Comparison between Sacred Esoteric Judaism and Sacred Esoteric Yoga
By Uriel Yariv
This article is based on a lecture that took place in the International Yoga congress 2010, which took place in Bucharest, Romania on 13-17.10. This lecture won a prize for being one of the best lectures in the Congress, out of over 70 lectures and workshops.
My name is Uriel Yariv, I am form Israel and I have been practicing yoga for the past ten years.
Born to Jewish family and raised in a regular Jewish environment, I grew up in believing that Judaism is nothing more than an external social tradition which has as a goal keeping the nation united in a colorful, folkloric way.
The external form, of so called spiritually, was not at all attractive for me, I was searching for altered states of consciousness and for real esoteric knowledge and experience. I did not wish to follow some tradition blindly and just to obey what I was told, I wanted to understand and more then this, I wanted to feel spirituality.
At home I didn’t find what I was searching for, so I went to India and there I found a Yoga school which center is in Romania. Practicing yoga, the spiritual experiences that I wished for began to appear. By the grace of GOD and of my spiritual guide, and through my own effort and practice I could gradually understand and feel the spiritual world.
From India I moved to Romania where I have been living for the past eight years. The yoga school in Romania became the center of my life, but almost every year I would go visit Israel twice for the main Jewish holy-days.
My spiritual guide Grieg advised me to study the ancient Jewish tradition and so while I was visiting Israel I started contacting again my Jewish origins. Only that this time I knew already what I am searching for, and so I found some books and met some rabies which told me about the esoteric side of Judaism.
In the following lecture we will explore together and compare some mystical principles and even some mystical exercises which exist in yoga and in Judaism. As we enter deeply in this subject, we will discover that these two traditions which appear on the surface so different actually have much more in common than we can imagine. We will see the great similarities between the chakras and the sephiras, we will see meditation techniques which are almost identical, and we will even see the spirit of divine transfiguration and sacred lovemaking which exist not only in tantra yoga but also in some ancient, secret Jewish texts.
The first esoteric, mystical subject we will expose is that which concerns the building blocks of creation.
The building blocks of creation
In the yogic tradition we find 36 essential building blocks of creation, which are called “tattvas”. In Judaism we find 32 of these building blocks of creation, and here they are called the 32 “paths of wisdom”, the 32 “netivot hohma” and they have a similar role to that of the tatvas in the yogic tradition.
In both traditions we meet a similar system of different plains of successive manifestation, which descend form the one absolute down to greater and greater multiplicity and differentiation until it arrives at the grossest level of manifestation which is the physical world.
The first point of creation, the first tatva in the yogic tradition is the undifferentiated Shiva Tattva, which transcendences all concepts and all duality. In the Jewish tradition we find the same reality in the first path of wisdom which is named “shechel mofla”, miraculous wisdom, which is the primal cause of creation and can not be perceived or understood by anyone, and its reality is that of pure transcendence.
The story of the following building blocks of creation is different in the yogic and Jewish traditions, but the direction of moving from the subtle and undifferentiated down to the more gross and more dense realities remains the same. Both the tatvas and the paths of wisdom are unfolding step by step until they assume forms, and they enter in time and in space, and they become more gross thought forms, and then sensations until they reach the more concrete levels of creation and then finally they manifest the physical world.
The occupation with these building blocks of creation and with mysticism in general in Judaism had always been something occult which is preserved for the very few. One of the rules in this direction is that one must be at least 40 years old and married in order to open even once the sacred mystical book of the Zohar.
The idea is, that mysticism is so pleasant and so absorbing, that one who is not prepared will leave all contact with the world and lose himself in the divine. Unlike yoga who gives a great place to monks who retire from the world, Judaism always says that a person must be well grounded and only then to occupy with mysticism, one must have his heart looking up full of longing for GOD but his eyes must look down and he must take care of mundane life.
For this reason the mystical Jewish texts are written in certain codes, and even in the bible, there are very few direct references to these building blocks of creation. Instead they are mentioned in hints, in a cryptic way which can only be understood by the initiate. We find this, rather hidden reference, to these paths of wisdom, to these building blocks of creation, in the book of Jobe.
As we know, Jobe suffered great disasters, his family died, his richness was taken, his body became ill, but he confronted all these difficulties with great verticality, courage and purity. He managed to pass his spiritual tests and not to curse GOD, but to continue blessing him despite the hardship.
At the depth of Jobe’s despair he calls to the Lord, The Lord answers him and there, we find one of the more fascinating dialogs in the bible. Jobe speaks to GOD and asks him: “How did you do this to me, I was so virtuous, I kept your law, I was a good man, and you have taken everything from me.”
The Lord answers, and tells him: “Where were you when I created the earth… Do you know its dimension, or who put a line around it….?” And apparently God is angry with Jobe, but in reality God shows to him step by step the sacred act of creation. There are exactly 50 phrases in this description* and they represent how the 32 paths of wisdom enter in what is called the 50 gates of wisdom. And so in reality GOD gives Jobe a tremendous spiritual gift, showing him that he has passed the test and now he is apt to receive the gift of cosmic wisdom. He is worthy now to see the unfolding act of cosmic creation.
In yogic terms, Jobe received the Grace of GOD and through that Grace he entered an elevated spiritual state in which GOD revealed to him all the stages of successive manifestation from the one causeless reality unfolding gradually to all the building blocks of creation and giving him the direct experience and hidden knowledge of each one of these sacred divine realms. Jewish mystics often quote this dialog and show how each one of these 50 phrases correspond to a different building block of creation.
The ten Sephirot and the seven Chakras
In Judaism, the 32 paths of wisdom, the 32 building blocks of creation, are grouped in two parts: 22 correlate to the 22 Hebrew letters and 10 correlate to the ten numbers or what is called the ten sephirot.
The 22 Hebrew letters are grouped in 3 groups of seven, which correlate to the 3 levels of manifestation, plus 1, which represent the transcendental, one absolute. This is why the number 22 is often seen as the number of the absolute.
The ten sephirot are the fundamental components of all that exists, we can say, they are the DNA through which everything comes into existence. Each one of these sephirot has different qualities, and their mixture in different proportions creates all the variety of all objects and all phenomena whether physical, emotional, mental or spiritual. (we will use the Hebrew plural and singular because these is how they appear also in English writings.)
These sephirot are, of course, also present in every human being. Each one of us has these sephirot inside him, and different sephirot are awoken in him in different proportions. And these different proportions create the specific temper and the unique mental, emotional and bodily structure of each human being.
For example the sephira called “I” is in charge of beauty - people in whom this sephira is more awoken are simply more beautiful, people who have this sephira less awoken are much less beautiful and they can be even ugly or very ugly.
The sephirot are, as we can see, arranged at seven different levels, this division is not at all a coincidence, but actually it is a key which unveils the understanding of the sephirot.
In yoga we find a parallel subtle model which explains both man and the universe by identifying in them seven different levels of vibrations. Each one of these levels of vibration is called a Chakra.
Yoga speaks of seven chakras which are subtle wheels of energy located a few centimeters outside the human body, and they are genuine antennas of emission and reception of 7 different levels of vibration, in man and in the universe.
What for me was amazing to find out is that these two systems which developed independently in two different parts of the world, are extremely similar in six of these seven levels and even identical in certain aspects. We will see that they all correlate except the level of Vishudha.
The first point of similarity is related to the principle which stands behind these two systems. This principle is the principle of correspondence, which says that there is a direct connection and correlation between the microcosms and the macrocosms, between every part of the universe and the universe as a whole.
This principle is exposed in yoga in the following quote: “What is here (in the microcosms) is everywhere, and what is not here (in the microcosms) is nowhere.” In Judaism this principle is expressed by the 12 century Cabbalist scholar Yitzhak Daman, who said: “Man is a little world, and the world, which is the building, is a big man”.
So when we speak of any of the Chakras or any of sephirot we speak of a reality which exists in man in particular and in the universe everywhere.
We will start with the seventh and highest plain:
In yoga, the highest chakra is called in Sanskrit Sahasrara, it is also named the crown chakra, and its function is mainly to connect the individual to the divine. Interesting enough the highest sephira is named Keter which means in Hebrew Crown, and its function is similar to that of the crown chakra in yoga namely to connect the individual to the divine. Here we find almost a complete identity both in name and in the function of the sephira and the corresponding chakra.
The main difference in this level is that in Yoga the ultimate reality is that of the self of pure existence-consciousness-bliss and in Judaism the ultimate reality which transcendences body and mind is that of will, pure individual will, which later unites with the divine will of GOD.
One more secret aspect of the sephira and chakra of the crown is the connection with the divine void, which called in Hebrew “Ain”. In Judaism, the void is perceived as one of the most sacred aspects of GOD. GOD can not be perceived in any limited form and therefore in the absence of all form we may come closer to GOD.
Ancient Jewish scrolls reveal a secret technique of meditation which allows the individual consciousness to come in contact with the divine void. When we think about void we have the tendency of imagining dark empty space, but Jewish sages say that darkness is darkness and not void, and space is space, and it is also not void. So another model must be used in order to penetrate the divine void.
The meditation that is offered in this direction is so simple, yet genial in its efficacy. It consists simply of looking at what one sees behind his head, or in the back of his head. Of course, we can not see anything behind our head and then, when we realize we see nothing behind our head, we must focus on this nothing and discover its emptiness and divinity.
From the point of view of yoga we can say that the focus on the back of the head also energizes the chakras and bindus there, which help us to concentrate deeper.
In the following level, the sixth level we find the sephirot which are called “Hohma” and “Bina” and they are placed on the same level and they are both connected with high mental function. Their names literally mean wisdom and intelligence. The corresponding chakra in yoga is called ajna chakra and it is connected to the head and to the third eye, and its functions are exactly the same higher mental functions.
Between the third eye chakra and the sephirot connected to the mental plain, namely hohma and bina, we find one more extremely significant correlation. The entity related to the third eye center in yoga, is called Shiva ardanareshvara, Shiva the androgen who is half man and half woman. The two mythological human beings related to hohma and bina are Adam and Eve.
This is very important because, in the story of the creation of Adam and Eve we find hints to the existence of the androgen. 5th century Jewish scholars wrote in an ancient text named “Bershit Raba”, that the first man was created both male and female in one body. They even say clearly that this being was an androgen. And then when God took one rib out of Adam and made the woman he basically cut the man and woman, which were united to one, into two separate beings. So the ideal as it is seen from this high mental level of the third eye and the sephirot we mentioned, Hohma and Bina, is a similar ideal, the ideal of the glorious androgen.
At this mental level ancient Judaic texts reveal a method of visualization some what similar to the yogic Shambabi Mudra. Only that in Judaism it is indicated to use the most sacred name of GOD, the tetra-gram, which is composed of four sacred letters. Here we see these four letters, each of them has a special meaning.
The letter Yud represents the gift of existence; the letter Hei represents the hand of GOD holding the entire existence, as he wishes to give it to us. The letter Vav represents the arm reaching out to us to give us the gift of existence, and finally the second Hei is our hand receiving the ultimate gift of GOD.
From the practical point of view, the stages of meditation are like this: first we look at this sacred name with eyes open. Once we are established in this stage we can close our eyes and visualize this sacred name of GOD. Then we identify the meaning of each one of the letters, until we can feel their inner significance. Once our visualization is stable we connect the last two letters. In this way, we connect symbolically our individual being which is receiving from GOD, to the arm of GOD which gives us the gift of existence.
On the fifth level we find a chakra which is called vishuddha, and it is connected to the neck area and to the states of purity, intuition and to the perception of space and time. The following two sephirot are called “hesed” which means grace and “gvura” which means heroism. The function of the sephira of grace of “hesed” is that of mercy and love, it is represented in the bible by the great sage Abraham. The function of the sephira of heroism, of “gvura” is of masculinity and power, and it is represented in the bible, by the son of Abraham, Isaac. The story of the scarification of Isaac, is actually the story of the balance between these two sephirot of the fifth level.
On the forth level we find the chakra which is called anahata, the heart chakra and it is connected with love, mercy and beauty. The sephira connected to the area of the heart is Tepheret, the sephira of glory, and its function correlates almost perfectly to that of the heart chakra, namely it has the qualities of love, mercy and especially beauty and glory. The mythological being related to the tephert sephira is Jacob , who shows extreme love and devotion to Rachel and works 14 years of great labor in order to be with her.
The esotertic reason why Jacob’s love is considered the most perfect love in the bible is because, Jacob saw himself as an incarnation of the divine universal masculinity, called in Judaism “HASHAM”. And in his beloved Rachel he identified the universal divine feminine principle which is called in Judaism SHECHINA.
Their love stands as a model for all the relationships between men and women. Identifying the divine feminine or masculine spark in your lover is the base of the spiritual relationship in Judaism.
Jewish scholars say that if you want to check the spiritual level of a spiritual teacher, you must look at his relationship with his wife or with his lover. If he is a very charismatic but treats his wife wrongly, you should know that his relationship with the divine feminine is not right and therefore his relationship with the spirit is also not right.
But a man who treats his woman in a divine way, rest assure that his relationship with the spirit and with the divine feminine is also a benefic one. We mention also that Jacob had 12 sons, one for each petal of anahata.
In the third level we find the following sephirot which are called “hod”, which means honor and nobility and it is connected to Aaron the great priest, brother of Moses, and “netzah” which means victory but also eternity, this sephira is connected to Moses himself. These sephiras represent the quality of a fighter - the ability to resist difficulties and overcome them is connected to “hod”, and the ability to attack and defeat all obstacles is connected to “netzah”.
The chakra related to the abdomen is manipura chakra and it has the qualities of perseverance, of courage and of self confidence and inner fire. Also here the similarities are very clear.
There is a very special Jewish meditation which works at this level of the inner fire. It consists simply by looking at the flame of a candle in a dark quite place. While looking at the candle one needs to distinct 5 different colors: white, yellow, red, black and blue.
The first four colors are visible with the physical eye, but the color blue can not be seen physically. In order to see the color blue one most not focus on the light of the candle but on the darkness around it, and in a state of contemplation around the darkness appears a sacred and most beautiful sky blue, which is a symbol of the SHECHINA or the divine feminine principle.
This Divine blue color is the most sacred color in Judaism, because the ocean is blue, and it reflects the blue of the sky, and the blue of the sky are but a reflection of the miraculous blue of heaven.
In the second level we find swadhistana chakra which is situated near the sexual organs and it is connected to sexual urges and to the subconscious mind, to instincts and to the influence of the moon. The sephira of the second level is called Yesod and it is connected exactly to the sexual energy, to the temptation of instinctual urges and even precisely to the moon.
Josef, the son of Jacob represents this sephira, because he was not tempted by an Egyptian woman who desired him, and who wished to kill her husband and marry him. His power to understand dreams is also connected to the control over the subconscious.
In this level we confront with temptation and in order to pass to the next levels we most overcome temptation. There is a story about a great Jewish saint, who woke up to pray very early on the morning of a cold winter day. The urge of evil said to him ‘’You are already old and it is coldout side. You can not wake up now.’’ The saint replied, saying ‘’Oh, urge of evil, you are even much older then me, and you have already woken up.”
Finally we reach the first level, the most earthly level; here we find the sephira called “malchot” which means kingdom, and which is connected to the physical plain and to its dominance. This sephira is awoken in every leader and it is correlated primarily to King David. The corresponding chakra is named Muladhara, which is connected in the same way to the physical plain and to its vitality and solidity.
This final level of Malchot, is also connected to the Shechina, the feminine aspect of GOD, and the whole world was build so that HASHEM the masculine aspect of GOD and the Shechina the feminine aspect of GOD will have a home, a playground to manifest their love on. In this level these two unite.
The book of Zohar asks: “When is a person the closest to GOD?” The answer is when he makes love with his wife, with love unity and adoration.
The esoteric jewish love making starts when the lovers sit in a dark room and feel themselves being filled with the universal masculine and feminine energies. Then they speak sweet words to each other, then they embrace and caress the entire body, while entering a state of silence and mental void. They focus on touching more and more and only afterwards they can kiss and finally to descend the energy to the sexual organs and to unite until they become one flesh, which has the perfect image of GOD.
Before ending this article, it’s important to mention that this was just a very small part of all the similarities between these two traditions, but the space of this article does not allow going into more detail. I will just mention some of the other similarities, shortly: in both traditions we find the search for the divine self, the law of three, the law of seven and the hiatus, hierarchies of divine entities, astral projection, mantras, the cosmic illusion and even the raising of kundalini shakti and more…