Kabbalah, Assagioli And Transpersonal Psychology
I have been reading several most interesting chapters on the thinking of Roberto Assagioli, the father of Transpersonal Psychology, as related to Kabbalah. These appear in “Opening the Inner Gates: New Paths in Kabbalah and Psychology” edited by Edward Hoffman. One chapter entitled “Psychosynthesis and Kabbalah” is a comparative study between Assagioli’s “Egg diagram” and the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. It is certainly most interesting with lots of practical information, but it is in another chapter entitled “Jewish Meditation: Healing Ourselves and Our Relationship” that one realizes the influence of Kabbalistic thinking had on Assagioli. Here is a quote for your interest and perusal from that very exciting chapter written by Sheldon Z. Kramer.
“The Zohar, a major Kabbalistic text, states that the soul has three strands. These three strands are compared to a candle flame. The first part of the candle flame is located near the wick and reflects a black and blue light that is always changing. This lower light is considered the nefesh, or animal soul. The nefesh may be likened to Sigmund Freud’s idea of the id, ego, and superego: it is those parts of the personality that are always in flux, owing to inner or outer reactivity based on internal and external desires. Contained within the animal soul is also a variety of different ego identifications based on early childhood experiences that forms one’s personality, such as ‘the ambitious one,’ ‘the procrastinator,’ or ‘the frightened child.’
Located directly above the black and blue light is a steady yellow glow in the center of the flame; this section is called the ruach, the divine wind, breath, or spirit. Separate from the nefesh, the ruach has the ability to stand outside all of the inner and outer turbulance with a degree of calm or stability. The ruach state of consciousness can be compared to the eye of the hurricane, which stays calm amid the turbulent winds. It is interesting to note that in all meditation traditions, the breath is a major vehicle of centring oneself for the purpose of refinement of consciousness.
Directly above the ruach is the filmy portion of light on top of the candle flame, the neshamah, suprasoul or higher self. The neshamah is the center of unity and bridges all the other parts of the soul into a collective field. The neshamah can be viewed as a catalyst: it participates in all the reactions of the lower two strands, but stands outside them. Another metaphor for the neshamah is that of a prism, which reflects light. As pure white light moves through a prism, a rainbow of colors can be seen. Each of these color qualities, according to the Kabbalah, is reflective of divine attributes such as love, strength, harmony, compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, victory, receptivity, stability, and groundedness. The goal in Jewish meditation is to be able to separate oneself from the identification of the nefesh and attach oneself to ruach with the possibility of bridging with neshamah. Through the refinement of one’s attention, one can enter into the ruach state of consciousness and decrease one’s reactivity. By training of one’s mind/body to realize this goal, one can have a taste of higher centers of consciousness.
It is interesting to note that the above description of the three strands of the soul found in the Zohar reflects the foundation of the core ideas of Roberto Assagioli – the father of transpersonal psychology – in the development of psychosynthesis. Roberto Assagioli was of definite Jewish origin. When I visited his library in Florence in 1988 I saw scholarly, philosophical, and modern texts on Jewish mysticism. Through my research, I found Assagioli’s papers on Judaism and had them translated from Italian in English. It was clear from his writings that he was involved with his own roots because one of these papers was an address he delivered in July 1953 at the International Camp Youth Section of the World Union for Progressive Judaism in Boulogne/Seine.
In these writings Assagioli mentions a couple of times the psycho-spiritual parts of the psyche found in
‘The base of the spiritual psychology of which I am a supporter…..is constituted by the biblical affirmations according to which man was made from the image and resembling God…..from this basis comes the traditional Jewish teaching of the human psychological constitution consisting of three elements: nefesh [animal soul], ruach [divine wind], and neshamah [supersoul]. This represents spiritual elements…..my main endeavor has been to give scientific proof of the evidence and activity of the spiritual soul (neshamah) with the psyche [ruach] as an inspiring and unifying factor.’
Assagioli’s major map of the psyche, which he calls the egg diagram, reflects the image of the oval shape of the candle flame. The bottom of the flame (nefesh) he called the lower unconscious including some parts of the ego which he labeled subpersonalities. The middle flame (ruach), he called the personal “I,” which was the part of the psyche that could stay objective and aware of the variety of identifications found in the lower unconscious. The upper flame (neshamah) Assagioli divided into a general region that he called the Higher Unconscious. This part of the psyche contained pure sacred attributes or what he called “higher qualities,” including love, compassion, understanding, patience, humility, tolerance, unity, forgiveness, and joy. The other region of the upper flame was the apex, and the Hebrew correlation corresponded directly to Assagioli’s term of the Higher Self, which he also considered in overall unifying center of consciousness…..
…..Much of practical meditative work found in psychosynthesis reflects that of practical Kabbalah. Assagioli was careful not to identify his system of psychosynthesis with any one religious or mystical tradition. However, it is clear as we can see from the above descriptions in the Zohar with the main body of his work that some of his main ideas came from the Jewish mystical tradition.”
It would be interesting to see a complete study of Assagioli’s thinking as compared to that of Kabbalah. Maybe some of our Companions on this list are able to enlighten us more on this most exciting subject. Amongst the many incomplete and forthcoming “Series” on this list, I have been preparing one on the “Soul in Man,” which, time permitting, I will start to post soon. It certainly is a most important subject, which I had to pay a lot of attention to because of past personal “life” behaviour due to the influence (or control) of my different “selves” opposing each other, and manifesting this most aggressively. I realized at the time that “marrying” opposing principles inside myself was of the utmost importance, if I was to survive in this world. So I dedicated an enormous amount of time to the achievement of that “Sacred Marriage” inside my own being. I suppose that however much you study and learn, you can eventually only speak from personal experience. In any case, no amount of “bookwork” has ever made anybody advanced. Of course, words are valid symbols, but only insofar as they can push you to live out what they represent on paper. No more than that!