Michael Laitman, On Quora: “What is Kabbalah? How is it practiced today and by whom?“
The wisdom of Kabbalah has been connected to religion, mysticism, yoga, tarot cards, numerology, astrology, charms, amulets, magic and that a person must be at least 40 years of age in order to study.
The reason for the misconceptions is that Kabbalah is thousands of years old. The first person who discovered the wisdom of Kabbalah was Adam HaRishon, who lived over 5,000 years ago. The wisdom developed from Adam HaRishon’s time until a significant transition in the wisdom took place around 2,000 years ago, which left only a few unique individuals to engage in it, i.e., in its authentic form.
Since then, Kabbalistic writings have passed through the hands and minds of millions of people. Likewise, many who have encountered Kabbalah have blended it with their own backgrounds, teachings and understandings, without attaining what authentic Kabbalah was intended for. This ongoing mixture over the generations has given rise to the numerous misconceptions (read more about the misconceptions in the “Kabbalah and Magic” section of this page, and in the “Myths about Kabbalah” section of the website).
So what is Kabbalah then? As written above, Kabbalist Yehuda Ashlag’s definition of the wisdom of Kabbalah is as follows:
“This wisdom is no more and no less than a sequence of roots, which hang down by way of cause and effect, in fixed, determined rules, interweaving to a single, exalted goal described as, ‘the revelation of His Godliness to His creatures in this world.’”
In plain English, this definition can break down to the following:
Kabbalah is a method by which any person can attain a higher level of reality.
It is important to note that it is a method, an empirical method, not a belief. Also, any person can study it, regardless of race, gender or nationality. “Attainment” means a clear perception and sensation, not an idea, theory or philosophy.
The higher level of reality that one attains through correct Kabbalah study has been given many names. As you can see in Baal HaSulam’s above definition, he uses the words “His Godliness” to define the higher level of reality. You will also find words in Kabbalistic texts such as the “Upper Force,” “Upper Light,” “the Creator,” “Nature,” “God,” “the Lord” and “the King,” all describing that higher level of reality.
What do these terms define?
They define a quality of bestowal and love, which is the source of everything that exists in reality. This quality is also defined as a desire to bestow, often cited as a “will to bestow.”
Opposite the higher level of reality is us in our current level of reality. You could call it the “lower level of reality.” As the quality of the higher level of reality is bestowal, opposite to it is the quality of reception, also called the “will to receive.” That is the quality of what is called “the creation” in the wisdom of Kabbalah, or in Baal HaSulam’s above definition, “the creatures.”
This then brings about the question: If the wisdom of Kabbalah is a method where any person, while alive in this lifetime, can attain a higher level of reality, which means attaining access to a quality of bestowal, why would anybody want to do that?
The reasons why are as follows:
1) Transient Pleasure vs. Continuous Pleasure
In our current level of reality, every time we find pleasure, it dissipates. The pleasure neutralizes the desire. For example, if you’re hungry and you really want to eat, and you’re handed your favorite dish, then your first bite of that dish is pure bliss. The more you continue to eat, the lesser the pleasure you feel. At a certain point, you’ll feel satiated: the desire to eat became quenched. Moreover, if you’d continue eating, the same action that was giving you pleasure a few moments ago, you’d start feeling sick.
Our problem in our current level of reality is that we don’t know how to sustain and increase our enjoyment. As a will to receive pleasure, our inborn nature is such that pleasures fade away upon their reception, they don’t increase.
The wisdom of Kabbalah teaches us how we can use our desire in a new direction, with what is called an “intention to bestow.” By applying this new use of our desire, we can start feeling enjoyments in an opposite way to the way we currently feel them: where instead of enjoyments fading away upon their impact, they increase and become continuous.
2) Incomplete Perception vs. Complete Perception
We live in a world of consequences, not knowing why we’re here, where we’re from, where we’re headed, what’s the purpose of us being here, and how everything is connected. We perceive a small fragment of reality, limited within time, space and motion. No matter how much we learn throughout our lives and throughout our human history, we never reach a state where we feel we have complete perception. By attaining the higher level of reality, we add that part that we’re missing in our current level of reality, and expanding our sense and understanding to form a complete picture.
3) Separation vs. Connection
We perceive ourselves as being separated from billions of other people, and many more animals, plants and objects. We construct our lives based on this separation, and encounter a life filled with struggles, pursuits and conflicts, often feeling like we just need to survive as best as we can until we ultimately perish. By attaining a higher level of reality, we attain connection to everything around us, seeing everything and everyone as pieces of a single puzzle, harmonious and integrated, like cells and organs in a healthily functioning body.