Rebirth/Reincarnation in Judaism

Discussion in 'Comparative Studies' started by Vajradhara, Nov 14, 2003.

  1. Vajradhara

    Vajradhara One of Many

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    Namaste all,

    i've posted this on a few forums, as of yet, no response. i know that we have some adherents on this forum, so.. perhaps... i can get some feedback on this topic. (looks around for bannanbrain)

    Gilgul Neshamot - Reincarnation of Souls

    The subject of gilgul neshamot, the reincarnation of souls, is not mentioned explicitly in the Torah. In the Zohar, on the other hand, in Parashat Mishpatim, under the title Saba deMishpatim (the Old Man or the Grandfather of Parashat Mishpatim), the secrets of reincarnation are discussed at length. They are then further expanded upon by the Ari HaKadosh, Rabbi Yitzhak Luria, in a book dedicated to this subject, Shaar HaGilgulim, The Gate of Reincarnations.

    There is a reason why we do not find any explicit mention of gilgul in the Tanach (only by insinuation and hint). God wants man to be completely free to do whatever he wants, so that he can be totally responsible for his actions. If a person were to be explicitly told that he will surely reincarnate if he fails to rectify his actions, he might remain indifferent and apathetic. He might not do all he could to accelerate his personal evolution. Thinking that he could have no influence on the course of his life, he might renounce all responsibility and leave all in the hands of "fate."

    In Shaar HaGilgulim, the Ari explains that Adam had a universal soul (neshamah klalit) that included [aspects of] all creation [i.e. every individual angel and every individual animal - all were asked to give an essence part of themselves to Adam; only as a miniature reflection of the entire universe could he be connected to all creation, and either elevate it or lower it...]. His soul also included all the souls of mankind in a higher- unity. This is why even one action on his part could have such a powerful effect. After he ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, his soul fragmented into thousands of thousands of sparks (fragments and fragments of fragments) which subsequently became clothed/incarnated in every single human being that was ever born and is alive now. [The main job of these soul-sparks is to bring about all together the tikkun (rectification) that Adam was to do alone.]
    It is important to understand the difference between one great all-inclusive universal soul being in one piece, on the one hand, and split up into many pieces (scattered into many bodies), on the other hand.

    There are two reasons for (differences to) this:
    1) In one great all-inclusive soul, it is difficult to discern the parts (the individual souls) because they are still bound in one great unity. This is not the case when each and every soul- spark takes on a separate body. We can then recognize the uniqueness of each and the characteristics particular to each.
    In the end, all souls will return to that higher level of Unity from which they all originated, but on a higher level (i.e. returning to Unity but retaining the special individuality they worked for and acquired). [The Sages have a code-name for this type of progression: Klal U'Prat U'Klal V'Ei Atah Dan Ela K'Ein HaPrat: Klal (moving from a primeval Unity) U'Prat (to a breakdown of Unity), U'Klal (and back to a higher level of Unity), V'Ei Atah Dan Ela K'Ein HaPrat (the final stage of Oneness does not negate the individuality earned during the stage of breakdown).]
    2) The second reason (or difference) is that many different souls playing a small (but significant) part in rectifying creation is "easier" than when all are together.

    By way of analogy, this is like a heavy load that requires being moved from one location to another. It is easier for many people to do their share and carry what they can of the entire load than for a single person to try carrying the entire thing alone.

    The same applies to Adam. When he ate from the Tree of Knowledge [before he was supposed to, instead of waiting for the first Shabbat to enter] he damaged all the souls that were part of him. His unified soul was subsequently splintered into many pieces, each destined to be born in a different body, such that each and every one would be able to fix its own small piece of the great soul of Adam of which it is a part, so they could all eventually reunite again as one.

    Based on this, the Or HaChaim HaKadosh (Rabeinu Chaim ben Attar, Parashat Veyechi) explains why the initial generations (Adam's and those immediately following his) lived hundreds of years. Only as the generations diminished in spiritual stature did people's lifespans dwindle to 70 and 80 years. The reason for this is because earlier generations had very large, inclusive souls. They therefore needed more time in each lifetime to fix whatever they had to fix. When they then did not utilize their long lives for this purpose, for the purpose of tikkun (for instance, the generation of the Flood), their souls were diminished and fragmented into "smaller" people with less soul illumination, in order to make the work of tikkun "easier" for each person. This is why people's lives became shortened.

    From the point of view of the whole system, all of these souls still are part of one great soul that is split up and incarnated into countless distinct bodies generation after generation.

    We see from this that the soul is a divine light that enlivens the body which in turn becomes a vehicle for the soul capable of revealing its (i.e. the body's) distinct qualities. This is similar to the power of electricity that flows into a household appliance and turns it on. The electric current itself cannot be seen. We can only perceive it through the medium of the particular appliance we are using. For instance, we can plug a heater or a fan, a washing machine or a dryer into an electric socket, and see that the differences between each appliance are due to slight modifications in their mechanisms (heating vs. cooling, washing vs. drying) rather than in the electrical current that makes them run.

    In the same way, we can understand that all the different bodies that ever existed were particular manifestations of one great soul. The differences between them (the souls) lie in the different bodies that they incarnated into, for no one body resembles the next (each incarnation is totally unique). This is why our bodies must presently be buried to return to the basic elements of which they are composed. The soul, on the other hand, that enlivens the body, is eternal. Thus, the bodies of each generation of souls that are born are likened to so many pairs of clothing that are taken off when a person goes up to heaven.

    The Law of Energy Conservation

    Modern physics has reached similar conclusions. Energy is always conserved. When a physical object burns or rots, the energy, or energy configuration, or information contained in that physical object is not destroyed. It merely passes on to another form. This is actually the same thing we said about the souls. A soul is life and energy, as the Torah states, "[God] breathed into his nostrils a nishmat chaim (living soul)." According to this, we again see that the sum total of incarnations of all the generations is really that of one great soul - Adam - that passes through many bodies. In each generation, and in each body, it takes on a different form. In the end, whatever change takes place takes place in the bodies.

    Ibur Neshamot - More than one soul inhabiting a single body

    There is another kind of gilgul that can take place while a person is still alive. The Ari calls this form of reincarnation, Ibur.

    It is usually thought that gilgul takes place after a person passes from this world, after the death of the body, at which time or soon after the soul transmigrates into another body. Ibur does not work like this. It involves receiving a new (higher) soul sometime during one's lifetime. That is, a new soul comes into a person's heart while he is still alive. The reason this is called Ibur, gestation or pregnancy, is because this person becomes "pregnant" with this new soul while he is still alive. This phenomenon is the deeper explanation behind certain people going through drastic changes in their lives. They either undergo a change of mind about certain things or change their lifestyle, and thereby ascend to the next spiritual level. This is also included under the general heading of gilgul-incarnation because they are now hosting a new soul [or an aspect of their own soul or a higher soul of which they are a part] in order to be a vehicle for that soul's rectification. This is what occurs when a person is ready to advance in his soul evolution. This is why the soul has five names, each higher than the other, nefesh, ruach, neshamah, chayah and yechidah. [According to the Zohar, the four higher levels of the soul usually enter a person during his lifetime in Ibur: First, a person receives nefesh when he or she is born; then, when they merit it, they receive ruach; when they merit it, they receive neshamah; when they merit it, they receive chayah. The higher the level, the rarer its occurrence. Very few have ever merited to neshamah, let alone chayah. Nobody has ever received the highest level, yechidah. Adam would have received it had he not sinned.

    The Names of Biblical Personalities who returned in Gilgul

    In the Ari's Shaar HaGilgulim, we find many instances of transmigrated souls. Moshe, for instance, was a gilgul of Hevel (Abel) and Shet (Seth), as his name indicates (the Mem of Moshe stands for Moshe, the Shin stands for Shet, and the Heh stands for Hevel). Yaakov's father-in-law, Lavan, later reincarnated as Bilaam (during the time of Moshe) and Naval (during the time of David). Rebbi Akiva was a gilgul of Yaakov Avinu. Yoseph's ten brothers who sold him were punished by having to reincarnate into ten great tannaim, the ten martyrs who were killed by the Romans. The reality of gilgul can also help us understand why God forbid young infants die. For there are souls that must descend into the world for a short time in order to do a minimum amount of rectification, then they are free to leave.

    Gilgul in the Mineral, the Vegetable, the Animal and the Human

    We have mentioned the principle that everything contains a power that enlivens it. In a human being, this power is truly godly, and is called the neshamah. Animals as well have a soul which is called nefesh ha'behemit (animal soul). [Plants and other growing things have a vegetative soul.] Inert matter also contains a portion of that power called nefesh.
    A human soul can also incarnate in these lower forms as punishment for its sins. In Shaar HaGilgulim, the Ari brings numerous examples of such incarnations in which the soul of a person who has deliberately done wrong, depending on the severity of the sin, enters into various forms of inert or organic matter, or into animals. Only after a long and arduous journey can such a soul return [and be reincarnated as a human being again] and finally have become purified enough to return to its Source.
    In conclusion, we were recently engaged in Sefirat HaOmer, the Counting of the Omer. It is known that we mourn during this period for the 24,000 students of Rebbi Akiva who died because they did not treat one another respectfully. When we study Parashat Balak, we see that Bilaam failed time and again to curse Israel, but rather blessed them. At the very end, before he departed, however, he gave Balak advice on how to really undermine the Jewish people by enticing them to sin with the Midianite women, and incur Hashem's wrath... Balak took Bilaam's advice and the result was a plague in which 24,000 people died. It was these same 24,000 souls who reincarnated as Rebbi Akiva's students and died from Pesach until the 32nd day of the Omer.

    The total number of days that we count is 49, from the day after Pesach till the last day before Shavuot. Shavuot itself is the 50th day. The numerical value of the words Lev Tov (Good Heart) is 32 + 17 = 49. Rebbi Akiva's students only merited to Lev (Heart), not to Tov (Good). It was only Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai who merited to Tov (Good), as the verse says, "How great is the Good that You have stored up for those who fear you" (Tehillim), concerning which the Zohar says, this Good is none other than the Hidden Light that was concealed when Hashem created the world. It was Rebbi Shimon who brought this light down into the world, in the merit of which Israel departed Egypt and received the Torah on Sinai. The hint for this in the Torah (that we left Egypt in the merit of something that happened much later in history) is in the Aramic translation of the verse, U'Bnei Yisrael Yotzim BeYad Rama - The Children of Israel left Egypt with a triumphant hand - which Onkelos translates BeResh Galia - they left with a revealed head (i.e. a very exalted level of intellect). The word BeResh has the same letters as Rashbi, the initials of Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai (Resh-Shin-Beth-Yod).
    Similarly, in Tehillim, the verse states, "You (Moshe) ascended to the heights, and took a Shevi (hostage)." The word Shevi is again the same as the initials of Shimon bar Yochai.

    It is also known that Rashbi reincarnated in the Ari, who opened up the Zohar and made it accessible, and whose initials are also Yod-Beth-Shin (Yitzhak ben Shlomo = Shevi). The Baal Shem Tov's initials as well were Yod-Beth-Shin (Yisrael ben Sarah). In our generation as well, Rav Yehudah Ashlag, who authored a complete commentary on the Zohar - his initials also were Yod-Beth-Shin (Yehudah ben Simcha). In their merit, may we merit to the complete Redemption, in our days, Amen.

    by: Rav Avraham Brandwein, Dean
    Yeshiva Kol Yehuda Zvi
     
  2. bananabrain

    bananabrain awkward squadnik

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    um... OK, yes, this is a big piece of text. what, however, is your question?

    b'shalom

    bananabrain
     
  3. WHKeith

    WHKeith New Member

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    No question necessary! A fascinating topic for further discussion!

    I appreciate the insight into Jewish mysticism, Vajradhara. Thank you. While I don't personally subscribe to the Adamic mythology, I find some points, those bearing on being part of one great soul, identical to my own beliefs, as shaped by Wicca. The idea that reincarnation is only hinted at in the commentaries so that we can be totally responsible for our actions echoes the concept of us having a bad case of amnesia when we're born--so we can face life fresh, and without thinking in terms of avoiding punishment or karma.

    Something else that has interested me of late is the idea that reincarnation was widely accepted in the early Christian church, but was deemed heretical and suppressed by the time of the Council of Nicea. I know that mainstream Jewish thought, then as today, was not that concerned with an afterlife save as metaphysical speculation, and some sects (such as the Sadducees) rejected the idea explicitly. While the texts cited above were much later, I wonder how much reincarnation might have figured in Jewish thought around the time of Christ, perhaps in marginal sects like the Essenes, perhaps in popular thought and tradition, and if the early Church beliefs had their foundation therein. Or did such ideas creep in from other sources, such as the Greek mystery religions?
     
  4. iBrian

    iBrian Peace, Love and Unity Staff Member

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    I know that Josephus mentioned the Pharisee's possibly believing in Reincarnation - I could have sworn that I had something on the board, but I can't find it.

    So I had to search elsewhere, and found the following, in case useful:
    Also - this makes for interesting reading on the subject:

    http://www.near-death.com/experiences/origen05.html

     
  5. Vajradhara

    Vajradhara One of Many

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    Namaste,

    :) funny you should mention that... as i've posted another article about that very topic as well. i'll cross post it here for discussion...
     
  6. bananabrain

    bananabrain awkward squadnik

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    put it this way, mainstream jewish thought considers it a bit of a waste of time to argue overmuch about what happens after you die, seeing as nobody can come back and tell us about it. at any rate, it's a distraction from some of the more important things, like what should happen while you're alive. it's also important to remember that the term "afterlife" is not what we call it, which is "'OLaM HaBA", meaning literally "the existence to come" - which need not actually signify "what happens after you die" but may in fact refer to the Messianic era, some kind of "state of enhanced existence to occur in the future". what got the sadducees into trouble with the sages was their explicit *rejection* of this possibility, which the rabbis thought was too negative about any possible improvement.

    brian - what you say about josephus (especially the quote) is interesting, but his opinion about the pharisees ascribing everything to fate is not especially credible, being as a) free-will and opposition to the idea of predestination and fate as, say calvinists would understand it is axiomatic to rabbinic judaism and b) as an ex-priest, josephus would have been closer to the sadducees and therefore anything he said about "the pharisees" would have been somewhat tendentious. on the other hand, ascribing everything to G!D is perfectly allowable, as long as one is clear that this does not absolve one of one's own responsibility *before* G!D. free-will is a necessary component of both sin and holiness.

    b'shalom

    bananabrain
     
  7. iBrian

    iBrian Peace, Love and Unity Staff Member

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    Certainly interesting comment, bananabrain - thanks for that. I remember being quite struck on how, when reading "The War with Rome", how Josephus digressed at one point to mention the main sects of Judaic belief at the time. If I remember rightly, he gave both the Pharisees and Sadduccees a sentence each, and the Essenes he gave a few thousand words of praise. I am immensely surprised not to find my posting this anywhere on the forum - perhaps I should seek for it. Either way, perhaps that can also help illuminate something of Josephus' perceptions and bias.
     
  8. achnai

    achnai New Member

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    Shalom

    I think we have to consider the differences between the two major sects of modern jewish othodoxy, that is to say the difference between Litaim and Hassidim.
    while the Litaim consider it prohibited either to study from the Zohar with the exeption of a distinct pre-ordained minority, or to practice any kind of religious custom (Minhag) that has no source in the Talmud or in the Midrash, the Hassidic way of learning the Torah and observing the Mitzvot, relies highly on the Zohar the Kabbala.
    From the very fact the the Hassidim learn study the Zohar and other Kabbalistic sources either directly or indirectly, they apply many practices which have their origin in the Nistar (occult).
    the practice of learning from the Ari H'kadosh is not unwelcome in certain Hssidic movements, and therefore they do descuss as a part of their Torah study subjects such as the Olam Haba as well as certain unearthly energies and secrets, especially if they help to strengthen their belief or spiritualize (and therefore make more meaningful) their observance of certain Mitzvoth.
     
  9. white

    white New Member

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    Greetings Vajradhara,

    I've read this article before and found it interesting. While I think there are some obscurities within it, particularly towards the end, and judging only by my own discernment, might one conclude that knowledge of reincarnation isn't for everyone? Upon coming to a certain point in our awarenesses, I believe we are "granted" (if you will), by the Lord Almighty, knowledge in perfect proportion to that which we are capable of bearing and/or deserving of, depending, perhaps, on where we are in our progression in this world. As it is written within the post:

    There is a reason why we do not find any explicit mention of gilgul in the Tanach (only by insinuation and hint). God wants man to be completely free to do whatever he wants, so that he can be totally responsible for his actions. If a person were to be explicitly told that he will surely reincarnate if he fails to rectify his actions, he might remain indifferent and apathetic. He might not do all he could to accelerate his personal evolution. Thinking that he could have no influence on the course of his life, he might renounce all responsibility and leave all in the hands of "fate."

    Jewish knowledge is littered with reincarnation. Thanks for the reiteration.
     
  10. Vajradhara

    Vajradhara One of Many

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    Namaste White,

    welcome the forum and thanks for the post.

    i agree with you.. i think that if one explores any faith tradition in depth they will find both an exoteric and esoteric aspect.

    it is my feeling that the esoteric teachings are reserved for those that are spiritually mature and are not given as general teachings.

    some folks have expressed their displeasure at anything being a "secret" teaching. and whilst i appreciate their concern, the fact of the matter is, that there are secret teachings :)

    often the secret teachings are such that they can be repuidated in general society and still engaged in during private practice. some of the Tantras of Hinduism and Buddhism are like this.
     
  11. bananabrain

    bananabrain awkward squadnik

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    achnai -

    whilst what you say reflects my own understanding of the attitude of the hassidic/mitnagdic world to the study of nistar (which i *wouldn't* translate as "occult" because of the english connotations) i'm not quite sure what your point is in relation to reincarnation, other than that our attitude to it may affect our attitude to the performance of mitsvoth.

    i am of course aware that it is traditional for hassidic rebbes to be considered experts in the art of determining the composition of the individual soul in terms of soul-root analysis, whilst the chances of your average litvak tangling with this particular area (especially in public) is remote.

    you have also forgotten another two major aspects of "modern jewish orthodoxy", namely the sephardic (spanish and portuguese) and eidot mizrah (communities of the middle east and orient) where these aspects of belief are less likely to be considered controversial.

    b'shalom

    bananabrain
     
  12. Susma Rio Sep

    Susma Rio Sep New Member

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    Mechanism of secret writings

    Vaj writes:

    My suspicion is that esoteric teachings are reserved for totally indoctinated minds which can no longer exercise any initiative whatsoever to do some challenging questioning of hand-me-down teachings.

    Secret writings are useful if they are intended to hide things profitable otherwise to outsiders, like treasure maps and formulas for turning base metals to gold -- to keep good things to oneself or a chosen few. Conspiratorial writings for example also are kept secret, otherwise their conspiratorial purpose would be brought to naught.

    Now, as regards secret writings reserved only to initiates because they alone are deserving and are capable of appreciating them, but of no practical value whatever to outsiders who make up the vast majority of mankind, I think it is best they be kept forever secret and their custodians go live in the most remote recesses of deserts and mountains, among themselves.

    Susma Rio Sep
     
  13. bananabrain

    bananabrain awkward squadnik

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    shee, SRS, cynical much?

    in my experience, the reason esoteric concepts are generally kept secret or restricted to initiates is that they can appear to contradict or otherwise challenge the apparent beliefs and accepted structures of religions. for example, in jewish mystical thought some of the concepts, if not properly approached, can appear polytheistic, even though they're actually not. to advance in this area an appreciation of the nature of theological paradox is necessary and this requires a mental toughness and spiritual maturity that is beyond many. in other words, this stuff can do your head in, which is why you have to train. are you just as suspicious about the more esoteric parts of martial arts, t'ai ch'i or yoga? a great deal of training is required before one reaches the higher levels where these things are approached.

    to me, this sounds like someone who says "rock music is just noise", or "classical music is just a bunch of snooty gits in penguin suits all showing off to each other". it's very easy to be suspicious, cynical and to just sneer at everything. it takes a lot more to try and go beyond that in order to believe in something and try and live by your beliefs.

    b'shalom

    bananabrain
     
  14. Vajradhara

    Vajradhara One of Many

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    Namaste srs,

    why would you suspect that?
     
  15. Susma Rio Sep

    Susma Rio Sep New Member

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    Three levels of secret writings

    There are if we would be possessed of common sense three levels of secret writings:

    1st level -- no one knows they exist.

    2nd level -- some people know they exist but they are not telling others or the rest of mankind. Here there are two sub-levels:

    a) Known to exist but not known where they are hidden;
    b) Known to exist but are kept hidden by people who know them.

    3rd level -- writings possessed of secret meanings which readers debate forever as to their meanings.

    All of which are useless to mankind except for the entertainment of mystics who indulge in speculations of no practical purpose in regard to the physiological life of man, and his emotional and mental development and refinement, and to the advancement of peace and prosperity in society. Now, mystics are a bunch of people who if they repair to the most remote of desert recesses and mountains fastnesses, no one would miss them. What I want mystics to do is to help in sweeping the streets where I can myself be also and very easily mystical. I challenge all self-proclaimed mystics to adopt this kind of lifestyle which I assure them is very possible and most sane for their inner honesty.

    If any people have any secret writings serving any practical purposes mentioned in the preceding paragraph they have been long ago revealted to others by their owners or discovered by outsiders.

    Susma Rio Sep
     
  16. Vajradhara

    Vajradhara One of Many

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    namaste srs,

    thanks for the post.

    you didn't reply to the query, however.

    i asked why you would suspect that the esoteric teachings of a religious tradition were reserved for only those with indoctrinated minds?
     
  17. Susma Rio Sep

    Susma Rio Sep New Member

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    Apologies

    Apologies, Vaj. I shouldn't have come forth rather bellicose.

    If there are such teachings which are reserved only for select audience, not for anyone and everyone curious and interested to at least examine them on their merits, then I am inclined to feel that their authors or their custodians want only people who will accept them the way they, the custodians, want them to be accepted.

    Select audience then in the eyes of the custodians are recipients who have been pre-disposed by the custodians themselves or from their own character to accept the teachings the way they the custodians want them to be accepted.

    "Indoctrinated" is not a pleasant term, but the essence without the emotional nuance is a valid construct.

    Jesus warns about throwing pearls before swine, which of course is ad hominem. Maybe that also is the defense mechanism of esoteric teachings or its fall-back position, a device for self-perpetuation.


    Susma Rio Sep
     
  18. Susma Rio Sep

    Susma Rio Sep New Member

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    Sir, an example, please.

    Dear Vaj:

    If you know of any esoteric writing, would you be kind enough to share it with me?

    I implore you however not to demure on the ground that such a writing is reserved only to select disciples. In which case I would be naughty in my mind to imagine a case of the Emperor's New Robe.

    An aside: Susma says: "Show me the porno and I will decide."

    Susma Rio Sep
     
  19. bananabrain

    bananabrain awkward squadnik

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    the nazir, a leading kabbalist kept his nigla (revealed knowledge) books locked up, but his nistar (secret knowledge) books in plain view, as they were perfectly safe from people who did not understand what the books contained.

    b'shalom

    bananabrain
     
  20. Vajradhara

    Vajradhara One of Many

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    Namaste sus,

    i have already divulged some of this information on this site already.. typically this would be in the Eastern Thought section, though i have been necessarily brief and circumspect in some instances. you may want to review my postings about Taoist Alchemy, for instance.

    perhaps "secret" isn't the best word to be used... perhaps a better word is "spiritually mature" since, in my tradition at least, the criteria for receiving the transmission of esoteric teachings is based on ones own level of spiritual attainment and understanding.
     

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