Saturday, April 19, 2014

Karma & Kabbalah

From The Technology Of Good
There was a king who had a single son who kept misbehaving. One day he offended the king. The king said, 'I have punished you so many times and you have not [changed]. Now look, what should I do with you? If I banish you from the land and expel you from the kingdom, perhaps wild beasts or wolves or robbers will attack you and you will be no more. What can I do? The only solution is that I and you together leave the land.' So . . . the Blessed Holy One said as follows: 'Israel, what should I do with you? I have already punished you and you have not heeded Me. I have brought fearsome warriors and flaming forces to strike at you and you have not obeyed. If I expel you from the land alone, I fear that packs of wolves and bears will attack you and you will be no more. But what can I do with you? The only solution is that I and you together leave the land and both of us go into exile. As it is written, 'I will discipline you,' forcing you into exile; but if you think that I will abandon you, Myself too [shall go] along with you.*

1.

Corner of Beverly Blvd. and Doheny Dr., India in Beverly Hills.

Untouchables live and die on two bus-stops facing each other on either side of the street, in front of the supermarket on one side, in front of the more expensive supermarket on the other.

- I've seen you around. You give away money.
- I've seen you too. You read. What have you got there?
- Kabbalah.
- The Kabbalah is simple. I'll tell you all you need to know. Compassion. Do good. I don't talk, I do. I see people who need help, and I help them.
- How do you help them?
- If they need food I buy them food. If they need money I give them money.
- What makes you think that is doing good?
- The Rabbi says you have to be careful in how you give. Respect people's sensitivities.
- Do you pay attention to what happens after you do good?
- How do you mean?
- Do the people you give money to have better or worse lives after you give them money? Do you know?
- That's god's business, not mine.
- They'll see you are treating them as things.
- I don't.
- They'll see you've done this before and you'll do it again. That they are a tool in your hands, a thing you use, an instrument for your doing good. You shouldn't operate on people like a technician.
- How should I operate on them?
- Like god. According to Kabbalah, the world is not simply something, some thing he made, but something emanated from him.
- What's the difference?
- When you look at the world you see god, at least that aspect that can be seen in the world. Because we are created in god's image, we too have to create like god in every thing we do. Kabbalah tells us how god created the world, and we have to do it the same way if we are to follow god.
- How did god created the world?
- With wisdom and through beauty. We have to follow in his footsteps. That means, in practical terms, start our operation by reminding ourselves what god has done. We do that by seeing god in the world, and we do that when we recognize, we experience beauty in the world. Beauty is a sort of karma, but unlike the Indian version that simply goes from our action, good and bad, through the world back to us, this Karma stays out in world, visible to us and capable of being built upon, of inspiring good deeds that create more beauty. In Kabbalah beauty is joined compassion and judgement, as befits its being the product of wisdom. Beauty is drawn into marriage with the world, and the progeny of that marriage is more beauty.
- I told you. I leave all that useless reasoning and talk to others. I go out and do something.
- And botch the job. Do something ugly. Not beginning from beauty you don't produce beauty. To do good in the world requires you first see the world as beautiful. Seeing the beauty of the world is knowing god made the world and made it well. Not made well the entire world, which you know nothing about. But that part you are looking and thinking about now, that you identify by means of the language you've learned among the people you live with. The beauty of the world excites your judgement and compassion, draws you to respond to it and gives birth in you to another beautiful good deed. Beauty is both judgement and compassion, not one or the other. Beauty won't be created out of good deeds done by rule, by judgement only; won't be created out of good done out of thoughtless feeling, compassion alone.
- How is beauty drawn to beauty?
- Judgement and compassion is brought to bear on the world, and out of that marriage is the good deed born, beautiful in itself. The beauty that inspires making more beauty works through language. Beauty is recorded in the world, gets its persisting, foundational karma, from our ways and habits of using our language. A story once told inspires more stories. Language lives through its community of speakers. That's why in Kabbalah the Jewish people are identified with the world which also is god, not merely his product.
- The Jewish people is god, the world is god. Language is god. And I am to act like god. Everything is god.
- Everything would be god if we all acted with god's wisdom. God creates with wisdom, through compassion and judgement, bringing his wisdom to bear on his own creation. Made in his image we have to do the same. As a people we tell each other stories of how this is done, and we see the world through these stories. The beauty of the world seen through these stories inspires us to make beautiful stories out of our lives.
- But it is not just the Jewish people I help. I think that's wrong.
- The Kabbalah reached its high point of development and probably acceptance at a time the Jewish people were excluded from most activities in the lives of the people they lived among. When restrictions were lifted in the Enlightenment, the time of the French and American Revolutions, the rabbis declared the Kabbalah dangerous and to be studied by only a select few. Do you know why?
- Why?
- If god is known in the world and the world is known through language and language is carried on by a community of speakers, when that community is freed to speak to others outside, there is no reason to exclude anyone from that community. Doing good would have to be directed also to those outside. The rabbis wanted instead to take advantage of the practical gains the new social freedom allowed, but keep the doing good within their communities. Gershom Scholem, the German Jewish academic who begin the modern study of Kabbalah, explained that a non-practicing Jew like himself found himself drawn into the study of mysticism by its political implications. He was a Zionist, and the return to Israel was a way to make a secure foundation for the Jews from which they could safely bring good out into the world.


2.

- "Bring good out into the world". You talk about it like doing good was secret knowledge.
- It certainly is secret knowledge. I'll read you this: according to Nahmanides, 12th century rabbi and physician,
 In the prophetic vision, during which the soul is united with the objects of its contemplation, it is in this state of debhequth, that is, obtains a ''knowledge of God face to face." In this longing for its origin, the highest soul of man becomes capable of penetrating all the intermediary spheres and rising up to God by means of its acts—which, strangely enough, are united here with contemplation.** 
- Whatever.
- Not whatever. Knowledge. We see apparently civilized countries suddenly breaking out into the most vicious savagery, and then within a few years back to civilized again. We see the same with individuals. Do you know why?
- Do you?
- It's because we as individuals don't do as Nahmanides tells us it's possible to do: know how to get out of ourselves.
- To get with god.
- When we don't know what we do to get out of ourselves we take instruction from the people around us. Behind conscious self-instruction is knowledge. Behind unconscious instruction from others is violence. 
- Is that the secret? Is it even true?
- It might be true. And if it is true, we know from other things we do know for sure that though there is no necessity, there is a possibility that history might end and the messiah come.
- And that's the secret.
- There is a sort of dynamic, or logic, to the competition between the two ways of getting out of ourselves. They block each other: violence punishes love, love disdains violence. But it is not an equal battle. Violence grows out of ignorance and is always the same old thing, whereas love, growing from knowledge, knowing that violence is the product of unconscious activity in the group can alter the group to prevent violence from developing. The group can punish good, reward bad, get us to forget love and worship property, but if the group is modeled on knowing how to act to get out...
- How can a group be modeled on knowing how to get out?
- By seeing the world created as words spoken by god, seeing the world as people creating their lives in the same way they use language, using words not knowing how the sentence will end but expecting it be good and what they want if they use language right. If our group tell us one thing only, and that is to do this for ourselves, if we take precautions to make sure this only is what our group does, then good prevails, and must. 
- Like our country spreads democracy around the world by dropping bombs on people.
- Is our country a group of people who learn consciously to see god? 
- We're all waiting for the messiah.
- Wait for the messiah and the devil will come. The messiah has to be brought down to us.
- And you know how.
- If the good we do stays in the world in the form of beauty, and beauty is no more than a model of the kind of knowing action that get us face to face with god, and the good staying in the world requires the obtainable protection of the people who speak to each other of beauty, and the people can speak to people in other groups, then ultimately a time will come when the battle is over. The messiah is the one who arrives to say that time is here, prepare now for an entirely new way of life. No more will we betray each other in protection of our property, our god, our selves as possessions. And no more will we act to get ourselves out of the world of betrayal and rest in the sight of beauty. Finally all of life, all those cycles of betrayal and recovery, exile and return, action and rest, will be gathered together as one long period of action in exile, and be over, we'll rest with god. His beauty will give us continual rest, but we'll act in our calm, act like a child acts in the protection of family, our difficulties enjoyable diversions, played through like games.
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* From the Zohar (Hebrew: זֹהַר, lit. Splendor or Radiance), the foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah.
** Gershom Scholem, Origins Of The Kabbalah