The Kabbalah, the Tarot and the Middle Way
5. Laying the Foundation of the Path
All the horizontal paths between Netzach and Hod, on all the Trees of Life, represent an act of surrender, the relinquishing of an aspect of our personality that keeps us separate from the All. These are the real trials, for what we have to give up may be something we deeply cherish. But they are barriers we must overcome, thresholds we must cross; otherwise Yesod remains hidden from us, and we proceed no further.
This process is explicitly depicted in the structure of the Tree of Life. On Jacob’s Ladder, the path between Binah and Chokmah is the same path as that between Hod and Netzach at the higher Tree of Life. While we are on the lower Tree, the Sephirah lying just below this path, Daath, is hidden. When we have crossed the threshold, opening the door to the higher Tree, this Sephirah now becomes Yesod of the higher Tree of Life. Hence Daath, which was hidden, now reveals itself as Yesod. And this Sephirah, now revealed, is the experiential state forming the bridge across the chasm between Tiphareth and Kether (or Malkuth and Tiphareth of the higher Tree). Without this bridge, we cannot cross the chasm.
The first of these horizontal paths that we encounter in Assiyah is described by the text of the Sefer Yetzirah for both the Sephirah, Netzach, and for the 27th path from Netzach to Hod.
NETZACH – VICTORY
“The Seventh Path is called the Occult Intelligence because it is the refulgent splendour of the intellectual virtues which are perceived by the eyes of the intellect and the contemplations of faith.”
Spiritual Experience: Vision of Beauty Triumphant.
Netzach, on all the Trees of Life, represent our emotive drive, our inspirational fire which propels us upwards. Hence it is the Occult Intelligence, in the sense that it is hidden from view, and contrasts with Hod, which is our state of mind, our reference perspective that guides our motives and actions.
“It is the refulgent splendour of the intellectual virtues which are perceived by the eyes of the intellect and the contemplations of faith” because the crucial function of Netzach is to infuse our intellectual perceptions with our emotive spiritual inclinations. The words thus emphasize the need for us to combine our natural tendencies to take the paths from Malkuth to Hod (which represents “the eyes of the intellect”) and from Malkuth to Netzach (which represents “the contemplations of faith”), and to traverse the path between Netzach and Hod. This path from Netzach to Hod is the first threshold we have to cross in this Tree of Life, in order to proceed upwards. It is the immersion of our intellectual perception with our spiritual aspiration so that we learn not to take but to receive.
The path between Hod and Netzach, in the Tree at Assiyah, is described by the Yetziratic text as follows:
The 27th Path: Netzach – Hod
“The Twenty-seventh Path is the Active or Exciting Intelligence and it is so called because through it every existent being receives its spirit and motion.”
Hebrew Letter: Peh. Mouth.
This is the path that opens the door to the inflow of spiritual insight and inspiration. It is the mouth—the meaning of the Hebrew letter for this path—that receives the nourishment of spiritual wisdom. It is the Active and Exciting Intelligence for here begins the process of spiritual transformation in earnest.
And we open the gates to this influx of blessings by recognizing the presence of a deeper reality beyond the mundane world, by cultivating a receptive mind that opens the window to the spiritual depths of the universe, to the greater Truth behind the images playing to our senses. This calls for humility, for we have to surrender any notion that we can be masters of the universe, in the sense that we can impose our will to control our world as we wish. It calls, instead, for an aspiration to reach out to this more profound reality and a readiness to surrender to it. We learn not to take but to receive. This unveils the door to Yesod.
This is the first threshold we have to cross on the Tree of Life in Assiyah. Like all the thresholds between Netzach and Hod, or between Chokmah and Binah (which are Netzach and Hod in the corresponding higher Tree of Life), it is in the nature of a surrender. Here, we have to surrender our desire to mold the world in accordance with our wishes. Instead, we have to accept the spiritual laws of the universe and abide by them. This is what it means to learn not to take but to receive.
In the esoteric world, if we choose instead to control the world according to what we personally want, we will be taking what is known as the Dark Path. The Dark Path is based on the assumption that the human will has the power to control everything. This is a path of separation, and does pose a real danger to inflating our own egos. It is thus best avoided. Instead, we need to take the Path of Light, which is based on the understanding that we are an integral part of the whole, and that there is a higher principle beyond that of our individual intellect and will. To enter this path, and to progress up the Tree of Life, we need to cross this threshold between Netzach and Hod.
And the way to reach this threshold is suggested by the Tree of Life. The immersion and merging of the intellectual quest of the seeker (on the path from Malkuth to Hod) with the inner spiritual aspiration to build something of value (on the path from Malkuth to Netzach) will lead us to the realization that there is a greater truth beyond the mundane. Hence the combination of Hod with Netzach will naturally guide us towards this path.
Yet, sadly, this natural combination is often denied, and the door to Yesod remains jammed. Why any scientist should neglect combining their intellectual quest with the emotional and conscious experience of life remains a source of wonder. There is a tendency in science to play down the sentient component of life, to relegate it to the mere mechanics of fundamental particles and forces, and even to deny it any reality altogether. This is a tragedy, one based on the assumption that sentient elements (including consciousness and feelings) are all secondary phenomena, an assumption completely devoid of proof, and coming more from the desire to make materialistic science all-encompassing, than from any form of logical reasoning. It is thus often the result of a lack of humility, a refusal to admit ignorance. It results in a science that seeks to know “the mind of God” while stubbornly refusing to acknowledge the reality of our own consciousness and feelings, simply because materialistic science fails to explain them. But a science that ignores the experienced reality directly confronting us is a sterile exercise. The resulting lopsided development of the mind now only serves to cramp itself into stagnation.
An equally faulty approach would be to deny the use of reason and the process of verification on the spiritual path. Blind faith is only a virtue if our faith happens to be correct. But how can we be sure that our faith is correct if it is blind? We may end up believing something simply because it promises an easy route to salvation, one that does not require us to change too much or to give up too much. We may believe simply because we want to believe, and because it is easy.
The true spiritual path, however, is never easy. It is a journey of transformation of our very being; and we are not on the path unless we truly move. And when we are on it, we will know we are moving, know we are changing, and know, with every step, we are getting closer to the source. For it is a path of verification, which we will feel with the intensity of a burning compassion to save all, a merging with the Truth, a deep presence of the universal light.
What then do we require for this inflow of spiritual insight? As depicted on the Tree of Life, we must merge the intellectual quest of the seeker with the spiritual aspiration for something of value beyond the mundane. For the spiritual path is a path of the heart. It is a heart that opens itself to the ineffable mystery of the All, a heart of aspiration that yearns to serve, and a striving heart with the humility to surrender to the truth as it unfolds. Thus, it is a heart that does not take but receives.
The horizontal path linking Netzach and Hod opens a crucial door on the spiritual path. When we have attained this receptive mind, we can traverse the 32nd path to Yesod, which is described by the Yetziratic text as follows:
The 32nd Path: Malkuth – Yesod
“The Thirty-second Path is the Administrative Intelligence, and it is so called because it directs and associates the motions of the seven planets, directing all of them in their proper courses.”
Hebrew letter: Tau. Tau Cross.
Seven is a mystical number in the Kabbalah. In the passage, it is used to highlight the order in the universe, for the Sefer Yetzirah states: “By the seven double consonants were also designed seven worlds, seven heavens, seven lands, seven seas, seven rivers, seven deserts, seven days a week, seven weeks from Passover to Pentecost, there is a cycle of seven years, the seventh is the release year, and after seven release years is jubilee. Hence, God loves the number seven under the whole heaven.”
The seven planets are the seven known celestial bodies in the ancient skies: Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun. “The motions of the seven planets” can thus be seen as a symbolic representation of the workings of the heavens, and of the manifestation of the cosmic principle in the universe.
While the path from Malkuth to Hod “regulates,” this path “directs and associates.” For here is the realization of an underlying reason behind the patterns in the universe. It is the Administrative Intelligence because it leads us to the realization that the universe is governed by laws, and that there is a unifying force at work. It is a realization of the deep interdependent relationship between all the integrated components of the universe, weaving a close tapestry of all sentient and physical elements. For there is a touch of universality in every grain of sand and every drop of ocean. Here then is the wisdom that sees beyond the isolated disparate elements to an integrated structure of the All, the realization that there is cosmic law which binds all in a unifying embrace. Hence it “associates the motions of the seven planets.”
And it “directs the motions of the seven planets” because it is more than just a prediction of the workings of the universe. It comes with the certainty that this is the way it is, a realization that cosmic law must be obeyed. Hence while it “directs,” the process has to be one of “directing all of them in their proper courses.” There is thus no possibility of the planets veering off course on the arbitrary whim of some director.
This, however, is not to suggest that we view the cosmic as an impersonal predetermined entity, functioning like a clockwork universe, because love, compassion, and the deeper aspirations of our being, are all part of the equation. Here, instead, is a sense of the natural rhythm of the inner light, of the motherly embrace of the universal principle which encompasses all in a unifying wisdom of love and compassion.
In modern science, both chaos theory and quantum physics reveal the interconnectedness of the universe. In the study of chaos, we have what is known as the butterfly effect, the fact that the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings can set in motion events leading to a hurricane sweeping through a different continent. And in quantum theory, we see the interweaving of the universe in what is known as the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen (EPR) paradox, where the manifestation of a certain observation will instantaneously affect the results of another observation possibly light years away.
Even more important, we see in quantum theory the interplay of consciousness and the so-called physical world, for the unfolding display of the physical forces and elements before us is dependent and, in part, created by our conscious observation of them. Although supporters of materialistic science will probably continue in their attempts to extricate consciousness from the “physical,” it will, in the end, prove to be a futile exercise, for the two simply cannot be separated. (See A Direct Experiential Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics.)
The realization that the universe is a cohesive unit, functioning under principles which bind together all the elements (both physical and sentient) into an integrated whole, is the path leading to Yesod, which is the foundation for the spiritual quest. The Hebrew letter for this path meaning Tau Cross—which has the shape of the letter T—represents the first part of the prop being built to support Tiphareth. (The second part of the prop, which we shall be exploring later, lies on the path from Yesod to Tiphareth.)
Yesod, on every Tree of Life, is a mystical state which serves as a bridge across the chasm between Malkuth and Tiphareth (or, correspondingly, as the revealed state of Daath bridging the void between Tiphareth and Kether). It is an experiential state of bliss, of increasing intensity at each higher Tree of Life it manifests. And Yesod functions like an oasis in the middle of a vast desert. By providing the necessary nourishment and inspiration, it enables us to make the long arduous journey across the difficult expanse, the journey to Tiphareth. We have now arrived at the first of these oases, Yesod at the Tree of Assiyah, which is described by the Yetziratic text as follows:
YESOD – THE FOUNDATION
“The Ninth Path is called the Pure Intelligence because it purifies the Emanations. It proves and corrects the designing of their representations, and disposes the unity with which they are designed without diminution or division.”
Spiritual Experience: Vision of the Machinery of the Universe.
This is a mystical experience, a profound glimpse of reality, which has been described by many mystics of different traditions. It is the Pure Intelligence because it is a realization that is directly experienced, as opposed to one that is conveyed via words or reasoning or even by the structure of the Tree of Life itself, all of which may be considered to be only representations of the real thing.
The Emanations refer to the Sephiroth, and they are purified by the direct experience of them. Yesod “proves and corrects the designing of their representations,” because it is a mystical experience with a noetic reality. In the state of Yesod, we experience the truth directly, and prove it for ourselves. It also corrects the designing of their representations because the representations (the words, diagrams or reasoning, used in conveying its meaning) can only, at best, hint at this deeper reality. It is something each of us has to experience for ourselves, for it cannot be fully communicated by representations alone.
Here then is the personal scientific basis for the spiritual path, and why it is a path of verification. When we have transformed ourselves sufficiently so as to align our mindset to one that is capable of receiving the truth, and crossed the required threshold, we will attain a direct experience of the truth via the mystical experience that is represented as the revelation of the hidden Sephirah as Yesod of the corresponding World of Manifestation.
In the Western mystery tradition, the spiritual experience of Yesod is depicted as the “vision of the machinery of the universe.” For here is the experiential realization of the interdependence and interrelatedness of all phenomena, of a wholeness in the web of things, of a unifying principle in the universe, and of the motherly embrace of the All, often represented as the One God.
This experience is aptly described by Bede Griffiths who wrote: “it is as though a veil has been lifted and we see for the first time behind the facade which the world has built around us. Suddenly we know we belong to another world, that there is another dimension to existence…. We see our life for a moment in its true perspective in relation to eternity. We are freed from the flux of time and see everything of the eternal order that underlies it. We are no longer isolated individuals in conflict with our surroundings; we are parts of a whole, elements in a universal harmony.”
Here then is the experience of the unity of the elements in an interweaving tapestry of oneness. It is a mystical experience of the Feminine Principle, of the motherly embrace of the universal expanse in a tender bliss of unity. Bathed in its outpouring of warmth and bonding, our hearts enter into a deep sense of giving, a profound surrender to the All. And here, we know we belong. We know we are an integral part of the All, for it will be a different universe if even a single one of us is missing. We cannot remove ourselves from this interweaving web of life and the elements because we are nothing but the interweaving of the web of life and the elements. Yesod thus “disposes the unity with which they are designed without diminution or division.”
The experience of Yesod now opens the two paths leading from Yesod to Netzach and to Hod. The paths from Yesod to Hod, on all the Trees of Life, have the effect of transforming our reference perspective on which we base our motives and actions. This path incorporates the mystical experience of Yesod into our psychological makeup and spurs us onwards in our spiritual quest. Here, in the Tree at Assiyah, this path is described in the Yetziratic text as follows:
The 30th Path: Yesod – Hod
“The Thirtieth Path is the Collective Intelligence and astrologers deduce from it the judgement of the stars and celestial signs, and perfect their science according to the rules of the motions of the stars.”
Hebrew Letter: Resh. Head.
This is the path which incorporates the experience of Yesod into the intellectual and psychological makeup of our being, a transformation of our basic perspective of our world. It is the Collective Intelligence because it is a view which now perceives the interrelated unity of things, and one which feels the deep spiritual vibrations of this unity.
The aim of the spiritual path is a transformation of our entire being to a state of oneness with the All. In the end, what counts is the transformation of our attitudes and motives. And this must be reflected in the actions of our everyday lives. While our meditational and mystical experiences serve to show us the way, it is the transformation of our daily lives which really matter; otherwise, our spiritual experiences have served no purpose. This transformation of our personality is the true spiritual alchemical principle of transmuting the elements, the elements being the very core of our being, our motives, aspirations, actions, and interactions with others.
The 30th path is only one of many paths on Jacob’s Ladder that serves to transform our basic intellectual and psychological makeup. This process will have to be repeated again and again as we develop spiritually.
Here, on this path from Yesod to Hod, it is stated that “astrologers deduce from it the judgement of the stars and celestial signs.” The judgement of the stars and celestial signs symbolize the spiritual principles for our practical living which can now be brought forth from the experience of Yesod, the realization of the unity of all. It is the spark of flame to illuminate the foggy haze of our mundane living. And with our better vision, we must now transform our thinking, motives, and attitudes to reflect this inner light. We have to now live to the rhythm of a different beat, a deeper harmony.
Our intellectual perspective, on which we base our motives and actions, is also transformed by the incorporation of the spiritual element. Thus, the symbolical statement that they “perfect their science according to the rules of the motions of the stars.” It is a science which now breathes with the vibrant life of the universal light.
The Hebrew letter for this path means “head” (which is to be contrasted with “back of the head” for the emotive nature of Path 29). For here is the use of the intellectual mind for the formulation of a new basic perspective of life, one which goes beyond the common pale of mundane existence. This new reference outlook, which will now guide our attitudes, decisions and actions, must now reflect the spiritual essence of Yesod, the realization of the oneness of all, and allow us to move within the deeper symphony of life.
The experience of Yesod also opens the path to Netzach. The paths from Yesod to Netzach on all the Trees of Life have the effect of stimulating and reinforcing the emotive inspiration for the spiritual journey. Here, in the Tree at Assiyah, this path is described in the Yetziratic text as follows:
The 28th Path: Yesod – Netzach
“The Twenty-eighth Path is called the Natural Intelligence; by it is completed and perfected the nature of all that exists beneath the Sun.”
Hebrew Letter: Tzaddi. Fish-hook.
This is the crucial realization that should follow from the attainment of Yesod. And it is the Natural Intelligence because it is a natural conclusion emerging from the experience of the unity in the web of life and the universe.
From the deep sense of oneness in Yesod, will surge forth the sensitivity for the common bond of all suffering beings. We know we share the same quest for deliverance from the strife and injuries of life, and that we all suffer the same pangs of anguish we struggle to avoid but inevitably succumb to. Hence, we realize the pain of others is but a reflection of our own.
And from this awakening sense of brotherhood, the principle of reciprocity will grow within us. This is the Natural Intelligence, as stated in the Mahabharata: “Do naught to others which if done to you would cause you pain,” and in the golden rule of Jesus: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This same rule is echoed, in varying forms, in other spiritual traditions. It is an indispensable guide to the spiritual path, for “by it is completed and perfected the nature of all that exists beneath the Sun.”
The reason for the Hebrew letter for the path between Yesod and Netzach, meaning “fish-hook,” will become evident when we consider later the two other Hebrew letters it is associated with—“water” and “fish.”
In summary, what the Tree of Life has told us, so far, is that after crossing horizontal threshold between Netzach and Hod, we can proceed to further refine Netzach through the influence of Yesod via the Golden Rule, the principle of reciprocity, and reach what is described as “the refulgent splendour of the intellectual virtues” (words of the Yetziratic text describing Netzach). Also, we can proceed to further refine Hod through the influence of Yesod via a sense of the interconnectedness of all things.
We have now completed the first stage of the spiritual path and are now within sight of Tiphareth.