Jewish Yoga, or Abrahman Linkin'
I was actually married by a rabbi at a time when I knew next to nothing about Judaism, but the unfamiliarity and novelty of the ceremony made it all the more meaningful for me. I was immediately struck in a completely unexpected way by the wisdom and holiness embodied in the rabbi's words, and ever since then I have always included Judaism in my coonfused and polymonotheistic approach to Spirit. And I have taken the rabbi's words to heart, for I always try to avoid paying retail.
I forget who it was, but someone once said that Judaism is an esoterism masquerading as an exotericism. What they meant is that Judaism begins where the ancient mystery cults ended, with the revelation of the one true God. In the mystery cults of ancient Greece, the experience of the One was only disclosed to dedicated initiates who had demonstrated an ability to receive and assimilate the teaching. But in Judaism, this ultimate One is simply declared from the get-go. Now let's eat!
Nevertheless, it cannot be forgotten that the positing of this (beyond) One is not merely a dogma, but an experience -- an experience vouchsafed to Moses on Sinai, as well as others before and since. In this regard, it is not dissimilar to Vedanta, in that the Upanishads simply record direct encounters with the ultimate Mystery. Religions are organized ways of remembering and celebrating these encounters, but according to Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, "entrances to holiness are everywhere. The Possibility of ascent is all the time."
While religions formalize (and properly so) the entrances through which we may slip into these realms of experience, strictly speaking, they are always there. To cite just one obvious example, it is incumbent upon each Jew to personally have the experience of being liberated from enslavement to the death-cult of Egypt in the present moment. Nevertheless, most people require forms in order to enter the formless.
To become aware of these entrances into wholly liberation is to draw closer to the Creator. Allegorically, we enjoyed a continuous oneness with the Creator in Eden. However, this was not unity but oneness, something not really as lofty as unity, for unity requires our separateness from God, but then reconciliation at a higher, more complex and differentiated level, not a lower one of mere undifferentiated blending -- as children are first "blended" with their parents before becoming separate.
This gives human beings a special role in creation, as we become the link, or semipermeable menbrains, between God and creation -- but only if we meet the divine world halfway and are transformed by it herebelow. Again, according to Rabbi Kushner, returning to the source "means to unify the inner world and the outer world" -- that is, to unite the cosmos by actually bringing the upper world into the lower, and vice versa: "The name of God is the Name of the Unity of All Being." (Again, Unity, not oneness.)
In Vedanta there are actually "two" Brahmans, one called Nirguna Brahman, the other Saguna Brahman. Nirguna Brahman refers to the absolute, unqualified, impersonal divine essence itself, whereas Saguna Brahman is God with attributes, including the personal God (ultimately, of course, these are not two different beings).
As a matter of fact, this accords perfectly with kabbalistic Judaism, which posits the Ain Sof, or ultimate, unknowable, limitless and infinite Godhead. There is a God that manifests various aspects of itself here below, but an infinite unknowable Divine that is beyond all limits of name, form, or conceptualizing. For example, Torah may be thought of as the body of the unknowable God -- the bones, structure, blueprint, or DNA. It is a sort of Saguna Brahman, or God with attributes. (And this also accords with Orthodox Christianity, i.e., Gregory Palamas' distinction between God's essence and energies.)
According to Jewish tradition, there was both a written Torah and an oral one transmitted to Moses on Sinai. However, the oral one was partially lost, and had to be reconstructed by the sages on the basis of their study of the written Torah. While one Torah is written with black fire on white fire, the second Torah was written with white letters in the white spaces in between. This invisible Torah is "lit up" through the contemplation of a great sage in dialogue with the written one. As Schuon explains it, this clearly shows a kind of "vertical" gnosis operating on the horizontal continuity of the Torah.
Another legend holds that God gave the Torah during the "daytime," and the mishnah, or interpretation and commentary, at night. This latter can again be understood as a different kind of consciousness that is brought to bear on scripture -- a gnocturnal, dreamlike, or intuitive sort of consciousness that must be entered in order for Torah to disclose its hyperdense meaning to one who wishes to unlock its deeper secrets. While the Torah is literally infinite, beyond, time, space and eternity, mishnah is inexhaustible in a different, "relative" manner, in the sense that contemplation of the infinite Torah yields an endless bounty of wisdom in time. If Torah is the infinite ocean, mishnah is more like an endless river flowing out of it and back into it.
In other words, the sage inhabits the dialectical space between the infinite Torah and its inexhaustible expression of itself in time. Nothing is absolutely fixed, and there is no end to it. Yes, the Torah is Absolute, and yet, it has no particular meaning until a sage enters its world and particularizes it in time and space. This, I believe, is what it means to live in the desert bewilderness. Like Abraham, we are simply told to "go to a land I will show to you." This is that land -- or dimension. On the one hand, it is a world of doubt and uncertainty, and yet, on the other, it is a world of ceaseless truth flowing vertically through the Torah. It is to perpetually wrestle with God, which is the true meaning of Israel. Don't worry if you don't believe. Just keep wrasslin,' and you'll be fine.
The first law of Judaism is that (paraphrasing), "you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and and all your strength." This is remarkably similar to what is expressed in the Bhagavad Gita, which essentially takes the Upanishads and outlines its principles in the form of a dialogue between the avatar, Krishna, and a prince, Arjuna. There Krishna describes the various ways to God, that is, the different yogas, which include Bhakti yoga, Raja yoga, Karma yoga and Jnana yoga. Each is suited to a particular personality style, but they all have the purpose of helping us to transcend our own limited egoic framework in order to know God.
Bhakti yoga, for example, is the practice of heartfelt, loving devotion to God, or "loving the lord with all your heart." Jnana yoga is the yoga of intellectual contemplation, essentially identical to "loving the lord with all your soul" or mind. Karma yoga is the yoga of works, or activities in the world. In fact, "loving the lord with all your strength" has been interpreted to mean working "for God" with hands and body, doing something to make the world a better place. For many rank-and-file Jews, their practice is one of Karma yoga ("Tikkun"), while Christianity often emphasizes the Bhakti element -- love of the personal Jesus. But the point is that both Judaism and Christianity are all-purpose religions, and it is easy to discern all of the yogas in each.
The last yoga, Raja yoga, is the yoga of meditation, and it too is present in both Christianity and Judaism, although perhaps not emphasized enough. Properly understood, prayer is precisely a way to stand in your heart before God, expecting nothing except for contact and intimacy with the Divine. According to Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, prayer "is not only an articulation of certain words, but also a key and a sort of ladder on which a person may reach from level to level" toward the Divine.
At the highest level of receptivity, one may become an instrument of revelation, very similar to one who has recognized the Atman within. In Judaism, each person is believed to contain a divine spark at the center of his being, somewhat like a line of light between part and whole. As Steinsaltz describes it, this part contains the whole, but "the soul's essential wholeness cannot be achieved except through effort, through work with the greater whole." In other words, it must be realized.
In the Torah, God tells Moses that "you shall not see my face and live." Turning this around, it may be interpreted to mean that one must die in order to see God's face. However, this doesn't necessarily mean literal death, but the death of the ego's limited perspective of separation and self-sufficiency. Ultimate reality, or Ain Sof, means "without end," or utter nothingness. To achieve ego death means to enter this Divine Nothingness, which, paradoxically, is complete fulfillment.
In my book, One Cosmos Under God, there is a quote to the effect that sparks of holiness are imprisoned in the stuff of creation, and that these sparks yearn to be reunited with their source. Teshuva is the word for this urge to return to our source. Likewise, in Vedanta, all of our wishes, hopes and desires are really confused substitutes that mask the yearning of the Atman, our personal soul, to reunite with Brahman, the unitary source of all that is.
So when purusha comes teshuva, that's what life is all about.
These are wonderful books if you want to get a handle on Jewish esoterism in a remarkably accessible style. Although thoroughly Jewish, they are also, like Schuon, quite universal: