The Spiritual Path – 6

The Spiritual Path – 6

The Kabbalah, the Tarot and the Middle Way

Kenneth Chan

6. Journey to the Limitless Light

On Jacob’s Ladder, Tiphareth in Assiyah is also Malkuth in Yetzirah

To journey to Tiphareth, we have to open the third Veil of Negative Existence, and touch base with the third Tree of Life, Yetzirah, for Tiphareth is also Malkuth in that World of Manifestation. The third Veil is known as Ain Soph Aur, which means Limitless Light. It is an apt description of Tiphareth (or Malkuth in Yetzirah), the Sephirah which begins the part of the spiritual journey characterized as the Limitless Light, and which also represents the first of the Three Principles of the Path in Tibetan Buddhism.

Before proceeding further with our exploration of the Tree of Life, we need to now ascertain the direction of flow of the paths, as this is an important indicator of what they represent. The Tree of Life is a dynamic entity and the connections and interactions between the Sephiroth tell us how they function. As we would expect, the directions of the paths are generally upwards as we progress upwards from one Tree of Life to the next higher one on Jacob’s Ladder. There are, however, three exceptions to this, and two of these exceptions are highlighted in the Yetziratic description of Hod:

The path diagrams show the Trees of Life in Assiyah and Yetzirah


“The Eighth Path is called the Absolute or Perfect Intelligence because it is the mean of the Primordial, which has no root by which it can cleave or rest, save in the hidden places of Gedulah, from which emanates its proper essence.”

Spiritual Experience: Vision of Splendour.

The Yetziratic passage states that Hod “has no root by which it can cleave or rest, save in the hidden places of Gedulah, from which emanates its proper essence.” This is a description of the way the paths on the Tree run in relation to Hod. “Root” here refers to the root of a path, the tail of the arrow giving its direction, the place where the path is starting from. The statement then means that there are no paths leading from Hod which end up resting on the root of another path, with one exception. This is the only path that runs from Hod, the path leading to Geburah. And this path that ends in Geburah actually cleaves the path coming from Gedulah (which is another name for Chesed), because from Geburah, the path then continues in two directions: to Tiphareth and to Binah.

The last part of the description states that the proper essence of Hod emanates from the hidden places of Gedulah, and this tells us that there is a route that connects from Chesed to Hod. Since Chesed is positioned higher on the Tree of Life than Hod, this route has to be via the two paths that travel downwards. It tells us that the path directions are from Chesed to Geburah, continuing from Geburah to Tiphareth, and then from Tiphareth to Hod.

The third exception to the general upward direction of the paths occurs in the path between Kether and Binah, which corresponds to the path between Tiphareth and Hod of the next higher Tree of Life. This exception is also highlighted in the Yetziratic text in its description of Binah, where it is stated that “its roots are in Amen.” Amen refers to Kether, thus telling us that the path from Kether to Binah is in the downward direction.

Hod represents our intellectual and personality makeup, the base from which we operate, our reference point on which we base the decisions for our actions. In its ideal state, it is the Absolute or Perfect Intelligence, after the refinement from all the paths leading to it, from Malkuth, Yesod, and Tiphareth. Thus, Hod receives input from all the three lower central Sephiroth, and is conditioned by them. And being the conscious component of our mind, it in turn controls our conscious actions, plans and aspirations. Hence it is the pivot point, the “mean of the Primordial.” It is the focus which holds things together in the Tree of Life in Assiyah, and it keeps this role until the door to the higher Tree of Life, Yetzirah, is opened, when the role will then be taken over by Binah (which then becomes Hod in the Tree of Life in Yetzirah).

There are two paths that lead upwards to Tiphareth—from Netzach and from Yesod. All the paths from Yesod to Tiphareth, in all the Trees of Life, are of the nature of a logical completion of the experiential realization of Yesod, the incorporation of what is learned at Yesod and the bringing of this to its correct conclusion. All the paths from Netzach to Tiphareth, on all the Trees of Life, are of the nature of an incorporation of an emotive inspiration that help propel us to this higher state. These paths thus complement each other.  

While providing the inspirational drive to help us reach Tiphareth, all the paths from Netzach to Tiphareth, on all the Trees of Life, also have this characteristic. Each brings us another step closer towards a oneness with the All, or as some mystics would say, towards a union with God. The path from Netzach to Tiphareth, in the Tree at Assiyah, is described as follows:

The 24th Path: Netzach – Tiphareth

“The Twenty-fourth Path is the Imaginative Intelligence and it is so called because it gives a likeness to all the similitudes which are created in like manner similar to its harmonious elegancies.”

Hebrew Letter: Nun. Fish.

Noble Eightfold Path: Right Action

It is the Imaginative Intelligence because, on this path, we empathize and share the sufferings of others, as though it were our own. Hence it gives a likeness to all the similitudes… This is the path of compassion. It is the natural outcome from Netzach, after the inspiration of Yesod and the realization of the principle of reciprocity. Hence the similitudes are created “in like manner similar to its harmonious elegancies” because this is the way it should be. It is in harmony with the universal principle, the underlying Truth that we are all in reality one.

Compassion is the key to the spiritual path. For it is compassion that dispels the exile of our souls, that frees us from the lonely roads of separation, and breaks down the walls of our solitary cells. It is crucial to the process of unification, for compassion dissolves the barriers and draws us together. No longer are we just concerned about our own welfare, and we are no longer walled in. This is a vital step towards the purity of oneness. Without it we cannot taste the sublime joy of enlightenment and will ever wander in loneliness and separation.

Compassion must now become the driving motivation, the warming flame that will ever lift us higher. For compassion is vital on every stage of the spiritual journey. As Chandrakirti states at the beginning of the “Guide to the Middle Way” (Madhyamakavatara):

Because for this bountiful harvest of the Conquerors

Compassion itself is like the seed, like water for growth,

And like ripening remaining for long enjoyment, 

At the beginning I praise compassion.

The Conquerors is another name for the Enlightened Ones, those who have conquered all obstacles and obscurations on the spiritual path. And compassion is the igniting spark, the nourishment for the journey, and also the undying quality in the end that continues to spread its wings to help all beings. 

The path from Netzach to Tiphareth is also depicted as one of the eight principles in the Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path. Here, it is the path of Right Action. When we make compassion the basis for all our actions, including the action of striving higher on the spiritual path, we refine Tiphareth via the path from Netzach. 

The Hebrew letter for the path, Nun, means fish. This has to be interpreted in light of the other paths with the Hebrew letters meaning fish-hook and water. Fish-hook (for the path from Yesod to Netzach) draws the mind of compassion towards the aspirant via the principle of reciprocity, the realization that we are all in the same struggle to escape suffering. Water (for the path from Hod to Geburah) represents the medium we are immersed in, the underlying tapestry of interconnectedness that encompasses all. Now the path from Netzach to Tiphareth plunges us into the water and compassion becomes our motivation in life, hence the meaning of “fish,” which is fully immersed in the water and swims in it.

The other path to Tiphareth is the one directly up the central Pillar of Consciousness. While all the paths from Yesod to Tiphareth, on all the Trees of Life, are a natural completion of the realization at Yesod, they nonetheless entail considerable struggle. This path, on the Tree at Assiyah, is described by the Yetziratic text as follows:

The 25th Path: Yesod – Tiphareth

“The Twenty-fifth Path is the Intelligence of Probation and Temptation, and is so called because it is the primary temptation, by which the Creator trieth all righteous persons.”

Hebrew Letter: Samech. Prop

Noble Eightfold Path: Right Livelihood

Yesod is essentially a mystical experience that provides us with a taste of what it feels like to be in a higher spiritual state of being. It thus functions as a signpost that tells us where we should be headed next on the spiritual path. Thus, the path from Yesod to Tiphareth represents the task of making more permanent what we experienced temporarily at Yesod. 

In order to make the experience at Yesod our eventual normal way of thinking, we need to ensure that our behavior and way of living does not contradict the realizations we have gained in our mystical experience at Yesod. That is why the Noble Eightfold Path depicts this path as that of Right Livelihood. Here, the meaning of Right Livelihood should be taken as the right way of living which is in accordance with the realizations arising from the experience at Yesod. In other words, we should now refrain from behavior and actions that run contrary to the experience at Yesod. Should we behave in ways that contradict that experience, the experience would no longer remain strong within us because we are effectively negating the realizations that stem from it and diminishing their influence. 

That is also the reason why this path is the “Intelligence of Probation and Temptation.” It is essentially a trial. If we do not live in accordance with the realizations at Yesod, the experience at Yesod will become just a faded memory and will lose its value as an inspiring force to propel us forward in our spiritual quest. We will not be able to then make the state of mind experienced at Yesod our new and more stable realizational state and arrive at Tiphareth. If this occurs, we will have failed the trial during this probation period and we will have given in to the temptation to revert to our prior state of being. 

It is therefore a logical and natural progression from Yesod to ensure that our behavior and actions do not contradict that experience. Nonetheless this process may turn out to be more like struggling through fierce driving rain pressing hard against our every step, for the obstacles are formidable. This path is truly a path of Probation and Temptation because here we have to relinquish our worldly goals, and this is no easy feat.

Yet it is the only logical thing to do. All else will only lead us to attainments that will begin to evaporate even as we come within touch of them. Also, to succumb to worldly aspirations virtually means an end to further spiritual progress because our mind will then be working towards goals promoting selfish desires and glorifying the image of a separate self, all in direct contradiction to the aims of the spiritual path. 

Given the realization at Yesod, however, we know of a better destiny. And if we can only overcome the worldly temptations, and transform all our goals into spiritual ones, we will have established the prop—the Hebrew letter for this path—for the spiritual state of Tiphareth. And we will have opened the third Veil of Negative Existence, Ain Sof Aur, the Limitless Light. The Yetziratic text describes Tiphareth as follows:


“The Sixth Path is called the Mediating Intelligence, because in it are multiplied the influxes of the Emanations; for it causes that influence to flow into all the reservoirs of the blessings with which they themselves are united.”

Spiritual Experience: Vision of the Harmony of Things. Mysteries of the Crucifixion.

To enter into Tiphareth is to enter into the realm of Limitless Light. It is the Limitless Light because this is the mind that realizes that all our motivations, all our goals should be aligned with the greater Truth we have found at Yesod. Tiphareth is essentially a more stable version of the experience at Yesod, and is a state of being that we need to work on and refine many times until it is perfected. Thus, Tiphareth is the natural completion of the realization at Yesod. 

It is the mind with the unfailing determination to pursue the spiritual path. It is the Limitless Light for it will ever be dispelling the darkness, driving back the frontiers of delusion, and ever forging new ground for the journey. It is what is known in Buddhism as the “turning-about” or in the Bible as “metanoia” the Greek word that has been poorly translated as “repentance.” “Metanoia” actually means a transformation of our being, a transformation to one that is focused purely on the spiritual quest and not on worldly attainments.

Tiphareth is the Sephirah with the largest number of paths linked to it. It is the center of activity on the Tree of Life, and is the center of the Noble Eightfold Path. The paths radiate from it like the spokes of the wheel that symbolizes the Noble Eightfold Path, and the paths are depicted in exactly the correct clockwise sequence as outlined by the Buddha.

The Noble Eightfold Path centred around Tiphareth in Assiyah (Picture Credit for left part of diagram with the Noble Eightfold Path depicted as a wheel: Krisse)

Tiphareth is also known as the Mediating Intelligence because here is the powerhouse, the engine room that will propel us forward, the place where the influxes of the Emanations, the realizations, are multiplied. The second line in the Yetziratic text passage tells us how this is done. The words “it causes that influence to flow into all the reservoirs of the blessings with which they themselves are united” is a description that the paths centered around Tiphareth take a circuitous route. 

This primary circuit flows from Tiphareth to Chesed, then from Chesed to Geburah, and back again to Tiphareth. The blessings originate from Chesed, and flows to Tiphareth via Geburah. Tiphareth then causes this influence to flow back into Chesed and the cycle repeats. The circuit has to be traversed many times, each time refining further the spiritual qualities of Tiphareth until it is finally ready to take us up into the World of Yetzirah. When ready, it does this by opening two long paths that reaches upwards from Tiphareth to Chokmah and to Binah, the paths depicted, in the Noble Eightfold Path, as Right Intention and Right Meditation.  In all of the paths linked to Tiphareth, Tiphareth plays the central role, the role of the Mediating Intelligence.

The primary circuit involving Tiphareth in Assiyah represents the first of the Three Principles of the Path in Tibetan Buddhism: the determination to be free. It is the determination to be free from the vicious cycle of suffering of unenlightened existence. It is thus the commitment to take the spiritual path, the will to climb as long as we see to climb, higher and higher, until our chains run out of length and fall away behind us. This then is the Limitless Light and is the process of unveiling the first of the three Veils of Negative Existence, Ain Sof Aur.

Copyright © 2021 by Kenneth K C Chan. All Rights Reserved.


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