I recently wrote a piece on meditation. This is a continuation of the ideas expressed there,
Meditation techniques have been practiced for millennia. Many different traditions of meditation, largely religious, are practiced throughout the world.
I believe that meditation is something very deep in the human psyche. Meditation is the key to man's communicating with his Maker, and in turn, his God's with Man. As a speaking animal, Onkelos's definition of mankind, each of us has the ability to speak with other individuals, and via the same tools, to communicate with our God.
But how does God communicate with us?
The ability of Man to discourse with his Maker was largely lost in the third or fourth generation after Creation, following Ḥanokh's replacement of the direct worship of God with worshipping Him via tangible intermediaries: Sun, Moon, Stars. After a short period of time, people forgot these were merely go-betweens, to lessen the awe of directly communicating with so powerful a creator. They continued worshipping middlemen as their god. They then built temples to the heavenly luminaries.
A thousand years and more of human history elapse until there appears on the earth, a man, who realises that not the sun, not the moon, not the stars, nor anything on the earth nor in the skies is the supreme power in the world. In the reverse of what the Talmud tells was haShem's master plan for creating of the universe, "and He looked in the Tora and created the world", Avraham was able to look at the world of nature and view the Tora, meaning seeing the hand of the Creator, to such a depth that he was able to fathom the process of creation.
Avraham's insight was so profound, he was able to delve so deeply into the spiritual realm, that he was able to understand that God created the world using speech (as we are told in Pirkei Avoth, "With ten sayings the world was created". We acknowledge this each time we eat, as we bless God saying "that everything came into being by his word".) Speech is the ultimate creative tool, the ability to create something from absolute nothingness. He was able to analyse the structure of language to understand the power of words, syllables and letters. Which sounds have what effect on the cosmos at large and sub-particles at the micro level.
Avraham also realises that within creation, though God removed himself from this mundane world, there remains an opening for two-way communication to the above. God, when He separated the upper worlds from the lower ones, left communication lines open, allowing Him to "speak" to [chosen] individuals in our earthly abode.
Perhaps the severest punishment which can be meted out to a person, is kareth, excision, "being cut off from our people". What physically happens in kareth and why is it such a terrible thing? Each soul in our dominion is connected to above via a spiritual line, allowing for potential communication and spiritual empowerment. We all have the ability to communicate with God. Kareth severs this line, leaving you alone, disconnected, unaffiliated in this world — what could be a worse fate, to be left in such a spiritual wilderness?
The tragedy of our lives is that most of us are totally unaware of the existence of our direct connection to higher domains. Most are unable to differentiate the normal situation to that of being cut off. We, even religious, practicing people, are desensitised to the spiritual.
The Tora tells us that Moses was unique amongst all prophets, before and after him, in that he was the only one with whom "God spoke face to face, as a man speaks to his friend". All other prophets are spoken to via the communication lines. However these lines do not work like a telephone. The receiver of these messages must be prepared to experience them. Throughout the Tanakh we are told of special schools where prophecy, read meditation, techniques were taught. These students are known as the bnei n'vi'im, the sons of the prophets. Only the trained navi, generally translated, though not entirely correctly, as prophet, has the ability to potentially receive a communication from on high.
A number of meditation techniques are available to reach an enlightened state. The most common, Jewish and Indian, seems to be mantra meditation. In the Hindu form (I am generalising for simplicity) the mantras are names of Brahman gods. These names are structured of up to three syllables. The technique is simple, though requires practice — keep repeating the name in your mind. Each time you feel you are straying to an extraneous thought, return your mind to the repetition of the mantra. Once you have mastered the technique, you should be able to enter an enlightened state within a few minutes.
Jewish meditation has many variants. The simplest form is basically the same as the Hindu method (for reasons I shall explain later — the Jewish form preceded any of the Eastern forms). Mantras can be based on varying groups of sounds, words, and also names or nicknames* of God, of which there are many in Hebrew. Recommended positions for meditation include sitting up straight, standing and sitting with head between the knees.
Judaism offers forms more complex than matra meditation. These are largely letter or sound based. The Hebrew language provides twenty-eight independent consonant sounds and seven vowels. Each is also connected to different parts of the body and different areas of the celestial sphere. These connections provide added dimensions, though not a requirement. There are five dimensions (as outlined in Sefer Y'ẓira): the three dimensions of space, plus time and spirit.
The basic consonantal sounds can be combined into double sounds, called gates, and triple sounds, houses. And of course further for deeper levels. Other combinations and permutations are based on the building structures based on the names of God (the ineffable four letter name, the seventy-two letter name, and more).
There are visual forms of meditation. For example sitting in a dark room and focusing on a flickering candle. Other forms based on sound and music. Rhythmic drumming is a well known form in many cultures. We find King Shaul, following his appointment as king. He looks up and sees a band of n'vi'im coming towards him, playing music. He joins them and "prophesies". This does not mean that he received revelation, but he certainly reached a transcendental state. (Similarly see Elisha's use of music to attain prophecy.)
From the Chinese we learn Chi Kung and Tai Chi which are a combination of martial arts and meditation techniques. This is meditation in movement. Movement, carried out in the correct way, can lead to the same enlightenment. By focusing on movement, energy meridia, repetition, and breathing, a transcendental state is reach.
Runners, swimmers and other sportsman, whose activity involves repetitive movements, can also reach higher states of consciousness. If sound is involved in their exercise (like pounding the pavement or a treadmill, the beat of a swimmer's feet) it may be easier to transcend to a higher level. However I do not believe that in such a noisy or sweaty state it is possible to reach a level anywhere nearing prophesy, by far the highest level of enlightenment, and one which, though initiated by entering a meditative state, is rarely responded to.
Thai Buddhists meditate simply meditate by focusing on [the sound of] their own breathing. I expect this is similar to a mantra form, but requires more practice to achieve. It is also possible that since Buddhism is not based on the existence of a God, but rather on the supremacy of Nature, their technique did not develop a vocalised, god-name mantra.
In summary, the commonality of all these methods involves repetition or cycling.
There are many examples in the Bible of how prophetuc communication only works via meditation.
We find God, personally, assigning to Avraham the task of sacrificing his son, Yitzḥak. This request would have, as all his other communions with the Creator, come to him in a prepared, meditative state. I assume he meditated daily, perhaps morning and evening, or even more often (e.g. sitting in the entrance to his tent on a hot summer's day). Possibly the best example of this state of readiness is in the vision of the parts, where Avraham is provided exact instructions on how to prepare himself, eventually succumbing to a very deep level.
Avraham demonstrates his obedience to God by tying his son to an altar on Mount Moria. Then suddenly, in the middle of the sacrifice, an angel appears to stop him. Why an angel? He was commanded by God, so why is God Himself not terminating the action?
Putting a child onto an altar and keeping him still is no easy task for a man well over a hundred years old, even with the acquiescence of his sacrifice. He is in a sweaty, excited, heart pounding emotional state, as far away as possible to that required to attain enlightenment. In this condition, he cannot possibly receive a message from God.
Why? I don't know the answer, but this is how God created the world.
Bilaam too, speaks to God when enlightened. Except for perhaps one occasion where the Tora implies that God "bumped into him by chance". I would argue this too was during meditation. Remember that when he is sweatily riding his donkey, it is an angel that blocks his path though the vineyards and speaks to him.
Elisha, on the seeing the Shunamite lady approaching, immediately senses doom. He openly says, "Something has happened and God did not inform me", implying that God often informed him of developments in the world.
Avraham's methods are brought to us in a book which in essence he presumably wrote, or was passed down for many generations in an oral tradition. We traditionally accept that the text we have today was written by Rabbi Akiva. Sefer Y'ẓira, the Book of Creation, is a work which can be comprehended on many levels: a guide to Hebrew grammar and language structure, an esoteric description of creative methodology, an introduction to cosmology, a guide to organisational structures, and ... a manual for the meditator.
We are told that Avraham, well before he passed on from our world, gave everything he owned to his son, Yitzḥak. Then what remained for his other, younger offspring to receive as an inheritance? We are told that he gave them presents and sent them to the East. However if he gave everything to Yitzḥak, what was left for his siblings? What were these gifts? They were the knowledge of communication with the Creator, the techniques of meditation, the paths to enlightenment. However like Enoch twenty generations earlier, the technique became separated from the method to reach the One Creator, the One God. It became confused and was corrupted for idolatry.
A double language is used to describe the "East" in the Biblical narrative, "Then he sent them away ... eastward to the east country". The double language, in my mind implies not just East across the River Jordan, but well beyond, to the East, far from where they could adversely influence his true disciple, the one son who followed and developed his ways, his son Yitzḥak. One midrash reports that they that will return back to Yisrael in the time of the Mashaḥ.
Anyone interested on more information on Jewish aspects of meditation is referred to the many excellent books written by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan of blessed memory.
8th August, 2009
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