THEOSOPHY, Vol. 85, No. 4, February, 1997
(Pages 110-115; Size: 13K)


This is the first of a series comprising three articles adapted from a talk delivered by a student on the Kabbalah at a U.L.T. meeting. The footnotes added were drawn from the writings of H.P.B. to provide keys for those who wish to pursue this study further.


The kabalist is a student of "secret science", one who interprets the hidden meaning of the Scriptures with the help of the symbolical Kabala, and explains the real one by these means. 

--Theosophical Glossary
PERHAPS a good way to approach the Kabbalah is to discuss it in three parts. First, let us go over some of the basic ideas underlying this remarkably profound and sacred philosophy. Secondly, let us illustrate the significance of remembering that living or natural forms such as a tree are employed in its symbolism. This is why words such as "art" are emphasized and used in relation to the Kabbalah. And, lastly a very brief description of how that which is known as the Tree of Life functions will be presented.

Let us begin with a quote from Robert Fludd,(1) the great hermetic philosopher of the early 17th century, who wrote, "to reflect, to know is to penetrate," and then refer to Johann Reuchlin's(2) book, Art of the Kabbalah, written in the first quarter of the sixteenth century, in which he attempts to explain that:

Kabbalah cannot be discovered by the senses, nor by the domineering of clever logical arguments, that its basis in fact lies in the third region of understanding, a place where cogent judgment, the burden of evidence and syllogistic exposition hold no sway -- not even reason rules there. This knowledge is nobler; where the light of the mind falls upon the intellect and moves our free will to believe. What is perceived by the senses is science and is determined by reasoning, but what the mind influences we put higher than science: such things are more than rational discourse.
What Fludd and Reuchlin are attempting to express is a way of thinking and seeing that was of paramount importance to renaissance philosophy, art and culture. It was known as Hermetic, Kabbalistic, Theosophic. Without dwelling too much in a particular historical period, it is nevertheless important in order to understand Kabbalah to look to the period of its greatest influence. In this way we can attempt to understand a way of thinking, which unfortunately is all too unfamiliar with our own.

During the renaissance great emphasis was placed upon ancient wisdom. There began the translating of books written by Arab alchemists, astrologers and mathematicians, the writings of Pythagoras, Plato and the ancient Greek philosophers. Translations of the writings of Neoplatonists such as Plotinus, Phorphry and Iamblichus enjoyed remarkable influence. Along with these were texts believed to be the teachings of the ancient Egyptian magus Hermes Trismegistis(3). Early gnostic writings reemerged and because of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 there was a major influx of Jewish scholars and Kabbalists into Italy and surrounding countries. To say the least, this was a remarkable melting pot of ideas. These different streams of thought and traditions all had at their heart the belief that one could, through study and meditation, achieve direct knowledge of the divine or what is known of as gnosis. This understanding is the basis of Kabbalah. That is, Kabbalah can be considered as the inner meaning or content behind all complete religions. It is the living unity or principle which remains hidden from the profane, or those who only accept what the world of their senses and faith in outer forms, laws and rituals leads them to believe. In another sense Kabbalah can be looked at as the blueprint of reality, the master-plan behind this world of matter and how that which is invisible to the eye is clearly seen in the heart of the divine. One may enter the heart of the divine only as direct experience. DIRECT EXPERIENCE IS ONLY POSSIBLE THROUGH ONE'S SELF.(4)

Over the entrance to the Greek temple at Delphi was written "Man know thyself and thou shalt know the secrets of the universe." Hermes Trismegistis the father and namesake of the Hermetic tradition said that one can only understand god by becoming god. Kabbalah means that which is received. It is the secret or hidden knowledge of revealed wisdom. Wisdom not as an act of reflection but of penetration, or better yet the ability to be penetrated -- that is to become receptive.(5) What is meant by "to know God is to become God"? The basic premise is found in the macrocosm and microcosm. Man is a universe. Every atom, cell, organ, muscle or bone has a correlation to the Divine Consciousness which is within all matter.

Everything, every being, every plant and animal, planet or solar system is connected; is part of the web of consciousness which interpenetrates, sustains and knows itself as a great macrocosmic unity. Every person is a microcosm, a hologram or wholeness. Most of us recognize ourselves as the face which stares back at us in the mirror. We can verify our existence with a photo ID. Most of us recognize ourselves by the experiences that have shaped and formed our sense of self. And yet what is it that is this sense of self? Is this what the Greeks meant by know yourself? Know what you already know about yourself? These memories and codes that have been adopted as true or real. Most people readily admit their preferences, bias and opinions. Strip these away and what are you? This would be one of the first questions asked at Delphi or by a Kabbalist. Not what do you know about yourself, but what do you not know about yourself. We all know that we use a very small percentage of our brains. It could be argued we use even less of our true or whole self. Because the line of communication from within to without is silenced by the need to create a stable picture of ourselves and reality by defining what everything is and is not including what our lives do or do not mean.

When the words and understanding of Kabbalah, Theosophy or any truly profound sacred science are used as mortar and brick to support a pillar of bias and opinion, the living principle within withers. As Socrates, named the wisest man in Athens, proclaimed that he only knew that he knew nothing, he was saying he would always listen, observe and question. And, like the teaching of Christ: "Be ye like children." What does this mean if it does not mean to be inquisitive, unprejudiced and able to stand before the remarkable qualities of life and feel the divine humility of awe or wonder. The beginning of knowledge is wonder.

This is why it seemed important to discuss the fact that living organic structures are used in Kabbalistic symbolism. First we must consider Hebrew, Greek and Sanscrit, the languages that were said to be revealed by God, not invented by men. Words were never meant to be thought of as solely the conveyors of information. To the ancients, words if properly understood were magic, a vessel for the dynamic living spirit. They were the outer skin riding upon a sea of universal force. They were alive.

Wisdom is a living, growing being not a thing. Fire, water, air and earth, animals, humankind, the planets and creation are all symbols used to understand Kabbalah. This is primary to approaching Kabbalah and Theosophy. They are both the teachings of perennial wisdom. Perennial refers to a natural cycle of growth and development, from the planting of a seed, to its cultivation and harvesting. Man can help things to grow but he cannot breathe life into those things, he must allow them to follow their own cycles of development. Where we have power to observe, caretake and tend, we are given the opportunity to tend the gardens of our soul.

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[Part 2 of 3]

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(1) H.P.B. refers to Robert Fludd as a natural mystic whose affinity for the celestial science brought about the attention of the Adepts. (See article "Chelas and Lay Chelas," H.P.B. Articles Vol. I, p. 308.)
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(2) Nicknamed the "Father of Reformation"; the friend of Pico di Mirandola, the teacher and instructor of Erasmus, of Luther and Melancthon. He was a great Kabbalist and Occultist (Theosophical Glossary, p. 277).
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(3) The mythical personage after whom the Hermetic philosophy was named. In Egypt the God Thoth or Thot. A generic name of many ancient Greek writers on philosophy and Alchemy. Hermes Trismegistus is the name of Hermes or Thoth in his human aspect, as a god he is far more than this. ... As a serpent, Hermes Thoth is the divine creative Wisdom (Theosophical Glossary, p. 140).

According to Plato, "Thoth-Hermes was the discoverer and inventor of numbers, geometry, astronomy and letters." Proclus, the disciple of Plotinus, speaking of this mysterious deity, says: "He presides over every species of condition, leading us to an intelligible essence from this mortal abode, governing the different herds of souls" (Theosophical Glossary, p. 332).
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(4) In the article "Le Phare De L'inconnu," H.P.B. writes of the soul's capacity for this Direct Experience: "Every one of us possess the faculty, the interior sense, that is known by the name of intuition, but how rare are those who know how to develop it! It is, however, only by the aid of this faculty that men can ever see things in their true colours. It is an instinct of the soul, which grows in us in proportion to the employment we give it, and which helps us to perceive and understand the realities of things with far more certainty than can the simple use of our senses and exercise of our reason. What are called good sense and logic enable us to see only the appearances of things, that which is evident to every one. The instinct of which I speak, being a projection of our perceptive consciousness, a projection which acts from the subjective to the objective, and not vice versa, awakens in us spiritual senses and power to act; these senses assimilate to themselves the essence of the object or of the action under examination, and represent it to us as it really is, not as it appears to our physical senses and to our cold reason." (H.P.B. Articles Vol. I, p. 428.)
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(5) This type of receptivity is not passive but refers to Bodhi or Sambodhi which is: "Receptive intelligence, in contradistinction to Buddhi, which is the potentiality of intelligence." (Theosophical Glossary, p. 59.)
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