualities in the universe, the dance of yin and yang, is an awareness of hokhmah and binah, the right and left sides of Adam admon. Tantra Eastern and Jewish traditions both draw their inspiration from the same universal archetypes. They translate the archetypal intuitions into the symbology of their respective pasts. One Eastern manifestation of the chakra system is Tantra. Tantra is a hidden, esoteric part of the Hindu and Buddhist traditions and is often denounced by their more orthodox teachers. Like more familiar aspects of these traditions, Tantra's teachings describe how to experience God through raising energy from the lowest chakras to the highest. However, some of its techniques involve overtly sexual activities. According to Tantra, the universe and everything in it is permeated by a secret power, emanating from the single Source of All Being. This power manifests itself in three forms: receptive female inertia, dynamic male energy, and the harmonious union of the two. These three forms of one power underlie every movement in the universe and every activity in the human organism. Through rites and rituals, the Tantric practitioner experiences the chakras in his or her body and identifies them with the chakras of the universe and the male/female polarity in God. In Tantra, everything in creation is divided into positive and negative, male and female, passive and kinetic, electric and magnetic energies. Every man and woman embodies a dominant side of the secret fundamental forces that control the universe. In order to experience God, the Tantric must, literally, join him or herself to the opposite manifestation of this force. When an intense physical union occurs between a male-electrical dominated individual and a female- magnetic dominated individual, the couple provide a conduit for cosmic force, which flows through them and into the earth. Thus, sexual intercourse is a serious religious ritual to facilitate the experience of God. In Tantra, sexual intercourse is practiced as meditation. Tantric texts are often "how to" sex manuals. However, rather than concentrating on pleasure, they detail the mental states to be achieved during sexual activity. The Tantric sexual act is a long, deliberate process requiring control of thought, breath and movement, Tantra maintains that properly channeled sexual activity is the fastest and most direct process for raising the kundalini up through the chakras. In other words, Tantra transforms sexual activity into spiritual experience. The object of Tantric sex is not to discharge primal lust, or even to make love in the usual sense of the term, but rather to participate in the essential male/female polarity of God. Nor is Tantric activity restricted to married partners. Tantric societies have religious functionaries, skilled in techniques which they teach their students. Torah and Tantra From the vantage point of Torah, Tantra may seem to be blasphemy, an abomination. Torah restricts virtually all acceptable sexual expression to marriage. Judaism does not make a common practice of describing specific sexual activities, particularly as a means of experiencing God. Torah specifically forbids Tantra-like rituals with sacred priest and priestesses (Deuteronomy 23:18) which were common among ancient Israel's neighboring cultures. The Hebrew Bible, in the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings, records a 1000- year- long struggle between Israelite religion and the Canaanite polytheism it supplanted. According to one statement in the Talmud, that struggle was due to the Israelites' infatuation with Canaanite sexual rituals. A great deal of the Talmud - the central repository of Torah's meaning - is concerned with sexually related matters. However, its tone is clinical and its concerns center on delineating legal status deriving from sexual situations. Although it never falls into the extreme antisexual attitude that characterizes Christianity, its attitude is far less than celebratory. Yet on closer examination, Torah and Tantra share some common insights. Judaism accepts sexuality as a normal part of human existence, and Torah recognizes the immense spiritual power which can be experienced through sexuality. The erotic love poetry of the Bible's Song of Songs has always been understood as immensely spiritual. At least one Jewish classic from the 13th century, called simply The Holy Letter (Hebrew, Iggeret Ha-kodesh) propounds a rich view of sexuality as a Divine creation. It states that "sexuality can be a means of spiritual elevation when it is properly practice, and the mystery greater than this is that secret celestial couplings unite according to a male-female pattern." Like Tantra, the sephirot system indicates that the human being is a replica of the universe. Both systems are aware that there is a male/female polarity active within the unities of the universe, the individual, and God, and that their conjunction is essential for any kind of growth. The conjunction of male and female is also of utmost importance because the soul (Hebrew, neshamah) of each individual has both male and female aspects. Prior to birth, the soul unites male and female aspects into one undifferentiated whole. At conception, however, the soul is divided into male and female parts which then take residence in separate bodies. Sexual union is the means to restoration to primal wholeness of two halves. It is the act of returning to one's state of origin. Torah does have a ritual sexual activity which serves to unite man and woman with God as they unite with each other, and this is the ritual of sexual union on Shabbat, the Sabbath. Sexual expression between husband and wife is actually demanded by Torah. The Talmud specifies minimal frequency of intercourse, usually once a week, but adjusted for age, health, occupation, desire and time spent away from home. There is also a strong recommendation that the sexual act take place on Friday night, the eve of Shabbat. The interplay of the sephirot embodies a male/female polarity. Malkhut, the material world, is feminine and is identified with Shekhinah, the feminine, immanent aspects of God. The other nine sephirot are collectively Kadosh Barukh Hu, the Holy Blessed One, which is male. On the even of Shabbat, the transition from male to female takes place within God. The first six days of the week are masculine-active, but on Shabbat the feminine-receptive predominates. At midnight on Friday night, the male and female become united within God in perfect undifferentiated wholeness. By imitating God and united male and female, humans have the opportunity to participate in the ultimate experience. In addition, this union of male and female is reflected in other aspects of Torah as well. A 16th century meditation that precedes the performance of many holy ritual acts is still included in many contemporary Jewish prayer books: "Behold, I am ready to prepare to fulfill this holy act of Torah in order to unify the Holy Blessed One and his Shekhinah by means of that which is most subtle and hidden within each Israelite." In other words, every spiritual activity unites male and female within godhead. Jung's description of the spiritual growth process, what he calls the process of individuation, involves three central aspects: the recognition and assimilation of the shadow energy; recognition and assimilation of the energy of the anima, for men, and the animus, for women; and the emergence of the Self. The shadow, roughly equivalent to Freud's id, represents repressed unacceptable desires. The animus or anima is the sexually opposite mirror image of oneself, what the man or woman would have been had each been born the opposite sex. The animus/anima forms the image of the opposite sex god/goddess within that we project onto every lover and opposite-sex archetype. Its recognition and reassimilation of its energy unleashes immense transformational experience. The Self is the Higher Self or the soul. Both Torah and Tantra provide a map for the immensely powerful reassimilation of the animus/anima and the experience of the emergence of the Self. This experience is perceived as the universal, archetypal, most intense experience of God. [Image] Rabbi William Blank is a hypnotherapist and spiritual guide in private practice in Sacramento, CA. He is the author of Torah, Tarot and Tantra: a Guide to Jewish Spiritual Growth from which this article is adapted. Top of Page Return to Newsletter [Image] Elysium Book Emporium