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Secrets from the Kabbalah

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Subject: Secrets from the Kabbalah
   Illustration by:
   Paula Goodpaster
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   Sandra Sarr: You clearly felt that the Kabbalah's teachings could
   offer much to the world and you've opened up its meaning to a
   wider audience. That must feel very satisfying.
   Rabbi David A. Cooper: Very much so because up until 50 years ago
   Kabbalah was only learned by a select group of people--qualified
   men over the age of 40--and you had to have an "in" to learn some
   of the basic Kabbalistic teachings. It is a wisdom that is useful
   to the world. I get a lot of letters from people who aren't
   Jewish and who are grateful for my work because now they can
   pursue their interest in the Kabbalah. It had not been accessible
   mostly because it was written in coded language and one needed a
   teacher to help translate.
   SS: Was it written in code because there was a fear that it would
   be misused?
   DC: There has always been a concern about the Kabbalah, and all
   mystical teachings, that if they were read by people who weren't
   spiritually mature, they could be misunderstood and actually lead
   people astray. There are different kinds of Kabbalah. One is
   called Practical Kabbalah, a misnomer, which is a kind of black
   magic where incantations and uses of holy names were used to do a
   kind of witchcraft, to put a curse on someone. But it was
   medieval Kabbalah that was misused and out of that came a great
   fear that if the Kabbalah was misused it could cause harm.
   Between the misuse of the Kabbalah and the misunderstanding of
   it, there was a considerable amount of paranoia and it was kept
   as a closely held secret.
   SS: You've said that the literal translations of Bible stories do
   a disservice. Can you tell us why?
   DC: A phrase that's used in the Jewish world is, "You don't want
   to put a stumbling block in front of a blind person." To do so is
   considered a forbidden act. Say you take some written work and
   you declare that this particular translation is the real
   understanding of this message. This translation may have built
   into it certain meanings that would lead someone--that is to say,
   a blind person-- astray if he or she doesn't have enough
   background or context within which to understand its meaning. For
   example, if you literally translate parts of the Torah, commonly
   called the Old Testament, on the literal level, one could end up
   thinking that there is a God out there who is a man, who is an
   angry man, a revengeful man, who wants certain things from us,
   and if we don't do these things an angry God will come and punish
   us. That really does an enormous disservice to humanity because
   it structures a relationship between humanity and the divine that
   is not true to theunderstanding of the mystical world. God is not
   an old man up in the sky. God is not what we commonly think it
   is. It is very difficult to find a book that refers to God as
   anything other than a masculine pronoun. God is called a him or a
   he. So we have it embedded in our Western psyche the sense that
   God is a man.
   SS: As you say in your book, spirituality is something that
   eludes language and that is why we turn to poems, symbols, and
   metaphors in an attempt to express spiritual concepts.
   DC: This is the point. The Torah is learned on four basic levels.
   One is learning the literal level of the Torah, which is very
   useful. Another level is called the hint, which means the
   metaphorical level, and it is well understood that the teachings
   are metaphors for other things that are trying to be transmitted.
   The third is the level of examination, the analytical dimension
   where you take a piece from one part of the Torah and you connect
   it to another part of the book. You begin to see some parallels
   and connections where one part amplifies the other. On this level
   you need these multiple pieces to fully appreciate the one piece
   you are reading. The fourth level is the mystical or the hidden
   level at which you look at all meaning is encoded. It reveals
   something totally different from the way it reads. You must
   understand the codes, what is hidden, and understand that this,
   which is the Kabbalah is giving us a whole cosmology and
   architecture of creation. Without the codes, you could never
   appreciate its meaning. So, unless those four levels of
   understanding are brought to the Torah, or the Old Testament, it
   does a major disservice to the people who are working with it,
   believing in it and living their lives by its stories. The first
   three levels are typically taught in the study of Judaism. The
   fourth, the hidden Kabbalah level, had been saved for a select
   group of people who, as it was felt up until recently, were
   prepared to understand those hidden teachings. It is this level
   that the new approach to Kabbalah is directing itself toward.
   SS: What do you mean when you say "God Is a Verb?"
   DC: First, we must break with the idea that God is a thing. The
   word God implies that there is someone or something out there
   that has its own consciousness and that wants certain things and
   doesn't want other things. We must break through that concept of
   an "us and God out there" because it represents an otherness from
   who we are. In the Torah there are many, many names for the
   divine. These names get translated into two words in English: God
   or Lord. Every time we read the word God in our English Bible--if
   we go back to the Hebrew we find that God is sometimes one name
   and sometimes another name. These various names represent
   different aspects of the divine. In Kabbalah the ultimate Source
   is called Ein Sof which means "without end" or "boundless." The
   Boundless is not a thing. The Boundless is not some place. It is
   ongoing, unfolding, continuing process. I call it God-ing to give
   the sense that what we think of as a noun is really a verb. This
   verb is continuously unfolding and it is in a dynamic
   relationship with the continuously unfolding creation. We must
   shift our understanding and realize that God-ing is not something
   that happened way back when, and it didn't start creation way
   back when. Creation-ing is happening right now and simultaneously
   God-ing is happening now. One and the other work together and
   cannot be separated from one another.
   SS: If it is true that everything we say, do, and think makes a
   difference to the unfolding of the Universe, then it would seem
   that each of us has a huge personal responsibility.
   DC: It is true, and it is one of the more powerful aspects of the
   Kabbalistic teaching, that everything we say, think, and do has
   reverberations that carry out into the Universe. In the East they
   call this karma. In the West we haven't used too much language
   around our personal responsibility. Kabbalistically, there is a
   profound relationship between free will and divine providence or
   the will of the divine. I can take an action that will
   dramatically affect how the God-ing process unfolds for me or for
   someone else depending upon how I exercise my free will.
   SS: Is charity one of the steps on the path to enlightenment?
   DC: In the Talmud is a description of 12 different levels of
   practice that one could utilize to achieve higher states of
   awareness. Some of them are as simple as charity. The concept of
   charity is more than writing a check to our favorite
   organization. It has to do with attaining a level of selflessness
   so that we realize that it is not us giving anymore. We are just
   vehicles through which something that is needed is passing.
   Humans are created in the image of the divine. We have, as part
   of our free will, the ability to give -- in addition to the fact
   that we are constantly receiving from our Source. Receiving and
   giving follow laws of nature and destiny. Giving a part of our
   wealth when we are able to do so is a natural law of maintaining
   balance in the universe.
   SS: To what do you attribute the rise in popularity of Western
   DC: One of the main factors is simply the increased access to
   information. Until recently we were fairly isolated. We didn't
   have computers, televisions--we didn't have things moving quite
   as rapidly as today. People have access to enormous amounts of
   information. The world is moving very, very rapidly. There is a
   part of our being, that we will call the soul, that needs to be
   nurtured in something other than TV, fast-moving entertainment,
   business, and money. The soul wants to be touched in some other
   way, for example through nature, poetry, or through subtler,
   quieter, more direct kinds of connections with the Spirit. This
   is what mysticism is all about. It has always been that process
   that has been impossible to articulate but that actually connects
   us on a place of knowing--not intellectual knowing. It connects
   us (to our Source). And we start feeling a sense of purpose in
   life, we feel we belong, and we feel connected through our
   mystical understandings. I think these factors have been leading
   us fairly dramatically toward more interest in the mystical
   realms in all Western spiritual tradition.
   SS: What happens to the soul after death?
   DC: In the Jewish realm when someone dies we say Kaddish, special
   prayers for 11 months after they die in order to help the soul
   make its transition to arrive at the place where it is supposed
   to be. When we think about someone going over to the other side
   and we realize that we can, as co-creators, as actors of free
   will, actually engage the creation to help that soul achieve its
   level, for lack of a better word. This is something that has been
   done in Judaism for thousands of years. I believe that there is
   no way we can use human language to affect what is happening in a
   timeless, non-intellectual realm. If we can meditate on the
   situation we can imagine that there is a vibratory level of the
   soul. In Kabbalah the soul has five levels. The two lowest levels
   are most closely associated with the physical body. There are
   three higher levels of soul, the highest being union, which is
   continuously attached to the Source. We have a belief in the West
   that one can commit acts that corrupt a soul. Some teachings say
   the black mark can be so bad the one can burn in hell forever.
   This idea is not something that the Jewish mystics agree with.
   They believe that an aspect of one's soul is always connected to
   the light no matter what one does in life.
   Rabbi David A. Cooper studied mystical Judaism in Jerusalem for
   eight years and has authored several books on meditation,
   spiritual retreats, and Jewish mystical practice. He has recorded
   the bestselling audiotape series, The Mystical Kabbalah, and,
   with his wife, directs the Heart of Stillness Hermitage near
   Boulder, Colorado. 

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