The Spiritual Path – 7

The Spiritual Path – 7

The Kabbalah, the Tarot and the Middle Way

Kenneth Chan

7. The World of the Limitless Light

We are entering into the world of the Limitless Light, the world of Tiphareth, and the paths mediated by it. It is the Limitless Light that will forge our way through the fog of our delusions and ever light up the long path ahead. It will drive back the darkness of the estrangement of self, and eventually destroy the prison of our self-incarceration. For it is the determination to be free, which never rests until all the bonds are broken. Tiphareth will now become the Mediating Intelligence, the engine that will propel us upwards and help break down the barriers lying ahead.

The threshold between Chesed and Geburah in Assiyah is the first of the four obscurations to Buddhahood, described in the Uttaratantra Shastra, that we have to overcome.

Note that we are nearing the second threshold of our spiritual journey, the horizontal path from Chesed to Geburah, and this is the crucial path in the world of Limitless Light. It is the doorway to the power source that will fuel us onwards. And it is the first of the four obscurations to Buddhahood mentioned in the Uttaratantra Shastra. 

If we cross this threshold, our whole spiritual journey will come alive, vibrant with energy, and we will truly begin to move. This is the path of entering the stream, and working to become a Stream Enterer in Buddhist terminology. At a certain point, we will discover the ever-beckoning beacon calling us from the depths of our heart, whose light lies beyond the glare of worldly distractions. And once we have tasted its warmth, there is only one thing left to do, and that is to go. 

The key to this path lies in Chesed, which the Yetziratic text describes as follows: 

CHESED – MERCY

“The Fourth Path is called the Cohesive or Receptive Intelligence because it contains all the Holy Powers, and from it emanate all the spiritual virtues with the most exalted essences. They emanate one from another by virtue of the Primordial Emanation, the Highest Crown, Kether.”

Spiritual Experience: Vision of Love.

It is the Receptive Intelligence because here is where we receive all our spiritual virtues and realizations. Chesed is the source of our conscience, our spiritual memory. It is our Master Within, our Buddha Nature, which lies within us, every one of us, without exception. It is our guide to the spiritual path. Thus we already know this journey, and the answers are already within, for Chesed “contains all the Holy Powers and from it emanate all the spiritual virtues with the most exalted essences.” And these emanate by virtue of the Highest Crown, Kether, for Kether is already inherent in Chesed, and the ultimate truth is already with us. In the words of Jesus: “The Kingdom of Heaven lies within you.” It only needs to be revealed.

Our Buddha Nature is, unfortunately, obscured by layers upon layers of delusions. And we need to peel off these delusions, one by one, to reveal it. It is like peeling off layer after layer of onion skin to get to the core. Hence the spiritual virtues “emanate one from another by virtue of the Primordial Emanation.” Our spiritual realizations build up, one upon another, as we reach deeper and deeper into Chesed by clearing our obscurations, one by one. This is the evolution of our conscience as we gain deeper and deeper realizations along the spiritual path. 

Much effort and perseverance is required, however, for the fog of our delusions lies thick and heavy, and cannot be cleared without strong winds. We must first have the desire to have the fog cleared, the will towards enlightenment. We must listen to the adage of Jesus: “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you.” For already within us, in Chesed, are the answers for those who ask, the treasures for those who seek, and the way for those who knock. Thus it is the Receptive Intelligence. But we have to ask, seek, and knock. Otherwise, we will not receive, will not find, and the way will not be opened.

And it is the way to a wondrous world already within us. It is a world without walls, a world without separation, a world of unbounded horizons, of intense love and the sublime joy of the oneness of all. Hence Chesed is also known as the Cohesive Intelligence, for it shows us the way to nonseparation. And this has the taste of freedom. For we shall be free from our chains, free to soar to the heights of profound bliss, the bliss in a deep union of wisdom and compassion. This is where we belong; it is our birthright. It is the Kingdom of Heaven within us.

We do not construct this world, for it is already there. It is wrong to think that we are missing some information, some knowledge or conceptual understanding required to reach it. There is no such thing missing. We need, in fact, to strip away all our layers of dualistic conceptualization to get there, to return to this pristine state already inherent in us. If we remove all our delusions, by default, we are home, and our Buddha nature will shine forth.

We first start to awaken the spiritual qualities of Chesed via the path from Netzach. All the paths from Netzach to Chesed, on all the Trees of Life, have the nature of a process helping to bring forth the spiritual influence of Chesed. Here, in the Tree at Assiyah, it is described by the Yetziratic text as follows:

The 21st Path: Netzach – Chesed

“The Twenty-first Path is the Intelligence of Conciliation and Reward, and is so called because it receives the divine influence which flows into it from its benediction upon all and each existence.”

Hebrew letter: Kaph. Palm of Hand.

It is the Intelligence of Conciliation and Reward because our acts of love and compassion are rewarded by an awakening of our spiritual memory in Chesed. It is the Intelligence of Conciliation and Reward because it placates the negative attitudes (like greed and hatred) that blocks the realizations from Chesed, and when these hindering tendencies are placated, the realizations—the Reward—can be received. 

It is the process, known in Tibetan Buddhism, as the accumulation of merit. This the reason why this first stage of the spiritual path is known as the Path of Accumulation in Vajrayana Buddhism, the stage that begins with the journey to Yesod and the progressive refinement of Tiphareth, until we are able to cross the threshold between Chokmah and Binah to reveal the hidden Sephirah, Daath, which will then functions as Yesod in the next higher Tree of Life. At this stage known as the Path of Accumulation, the major process in our spiritual development is the accumulation of merit.

The accumulation of merit can also be seen as the process of forming habitual karma, the leaving of imprints of our meritorious deeds on our stream of consciousness, resulting in an inclination to repeat them. It fosters the inherent spiritual values within us, which starts to grow. It is like sunlight to a bud waiting to flower, the touch of morning dew on a rose waiting to unfold. Hence this path “receives the divine influence which flows into it from its benediction upon all and each existence,” for our good actions, done for the benefit of others, will mold us. 

The text also emphasizes something crucial to this process: our love must be bestowed “upon all and each existence.” “All” signifies its universal and all-encompassing nature, and “each existence” stresses that there must be no exceptions. Excluding even one being from our love will wreck the entire process. The single grudge arising in the midst of universal compassion will be the single faulty support that collapses the whole bridge. Our love must radiate from a state of equanimity, without discrimination, for spiritual love does not discriminate. 

Discrimination closes the door to the wondrous realization waiting to unfold, for it is in direct contradiction to the vision of oneness. There simply can be no walls in the bliss of nonseparation. If we love all, yet hate even one, all our toil will amount to little. It will be like travelling miles to enjoy a panoramic sunset, with all the radiant skies before us, only to develop a headache on arrival. Or like preparing for a banquet with the finest delicacies before us, only to burn our tongue before we can dine. The exception to our love will be the drop of poison on the clear spring waters, even before it can gush forth. Already we cannot drink from it. 

Love must be universal and all encompassing. For only then will it melt away the distances between us, and free us from our chains of loneliness and separation. Thus, we have to strive for Agape, the universal love for each and every being, and the desire to save all, without any exception. Only then will our spiritual essence within us, within Chesed, truly shine forth.

“Palm of the hand”—the meaning of the Hebrew letter for this path—is a reference to the symbol of giving and sacrifice. It can be seen in the mudras (hand gestures) of two of the Dhyani-Buddhas, Ratnasambhava and Amogasiddhi. Ratnasambhava’s right hand touches the ground with his fingertips and has the palm of the hand facing outwards. It is a gesture of giving, of sharing, and of open compassion to all. It reflects the Equalising Wisdom, the giving of oneself to all because we are all essentially one. Amogasiddhi holds his right hand at the level of his heart, with the fingers pointing upwards and with the palm of the hand facing outwards. It is the gesture of fearlessness in giving, the opening of one’s heart, and the willingness to take on all suffering for the benefit of all. It is thus a gesture of sacrifice, and reflects the All-Accomplishing Wisdom, the heart that acts to heal and to save, while enduring all that this requires.

We have now arrived at the crucial threshold from Chesed to Geburah. This is the door to the real source of power, the guiding flame that will light up the skies ahead. All the paths from Chesed to Geburah, on all the Trees of Life, represent a threshold that has to be crossed many times, and constitutes the main driving force for the journey ahead, the gateway to the higher realms. To utilize it is to unleash the power of the Limitless Light, and to overcome the first of the four obscurations to Buddhahood mentioned in the Uttaratantra Shastra, for it unveils the Secret of All the Activities of the Spiritual Beings. Here, in the Tree at Assiyah, it is described by the Yetziratic text as follows:

The 19th Path: Chesed – Geburah

“The Nineteenth Path is the Intelligence of the Secret of All the Activities of the Spiritual Beings, and is so called because of the influence diffused by it from the most high and exalted sublime glory.”

Hebrew letter: Teth. Serpent.

It is the Intelligence of the Secret of All the Activities of the Spiritual Beings because it is the path that will open up the wondrous horizons and lead us to the very realm of our spiritual destiny. We must cross this threshold; otherwise, we simply cannot proceed. But if we master it, it will guide us on the right path even if our spiritual beliefs may still not be correct at present. For here truly is the key to the spiritual path, the secret to enlightenment. What then is this “secret”?

The Yetziratic text states that it “is so called because of the influence diffused by it from the most high and exalted sublime glory.” “The most high and exalted sublime glory” refers to the spiritual realizations coming from Chesed. This path then diffuses its influence. In other words, it acts on the realizations. Here then is the principle of the Kalama Sutta: when we perceive a higher ideal, when we know our next step, we take it. It is not action based on mere belief or on advice from others, but on the realization coming from Chesed; thus, it is based on what we know needs to be done. 

Hence this path links Chesed, the source of our conscience, to Geburah, our will. It is our commitment to transform ourselves to our perceived ideal, to mold ourselves to fit our inner vision, our realization from Chesed. For spirituality basically means the perception of a higher ideal, a better state of being, and making the commitment to get there. A spiritual person acts and takes the next step. Always. This then is the Secret of All the Activities of the Spiritual Beings. It is the commitment to always take the next step that we know we have to take to become a better person.

This is the heart of spirituality, the key to the spiritual quest. We climb whenever we see to climb, higher and higher. This is what will take us to the light beyond the wilderness, to the stars beyond the dark horizons, and to the far reaches of our spiritual home. It will ever forge new ground for the journey and be our constant beacon to the distant shores, to the realms of intense bliss and compassion. We just do it one step at a time, but always taking the next step before us, no matter how painful and how formidable the obstacles. We go because we know we have to go. There is nothing else.

The Hebrew letter for this path means Serpent. It is the Serpent of the Tree of Life, pictured entwined around the Kabbalah Tree (see diagram). The Old Commentary reads: “Let the disciple seize hold of the tail of the serpent of wisdom, and having with firmness grasped it, let him follow it into the deepest center of the Hall of Wisdom.” This means making the commitment and going, deeper and deeper, to the very essence of our being, to bring forth our Buddha nature.

This threshold lying between Chesed and Geburah, which we have to cross, is also the first of the four obscurations to Buddhahood given by the Uttaratantra Shastra. The passage from this scripture reads:

Enmity towards the Dharma, 

A view asserting an existing self, 

Fear of samsara’s suffering, 

And neglect of the welfare of fellow beings 

Are the four veils

These four represent, in the correct order, the four barriers we now face on Jacob’s Ladder. They are the four horizontal paths before us, the thresholds we have to cross, one after another. “Enmity towards the dharma” is the barrier we have to overcome on this path between Chesed and Geburah. Dharma is the Buddhist term for the teachings of the Buddha, the spiritual truths, and the means to the path. Overcoming hostility to the dharma means overcoming our initial resistance to the inner light and embracing the spiritual truth by transforming ourselves to its ideal. It is thus the Kalama Sutta in action, the commitment to go. 

The Uttaratantra Shastra also gives the remedy for each of the four veils or obscurations mentioned above: 

Those whose seed is devotion towards the supreme vehicle, 

Whose mother is analytical wisdom generating the Buddha qualities, 

Whose abode is the blissful womb of meditative stability, 

And whose nurse is compassion, 

Are heirs born to succeed the Muni.

These four remedies refer to the right diagonal paths leading to each of the corresponding horizontal paths on Jacob’s Ladder. They are the paths from Tiphareth to Chesed (for the thresholds lying between Chesed to Geburah), and the paths from Tiphareth to Chokmah (for the thresholds lying between Chokmah and Binah). The term “Muni” is a title for Gautama Buddha, who, being born among the tribe of the Shakyas, is called Śākyamuni (the sage of the Shakyas).

All the paths between Tiphareth and Chesed, on all the Trees of Life, thus represent the means of crossing the threshold lying between Chesed and Geburah. This path, on the Tree at Assiyah, is described by the Yetziratic text as follows:

The 20th Path: Tiphareth – Chesed

“The Twentieth Path is the Intelligence of Will and is so called because it is the means of preparation of all and each created being, and by this intelligence the existence of the Primordial Wisdom becomes known.”

Hebrew letter: Yod. Hand or Fist 

The remedy given by the Uttaratantra Shastra for the first of the four obscurations to Buddhahood is “devotion towards the supreme vehicle” or (also as stated in the Uttaratantra Shastra) “strong aspiration for the dharma.” Thus, it is the Intelligence of Will, for it is our aspiration for the spiritual quest, the determination to reach our inner light, the will to be free from the bonds of our mundane existence, free from the endless cycle of suffering our delusions chain us to. Here then is the spark for the light that will dispel the darkness, the stirring of the wind that will sweep away the cobwebs in our mind. Hence it is “the means of preparation of all and each created being.”

The spiritual path is a path of aspiration. For only with strong aspiration will we be able to overcome the barriers and obstacles hurled our away, and only with firmness of purpose will we be able to sustain the momentum and avoid slipping into ever-enticing paths of distraction. This requires a mind that has undergone a complete “turning-about,” a mind no longer focused on the mundane but fixed firmly instead on the spiritual light. 

This is a reflection of the call of Jesus for “metanoia,” the Greek word, found in his teachings, which has been rather inadequately translated as “repentance.” “Meta” means a transformation (as in meta-morphosis) and “noia” means being. Hence the word “repentance” found in the Gospels actually means a complete turning-about of our being. It is not simply a sense of regret (as may be implied by the word “repentance”); it is very much more. It is a call for a total change of attitude, a relinquishing of our mundane goals in life and a total commitment to the spiritual ideal. It is thus the enactment of the “determination to be free” which is the first of the Three Principles of the Path in Tibetan Buddhism.

This path from Tiphareth to Chesed is depicted by the Noble Eightfold Path as Right Speech. Here, the word “speech” is to be taken, in the sense used in esoteric or Vajrayana Buddhism, as the winds that move in the psychic channels of our body. An example of this usage of the word “speech” can be found in the description of an advanced spiritual state known as Isolated Speech: “It is so-called because of its being a yoga that isolates the most subtle wind, the source of speech, from its ordinary flow and combines it inseparably with mantra.” While we are not yet at this stage of spiritual development known as Isolated Speech, this path here functions in a similar way.

The winds are what moves through the psychic channels, and are the energies in our body that cause all movement. They are also the vehicles for our various consciousnesses to make contact with their respective objects. Here, on the path from Tiphareth to Chesed, our determination to be free requires the mind of the Limitless Light, the mind of Tiphareth. It works within us to draw forth the realizations from Chesed, our inner wisdom, and is thus appropriately depicted as Right Speech which refers to this beneficial deployment of the winds in our psychic channels.

Tiphareth, the Mediating Intelligence, initiates, via this path to Chesed, the circuit that will generate the driving force for the spiritual quest. For here is the key that will unlock the secrets within Chesed, and thus start up the powerhouse that will propel us onwards. If we aspire for the Path, if we make the commitment to go regardless of the obstacles and the pain, the directions for the journey will unfold to us, one by one. It will be the ever-present lighthouse on the dark seas guiding us to safety. And this beacon is our inner light, revealing step by step the way to our Buddha nature. 

It is our aspiration to always take the next step, to ever strive for the next precipice to the stars, that will unveil the directions that we need. For here is where we ask that we may receive, we seek that we may find, and we knock that the way may opened to us. For it will open the door to the inner wisdom within us. Thus “by this intelligence the existence of the Primordial Wisdom becomes known.” And this path of determination, the Intelligence of Will, is symbolized aptly by the Hebrew letter meaning fist.

With this “strong aspiration for the dharma” in place, we will receive from Chesed the realization of the next step we need to take in order to further refine Tiphareth. This realization represents the threshold we have to cross on our spiritual quest, and we cross this barrier by holding to the commitment to achieve it. The realization together with the commitment to cross this threshold represents the horizontal path from Chesed to Geburah. The stage is set for the next part of this crucial circuit mediated by Tiphareth, and that is the 22nd path from Geburah to Tiphareth:

The 22nd Path: Geburah – Tiphareth

“The Twenty-second Path is the Faithful Intelligence and is so called because by it spiritual virtues are increased, so that they can be close to all who “dwell in their shadow.” 

Hebrew Letter: Lamed. Ox-goad.

It is the Faithful Intelligence because it is faithful to our inner and outer promptings of what is the correct path. Here is where we transform our mind towards a spiritual ideal, faithful to what has been revealed to us. It is really the acceptance of truth when it comes staring us in the face. This is essential to the spiritual path, for we cannot progress if we deny the truth confronting us simply because we refuse to accept the changes needed to align ourselves with it. 

Unfortunately, we do often deny the truth. And all because we refuse to give up our worldly goals, our ego-building activities, our mundane achievements, our cherished preconceived ideas, and all our pleasures and distractions. We may even come to hate the inner voice telling us to change, and ultimately take to attacking the source of the truth. In this way, fame, fortune, power, and worldly achievements often become a trap. We become prisoners refusing to peer over the walls closing in on us, preferring to hide in the darkness. We must never succumb to this, for then we will travel no higher, and all our trappings will soon enough reveal their true nature and seize upon us. We must listen to the promptings of truth and follow.

The Noble Eightfold Path depicts this path as Right Mindfulness. If we maintain mindfulness and keep our mind in an ideal state long enough, a transformation occurs, like the rewiring of the circuitry of a computer. As the Buddha said: “Whatever one thinks about and ponders over often, one’s mind gets a leaning in that way” (Majjhima Nikaya, I:115). The Hebrew letter assigned to this path means “ox-goad” which is an implement used to spur or guide livestock. Here it appropriately depicts how mindfulness is utilized to guide our mind in focusing on the realizations gained so that it can transform Tiphareth accordingly.

Every time we complete the path from Geburah to Tiphareth, another layer of delusion will have been stripped away revealing a new state of realization, and we may even wonder, at that time, how something so obvious could have been missed until now. Mindfulness and sustained effort at transforming our mind lifts us to a higher level of being, a new height on the mountain. The air becomes clearer, the horizons wider, and we can now see beyond the mists into the distance. Tiphareth gets further refined and our spiritual virtues are increased.

The words “so that they can be close to all who dwell in their shadow” refer to the fact that, here, on this path between Geburah and Tiphareth, the transformation leads us closer to a state of nonseparation with all other beings.

The primary circuit mediated by Tiphareth in Assiyah

When Tiphareth has been further refined by the path from Geburah, it will act as the Mediating Intelligence and trigger off the circuit again via the path from Tiphareth to Chesed. This circuit from Tiphareth to Chesed, Chesed to Geburah, and back from Geburah to Tiphareth, is the primary circuit in Assiyah, and is one that has to be traversed many times, each time further refining the qualities of Tiphareth until it is ready to open the two long paths to Chokmah and Binah. The primary circuit, involving Tiphareth, Chesed, and Geburah, is thus the Kalama Sutta principle in action. We take every next step that we know we have to take in order to transform into a better person. This is “the Secret of All the Activities of the Spiritual Beings.”

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