Kabbalistic meditation deserves the same kind of examination we applied to other meditative disciplines (here and here). Perhaps even more so because there is so much confusion about what Kabbalah is.
As with Zen, yoga, TM, and so forth, it is valid to ask if Kabbalistic meditation has religious content. It doesn’t do to equivocate—authentic Kabbalah meditation is absolutely a type of Jewish religious practice.
That’s why, despite its potential benefits, this kind of meditation isn’t right for everyone. Zen, yoga, and TM enthusiasts profess their practices are non-denominational and appropriate for everybody. They say their techniques will complement–not compete with–your existing beliefs. Sadly, popular “kabbalah” centers (which appear to be quite cult-like) also profess to offer up a harmless, non-denominational practice that’s right for each and every person. Buyer beware! This one-size-fits-all approach to spirituality is problematic. We say: the choice of delving into a meditation practice is personal and requires self-awareness and rigorous honesty.
No matter what you read elsewhere it is important to remember that the various types of meditation that are part of Kabbalistic practice are firmly rooted in the Jewish way of life. (Except for the “kabbalah-lite centers” mentioned above, naturally). Authentic Kabbalah meditation openly declares its religious connections just as authentic Christian meditation, Sufi meditation, and other religious types of meditation openly declare theirs.
Let’s not mince words or tiptoe around facts, no matter how non-PC they may be: People may call it “magic” or psychology, and cultish groups may swear they are universal, but ultimately genuine Kabblah meditation is a religious practice–a Jewish religious practice. And, since Judaism does not teach that everyone has to be Jewish to fulfill their mission on earth (and lead meaningful, joyous lives), authentic Kabbalastic meditation teachers don’t chase after “customers.”
And, just as with other religious meditation types (whether they are open about their religious content or not), Kabbalistic meditation–no matter how universal the variant–cannot be fully or accurately practiced without the practitioner being a monotheist who believes in the God of the Bible* (among other important factors). That’s because the main aim of each and every variant of authentic Kabbalistic meditation types is to develop or strengthen one’s relationship with the God of the Bible.
So, without this basic belief, there’s no point in meditating on the subject (unless, as in some cases, one actually is seeking to learn to believe). Many of the Kabbalistic types of meditation are not only about strengthening one’s relationship with God but also one’s relationship with self and with others and making a meaningful contribution to the world in which we live. In fact, despite their enormous mystical appeal, the genuine Kabbalistic meditations that are most effectively used today have quite practical end goals.
Character development through meditation? Yes, Kabbalistic meditation is very much about becoming a more moral person, one who is able to give compassionately and generously but who also knows when to say no. Ultimately, like much of Judaism, authentic Kabbalistic meditation is about developing an understanding of healthy boundaries—between self and others, heaven and earth, divine and mundane; and through a deeper understanding of these boundaries, come to understand what true unity is.
This is one of its possible benefits to the psychotherapy process. It does contrast strongly with many other types of meditation that are actually about dissolving these boundaries or promoting the non-existence of these boundaries.
Are there more, fundamental differences between Kabbalah meditation and other types of meditation? See the next blog post for the answer.
*The Hebrew Bible, aka the “Old” Testament.