AMONGST those questions which have chiefly occupied philosophy and the exact sciences, none have held so prominent
a place for humanity at large as those concerning the immortality and spirituality of the Soul.
Everywhere, and in all ages, various and contradictory systems and dogmas have rapidly succeeded one another on this subject, and the word Soul has been used to explain the most opposite states of existence and the most different shades of opinion. Of these antagonistic systems of thought there can be no doubt that the transcendental philosophy of the Jews, the Qabalah, is the most ancient, and perhaps the nearest to the truth. Transmitted orally, as its name indicates, it ascends even to the cradle of the human race, and therefore, perhaps for this reason, it may be held to be in part the product of that tranquil intelligence, of that acute perception of truth, which, according to tradition, man originally possessed.
If we admit that human nature is a complex whole, we shall find in the Qabalah three distinct divisions — the body, the soul, and the spirit. These differentiate amongst themselves, as the concrete, the particular, and the general, so that the one is the reflection of the other, while each of them holds in itself this triple distinction. Then, if we still further analyse these three fundamental divisions, we shall find that fresh shades of difference will arise, grading from the lowest, the most concrete and material — the external body — up to the highest spirituality which is at the same time the most comprehensive and the most remote.
The first fundamental division, the body with its vital principle, which comprises the three first sub-divisions, bears in the Qabalah the name of Nephesch; the second, the Soul, which is the vehicle of the will, constitutes what may be called the human personality, holds the three next sub-divisions, and is called Ruach; the third, the Spirit, with it three powers, receives the name of Neschamah. [Page 4]
As we have already said, these three basic divisions of man are not completely distinct and separated; on the contrary, they must be imagined as running one into the other, like the colours of the spectrum, which, while being each one distinct, cannot be separated at given points, but grade into one another.
Passing from the body, the infamous power of Nephesch, through the Soul, Ruach, up to the highest spiritual grade, Neschamah, we find all those gradations which mark the passage from darkness through twilight to Light; and in the same way, starting from the loftiest Spirituality and descending to that which is physical and material, is as though we should pass from light to darkness through the growing shadows of the night; and above all, owing to this interior unity, this fusion of parts one in another, the number Nine loses itself in the Unit, in order to produce Man, an embodied spirit, who joins in himself the two worlds.
If we try to represent these ideas by a diagram we shall get the following figure: — [see graphic in part 2 of this title]
Let the circle a a a represent Nephesch; then 1 2 3 will represent its subdivisions; of these 1 corresponds to the body as the lowest and most material part of man; b b b stands for the soul — Ruach — of which 4 5 6 are the powers; and c c c is Neschamah (the spirit) and its grades of spirituality, 7 8 9, while the exterior circle, 10, is the unity of the living being.
Let us now examine more in detail these different fundamental divisions, commencing by the lowest, Nephesch. This is the life principle or the concrete form of existence; it forms the visible body of the living man; here we have dominant a passive sensibility to the exterior world; necessarily, therefore, ideal activity is least apparent. Nephesch is directly related to concrete existences which are outside of it, and it is only through the influence of these that it can manifest vital energy. But at the same time it also works in the exterior world through its own inherent creative power, causing fresh vitality to exude from its concrete being, thus ceaselessly giving back that which it receives. This concrete grade constitutes a perfect whole, complete in itself, and in which the human being finds the exact representation of its human form.
If we look at it as a perfect unity, this concrete life comprises three degrees which bear the ratio, one to another, of concrete, particular, and general, or matter produced; the producing power and the principle of action which are, at the same time, the organs in and through which the inner spirituality works and manifests itself outwardly.
These three degrees are, therefore, ascendingly elevated and interior, and each holds within itself different shades of energy.
These three powers of Nephesch are situated in the same relation to each other as those which we shall show to exist as the three sub-divisions of Ruach, and act in exactly the same way. [Page 5]
The second element of the human being, Ruach (the Soul), is not so sensitive as Nephesch to exterior influences; passiveness and activity are here in equal proportion; it consists rather of an interior ideality which mirrors all that the concrete bodily life manifests as relative and material. This second human element floats, therefore, between the active and the passive state, or between that which takes place without and that which takes place from within. In its multiple objectivity it does not clearly appear either as something real, passive and exterior, nor as something interiorly intellectual and active; but as that which changes, and which from within manifests outwardly both passively and actively; or as that which seems to give, whilst in reality it only receives. So that intuition and conception do not exactly coincide in the soul, though they are not sufficiently separated to prevent them from sinking one into the other.
The kind of life which characterises each being depends entirely on the more or less elevated quality of its cohesion with nature and on the greater or lesser activity, or passivity, which follows. The more active a being, the more spiritual is its condition and the greater capacity for sounding the depths of the inner divinity.
Ruach, made up of forces which lie at the basis of material and objective life, possesses, besides the power to distinguish all the other parts from the standpoint of a distinct individuality, the capacity to act with the initiative of a free will in manifesting itself exteriorly. This soul, which represents both the throne and the vehicle of the spirit, is also the image of the complete man, as we have already said; like Nephesch, it is composed of three dynamic gradations, being in ratio to each other as the concrete, the particular, and the general, or as matter produced, the producing power and the principle; so that there exists not only an affinity between the concrete grade of Ruach, which is its lowest and most exterior (the 4th circle of the diagram) and “the general" of Nephesch, which is its highest sphere of action (circle 3), but also between “the general" of Ruach ( circle 6) and the concrete of the Spirit (circle 7 ). Thus, while both Ruach and Nephesch contain three dynamic degrees, these have three corresponding states in the exterior world, as will be more clearly understood by comparing macrocosm with the microcosm. Each different form of existence in man lives with an innate vitality in its own particular sphere of life, with which it is in a condition of constant inter-action, giving and receiving by means of special interior senses and organs.
Besides this, Ruach, because of its concrete part, requires to communicate with the concrete which is above it, and in the same way its generalising qualities (3rd division) give it a tendency towards those of a superior degree. Nephesch would not be able to bind itself to Ruach if there were no affinities between them, nor could Ruach unite with Nephesch and Neschamah if there was no underlying relationship. Thus the Soul communicates on one side with [Page 6] the concrete which precedes it in the fulness of its objectivity; and on the other with "the general" which dominates its inner being, or that ideality which produces itself through its own independent activity. Ruach is therefore the link between “the general" or Spiritual, and the concrete or the Material uniting in man the interior intelligible world with the exterior and real world; it is both the support and the seat of the human personality.
In this way the soul bears a threefold relation to the two objects of its activity: 1st, the concrete, which is below it; 2nd, the particular, which corresponds to its own nature and encloses it; 3rd, the general, which is above it. Three currents circulate through it, blending amongst themselves, for: 1st, it is excited by Nephesch, which is below it, and returns this current as inspiration; 2nd, there is an active and passive inter-action between it and that which lies around it on a corresponding plane to that of its own nature, the particular; 3rd, the influence which it receives either from below or outside, and which it assimilates, so that it acquires the power to stimulate Neschamah in the higher regions. Through this activity the superior faculties become excited, and are capable of producing vital effects of a more elevated and spiritual character; these the Soul, becoming again passive, receives, in order to transmit outwardly and to the lower planes of the inner man.
Thus we see that although Ruach is a definite form of existence, possessing individual characteristics, nevertheless the first impulse towards, vital activity reaches it from the concrete body, which is inferior to it, and acts as an exciter. While the body, by the change from action to reaction between it and the Soul, becomes penetrated by the latter, thanks to its impressionability; while the Soul becomes part of the body; in the same way the Soul, through its union with the Spirit, is filled with it and inspired by it.
The third fundamental part of the human being, Neschamah, may be called the Spirit, in the sense in which this
term is employed in the New Testament. Here we do not find passive sensibility to exterior nature; activity dominates
its receptivity. The Spirit lives through its own individual life, and only for the General or the Spiritual
world with which it is in constant relation. Nevertheless, like Ruach, Neschamah requires not only the General
or a Divine Infinity, because of its ideal nature, but it also feels the necessity for some relation with the
particular and the concrete, on account of the reality of its existence, and consequently it is drawn towards
The Spirit is also in relation with its triple objective, that which is below, that which is exterior, and that which is above; therefore, there must be a triple interlacing current running through it in two contrary directions, such as that which we have described for Ruach. Neschamah is a purely interior existence, and is both active and passive; while Nephesch, with its vital principle and its body, and Ruach, with its forces, represent its exterior image. That which is [Page 7] quantity in Nephesch and quality in Ruach comes from Neschamah, the Spirit, which is entirely interior and ideal. Now, just as Nephesch and Ruach hold within themselves three different existences, or spiritual potentialities, so that each one is a copy in miniature of the whole man, so according to the Qabalah there are three degrees of spirituality in Neschamah.
We have already said that the different forms of existence in the human being are neither distinct, isolated, nor separated; but, on the contrary, mix one with the other. This is pre-eminently true of this highest element; for here all becomes more and more spiritual, and therefore nearer to unity. Of the three superior existences in man which are joined in the widest interpretation of the word Neschamah, the lowest may be called the real Neschamah. This one has still a certain affinity with the higher elements of Ruach. It consists in an interior and active knowledge of the energies and their peculiarities which lie below it. The second power of Neschamah, which is the eighth element in man, is called by the Qabalah Chaijah. Its essence consists in a knowledge of the interior power of intelligence, which acts as a basis for objective and manifested existence, and which, therefore, cannot be perceived by Ruach or Nephesch, and could not be known even by the first or lowest division of Neschamah, or the manifested Neschamah. The third power of Neschamah, the ninth element, and the highest one in man, is called Jechidah, which means “the Unity in its Infinite Absoluteness"; its real essence consists in the knowledge of the fundamental and absolute unity of all things.
Now, let us recapitulate what we have said of the relation existing between the concrete, the particular, and the general. First degree of Nephesch, the body — the concrete in the concrete; 2nd, the particular in the concrete; 3rd, the general in the concrete.
So with Ruach, the first power being the concrete in the particular, the second being the particular in the particular; third, the general in the particular.
And in Neschamah: 1st degree, the concrete in the general; 2nd degree, or Chaijah, the particular in the general; the 3rd, the Jechidah, or the general in the general.
In this way the different activities and virtues of these elements of being manifest themselves.
The Soul (Ruach) has most certainly an individual existence of its own, but it is nevertheless incapable of an individual development without participating in the life of the body (Nephesch), and the spirituality of Neschamah. Besides this, Ruach bears a two-fold relation to Nephesch; influenced by it, the soul is also turned outward in order to exert a free inter-action. In this way the concrete bodily life participates in its own development; the same thing takes place between the spirit and the soul, or Neschamah and Ruach, which through this latter bears a two-fold relation to Nephesch. Nevertheless Neschamah, [Page 8] besides this, contains within itself the source of its own action, while the activities of Ruach and of Nephesch are only the free and living emanations of Neschamah.
In the same way, Neschamah is to a certain degree in double relation with the Divinity, for the vital activity of Neschamah is in itself an exciting influence causing the divinity to maintain it, and thus procuring for itself the substance necessary to its existence. Thus the Spirit or Neschamah, and through its mediumship both Ruach and Nephesch, draw their vitality involuntarily from the eternal and divine source, which causes them for ever to direct their life work towards higher perfections; while the Divinity continually penetrates Neschamah and pervades its sphere of action in order to give to it life and persistence, as well as to Ruach and Nephesch.
Now, according to the teaching of the Qabalah, man, instead of living in the Divinity, and of receiving from it a continuous flow of that spirituality which he requires, loses himself more and more in his self-Iove and in the attractions of the sinful world when, after the Fall (Genesis iii., 6-20) he quits his centre for the periphery.
This Fall, and the receding ever further from the Divinity which results, have eventuated in a weakening of the powers of the inner man, bringing with it a corresponding diminution in those of collective humanity. The divine spark has withdrawn itself further and further from man, and Neschamah has lost its intimate connection with God. In the same way, Ruach has become estranged from Neschamah, and Nephesch has lost its union with Ruach. Through this general debility and partial loosening of the bonds connecting the elements, the lowest part of Nephesch, which was originally in man a luminous ethereal form, has become our material body; through this, man has become subject to dissolution throughout the three principal divisions of his constitution.
This is treated of in the Qabalah in that part 2 which considers the question of the Soul during and after death.
Translated from the Sphinx into French, and from the French by Thos. Williams
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