I first wrote this more than 10 years ago. It's part of a book called the PaRDeS I drafted back then. I'm working on republishing the book. But this contains much of the material that is in the book and I wanted to make sure I had it published somewhere to make it easier to find the material. Some of the links may not work because this is from an old webpage.
The Garden of Mysticism
Studying Kaballah in tandem with Buddhism is a real eye opener. Kaballah isn't just a 'received' esoteric teaching as an entry into a whole realm of fantastic literature. Even so I got into studying it as a skeptic, and that actually helped me. The ancient sages were cautious about Kaballah for a good reason. The Tractate Hagigah, opens up with the Mishna entry:
MISHNA: One should not discuss illegal unions unless there were three besides him, nor the creation unless there were two besides him, nor the divine chariot with one individual, unless he was a wise man and had much knowledge of his own. Every one who tries to know the following four things, it were better for him if he had never come into the world, viz.: What is above and what is beneath, what was before creation, and what will be after all will be destroyed. And every one who does not revere the glory of his Creator, it were better for him he had not come into the world.[http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Talmud/hagiga2.htmlEnter the treasure tower yourself. Explore its precincts; the Treasure tower is the universalist teachings of the Buddhas and sages of old. It is the purpose of teaching the Nirvana Sutra, the Flower Garland Sutras, and Lotus Sutra itself, and also the target of Sufi and Safed mystics. But while it is told in entertaining and fantastic stories, the reality it is about is our own inward reality and the "meta" reality of this world. Thus the stories are not always literally true, their truth is bigger than that.
One of the central stories of Kaballah and early Rabbinical teachings, is the story of the Four Mystics who entered Paradise, or the "Pardes". This story is told in terse and seemingly dense language. The story goes:
"Four Entered the Pardes, these are they:
- Rabbi Akiva Said to them:
- 'When you reach the stones of Marble do not say 'Water Water' for it is said: 'He that speaketh falsehood shall not be established before mine eyes.'(Psalms 101:7)"
- Ben Azzai gazed and died, of him Scripture says:
- "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his righteous.(Psalms 116:1-5)."
- Ben Zoma gazed and was stricken. Of him scripture says:
- "Hast thou found Honey? Eat as much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith and vomit."
- Akher cut down the shoots.
- Rabbi Akiva descended in peace.1"
In looking at the various religious traditions, I long ago asked the question. If religion is supposed to be a source of enlightenment, why is it so often a source of conflict? If it is supposed to be a source of wisdom, why is it so often a source of foolish or even self destructive behavior? After years of search, I found that the answers to that question were neither all that easy, nor all that complex. It turns out that the hardest part of seeking wisdom is in asking the right questions, and this question is one of the "right ones." The truth is, religion is meant to help us puzzle our way through life. The other stuff was just added to make the effort less difficult, more comprehensible and more entertaining. Unfortunately most people prefer fantasy and "flying" to sticking to the work involved. And their teachers sometimes don't mind letting them delude themselves as long as they keep getting paid. Thus religion, instead of doing what it was intended to do often leads to the opposite results from intended. I believe that this very brief story is an allegory about this very subject. Indeed there is a whole lot of wisdom packed into this story. Of which I'm just tapping the surface in this essay.
Exploring the answer is part of the purpose of this webpage, indeed this website. Both Judaism and Buddhism have "layers" of teachings and the more I learn about both the more congruent I find them. And both have abundant experience with the consequences of "religious error." Judaism has suffered multiple holocausts, and Buddhism was nearly eclipsed from existence several times and has been totally eradicated in places like Afghanistan. As I continue to explore the meaning of this story I find myself gaining a whole new appreciation for both the perils and meaning of religion in its broader understanding. Indeed part of the answer is the following in this quotation from Jung's "Answer to Job:
But] even the enlightened person remains what he is, and is never more than his own limited ego before the One who dwells within him, whose form has no knowable boundaries, who encompasses him on all sides, fathomless as the abysms of the earth and vast as the sky." (Par. 758)I came to study Jewish Esotericism as a follow up on my hypothesis that Nichiren Daishonin's critiques of Buddhist esotericism would also prove to be universal critiques that could apply to other religious traditions as well. This hypothesis turned out to be "true" but in a manner I never expected. Rather than finding "esotericism" simply an evil form of religion teaching magical thinking and messianism (or Guruism/Senseism/Maitreyism), I came to see the meaning and purpose of esotericism in a whole new fashion. And the key to this gate, the "key" to unlocking the treasure tower and entering it lies in understanding the message of this quite simple story.
Background: Universals and Peculiarities
As I followed various critiques of esotericism to their roots, I found there were certain themes that recur over and over again in all religion. The more I studied the more I saw these universalities applied not just to the truths, but also to the dangers and failings. In Buddhism the danger of Buddhism is expressed as the "Three Powerful Enemies." In Judaism this same warning is expressed with the story of the PARDES and the four rabbis who entered therein.
Joseph Campbell points out some of the universal themes of religion in his seminal work "Hero of a Thousand Faces". One of those themes is the theme of the"magical place", variously described as a mystical palace, paradise, a Garden, the 'treasure Tower". He claimed to not be teaching a religion of his own, but it was clear that he too developed his own religious beliefs. Dr. Tom Snyder points this out in his essay Perceptions, Joseph Campbell's Power of Deceit, where he says that he bitterly attacked Christian and Jewish Theology. Joseph Campbell saw the universality of his myths, and saw them as being more original and more "in touch" with the interior spirituality of people than the present day Judeo-Christian traditions. But of course, if that were actually unqualifiably the case, then one must wonder, why were they abandoned in the first place? Perhaps we can answer that question and also shed light on the strengths and weaknesses of modern religion as well as ancient religion in the context of explaining this story. Because these universal themes also include universal dangers.
The Perilous Journey
The tales that we tell each other are often those of seemingly magical struggles or fantastic journeys. Such stories are termed "myths" if they are purely imaginary or envisioned, and "legends" if they have some basis in an original person or fact. This tale of the journey to the Paradise, is an exacmple of the "mythic." It is such a story. To interpret it as a literal journey would be to mistake both the purpose of teaching it and what it is talking about.
Now I first saw this story was in the context of a book on Kaballah called "Kaballah and the Art of Being"2. I found that book while looking at some lovely and mystical paintings by Livne Smadar in my hometown of Savage. It was fascinating, and reading it led me to research this story independently. The author of that book offered complex expositions on the meaning of the story. But doing a little more research I've found a simpler and truer explaination for the story when I read that the PARDES is really an acronym! Applying a little bit of "Occams Razor" reasoning I've come to think that my hypothesis about this story is really a not so subtly coded message about the dangers of all forms of religious study and practice. They put it in terms of myth knowing that students would need to absorb it's message for themselves and might resist that message if they simply broadcast it in lectures like I'm trying to do. Those who studied the story, were expected to also be familiar with the biographies, works and words of the Rabbis mentioned in it. Thus the message was expected to be efficiently delivered.
Pardes literally means a "Garden" or Arbor in Persian, but was borrowed into Hebrew to describe the paradise of the Garden of Eden. This story would seem to be about entering that garden, but in actuality the "Garden"/Pardes, was really a Hebrew Acronym! for the four kinds of religious interpretation. Here is the acronym:For my purposes I add in the vowels: A = Allegory, E= Esoteric
Term Letter Term Meaning 1. P Peshat = Simple and often Literal meaning 2. R Ramez(Remez)= Metaphorical meaning, or "meaning hinted at in the text"(allegorical meaning)3 3. D Drash(derush) = Allegorical meaning, also "midrashic or homiletic meaning"(moral meaning) 4. S Sod = Secret, "mystical," or Esoteric meaning (anagogical)(Kanjin)
Mythos and Logos
The author, Karen Armstrong, writes in the book "The Battle For God":1
"We tend to assume that the people of the past were (more or less) like us, but in fact their spiritual lives were rather different. In particular they evolved two ways of thinking, speaking and acquiring knowledge, which scholars have called "mythos" and "logos".Her footnote cites a source from a Book by Johannes Sloek, "Devotional Language" that was translated by Henrik Mossin. And she goes on to say:
Both were essential, they were regarded as complementary ways of arriving at truth and each had it's special area of competance."Thus the visit to Paradise is the "Mythical" journey. And the story of the Pardes is a warning about the dangers of that journey. It is written in the preferred kind of language of it's time, which is the language of the "mythic."
Most texts can be divided into portions that are mythic and portions that are expository. The dangers of the elements of the acronym are the dangers of confusing the mythic with the literal (logos; logic, words, thoughts, reason). Supplementing texts are our own mystical journeys. These journeys use the language of "dreams" and Karen writes about them this way:
"Myth was regarded as primary; it was concerned with what was thought to be timeless and constant in our existence. Myth looked back at the origins of life, to the foundations of culture, and to the deepest level of the human mind. Myth was not concerned with practical matters but with meaning. Unless we find some significance in our lives, we mortal men and women fall very easily into despair.But this story warns us about the dangers of these mystical journeys and understandings. And these warnings are explained along with the stories of the four rabbis. The founder of the Nichiren School of Buddhism writes about this same subject this way(teaching affirmed by all the Buddhas)2:
"As to the second category, the teachings of [the Buddha's] self-practice, this refers to the Lotus Sutra, preached over a period of eight years. This sutra expounds the original mind of waking reality. However, because the beings were habituated in thought to the mind-ground of dreaming, the Buddha borrowed the language used in dreams to teach the waking reality of the original mind. Thus the words of the sutra] are the language used in dreams, but its intent is to teach the original mind, which is waking reality. Such is the intent of the text of the Lotus Sutra and its commentaries. If one fails to understand this clearly, he will surely go astray concerning the text of both the sutra and and the commentarial text."The crux of the issue of "mythos and logos" is that mythos should inform logos. Myth or "dreams" should inform our waking lives. We should not be dreaming while we are awake, nor confuse what dreams are trying to tell us with reality. Likewise stories told in mythic terms, whether myths or legends, are meant to guide us and so we are never compelled to interpret them in literal terms.
The Meaning of the Story
This story from the Talmud about the four Sages who went out to the Pardes (literally orchard); One of them gazed at the divine and went mad. Another one gazed and died. The third became an apostate, and only one -- Rabbi Akiva -- "departed in peace" and emerged wiser and more experienced. Is actually based on the hebrew acronym associated with the Persian word "Pardes". The meaning of the story, and it's use to us, hinges on this acronym:
Insight into the meaning
The meaning of the acronym is thus mapped to the story of the Pardes and the stories of the men/Rabbis (Teachers) who went inside of it. This subject is also congruent with some of the meanings, and warnings, of Buddhism. And expecially it is a clue to unlocking the warnings of the founder of the Nichiren School. This story is clearly a warning and a subject of meditation for people wishing to engage in religious study. It's message is meant to teach people on what to do, what not to do, and what the consequences of those choices are, in studying religion in general. Thus it is this story is a map for people setting off on religious paths. Someone compared it to Dante, and the comparison is Apt. Much of Kaballistic works read like the same mystical realm of Dante's Inferno.
Now the interesting thing about these four forms of expositions, is that all the religions teach them, but most try to "confine" their use to narrowly prescribed zones. For instance "midrash" refers to the first 1000 years of this millenia. You can't write a "midrash" now? Hmmm. At any rate I'm rewriting this webpage at this moment so if you read this you'll see a very different webpage in a few days.
In doing research into this story, the more research I probed, the curiouser and curiouser the issues became. I soon found links between Kaballah and heretical Jewish movements, then heretical Catholic movements and to magic, the occult, and to Buddhist Tantric teachings. Indeed the roots of Kaballah are found in ancient Jewish and Pagan mysticism, and it has antecedents and parallels both in Pagan mystery religion and in Gnosticism. And the causality of esotericism is clearly a one of grave peril.
All the while I've been researching this background the warnings of the story of the sages visit to paradise became clearer and clearer. Religion is a powerful tool in the hands of the wise, but in the hands of the foolish, it is fatal. That danger of fatality is not just to the religious persons but to those associated with them, and to the whole world.
To me the Acronym is actually a statement of a similar warning to one found in the Nirvana Sutra:
"Rely on the Law and not upon persons. Rely on the meaning [of the teaching] and not upon the words. Rely on wisdom and not upon discriminative thinking. Rely on sutras that are complete and final and not on those that are not complete and final."(See literal.html for more on this).
Entering the Garden of Eden, the Palace of the Divine, the Treasure Tower.
On first glance, it seems strange that such a story would be told in such vague terms. Did these guys actually visit the Garden of Eden? Wouldn't that be a wonderful fate? It's a Dante-esk story. What is the meaning of this story? Why is this story being told in the first place?
Well, as I found out during my little bit of research the meaning of all this hinges on this acronym, Pardes. The story is a layered warning and also a puzzle and a key to esotericism in general. The story is about the meaning, purpose and dangers of each of these forms of understandings of religious literature. All sorts of stories have been written and all sorts of sages have found meaning in these stories. People have treated Kaballah as a source of magic, as a source of practical wisdom, as something to get lost in, as an inspiration to believe in God and as an inspiration not to believe in a literal god. They have used it to justify everything from reversal of their Jewish Identity and "law" to fanatic devotion to religious laws and self-selected "Tsaddiks" (Righteous men). They have used it to deny notions like Reincarnation and to embrace them. Study of Esoteric notions derived from Judaism and it's gnostic Christian Child, has led to syncretic beliefs with other religions such as Buddhism, and it has also led to fundamentalism and religious chauvinism. Looking at this story with that understanding I suddenly realized that this story is at it's heart a warning about the dangers of all religious studies.
Who are these Rabbis?
I figured that maybe there was a one to one correspondence between the four rabbis and the four letters of PARDS. To unlock this story I would have to follow this story in relationship with the lives of these Four Rabbis and each of the terms involved. And indeed, the more I studied the more relevence the life histories of these four became. Instead of being a story I could understand with one simple reading I had to come back to it over and over again. To the point where the essay I was writing on which this webpage is based became larger and larger. To fully explain that story I'd have to study the Talmud. To master the Talmud I'd have to become a Rabbi. Oye Vey. A Buddhist Rabbi? And yet like any good story, the entire meaning is encapsulated in its title.
Rabbi Akiva I: Entering Paradise
Water WaterWhen Rabbi Akiva warns the others to be wary when they enter the Garden, and to not say "Water Water" when they see the stones of marble. That is the first warning about religious experience. It is a warning about the "mirages" (illusions) and delusions involved in religious experience of all kinds. Anyone who has experienced a mirage on a hot day, knows that it takes the form of water that is not really there. Mystical experience may or may not be "there" in the sense of being in the "mystical" or "divine" realm. But in it's mapping with this reality, "heaven" and "hell" only have relevence in respect to their intersection with the world we can experience day to day. Thus whether or not a mystical experience takes place in a dream or in "The other Realm" (Sitra Achra - other side, heavenly realm) that reality is only connected to this one through the minds of the people who make the journey. Thus this is first warning of the story is a salient warning for all who engage in religious interpretation. This is true whether one is interpreting text or entering a trance. Incalculable harm is done because of people mistaking the mirages of their interpretations or insights for the reality that is day to day. Thus the punishment for saying "water water" is death.
The other meaning of this expression is as a warning to not mistake either the abstract forms, nor the "vessels" (images) used to express those truths for the "water water." Water is a metaphor both within Jewish Literature and within Buddhism for "law" (Dharma in Buddhism, Torah in Judaism). When we presume that our understanding of "Torah" is complete, and we come back from our religious exploration firmly sure that we've had a vision of it and that our vision is the only "correct one" then our words may well be lies. Only "truth" is "established before my eyes." Anything asserted as "torah" must be actually true or it is not actually "torah". To often teachers assume that their own opinions are the Law, when in fact, they are merely their own opinions. In doing so they are telling lies.
The wise learnAnd Rabbi, Akiva is the one who gives these warnings, because according to the story he had been there before. Who is Rabbi Akiva? According to the legend he started as an ignorant shepherd. He fell in love with his employers daughter, Rachel, and she agreed to marry him on condition that he studied "Torah" (Law/the Hebrew Dharma). According to the legend he was already forty years old and figured that knowledge would only penetrate his mind when he came upon a stone which had been worn away by water. According to legend he died at the age of 120 as a martyr reciding the Schema (praise to God).And of course as you read more and more about Rabbi Akiva and the holocaust of the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Romans you find out that this story indeed is something that it is fruitful to "struggle with" (Reshit)
Also accoring to legend Rabbi Akiva, because of the age at which he had started, and his "earthy" roots, was resistant to this. Thus his story represents the importance of teachers being rooted in reality. He studied Torah, not because of intellectualism or lofty dreams, but because he loved a beautiful woman and wanted her to respect him. Thus he was not shaken by fantasies or illusions. He could wander in the realm of religious studies without mistaking the experience of a vision of water for actual water. Thus he could issue the warning about "water water" to the others and come back from the experience whole and intact.
Teachers are often destroyed by religion. They come back from glorious experiences with Glorious fantasies and delusions. This is danger in all four means of textual understanding. Thus each of the Rabbi's stands for one of the methods of understanding. Thus the story is a reinforcement of the dangers and joys of the acronym formed by the letters of the Pardes. When you see a metaphoric "water" while embarked on a mystical experience it is like a mirage. It isn't the same as real water, even if the words are the same or it has similar properties. When you gaze at the wonders of mystical experience, you need to be prepared to return them to the real world. This story is meant to do so.
Peshat -- Literal Meaning
Rabbi Akiva also represents the joys and perils of studying religion, even if one only understands the literal meaning of what one is studying. And also the kind of "salt of the earth" wisdom that is needed to be able to engage in the other forms of knowledge without getting "lost" in them. Because he was grounded in reality, he could take joy in the literal meaning and his literal beliefs without fanaticism or being closed to other understandings. He could journey into Paradise without getting lost.
The danger of literal understandings, is that while sometimes the literal meaning of a text is the superior meaning. Sometimes the text was never meant to be interpreted literally. Interpreted literally such a text is made into a lie when it is not one. Thus the warning about "Water Water" is a warning about differentiating between the literal and metaphorical meaning of religious texts and experiences. People who attach to the literal meanings of things often become utterly crazed. For instance, they think that the story of creation had to be literally true to be taken as truth. The Kaballist, or the person familiar with religious inquiry knows that that story is true to the degree that it is truly interpreted. The wise teacher knows that both Darwin and the story of Adam and Eve can be true, in different senses. If a religious text seems in discrepancy with reality, it's not reality that is fault, but the interpetation of the teacher or student that is at fault. When people attach to a teacher and believe everything a teacher says they are trusting the power of the teacher's interpretation. When those teachings are interpreted out of context, they are the literary creation of the new teacher, even if they are the words of an old teacher. (See literal.html for more on this). People who assume that a divine text is to be interpreted literally, or that a particular interpretation is to be taken as authority simply on the word of a school or a tradition, are making assumptions. ASS-U-ME is an acronym that traps literalists into untruths. Rabbi Akiva knew this danger and that is why he warned that anyone who would say "Water Water" when approaching a metaphor is committing the sin of lying. Thus the warning:
'He that speaketh falsehood shall not be established before mine eyes.'Those who misinterpret teachings and the words of prophets may be establishing their own "prophesy" using their own interpretations of those words, or they may simply be putting the words to a lie. As stated before "water" is also a metaphor for law, and this is an admonition that only the "truth" should be accepted as "torah." That truth has to be grounded in reality and not the other way around.
Stoning or reinterpreting?The Torah teaches that a false prophet should be "stoned." However, a "prophesy" is a "vision" of the future that draws on deep layers of the subconscious. A vision is like seeing something in a flashing thunderstorm. The image is brilliant but not detailed. (See Blind man and Elephant. Thus prophesy touches deep layers, not just in the prophet, but those who come accross that prophet. The kind of understanding that is "prophesy" is termed in Hebrew and arabic as Zot.
Whether a prophet is false or true depends partly on whether his vision is true, and also on how those prophesies are interpreted. In a sense any vision can become a prophesy. It was pharoah who had the vision of the seven lean years and seven fat ones. It was Joseph who had the wisdom to correctly interpret that prophesy. Thus if a prophesy is made into a lie by a later teacher, that is not necessarilly the fault of the prophet. At the same time incorrect visions should not be "established" either.
When religious interpretation is weak or biased, it may be time to reinterpret that vision. Indeed it is entirely appropriate to redefine religion in the face of changing facts. A story that is true in an allegorical or metaphoric sense doesn't depend on it's literal veracity for it's timeless truth.
Any other course will debase those who follow them. We can't stone long dead prophets such as Nostradamus or Jesus, but we can reinterpret them differently as the ages pass and their teachings either apply or don't apply. Interpretors who refuse to acknowledge the reality of context and times in teachings are making the mistake of "saying water water" when what they are actually seeing is the mirage of their own subjectivity. It's not the bibles fault when people interpret genesis literally. It is the stupidity of teachers when they insist that the world has to be only a certain age, flat, or that "God" literally did any of the things told in Genesis. When one realizes that one can interpret things with real wisdom. Indeed it is said about one of the disciples of Ben Akher, that he would listen to Ben Akher's teachings, eat the "fruit" and spit out the stones. And in the celebration of Safed, that is the symbology of the prunes and other pitted fruits served.
Thus when one realizes that the time has passed for a teaching, or that the teachers saw things in a limited manner, then one either has to reinterpret it or one will be judged by the truth or falsity of one's own interpretations. And "God" will not establish lies. When people come to believe that teachings are the literal word of God (or Buddha) -- a priori -- and thus are infallible, they are violating the spirit of this injunction and betraying the integrity of their own beliefs. Such folk by seeking their literal reality when an interpretation or allegorical meaning is intended, contradict reality and make fools of themselves and their followers. This is worse than a "sin" it is a heavy cause of human misery. Thus both Derush and "Sot" interpretations are not only filial to the original teachers, but a commandment if one is not to make the mistake of "mispeech."
The danger of "Literal interpretations" lies in people turning the literary answers that are in texts, oral teachings, or myth, into literally true science. Not realizing (or accepting) that even a book written by God, is still being transmitted through very human sources, people thus debase their own religions. When they insist that they are the living words of God they thus miss what those words mean or point to. They confuse the metaphoric "water" of law with a literal water. As some would say,
"God transcends all earthly similes, and therefore the spiritual path entails letting go of all attempts to tame or rationalize spiritual reality."Interpretation cannot be valid unless one approaches it in it's appropriate spiritual context; time, place, audience, and circumstance of authorship. Teachings are meant to help us understand reality not substitute for it. Every human being interprets what they read whether they realize it or not. Thus if there is a fault in what one sees when visiting the "world of spirit" the fault is not in the vision, but in the visionary. We should beware of saying "water water" when we are discussing our understandings of life.
Literal understandings must be grounded in common sense and reality. Magical thinking and superstition result in "gazing and dying." At the very worst, people who are literalists are betrayed by evil teachers or evil assumptions into doing evil in the name of religion, such as flying airplanes into skyscrapers, blowing themselves up in the name of God, or shooting "evil persons" targetted by their teachers as evil. The paradox of evil is that it is based on the arrogant notion that humans can be accusers (That word is translated into Hebrew as Satan) of others.
This danger of reifying "Peshat" is found in all religions based on ancient texts. It was a danger in ancient times as well as the present, but there is much less excuse for it in our present age.
All preachings were preached for specific reasons. Failure to consider this results in people misinterpreting texts. Even the underlying meaning of a text can change with time. For instance, it is obvious that stories even in the Pentateuch were edited, because it turns out that the custom of "handmaids" did indeed characterize a certain ancient time. Some of the editing in the bible seems to imply discomfort with that notion due to later different standards. Thus we have to be aware that most texts have been edited over time, and it is rare to receive the pure inspirations of a teacher without such editing. nderlying situation changes, but the text often remains the same.
Thus even the literal meaning of a text often hinges on the times to which that text has been transmitted and how people understand such teachings. Even texts transmitted directly from "God" or "Buddha" are transmitted through human beings. Understanding of those meanings changes over time. For instance in some languages a word that originally meant say "young girl" can diverge in it's "child" cultures to mean opposit things like "prostitute" in one language and "virgin" in another. Thus studying texts, one has to be somewhat fundamentalist in spirit and seek their original meanings and the context of those meanings or one can become lost. A certain amount of interpretation is part of even "literal" understanding. The Rabbis of early Judaism also believed that of all the understandings the "literal text" was usually the most important one. For that reason they tell this tale with him being the only one who gets away "free."
When you look up the story of Simeon Ben Azzai, you can see why the story says he "gazed and died". My "Dictionary of Jewish Legend and Lore" says about Ben Azzai that he devoted his life to the study of Torah, never married, and is quoted as saying; "My soul only desires the Torah" and "the punishment for sin is further sinning" and the reward for keeping the Torah is being able to keep further commandments.
Thus Ben Azzai represents the joys and dangers of seeking understanding of religious texts. He was so enraptured with his study of Torah that he never married. According to the legend he "gazed and died".
Ramez -- Metaphorical Hinted Meaning
Ramez is the hinted meaning of text. It corresponds to what medieval Christians referred to as the allegorical meaning of texts. The purpose of allegory is to find meaning by drawing concordances between a teaching and reality. Most texts were written for a purpose, and the "literal meaning" is often secondary to the intended allegorical meaning of the referenced text. Allegories have a purpose. It is part of the method of "interpretation" that allows us to understand religion.
Precious in the Sight of the Lord
Thus the comment; "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his righteous.(Psalms 116:1-5)." is also a comment about those who enjoy interpreting religious texts and drawing out the metaphorical or hinted meaning of texts. Ben Azzai had a precious gift, which he shared with others. This is the great joy of interpreting religious text. The peril, is that those who do so often loose their grounding in reality. They seem to float above this world, but in the end they "die". According to the legend he was engaged to marry Ben Akiva's daughter, and never did. He grew spiritually, but without offspring, he left no legacy of his own. Thus those who enjoy metaphysical and mystical studies for themselves, often "gaze and die." That is one reason why study of Kaballah or Jewish mysticism was forbidden to young persons or unmarried persons.
The joys of such understandings are only useful when they are shared with others and transmitted to future generations. The history of people who have reached spiritual heights is that they have often been unable to transmit those insights to others. They never left the Garden. Religion is only useful when people "come down from the mountain" and teach what they've learned from the "divine realm" to others.
Rabbi Simeon ben Zoma is said to have gone mad when he entered into the "Pardes". He is said to have "gazed and was stricken." This represents the dangers of esotericism to the practitioners sanity. It is the danger of getting so lost in the hidden or occult meaning of religious experience that one looses all grounding in the real world. This was the other reason that Jewish Rabbis wanted their students to be fully grounded before "entering the Paradise" of religious study and mysticism. It is possible to become "stricken". To actually become crazy. The powerful images, and experiences, can quite unhinge one if one comes to believe that their reality is more omnipresent and real than the real reality of one's grounded existence.
To me the warnings given to Ben Zoma, are admonitions about the third of the four methods of interpretation:
Drash, Derush -- Homiletic Meaning
Derush, or homiletic meanings are the "moral" of the story being told. The Medieval Christians referred to this form of understanding as "moral" interpretation. They are the lesson a teaching is intended to teach. This is also the function of "Midrash" or oral torah. The purpose of teachers and teachings is to illuminate reality. Mythos is meant to inform our "logos" of day to day existence. We are meant to get sustenance from religion. It is meant to inform and save our ordinary lives. When Jesus tells us the story of the Prodigal Son or the Good Samaritan, he wasn't telling us about any literal personages. Much of what is in most religious texts is of this nature. The original text was often edited in such a way as to emphasize the spiritual and moral lessons sought within them.
Thus the saying:
"Hast thou found Honey? Eat as much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith and vomit."Is a warning of the joys and dangers of interpretation. The Rabbis who created Judaism used the "techniques" of interpretation, metaphor, simile and allegory. They claimed that the literal Torah was supplemented by a verbal or oral Torah. Thus that there was an oral heritage that was needed to interpret Torah for people's benefit. Thus they could take a prohibition of boiling a lamb in it's mother's milk and make an entire body of rules (Kasrut) about ritual purity of food and drink, so that Jews can't eat milk or cheese and non-fish animals at the same time. Or eat Pork. Light a light on Friday night, or any of a host of other activities prohibited by "God." And yet the Rabbis could interpret such rules so that there could be loopholes under certain conditions. Thus Jews will put a wall around their cities so they can walk further on Sabbath. Or prepare certain foods. In Spain they could even eat Pork if it was a prescribed medicine rather than "food." This "oral law" was denied by their rivals who preferred the written law and their own (originally priestly) authority. For the Rabbi's interpretation was a joy as well as a duty.
Thus the story of Ben Zoma is a warning that just as we need to ensure that we can tell the difference between spiritual visions of things and those things themselves, so we need to be careful to keep our feet on the ground while we immerse ourselves in deriving wisdom from texts and interpretations. Many teachers interpret texts in such a way that is either dark and forbidding, or that is useful to everyone but themselves. They become so full of the "poetry" and imagery of religion, that they become "stricken" in the real world. We all know people who are like that. On the bright side they are the Don Quixote's and the St. Francis of Assisis of the world. The people who actually try to live the teachings they hear from others. Such people can either become "stricken" like Ben Zoma or just plain die like Rabbi Ben Azzai.
The Sotah says of Rabbi Zoma "When Ben Zoma died there were no more expounders." And Ben Zoma is quoted with many wonderful metaphors such as:
"Who is a mighty person?"
"One who can control his emotions and make an enemy a friend."
- Or from another source:
- Who is wise?
- One who learns from all persons, as it is written, "From all my teachers have I gained understanding." (Psalm 119:99)
- Who is mighty?
- One who conquers one's evil impulse, as it is written, "He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules over his spirit than he who conquers a city." (Proverbs 16:32)
- Who is rich?
- One who is happy with his portion, as it is written, "When you eat the labor of your hands, happy will you be and all will be well with you." (Psalm 128:2). . .
- Who is honored?
- One who honors one's fellows, as it is written, "Those who honor Me, I will honor; but those who scorn Me will be despised." (I Samuel 2:30)
"Hast thou found Honey? ...lest thou be filled therewith and vomit."Rabbi Zoma was chosen as the one who became too full with "metaphor" in the Pardes to get this point accross to those already initiated to the Rabbinical teachings that this story refers to. The story is meant to point to both the joys and dangers of metaphorical understanding and expression, the basis of the "homiletic" interpretation known as "Derush" or Midrash.
Another way of looking at this passage, is that a person can become so enamored of religious study and practice that he can "enter paradise" and never return. One can become so enamored of the material that one spends all one's time consumed with it. It is a genuine delight to learn from literature. But one can start to think that that reality is more real than the real reality.
The best example of how religion and literature can make one mad is in the story of Don Quixote. He read the courtly literature of his time and lost the ability to distinguish between a Giant and a Windmill. When Ben Zoma went mad, this was a warning about keeping your feet on the ground when studying religion. The stories are stories. We don't always know how literally true they are. They are meant to be read for their content. One can get lost in them, and the result is that one can be a kind of crazy-fool wiseman, like Don Quixote. Like Ben Zoma. One can become so "full of honey" that one vomits it instead of sharing it in measured doses. People can only understand so much at one time.
Akher (Rabbi Elisha Ben Abuyya)
With the story of Rabbi Ben Abuyya, the story of the Pardes begins to get more interesting and also more relevent to our own times and to the issues that propel our times. Ben Abuyya "cut down the shoots" while Ben Akiva descended in peace. To me, this passage relates to the fourth method of interpretation:
Sod -- Hidden Meaning -- The Occult
Sod, Zot in Arabic, anagogic meaning in Christianity, is the hidden spiritual truth to be found within spiritual questing. Buddhists called this sort of understanding "Kanjin" or "mind discernment" and some Tendai Monks even claimed that that sort of understanding was superior to the literal understanding of texts.
Those who have made such mystical journeys often did so in the context of seeking "magic," "The Occult", or "power." It was for that reason that such teachings were usually forbidden to the uninitiated. The teachings of Jewish Mystics that are generally bundled as "Kaballah" were often associated with magic and secrecy. For Orthodox Jews one wasn't permitted to even study them until one was of a certain age and possessing a family. For many the "magic" and fantastic elements were the very thing that drew people to the "mythic" elements of religion in the first place. Seeking hidden meaning for themselves they also sought mastery over themselves and others, and found that mastery in magic formulas and incantations, totems and other things that they invested with power. Great Rabbis were said to have created "Gollems" or practiced other magic using the power of "Hashem" (His name-- the name of God). Ben Abuyya was not the only one to confuse the power of the "mythos" with magic.
Similarly, for Buddhist monks, mysticism took the form of various teachings ranging from the relatively simple ones of Zen to the complex esotericism ofShingon(founded by Kobo Daishi, Tendai-Mikkyo taught by Kobo's virtual disciple Jikaku Daishi, and Tibetan Tantra. The teachings of Tantra, resemble those of Kaballah, which resemble those of Shaman and mystics everywhere. For even the initiated they are dangerous. But the question one asks is what are the dangers and the hidden pleasures that draw people to them?
To me, the story of Ben Abuyya is a warning about what happens when we have religious insight and start to think we've "got it figured out." It is all too easy to take literally what one learns, or to "reify" the images and notions one finds in religion. It is also easy to become arrogant and to think that one has mastered all reality because one has mastered a few secrets about reality. The results can be as disasterous for everyone as excessive literalism or "never coming down." Worse, people who achieve such partial understandings can come back and find themselves revered as if they are real sages and gurus. One tends to mistake the allegory or simile for the real thing.
The danger is found in the word "Occult." There is a tendancy in the human nature to "magical thinking" and that kind of thinking tends to undermine the very reasons for spiritual journeys or seeking religion. Where religion seeks to "bind together" (religiere) people into a community of brothers and sisters, the occult by it's nature is concerned with secrets and power.
According to the legends. Elisha Ben Avuyah saw the "Metatron" in heaven. According to the legends, when he returned he "denied there was any reward for keeping the commandments, indulged in ...sexual acts, and publicly desecrated the shabbat." (Dictionary of Jewish Literature page 70).
From these early Rabbis came what was eventually credited with the teachings that came to be known as Kaballah. Kaballah developed with a number of great books culminating in what came to be known as "Lurianic" Kaballah founded by Isaac Luria.
Between 1626 and 1676 Shabbetai Zevi transmitted those teachings to Islam and founded the "Doenmeh" schools in Turkey. He is credited with being a "failed Messiah" and with some of the same behaviors attributed to Rabbi Akher. Between 1726 and 1791, a follower of Shabbetai Zevi, named Jacob Frank, transmitted virtually the same teachings to Christians and founded the "Frankist" who eventually were the spiritual fathers of the Rosicrucians. Shabettai Tzevi's group, the "Doenmeh" and the Frankists, were alleged to have engaged in prohibited sexual acts and to have been "heretics." Because of the example of people like Shabettai Tzevi or Elisha Ben Avuyah, Jewish Rabbis either outlawed the study of Kaballah or restricted it to older persons. They admit to this day that they broke "hallucha" or Jewish Commandments (600+) and to this day they eat a piece of prohibited meat as part of a ceremony to mark their independence from strict following of Hallucha.
These teachers saw something so unique in the teachings of Kaballah and Judaic esotericism that they willingly gave up their membership in the Jewish Community to join the "Gentiles" who often were also oppressing them. When I first read of their behavior I saw traitors and the "Devadatta"/Judah paradigm. But as I research it I find there is more involved. These people actually represent special cases. They see themselves as "teachers" and syncretists, not simply as rebels.
Indeed these teachers may have transmitted ideas of the Lurian Kaballah to the rest of the world, but they also created a class of "Marranos" who were neither fully Jewish nor fully Catholic or Moslem and who were distrusted and feared by people of both faiths. Sometimes with reason, for the stresses of a "dual" identity are also stresses on belief in anything. Strangely their successors have ranged from Ataturk to Aleister Crawley to Joseph Campbell and the Rosicrucians.
These teachers transmitted both the bright and the dark side of Esotericism. On the bright side, the mythos of Kaballah informs much that is positive or redemptive about modern religion. The dark side is found in the black "magic," augury and dark theories and understandings of teachers such as Nostradamus. Nostradamus, Who was a teacher of Jewish origin whose grandparents had converted to Catholicism. He used his knowledge of the bible, of Kabbalah and the occult to write predictions, which some still see as salient to our own times. Ultimately Kaballist teachings influenced occultists such as Aleister Crawley. Through Aleister Crawley it influenced the ideas of L. Ron Hubbard and the rise of Scientology. The story of Rabbi Abuyyah contains warnings that relate to them all.
- For more on them there is a book:
If you watch religious teachers at work, past and present. They take their teachings and they interpret them using metaphor and simile. Sometimes they see hidden meanings that just aren't there. Thus the "end of times" is interpreted to mean now. The "signs" of those times are interpreted to mean this or that natural disaster, war, or other behavior of man. And often such teachers will point to this or that person as "Satan." This sort of madness is in the attack on Salmon Rushdie, and also in some of the characters of his stories. It is a danger of the religious teacher, and of anyone who gets lost in literature.
The West has taken to Kaballah as a source of magic. It is only recently that they have seen it as a source of wisdom. The power of "Hashem" -- words of power -- True Words -- Shingon -- has been sought for power over the real world, and thus people have deceived themselves. By thinking that Buddhism was about Power, Devadatta deceived himself. By learning Kaballah or other teachings for their occult, secret meaning, teachers like Alleister Crawley and others have deceived themselves and others. People have used their Journey to the Pardes, to instead of teaching and instructing others, to rule and bind people to their will. Thus all over the world Gurus and Mystics build followings on teachings that come from the same well, while guarding and hiding their sources, or claiming that the source was their own mind. Thus we have a thousand people claiming to be Buddha, Maitreya, Tsaddik, Rebbe, Great Guru, Universal Mentor, Sensei, reincarnations of this or that Bodhisattva, etceteras. And all of them tend to deceive their followers into thinking that somehow they have a secret wisdom they can't have unless they follow them blindly and have faith in their teachings. Even if they don't start out this way, their protestations of humbleness are simply taken as proof of the divinity of their teacher by fawning and synchophantic followers. By engaging in magical thinking people give this "voodoo" a power it doesn't deserve. They give it life and death power, when the life and death power it holds is the life and death power that we all have within us. Ultimately the "Pardes" is a mystical journey we all make each night as our heads hit the pillow, and we can learn from that journey only when we wake up in the morning and are transformed inside by the experience.
Water Water and Magical Thinking
The Jews of Rabbi Akher's time fought the Romans bravely, but futilely. They fought gamely, but just when victory seemed possible were felled by great plagues and illness. For that reason one of the festivals in the middle of the "Counting of the Omer" remembers Rabbi Akiva's 20,000 disciples, who perished for their sins. The magical thinking of the Zealots led them to not only be crushed themselves, but to see millions of ordinary people murdered alongside of them. Rabbi Akher had had a role in this in that he had sincerely thought that the Leader of the Revolt "Bar Kokhba" fit the description of the Messiah to come and save the Jews from Roman oppression. The cruel disappointment at what actually happened led him to see that a literal kingdom was not what God had in mind at that time and also to redefine what it meant to be a Jew and what Judaism is. Jews were chastised and stripped of their Temple for the "sin" of saying "water water" when they had a vision of water. The rest of us could learn a lesson from this.
The adherents of esotericism by teaching magical thinking and keeping their followers ignorant until "properly initiated" substitute ignorance, fear, and magical thinking for realism, wisdom, and common sense. Thus in places where esotericism has degenerated into occultism, the results are frequently disasterous. The Gnostic teachings of the Early Christians devolved into the magical admonitions of Catholicism and it's relations. The result was that people would sometimes try to substitute prayers for actions or rely on prayers to divinities when they needed to make changes in their organizations, attitudes or strategies. The consequences of this have been disasterous throughout history. Examples abound. Nichiren criticized the "Shingon" teachers for offering prayers for the defeat of enemies, because he saw that such prayers were based on claims of magical powers that had no basis in the teachings of the Buddha.
The Calliph of Baghdad was so greedy that he relied on prayers and bribes to try to hold off the mighty Mongol Empire, with the result that Baghdad and the Calliphate of Mohammed was destroyed. Nichiren warned of the ineffectiveness of Tantric prayers, but despite that, the prayers of the Japanese seemed to have some effect. The Japanese held off the mongols with the help of seasonal typhoons, but the result was still a disaster for them. It probably helped the Japanese that the Mongols had also just converted to Tantrism. The last Emperor of Byzantium was forced to rely on unreliable allies while the majority of his populace prayed for a miracle in Sancta Sophia. That was the last time that building was used as a Church. The Pasha of the Turks bashed down the doors and converted the building to a mosque. It's architecture was the model for subsequent Mosques world wide. It's beauty was painted over until recent times when it was restored as a Museum. The "Tantra" of the Llamas of Tibet was no aid in holding off the Communist Chinese. "Magical thinking" betrays the wisdom that is supposed to be brought out of the "pardes" or mystical experience. It "cuts off the shoots."
Cutting down the shoots
One consequence of such "soiling" of religion, is that the "shoots are cut down." What does this mean? On one level it can refer to such radical notions that the disciple seeks to overturn or even betray his master. For instance the "Neo Sabattean" Rabbi Yakov Leib HaCohain writes:
A comparison between them shows the former (those presumably written by Paul and of which Romans is an example) insisting upon the supercession of God's covenants with the Jewish people, while the latter (those thought to be by his Gentile disciples and of which Hebrews is an example) generally dismiss and replace them with "newer" and "better" Gentile covenants.[http://www.donmeh-west.com/melchi.shtmlHowever, no matter how internally satisfying metaphorical and other figurative understandings are, those who adhere to them are in grave danger if they "cut the shoots." Cutting the shoots is like writing a modern book without quoting sources or making attributions to prior authors. It also results in religious misunderstanding. Which is often intentional. The results of misunderstanding religion are reliance on magic, authoritarianism, and substitution of superstition and fanaticism for common sense and wisdom. Those who "cut the shoots" are therefore those who benefit from fanatic and superstitious followers. And that is usually either orthodoxy or those in rebellion against it. The result of this tendancy of religious people to "cut the shoots" is that new religions are often like the point of the famous sixties song; "Meet the new boss, just like the old boss..."
Well I get on my knees and pray, just like yesterday, that we won't get fooled again!Similar warnings about "cutting down the shoots" are contained in many of the stories of "heresy", journeys to paradise, and of persons such as Devadatta or Kobo Daishi who mistook the study of mystical and religious truth as a means of gaining occult power. These people were also jealous of their rivals. The danger of "entering the Garden" is that if one goes into it with impure motives one may come out with what appear to be treasures to others. One can fool the unwary. Unfortunately those who try for immortality will find that the "Garden" will defeat that effort. For instance, Gilgamesh took a plant that guaranteed eternal life, seeking to take it home to his city, and a snake took it. And Devadatta is said to have tried to steal something from "heaven." By doing so lost the occult powers he had already attained by trying to do so. Similarly mystical traditions everywhere warn of people who try to "take" from the "Garden" that which is not theirs (or simply to gaze at it).
To genuinly religious people everywhere, (Buddhists all, though they may be nominally anything), possessing occult powers is inferior to mastering oneself.
The problem with most esoteric learning is that those who "enter the Garden" often enter with impure motives or come out with impure thoughts. Rabbi Akher represents this danger. We can see many examples of it in our own day and age. Every religion with great insights has been taught by people at their personal peril. Teachers who mean to imitate "God" or imitate the Buddha, often instead, simply come out of the "Garden" with religious or secular power. The danger of "entering the garden" with the wrong motives go beyond the personal dangers of reifying the world or coming out with no faith. The peril is also that one will come out teaching incorrect things or using religion for personal gain.
The great work of the Lotus Sutra (Kanji, 13th, chapter) tells us the following:
This peril of "heresy" is symbolized by Rabbi Akher. But the peril of abuse of religion is universal. Some abuse religion because of their "greed", but others do so because their "journey to the Pardes" makes them think they have actually attained something that they really haven't. This is the universal function that the teacherNichiren called the Three Powerful Enemies. Ignorant laymen tend to believe their teachers have literal transcendal powers or that their teachings are literally so. Their greedy disciples take advantage of stupidity to make fortunes and drive nice cars. And the sages who start it all are worshiped as Buddhas and Sages, when they are but like us, common mortals.
- In that evil age there will be monks
- with perverse wisdom and hearts that are fawning and crooked
- who will suppose they have attained what they have not attained,
- being proud and boastful in heart.
- Or there will be forest-dwelling monks
- wearing clothing of patched rags and living in retirement,
- who will claim they are practicing the true way,
- despising and looking down on all humankind.
- Greedy for profit and support,
- they will preach the Law to white-robed laymen
- and will be respected and revered by the world
- as though they were arhats who possess the six transcendental powers.
- These men with evil in their hearts,
- constantly thinking of worldly affairs,
- will borrow the name of forest-dwelling monks
- and take delight in proclaiming our faults
This mistake, like that of Rabbi Akher, usually starts with someone misinterpreting his experience of the Mystic. For example, the teacher Jikaku Daishi, misunderstood a vision of shooting the sun and seeing it fall out of the sky as an auspicious one. On the other hand, one teacher had a vision of the death of his followers at the hand of Saladin. He promptly took action. His followers survived. And we all know Pharoahs dream of the seven fat cows and seven sickly ones. That dream still has relevence to this day as that cycle is related to the sunspot cycle and "el Nino". There is peril and real magic in visiting the Pardes. The difficulty is differentiating them. The magic is within.
The Pit in the Prune
But of Rabbi Akher, it is said that he still had students. He had one student whom it is said, justified learning from him anyway because he would "remove the pulp and throw away the dry skin." We can learn even from incorrect or mistaken teachers. That is why, after all, they have followers.
Rabbi Akiva II -- Leaving the Garden intact.
"Rabbi Akiva departed in Peace."
He "came down from the mountain." He went on to teach religion and to develop the teachings that were later recorded as the Talmud. According to the records of historians, he didn't transmit a flawless record. He is said to have annointed Bar Kochba as "Messiah" and to have thus made a grievious error that led to a final ruin of Israel. So he can't be said to have been a prophet. But perhaps he is the one who "came down from the paradise" in peace, because of his ability to not take himself too seriously. It is said of him:
What differentiates Talmud from many other religious teachings, is that you don't have a single teacher teaching. None of the sages of the Talmud claimed the power of prophesy or of being infallible "vessels" for truth. Rather the wisdom of the Talmudic Rabbis is the wisdom of "dialogue" and because dialogue is a way to tap into universal wisdom, it is thus all the more complete because, paradoxically, it acknowledges the incompleteness of human wisdom. Judaism, as a system, doesn't command but instead indicates. It is "God", the ineffable, the divine, all that is and will be, that "commands" and we decide to embrace whether or not embrace those commandments as we understand them, for our own reasons. Religion should acknowledge the incompleteness of human transmissions and understanding. Although throughout history self appointed authorities have insisted that we take the literal meaning of texts as being divinely appointed. With the result being much misery and many times people simply saying that they are not qualified to judge some commandments. They will simply refer to them as "Chock." I personally think that is a dodge. For more on this you might want to read this website on Jewish Homosexuals and how they deal with the commandments of their faith: http://www.tremblingbeforeg-d.com/rabbis.html. What makes religion great is it's ability to grow and change, adapt and reinterpret itself as it does so. If it is "chock" it may not be well thought out.
- Roman battle cries heard miles away caused the sages to weep. Rabbi Akiva laughed.
- Frolicking foxes on the Temple Mount - where once only the high priest dare tread - brought tears to the eyes of the sages. Rabbi Akiva laughed.
- The death throes of their teacher, the saintly Rabbi Eliezer, wrenched sobs from the throats of the sages. Rabbi Akiva laughed.
Both the Talmud and the developed Kaballah and other orally derived teachings acknowledge that each generation understands "Torah" or Law differently and that each individual also understands reality differently. For more on this you might want to read this essay:http://www.chiefrabbi.org/faith/identity.html
The Mystic must come down from the mountain for his understandings to be any good. And the moment he does so, he is no longer dealing with absolute truth, but relative truth. The highly abstract things that his insight is conveying to him must be put into limited mortal language.
Both Rabbis and Buddhists use the analogy of the "Elephant" to convey this metaphor. A journey to the mystic mountain, magical garden, treasure tower of human wisdom, 9th consciousness, is also a flash of something that is "too big" to be conveyed in ordinary terms. Our understanding is abstract. Thus our language is necessarilly limited. It is for that reason that all religions teach truth, but not all religious truths are equal. It is the wisdom of the human being who has stepped out of the "other side" and into this reality that decides whether what is learned is transmitted intact. The Buddhist Teacher Nichiren explained this when he wrote a letter to his disciple Akimoto, when he talked about the four kinds of vessels. Kaballah has taken this simile even further when it talks of the "Broken Vessels." Modern mathematics explains this as "symmetry breaking" in the genesis of chaotic/living systems.
Transmissions and ReceptionsOn the surface what Shabettai Zevi and Jacob Frank did resembles what Rabbi Akher did, but in actuality what they did was also very different and so also represents what Rabbi Akiva did. Even so they paid a price. They were tortured and misunderstood by both the communities they came from and those they went to visit. Both were seen as "failed Messiahs" who had failed to bring the coming "messianic age." Yet, they too had "come down from the mountain" or they would have betrayed both Jews and their gentile relations. Shabettai Zevi, was hailed as a Messiah, and people all over the world, in Europe and the Middle East, prepared to follow him to Jerusalem. The Pasha of the Turks, head of the Ottoman Empire, was alarmed. He brought him into an audience. Strangely rather than choosing the seemingly brave alternative of martyrdom. Shabettai Zevi did a wild thing. He converted. This act brought a strong sense of depression to his fellow Jews. The anti-Kaballists forbade the study of Kaballah. Some explained his behavior. Some excused it. Some became "Doenmeh" converts to Islam. They became "Crypto-Jews" or what had been called "Marranos" or "conversos" in Spain. His actions were like someone taking a knife and stabbing the community in the back. They couldn't understand it.
Yet he had had to try to instruct and convert the people he lived among. Fellow Jews, and people who saw it through Kaballah said that they were trying to heal the world by entering it's darkness. But what they were actually trying to do was to heal the world by broadening the scope of their transmissions. His disciple Joseph Frank was doing the same thing with Christianity.
They succeeded in transmitting the ideas of Kaballah, even though they themselves may have seen them in a superstitious or occult fashion, and others might have been attracted to them initially for the same reasons. We, like Rabbi Akher's disciple, Rabbi Meir, can eat the fruit while discarding the rind. We can be like him, "meir baal ha-nes', miracle workers.
Buddhists, Hindus, Shamans, teachers and mystics of all kinds, have all been both attracted to and afraid to enter the "pardes" because of the dangers and power of that journey. And yet, the dangers can be met if people are willing to meet them. To "Gaze and be stricken", to "Gaze and die," or to "cut down the shoots" are all results of being deceived by the illusions and different reality that is part of mystical/dream experience. Monks and teachers have been drawn to the Pardes thinking that they could achieve superior insights there. And their teachers have always been afraid that they were right.
We must understand this acronym of the PARDS, it's message, and it's warning, so that we can tell the difference between simile and metaphor, literal meanings and allegorical meanings, secret meanings and our own fantasies. Much of mystical knowledge is abstract, and so there is very real danger that people will "reify" or confuse the abstract and general with their own specific prescriptions. There are perils in entering the Pardes. There are also perils to the soul that are only met when one returns. Those perils are there because we bring them with us.
"When R. Meir died there were no more makers of parables. When Ben Azzai died there were no more diligent students. When Ben Zomadied there were no more expounders. When R. Joshua died goodness departed from the world. When Rabban Simeon ben Gamaliel died the locust came and troubles grew many. When R. Eleazar ben Azariah died wealth departed from the Sages. When R. Akiba died the glory of the Law ceased. When R. Hanina hen Dosa died the men of good deeds ceased. When R. Jose Katnutha died there were no more saintly ones. When Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai died [who saw the Temple destroyed] the splendor of wisdom ceased. When Rabban Gamaliel the Elder died, the glory of the Law ceased and purity and abstinence died. When R. lshmael ben Piabi died the splendor of the priesthood ceased. When Rabbi [Rabbi .Judah. the compiler of the Mishnah] died, humility and shunning of sin ceased" (Sotah 9:15)This story doesn't support (or not support) Jesus's divinity.
Today (December 13 2002) I found another source for concordance of my own thinking. It is a serious of lectures starting with this page:
- Teaching affirmed by all the Buddhas: http://etherbods.com/gosho/ttabab.html
- Kaballah and the Art of Being page 84(by Shimon Shokek ISBN 0-415-24044-1)
- Dictionary of Jewish Lore and Legend page 152, also "Basic Kaballah".
- Other pages on Kaballah and similar subjects:
- Page belonging to Frankist and "Doenmeh" syncretists
- It's not just Jews who distrusted the "Doenmeh". Some alledge that Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Modern Turkish state was a "Doenmeh." see:
- http://www.geocities.com/kabbalahonline/ Kaballah Online
(Note, the above source is part of a tractate that tries to establish Rabbinic culpability and knowledge of Jesus's death. But the author of the Sotah Tractate had completely different reasons for what he wrote from those intended by Christians. This is another example of the dangers of using religious writings to prove a point. You can interpret anything to mean anything. Interpretation can be illuminating, but it can also be a source of "groundless anger." The Rosicrucians are heavilly influenced by Kaballist teachings: You can learn about their order at http://www.crcsite.org/ For Kaballah as magic:http://www.realmagic.org/writings/kabbalah/kabbalah.htm