Last year I was invited to contribute a chapter to a book with the provisional title “Perspectives on consciousness”. My initial impulse was to decline the invitation due to a high workload for Alef Trust related tasks, exacerbated by responsibilities to a child needing home schooling during the pandemic and an ageing father requiring increasing levels of care. As has been the case for many, I was finding it a tough year!
I overcame that initial impulse for a number of reasons. The invitation came from the book’s editor, Paul Dennison, whom I knew to be a founding trustee of the Samatha Trust. Much of my fundamental orientation towards spirituality and mysticism was shaped during the 1970s when I had considerable contact with many engaged with the Trust. The worlds in which I moved in my twenties were populated by inspired teachers for whom the divisions between traditions formed only a backdrop to the challenge of dialogue across them. And so, although my ‘path’ crystalised more around my Jewish roots and the Kabbalah than Buddhism, the swirl of wisdom surrounding the players in the Samatha Trust played no small part in my journey. Perhaps contributing to the book might be viewed as an offering in recognition of my gratitude.
I was also intrigued by the book’s title and the potential for a range of “perspectives” to jostle together in creating a whole. As those who know me through my teaching will know, I believe that integrating the perspectives on consciousness that can arise through a diverse range of approaches is not only the most fruitful way to explain the nature and basis of consciousness but is also critical for the shift in consciousness that our day is demanding of us.
Finally, there was a topic that had repeatedly (and insistently) been knocking at my door for some time, and I knew that it would not leave me in peace until I took up paper and pen (OK … that should read “joined fingers to keyboard” … but I claim poetic license!). Maybe Paul’s book would be the appropriate context …. The topic is in the title, so I need elaborate no further. Here I give the Abstract of my chapter. The full version will appear as Chapter 6, in Perspectives on Consciousness (2021) ed. P. Dennison, New York: Nova Science. A preprint version of the chapter is available here.
The Faces of God: A Kabbalistic “Myth” and its implications for Consciousness
B. Les Lancaster
Liverpool John Moores University, UK
The Alef Trust
Mystical writings embed insights into the nature of consciousness within the theological frame of the parent religion. Theories of consciousness and its ontology can gain from these insights to the extent that they present first-person data about conscious states and processes generally obscured from everyday introspections. Differences across spiritual and mystical traditions ramify into differing nuances in the features of consciousness explored in their texts. The Jewish mystical tradition emphasises levels within the ontology of being and the dynamics of bridging the levels – corresponding to the subject-matter of depth psychology.
I explore the symbolic expression of this emphasis on levels and their interactions as codified in the pre-eminent kabbalistic text, the Zohar. The Zohar’s imagery centres on two divine “faces” and the dynamics through which they can align “face-to-face”. Alignment is dependent on the roles of other players in this cosmic drama – the Shekhinah (divine feminine) and humankind. The human role is one of preparing the Shekhinah to be bride to the lower of the two divine faces (male divine). With sexual union, lower and higher divine faces align, and the beneficent influx flows from the highest realm throughout all levels.
This “kabbalistic myth” presents an operational pattern that stresses reflexivity: an impulse from below promotes alignment above, eventuating in the reflexive flux. An analogous pattern characterises brain systems involved in perception and the individuation process as conceived by Jung, suggesting that the pattern is fractal in nature. The universe is a large-scale version of this reflexivity, reflecting knowledge of itself back to its source. Analysis of the kabbalistic myth further suggests a non-materialist perspective on consciousness in which phenomenality – the capacity for experience – is a property of the universe as a whole, and two further dimensions of consciousness – intentionality and self-reference – are infused with phenomenality through the reflexive pattern.