Friday, March 12, 2010
Jewish Meditation as we have seen shares many salient points with other forms of meditation save for the end result or outcome. Many of the techniques are the same. The bible, Talmud and Kabala all have meditation techniques contained there in. These days it can be a work of Linguistic Archaeology to ferret them out. The Jewish nation has been a nation that practiced meditation as part of their practice quite consistently up until 150 years ago.
The enlightenment or Haskalla encouraged intellectual pursuits and frowned on anything mystical. Anything mystical was derided as superstitious. This infected the Torah world as well. Meditation fell out of practice. In the early days of the Israelite nation meditation was practiced quite regularly.
There were schools of prophets ran by master teachers. They taught their students meditative techniques that would help them reach higher states of consciousness. These school were usually headed by the prophets themselves and only extremely dedicated and spiritually advanced students were permitted to join these schools. Many Jews seeking spiritual ecstasy would practice avodah Zarah or idol worship. This was not too big of a problem provided that the Jewish nation was living in their country. Once the Nation of Israel was placed in exile things began to change.
The spiritual leadership of the Jewish People could no longer contain the problem of Jews seeking other spiritual path to transcendence, ones that may be easier. Merkavah mysticism was practiced by Ezekial the prophet. He was most likely one of the last ones to openly practice it before the Sanhedrin decided to submerge the teaching and keep it secret. This was done at some risk. None the less certain schools kept it alive.
Meditation was further eroded with the coming of Shabbtai Tzvi a false messiah. He used mysticism to promote his own end and challenge the Sultan. He ended up converting to Islam in order to save his skin.
In the Kabalistic realm The Sefer Yetzirah was written during the Talmudic times. Abraham Abulafia wrote treatises on meditation. There was also a book on Merkavah meditation. The Rambam himself analyzed meditation as did Gersonides .
Yet even within Kabbalsitic realms meditation suffered a setback. The Zohar a long complex kabbalistic work was reduced to an intellectual pursuit. The Chassidic movement while providing a bit of a revival in meditation also caused a set back. Due to it’s ecstatic character and focus on one person the Rebbe the Jewish community as a whole especially the leadership issued bans against the movement.
The sages built meditative devices within the Jewish prayers. The Amidah is said three times per day. Some would argue that this is repetive yet it’s purpose is to function like a mantra. A mantra when repeated over and over again produces an altered state of consiousness. Kavannote are also built in they serve as a focus or mental perspective that one is to concentrate on while praying.
Kavahna means focus or what you are to direct your mind to. Some mistake the meaning as concentration or emotional content. Actually the term means to direct our mind towards something.
Another important term mentioned by Abraham Maimonides is Hitbonenute which literally means self understanding. This self understanding can be achieved by contemplating on an object or and idea. This leads to an increase in ones love for God. An example would be to go out in an open field and contemplate the stars.
The last term I wish to discuss is Hitbodetude . This form of meditation was made famous by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. It literally means isolation. There are two kinds of isolation. External isolation obviously means getting away from everybody. Internal isolation means blocking out all external stimuli and thought.
Next on the discussion is Mantras.
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