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Indian Philosophy

In their notion of Ein-Sof the Kabbalists developed a concept of an infinite Godhead which in many ways parallels ancient Indian ideas. Both the Kabbalist's Ein-Sof and the Indian Brahman refer to an underlying reality that is the substance and energy of all life and mind. Like Ein-Sof, the principle called Brahman (or in its creative mode: Atman), is in effect, beyond any God who can be addressed, worshipped, or described. It is beyond all qualities and distinctions: it is infinite, boundless, pure and totally real, and like Ein-Sof it transcends all oppositions in coincidentia oppositorum. In the Indian (as in Kabbalistic) cosmology, this infinite spiritual principle is identified with "nothingness," a "no-thingness" which mystically coincides with the "life energy" (prana) of the cosmos. Each of the Hindu gods and goddesses, are understood, to be just another aspect or manifestation of this single unitary principle in Brahman, much as, for the Kabbalists the Sefirot and Partzufim are understood as aspects of Ein-Sof.

Kabbalah, also shares with Indian thought the notion of a Primordial Man who embodies the very essence of the created universe. The divine, either Ein-Sof or Brahman, is according to these traditions perfectly reflected in the human soul, and both the Kabbalah and Indian philosophy frequently reinterpret divine, cosmological, events in terms of stages in the development of human consciousness. Both the Kabbalistic and Indian traditions hold that the religious adherent must integrate into his or her psyche an aspect of himself (Atman in Indian thought, the Tzelem or divine Spark in the Kabbalah) that normally remains hidden. The two traditions even share specific meditational techniques designed to support this integration.

Both mystical traditions share in the idea that the world as it is experienced by man is a function of divine ignorance and forgetfulness, what is described in the Kabbalah as God's self-concealment in Tzimtzum. Like the Kabbalah, several schools within the Hindu-Brahman tradition hold the world to be an illusion created through a limitation in the infinite "All." The non-dualistic Vedanta, for example, particularly as it is expressed by its leading advocate, Sankara (c.788-820) views the world as a total illusion. The world's existence, according to this tradition, is completely a function of divine forgetfulness and ignorance. A similar acosmic view is evident in the Chabad Hasidic interpretation of the Lurianic theosophy.

The concept of Maya in Indian philosophy refers to the purely phenomenal, insubstantial character of the everyday world; a world which results from a process through which Brahman conceals itself from itself. This concealment results in both matter and mind, each of which are brought into existence by Atman's ignorance or self-forgetfulness. Such ideas, of course, are very similar to Luria's conception of the phenomenal world as an illusion produced by Tzimtzum, the concealment and contraction of the light of the Infinite God (Or Ein-Sof). In the final analysis, for both traditions the "illusion" of a world is predicated on the ignorance of humanity. It is such ignorance, which (both in the Kabbalah and the philosophies of India) is the root, cause and substance of both space and time, and it is the overcoming of this ignorance, which, according to both traditions, is one of the great tasks of mankind.

The Jaina doctrine of Karma, which gives expression to the view that one's inner, Godly self is obscured by layers of darkness that have their origin in a man's negative actions, finds a ready parallel and compliment in the Lurianic symbol of Kellipot (Husks) (See Kellipot.)

The parallels between Kabbalistic and Indian thought are discussed in Kabbalistic Metaphors, Chapters 2 and 3, pp. 78-80 and 86-112.

The Lurianic Kabbalah is treated in detail in Sanford Drob's Symbols of the Kabbalah and Kabbalistic Metaphors .

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