How many times have we prayed for something and it has failed to materialize? We are afflicted with doubt and quickly conclude that it does not work. Perhaps Divine Essence/God is too distant and uncaring - or does not exist. It is rare for us to pause and consider whether, in fact, we are praying effectively. It depends upon our understanding of prayer. Normally we think of prayer as a shopping list of demands. Often, we believe that we are helpless and that we have to beg. We hardly imagine that we are powerful in our own right and that we are effective in the ordering of our lives.
This article examines the Kabalistic interpretation of prayer and suggests that it is the deliberate setting into motion of the hidden processes of the Cosmos. We should note, however, that successful or effective prayer can hurt - it can bring the 'dark night of the soul'. Pain in our lives is not necessarily the result of wrong thinking creating a bad reality. Right thinking can also lead to pain that brings release and - spiritual awareness.
Kabalistic teaching suggests that the hidden processes were put into place when God uttered verbal commands and created a numerical sequence of consciousness or energy. This produced order in the Cosmos by way of the 10 Sefirot and the 'Tree of Life'.
If we turn to the Bible and Genesis Ch. 1, it has 10 statements of "God said". The number 10 is important because it takes us to the 10 Sefirot. This is where the Tree of Life comes from. In the diagram, Fig. 1, the Sefirot are shown as circles. They can be thought of as centers of consciousness or centers of energy. The circles are connected by lines which are regarded as paths.
This brings us to the importance of words and language. The teaching suggests that the Hebrew word properly pronounced creates a direct channel to the principle that it means. If we return to Genesis we will see the words "God made" mentioned 3 times, "God saw" mentioned 7 times, with 12 single references to "God". This correlates to the paths in the Tree of Life, as there are 3 horizontal paths, 7 vertical paths and 12 diagonal paths. Genesis Ch. 1 gives us the structure, source and origin of the Tree of Life. This relationship between text and Kabala uses the Tree of Life to explain a Kabalistic notion of effective prayer. The combination of paths, Sefirot and their functions, constitute the hidden processes of the Cosmos.
The Hebrew names and the Tree of Life are shown in Fig. 1. For simplicity and convenience the modern meanings will now be used. This helps us to focus on the intrinsic meaning of the names of the Sefirot so that we can use them practically. For effective prayer we only need to understand the intrinsic meaning. We do not need to go into the Hebrew language. It is beyond the scope of this article to explain the workings of the whole Tree. We shall only look at part of it. The bottom half of the Tree of Life diagram is shown in Fig. 2.
We can view the Kabalistic process of effective prayer scientifically, in that we expect a cause and effect relationship. Our starting point is Objective Consciousness. This is the seat of our perceptions through the senses. It is the metaphysical place from which we explain our reality to ourselves. It is metaphysical because we are not dealing with materiality, only with the one truth, that consciousness is all we truly perceive directly. All else is the interpretation by our minds of external events.
Thus for example, if we hear a noise, sound waves strike our eardrum which by mechanical means transmits those vibrations to the inner ear. Other receptors then translate the vibrations into electro-chemical energy which passes via the nerves to the brain. By a process which is still mysterious to science, these vibrations are 'translated' into sound, which in turn appears to be coming from outside ourselves. All of this is an interpretation of reality, as we are not perceiving it directly.
We are aware that we are aware and we are conscious that we are conscious. If we look at Fig. 2, we stand at the place numbered 1 called 'Objective Consciousness'. This is where we are here and now. It is also the place where we make the decision to act. Our next step is crucial.
Modern western science has given us the theories of Freud and Jung. Their teachings suggest that we should go directly from Objective Consciousness to Sub-Consciousness. However, they would go to the hard place first. If we return to the diagram, it shows us several alternatives. The easiest is to go to Desire (#2). This takes us straight to our power house and the source of our motivation. In other words, the diagram suggests that we do things in a different order from Freud and Jung.
From Desire we go to Intellect (#3). This is the source of our beliefs. This is where we must examine our faith and our belief system. Next, we return to Objective Consciousness (#4) so that we can act with desire and belief. We can go to our Subconscious (#5) in order to resolve our problem areas. Only then can we proceed to Cosmic Consciousness (#6) which is the true source of the inspiration to direct our lives. Successful connection with the Cosmic is the key to effective control of our lives and is the key to successful prayer.
Modern psychology does not proceed beyond the subconscious. This is precisely the value of the Kabalistic method, because it takes us to Cosmic Consciousness. However, we need to understand why the process of prayer (whether Kabalistic or otherwise) can break down. Here are some possibilities:
OBJECTIVE CONSCIOUSNESS (1) - Maybe we do not have all the necessary facts and so our initial decision is based on the wrong assumptions.
DESIRE (2) - Perhaps we are not truly motivated and there is no energy to make the prayer effective.
INTELLECT (3) - If we do not believe, how can it work? Faith is based on knowledge gained through the intellect. If there is no knowledge, there is no faith. Then there is no belief.
OBJECTIVE CONSCIOUSNESS (4) - If we do not put our desire and belief into action, failure is guaranteed.
The Tree of Life is an image of Divine Essence/God and we function in much the same way as the Tree operates. We correspond to an archetypal reality and the Tree of Life is an image of the reality. That is why we get exactly what we ask for. If we do not understand the way in which the Tree of Life functions, it operates automatically anyway and brings to our lives everything that we create in our own individual realities by our own particular thoughts. Prayer does work. However, we need to understand how it works in order to use it effectively.
THE 10 COMMANDMENTS
If the 10 Commandments are assumed to have an effect on the level of reality, then it is easy to see why they are taken so literally. We believe that they are no more than a set of rules for human behavior - moral, philosophical, ethical and practical. The other levels of reality are hidden from us and we have no idea that there is more involved. Properly understood, they are spiritual exercises designed to set into motion the hidden processes of the Cosmos taken as a whole. If they are no more than a code of ethical behavior, then we are spiritual robots, mechanically obeying rules we have learned parrot fashion. We do not develop or grow.
Let us go beyond the literal and see the spiritual meaning. Ultimately, we have to give our own interpretation, but this is a guide for the time being.
(1) I Am the Lord Thy God, thou shalt have no other gods before me.
I AM: refers to our Divine spark. It is the connection with God and our ultimate identity. This is who we truly are. This realization occurs when we reach the level of reality/Emanation. This is the true Self; not our objective consciousness, subconscious, ego, psyche, personality. NO OTHER GODS: nothing else can be the focus of attention, striving, effort, feeling or thought. The Divine spark is the unifying principle and the means of integration.
(2) Thou shalt not make idols of me nor bow down to worship and serve them.
The key word is IDOL. There is a difference between the Divine spark and the symbols that we create to describe it. Since we do not yet experience unity, our divided consciousness needs polarity in order to function. Hence the Tree of Life is experienced as the masculine pillar of force, the feminine pillar of form and the central pillar of consciousness, which reconciles them. These lower levels are some of the idols that we have created and worship. These are inner idols. It is trite to mention external idols such as money, power and sex.
The main issue is not to identify with any of the idols in our lives. External idols are easy to identify, although hard to deal with. We do not even suspect our inner idols. Nothing less than identification with the Divine spark will do.
(3) Thou shalt not use the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
Normally we understand this to be a comment about irreverence, the use of God's name lightly, inappropriately. The point is, that the NAME is a word of power that invokes God's presence. It brings God's Consciousness, Life and Energy. By using it IN VAIN, we abuse ourselves by misusing the function of our Divine spark. It is simple enough to list the countless ways in which self-abuse is the norm for our lives: drugs, alcohol, greed, violence and so on. Little do we suspect that ultimately our self-abuse begins and ends with our Divine spark.
This commandment is about the proper use of our divine nature. We have a legitimate right to the abundance that the Cosmos can provide us. By using the NAME IN VAIN, we pervert the Cosmic processes.
(4) Thou shalt keep holy the day of the Lord thy God.
Again, the ordinary meaning is trite. We think it means going to church on Sunday. TO KEEP HOLY means to achieve right relationship and proper balance. It requires action on our part. We usually miss this point because we are told that there is nothing we can do for our salvation. Superficially, we understand that THE DAY OF THE LORD is giving time to God. Why? What can we possibly do that is useful to God? Think of it this way, to keep holy the day of the Lord, is about consciously directed spiritual work. It is the deliberate setting into motion of the hidden processes of the Cosmos.
(5) Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother.
We all understand this, don't we? Why then must it be elevated to the status of a command of God?
This deals with the principle of polarity and gender, of right relationship between spirit and matter, male and female, active and passive. THOU: refers to our little 'self' operating from our objective consciousness and sub-consciousness. To HONOR is to deliberately focus attention upon and enter into a right relationship with:
the FATHER: as both God and our Divine spark, which are identical in truth, if we could only understand this, and
the MOTHER: the lowest level of reality, personified as Nature in general and our individual vehicle of consciousness, our body, in particular.
Thus we must become aware that we are both spiritual and physical beings and we must reconcile many polarities: knowledge/love, grace/effort, joy/pain, spirit/matter, good/evil. Polarity is a great mystery and operates on all levels of the Tree of Life and hence of our being. We understand this Commandment only by plunging into the polarities, not by avoiding them.
(6) Thou shalt not kill.
Again, an obvious statement, hardly needing God to get involved - but more difficult and subtle than it seems. Remember, these Commandments are statements of SPIRITUAL action as well as of physical conduct. It means essentially, not to interfere with the Cosmic scheme, but rather to fulfil our role, mission and purpose according to God's will. We must consciously harmonize with the Divine spark and the Great Work of spiritual evolution. We are not to impose our will upon the Cosmos, but to work with it. If we do otherwise, we kill.
This Commandment implies harmlessness and proper alignment: the Lord Buddha spoke of this.
(7) Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Adultery: is the loss of the state of pureness, clearness, concentration and integration, that is rightly ours. It implies the disintegration of our being into separate parts like, objective consciousness, sub-consciousness, desire, intellect, etc. In this sense, we are all adulterers. It is this state of disintegration that makes it easy for us to "mate" with wrong thinking, feeling and action. Thus we do things because they are 'practical' or 'expedient' or because 'everyone does it'.
On the Tree of Life this Commandment focuses on desire. To want what is wrong brings dissociation, confusion and misery. To want what is right brings synthesis, peace, clarity, certainty and joy. Righteousness is so obviously desirable it is a wonder that we choose adultery so often.
(8) Thou shalt not steal.
We steal when we take something physical, emotional, mental or spiritual that does not belong to us. This is not just about honesty and respect for others. It is an injunction about not using our will to take what we want to gratify ourselves. Rather, we must take that which God gives to us for our good and growth. It means to grow consciously according to the will of the Divine spark, together with our obligations to society and nature. More subtly, it is about growth that is neither forced nor hindered. It requires self-knowledge that goes far deeper than where either philosophy or psychology can take us. It requires gnosis.
(9) Thou shalt not bear false witness.
We bear false witness whenever we affirm anything not centered on truth or reality. This is much more than ordinary concepts of honesty. Anything contrary to the will of the Divine spark is false witness in this sense. True, we must not think, feel, say or act in any way that we know is false. But more than that, we can only be true to our Divine spark if we center our being upon it. That is harder than it sounds and more vital than we can imagine. Yet again, self-knowledge is required.
(10) Thou shalt not covet the wife or any of the possessions of thy neighbor.
Have we not already spoken of adultery and stealing? Why the repetition? It is because this Commandment is closest to the literal interpretation that we normally give. It deals with right human relationships as the beginning of the process that takes us to right relations with the Divine spark.
Put simply, this Commandment requires us to be what we are, with what we have, in order to become who we shall be, according to the will of the Divine spark. If we see something someone else has, we should not desire it without working for it and creating it by our own efforts. More subtly, it is about evolving at the right time and unfolding naturally. The 'wife of our neighbor' includes his faculties and feminine principle. The 'possessions of our neighbor' include not only what he owns but also what he is.
Even this most literal of Commandments requires a degree of self-knowledge that most of us would rather not have. Knowledge implies responsibility. How many of us want that?
Let us end this examination of prayer by noting that if we follow the 10 Commandments, we are praying in the sense that we are deliberately setting into motion the hidden processes of the Cosmos. But this is only the beginning, because the Commandments are to be performed here and now through our vehicle of consciousness - the BODY. This is only the first level - the beginning of our study. Further examination (the Lord's Prayer, etc.) delineates effects on the next level of reality / Yetzirah / Formation. That is our SOUL level.JACK COURTIS passed through transition in 2001. He was born in Greece and migrated to Australia with his parents as a child. He trained with the Australian special unit forces earning the rank of Major. He was a practicing attorney for over 25 years and was married with a family of two sons and two daughters. His spiritual quest of about 30 years equipped him to incisively write and teach on a multitude of spiritual motifs/subject matter. An initial compilation of his essays - The Gnostic Book of Liberation - will be published soon and details will be forthcoming to all interested Vital Spark readers.
In my early teenage years I remember kneeling at the foot of my bed on a number of occasions and petitioning the Almighty to assist me in the next day's school exam. I had not studied nor prepared myself as I should have and Lord, I iterated, if You help me out just this one time I promise to pull up my socks in the future. No - really!
Adolescents can be excused for thinking that this was the way the process operated. It's what they had all been taught. And it's unfortunate (and sometimes fairly comical) that most adults have not graduated from this unsophisticated and spiritually erroneous method of supplication.
Are not most prayers quite puerile? We beg. We sometimes receive that object of our desire. Many more times we probably do not. And do we ever apprehend why the answer was yes last week and no today?
Why do so many individuals not fathom the illogicality of their pleas? How many wars have taken place with both sides reaching out to God to be on "their side"? Does farmer Brown really think that a few Our Father's and Glory Be's are going to shift earthly weather patterns simply because his farm in Left Armpit, Saskatchewan is in the midst of a prolonged drought? Would not any sense of Cosmic Law / Unity be shattered if the Divine operated so capriciously?
Every religion has fostered the concept of prayer as an integral component of spiritual cultivation. But most religious people "ask" for a specific something mistakenly believing that they have no control over the events / favours which they want to materialize in their lives.
The individual on the mystical path who is wise enough not to demand the inconceivable and who believes in karmic cause and effect will never petition the Cosmic in the hope that a particular physical or universal law be counteracted because of some selfish notion. The merits and benefits of any prayer are commensurate with the underlying motive / methodology set into motion. Here are a few points to ponder: