The Soul and its Salvation according to Lurianic Kabbalah

Lurianic Cosmology The Lurianic Theory of Creation and Redemption

 In comparison with the Zohar, Lurianic teachings regarding the soul were far more elaborate.  In one teaching the formation of the soul recapitulates the process of cosmic emanation and contributes towards the cosmic redemption or tikkun.  Explains Scholem:

"Just as the supernal lights of the partzufim of Atzilut develop through conjunctions and "couplings" (zivvugim) of the parztufim, so are the souls born through a corresponding process.  Within the Sefirah Malkut of each parztuf are...souls in a potential state that ascend...and are actualised as a result of the "unions" of the (higher) Sefirot.  At the outset these souls exist only in the state of "female waters" (mayyim nukbin); that is, they are passive potencies that...lack harmony and form....Only through additional "couplings" of...Ze'er Anpin with its female counterpart or Nukvah do they receieve the actual structure of souls.  With each new arousal of the "female waters" in these parztufim, new opportunities arise for the creation of souls.  Such a process occurs in all four worlds...., the possible variation in modes of souls being practically infinite.  Each of these souls recapitualtes...the structure of the worlds through which it passed (when)...being created, so that when it descends to enter a body in this world it will be able to work towards the latter's tikkun...and, to some extent,...the uplifting of the higher worlds as well."
 [Kabbalah, pp.161-2]

 No mention is made of the doctrine of gilgul or reincarnation in this particular account, although it is important in some other Lurianic and post-Lurianic teachings regarding the soul.  Actually, the problem here is also what is meant by the term "soul"?  Since the Kabbalists speak of a number of different "souls", corresponding to the various worlds or sefirot in the emanation sequence, it may well be that what is being referred to here is something qite different to how the word "soul" is generally understood today: as the essential "I" or self distinct from the body - assuming of course that such a simplistic dualistic definition is even valid at all.  But it seems that what is being referred to in the above doctrine is the origin of the various psychic principles (now that's a better term than "soul") that make up our consciousness.  Rather than being simple dualistic beings, we are made up of a number of different faculties, which existing together in the body make up what we like to call "consciousness".  These faculties, being different in nature (for example, the thinking faculty is not the same as the feeling faculty), would originate from different worlds or planes or spheres of existence, which correspond to or are the cosmic equivelent of those particular individual faculties.  But the basic dynamic behind the formation of each psychic faculty may be the same, even if it occurs on different planes (the old law of correspondence again), and would logically also recapitualte the formation of the cosmos as a whole.  So Anthropogenesis or Psychogenesis (pick whichever big word you prefer) recapitaltes cosmogenesis.  Hence the above Kabbalistic doctrine.

 Another novel Lurianic idea regarding the soul (that terrible ambiguous word again) is that the neshamah or higher soul proper does not actually enter into the body or the lower worlds at all.  Instead, it radiates a spark of itself downwards to the mode that we call the "soul", but strictly speaking can only be called a soul (neshamah) by analogy only.  The true soul remains above, hovering over the person, whether from near or afar, but maintaining a link with its spark below [Ibid, pp.148, 162].

 This interesting idea - that even the individual divine or spiritual principle does not incarnate, but instead sends down an emanation or irridation - was also taught by the Neoplatonist Iamblichus, regarding the Nous or Divine Mind.  Since it is unlikely that Luria was familiar with the teachings of the classical Neoplatonists, this seems to be a realisation independently arrived at.  And this same idea of an overshadowing individual spiritual principle was to reappear in H.P.Blavatsky's doctrine of the Higher Manas or Ego (which inspired later theosophical writers like Alice Bailey), as well as Qabalistic occultists like Aleister Crowley with his doctrine of the Holy Guardian Angel.

 A third Lurianic teaching on the nature of the soul regards the soul of Adam; that is, the human biblical Adam, as opposed to the Adam Kadmon Godhead.  But even here in Sunday School land things are not as they seem.  For the Lurianic Adam did not contain just a single soul, like the conventional Christian Adam.  Rather, he was also a sort of cosmic figure, containing all the souls of everyone who would be born, in a single mass in the breath (neshamah; as with the Indian Atma and the Latin Spiritus, the individual spiritual principle was originally identified with the breath) God breathed into his nostrils [see e.g. Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag, An Entrance to the Tree of Life, p.115].  As the inimitable Gershom Scholem explains:

 "The soul of Adam was composed of all the worlds and was destined to uplift and reintigrate all the sparks of holiness...left in the klippot....It had 613 limbs, one for each of the commandments in the Torah.....Each of these limbs formed a complete partzuf in itself known as a "great root" (shoresh gadol), which in turn contained 613, or according to other versions, up to 600,000 "small roots".  Each "small roots", which was also referred to as a "great soul" (neshamah gadolah), concealed within it 600,000 sparks or individual souls.  These sparks too were apt to fission still further, but there remained a special affinity and power of attraction between all the sparks that descended from a common root.  Each of these sparks formed a complete structure or komah in itself."
 [Gershom Scholem, Kabbalah, p.162]

So, what we have here is a very interesting idea.  Ignore the religious stuff about Adam; that's just the way the revelation appeared, through Isaac Luria who had a particular cultural and religious understanding and naturally interpreted things along those lines.  But we want to understand the essence of things, independent of religious or cultural or personal distortion.  So we have to extract the wheat from the chaff.  So, what is being described here is a sort of psychogenesis - a theory of the origin of the souls.  We have the idea that all the souls originated from a primordial anthropos, to use the Gnostic term.  This Adamic anthropos, being a divine being, was organised in a particular archetypal, mandalic manner, hence the refence to "613 limbs".  Of course, it doesn't have to be 613; it could be any number.  613 is chosen on purely theolotgical grounds (the number of positive and negative observences or precepts (mtzvahs) in Judaism.  The derived divine souls or sparks still retain their connection with kindred souls of the same "root". Hence we have "kindred spirits"; souls bound together by a common purpose, because they originated from the same archetype-aspect of the original anthropos.  Their purpose therefore is the purpose defined by that particular aspect; a particular role to be played in the Divine Plan of cosmic evolution and unfolding.  So perhaps a lot of hastles in this world come from souls with different missions that have been thrown together and are clashing, because of mutual incompatability: he/she/they don't understand me.  People with totally different destinies may be stuck together in mutually frustrating relationships, and they have to work out all that personal karma before they can get on with their true spiritual mission, the mission represented by that particular aspect of the original anthropos from which their divine soul derives.

The question is, how did all the souls get separated in the first place?

    Luria relies on his favorite and very dramatic explanation; the Fall.  And here he combines the exoteric biblical doctrine of Adam's fall with his own esoteric gnostic doctrine of the pre-creation fall.  According to him, if Adam, who had the fully developed powers of Adam Kadmon, had fulfilled his mission through contemplative action and deep meditation, the living chain between God and creation would have been completed, and the power of the evil Klippah totally overcome.  But his fall caused the cosmos - already in bad straights after the "breaking of the vessels" - to fall even further.  The world of Asiyah, which had previously stood firmly, was now immersed in the realm of the Klippot.  As a result of this admixture of the world of Asiyah with the klippot, Adam assumed a material body and the unity of his soul was shattered.  The fate of the fragments had either of three possible outcomes, depending on their purity.

 Those soul-elements of high rank, called the "upper light" (zihara ila'ah) which refused to participate in his sin departed for above, and will not return to the world until the time of redemption.  (Incidentally, there's a parallel here with Basilides, who speaks of the first two "Sonships" ascending to the spiritual world, while the third remains below caught in matter).

 Other souls remained in Adam even after his statue was reduced from cosmic to mundane dimensions; these were holy souls that did not fall into the clutches of the klippot, including the souls of Cain and Abel.  They entered bodies through directy hereditary transmission rather than transmigration (gilgul).

 But the majority of souls that were in Adam feel and were subjigated by the klippot; they must achieve their tikkun through the cycle of transmigration.  Here we have a parallel with the Indian doctrine of karma, rebirth, and eventually liberation or enlightenment.

 It is interesting to compare the above with the Gnostic and Manichaean theory of souls or sparks stuck in matter.  The rather chauvanistic Gnostic cosmology has the origin and circumstances of the trapped sparks as due to the pre-creation sin and/or fall of a female creative divine principle called Sophia; the sparks originating from the light or spiritual principle (pneuma) of Sophia that had become captured by the hostile cosmic powers or archons (rulers), and Sophia engaing in a battle of intrigue and conter-intrigue to trick the archons into giving up the spiritual light.  Eventually, an anthropos-like masculine saviour - either Seth or Jesus - has to descend to give saving gnosis.

 In Manichaeism, the anthropos-like Archetypal Person, here called Anthropos (what else?), the primordial Soul, voluntarily sacrifices himself (or herself; the gender doesn't matter as "Anthropos" simply means "human being") by allowing himself to be swallowed up by the darkness or Ahriman.  Both principles, Anthropos and Ahriman, are like a poison to each other; while the bulk of Anthropos is rescued by other Divine Powers and returns to his/her spiritual station (like Luria's zihara ila'ah), much of his/her being remains as souls or light trapped in darkness; yet the very presence of these souls work to bring about the eventual downfall of the darkness.

Luria's Adamic soul-doctrine seems to include elements from both the above teachings - both the foolish Sophia of the Gnostics and the noble Anthropos of the Manichaeans.  As Scholem explains:

 "...Lurianic Kabbalah went to great lengths to play up the dramatic elements of Adam's sin and its consequences.  The entire history of the Jewish people and the entire world was identified with the recurrent reincarnations through which the heros of the Bible struggled to acheive tikkun.  Among these heros were both "original souls" (neshamot mekoriyyot), which...were capable of great powers of tikkun whereby the whole world stood to benefit, and other, private, individual souls which could achieve a tikkun only for themselves..."

An interesting parallel with Mahayana Buddhism here; the idea of the Bodhisattva who works for the salvation of others, as opposed to the individual realiser of enlightenment or arhat.  Mahayana however stresses that the option is open for anyone on the spiritual path to become a bodhisattva, eventually, if he or she works at it.  The Lurianic position institutes a more elitist teaching, only special, very elevated and so to speak archetypal souls - equivalent perhaps to the Buddhas of Theravada and popular Mahayana, sharply demarcated from the ordinary spiritual aspirant - have the status of neshamot mekoriyyah.

 And what of the theory of related souls, or multipsychogenesis?  Well,

 "...Souls descending from a single "root" comprised "families" who had special relations of affinity and were especially able to help each other.  Now and then, though very rarely, some of the upper souls that had not even been contained in the soul of Adam might descend to earth in order to take part in some great mission of tikkun..."
 [Kabbalah, p.163]

This last sounds suspiciously like the Vaishvanite doctrine of avatars; e.g Lord Krishna as described in the Bhagavad Gita, although in Vaishvanism there is no concept of a movement towards ultimate cosmic restitution (tikkun).  And of course, the Avatar is not a "soul" at all, not even an extremely elevated one

The Lurianic Theory of Creation and Redemption The Lurianic Theory of Creation and Redemption

to top of page
Jewish Mysticism Jewish Kabbalah the Sefer Zohar Lurianic Kabbalah Lurianic Cosmology Kavanot and Yichudim  Tikkun

back to Kabbalah main page

Topics index back to Topics index

Kheper Home Page back to Kheper home page

page history

page uploaded 28 May 1998