part 2, Nachman of Breslav's "Likutei Moharan" (collected essays), essay 52 interpreted, in relation to the traditions of kabbalah, dialectical philosophy, gestalt therapy, and symbolist poetry.
FRANKLYN WEPNER MAY 2012
COMMENTARY ON LIKUTEI MOHARAN 52: HITBODEDUT IN CONTEXT
1. DEDUCTIVE THINKING IS MERELY THE FIRST STEP TO SEEKING REALITY.
Here is the opening sentence of essay 52 of "Likutei Moharan", the "Collected Essays" of Nachman of Breslav.
יש אפיקורסים שאומרים שהעולם הוא מחויב המציאות
And here is the official Breslav Research Institute translation: "there are heretics who say that the world is a necessary reality". The first point I want to make is that what Nachman in this statement is labeling "necessary reality", or more literally, "obligated finding", is what Gestalt therapists call "confluence", from the Latin roots "con" (with) and "fluere" (to flow). For Gestalt therapists "confluence" means a near total lack of here and now awareness, as is seen in autism, psychosis and certain master manipulators such as an Adolf Hitler. Instead of being grounded in reality, the person is identifying with, flowing along with fixed deductive systems, a matrix of habits which he justifies by simple cause and effect logic. Since "the system" appears to make sense, therefore the system is "necessary reality". For example, "I am right, therefore you must be wrong," or "I am good, therefore you must be evil" is a way of thinking that "makes sense" and seems to be necessarily the case for a mind that relies primarily upon the syllogisms of deductive thinking to solve problems.
But from the point of view of a more encompassing "dialectical" thinking, this deductive sort of logic is merely the first stage of authentic thinking which aims at truth. This deductive stage is merely the "thesis", a comforting illusion or dream of oneness, identity, based on our everyday habits, our manipulative games which have frozen into a dead shell around our true self. True, Maimonides does say that the Word first comes to us on the side of rational thinking. That is to say, first we need to use all our deductive "wits" to deal with the situation - until we get stuck. And of course soon we will get stuck if we rely primarily upon deductive logic, which is a way of thinking which moves from general abstract assumptions to particulars which stem from those general assumptions. For example, if my general assumption is that "today is a nice day", what do I make of the fact that it just rained on my picnic? How can a nice day also be not a nice day? Likewise, in Gestalt dreamwork we begin with our defective, incomplete notion of what we think is "awareness" and we proceed until our self-interruptions, the holes in our contact boundary, lead us to impasses. We begin with by simply telling the dream as we dreamed it, in the here and now. But this is only 1/60 of the Word. The dreamwork process aims at correcting this illusion and providing the rest of the existential message.
Shifting to a kabbalistic and alchemical point of view, we can say we descend deductively on the left side of the tree of life from alchemical water to alchemical earth, as our initial simple abstract idea trickles into its many apparently logical but nevertheless conflicting consequences. This is deductive, cause and effect logic. Then, in the new state of alchemical earth all reality is a fragmented clog of apparently totally unreconcilable points of view. We are stuck at an impasse. Heretics, according to Nachman, fail to complete the cycle of dialectical logic by neglecting the right side of the tree of life, the side which relies upon inductive thinking. The inductive process begins as alchemical air discovers spaces within the clumps of alchemical earth. Then, within these voids there descend from on high sparks of alchemical fire which burn up the impasses of alchemical earth and encompass the burnt crusts in a redeeming inferno which wafts them back up to the One Without A Second, at which point the dialectical cycle begins anew. Cycle after cycle, this is an endless spiral of descents for the sake of ever higher ascents.
2. DIALECTICAL THINKING COMBINES DEDUCTION AND INDUCTION.
באמת העולם ומלואו הוא אפשרי המציאות. כי רק השם יתברך לבד הוא מחויב המציאות, אבל כל העולמות עם כל אשר בהם הם אפשרי המציאות. כי הוא יתברך בראם יש מאין, וביכלתו וכוחו ואפשרותו יתברך היה לבראם או שלא לבראם, על-כן בודאי כל העולם ומלואו הוא אפשרי המציאות.
The official Breslav translation of this next paragraph is: "the truth is that the world and all it contains is a contingent reality. Only the Holy One must necessarily exist. However, all the worlds and all they contain need not necessarily exist. God created them creatio ex nihilo. For God had the ability, the power and the alternative to create them or to not create them. Therefore the world and all it contains are certainly a contingent reality."
This paragraph shows us how Nachman deals with the cul-de-sac resulting from the assumption that the world is an unchangable necessary reality. We see that Nachman does a subtle figure/ground reversal, without telling us he is doing it. He shifts from deductive logic to inductive logic, from a descent on the left side of the tree of life to an ascent on the right side of the tree of life. Previously he was descending from the one idea, the dialectical "thesis", to its many conflicting ramifications. Now he is ascending from an infinite number of particular awareness moments, each one emerging as a spark of alchemical fire from the void of alchemical air. The infinite moments of awareness in the here and now are the dialectical "antithesis" of the original single idea frozen into a deductive system. Gradually these gestalts, monads, living organisms that constitute the contact boundary congeal into their ultimate integration back in the One, as the One in the many, as identity in difference, as God in the world. And this final integration is the third stage of dialectical thinking, the "synthesis".
The outcome is that what Nachman calls "the world" is no longer a comforting illusion of abstract oneness enjoyed by what he labels "heretics", but rather the world is an endless kaleidoscopic array of here and now contact experiences in the environment, in our body and in our fantasies, enjoyed by any truly sane and truth seeking person. Autistic children and logically stillborn "heretics" find this logical reversal to be very threatening, since their safe repetitive rituals and syllogisms, concocted for an abstract deductive world, are not well adapted to a concrete, organic, inductive world. It is like shifting from looking at a painting or dream from the outside to living in the world of that painting or dream, with all its bewildering possibilities. In Gestalt dreamwork this transition from seeing the dream as a painting out there to living it completely in the here and now, "saying it with your whole body", is accomplished only gradually over a period of hours, weeks or months, as the protagonist peels away layer upon layer of frozen childhood habits to arrive - he hopes - at a certain level of maturity. This dreamwork process unveils the remaining 59/60 of the prophetic message that constitutes "the existential message of the dream" in secular jargon.
Note that Nachman is anything but "objective" in his evaluation of the situation. He labels anyone who is not totally committed to his own phenomenological orientation a heretic, without even the slightest hint as to what is his underlying logical frame of reference. Therefore, in order to read Nachman from any point of view other than that of sheep following a shepherd blindly, we must supply the missing manual, the missing logical infrastructure, ourselves. Actually, this task is not difficult to do. For once we decode Nachman's theological jargon word by word we find right there in his text all the elements we need to peer into his inductive, phenomenological, Gestalt therapy, poetically spiritualized way of interpreting reality.
3. DECODING NACHMAN'S TEXT: KEY TERMS
As a matter of fact, Nachman's text itself demands that we decode his message, since anyone who does not decode his message (and this includes most of his starry eyed, intellectually muddled disciples) arrives at totally absurd conclusions. Here is one glaring example. Nachman says:
עתה שכבר נאצלו ונמשכו נשמות ישראל, עתה בודאי העולם הוא בבחינת מחויב המציאות.
A superficial translation would be that of the Breslav Research Institute: "for after the souls of Israel were issued and brought down, now the world is certainly in the aspect of necessary reality ". Then, Nachman's next sentence is: "For the world and all it contains were created only for Israel, as is known. And Israel rules the world!!!" This, of course, is rubbish, very dangerous rubbish. A hundred years after Nachman and other naive Jewish rabbis penned such rubbish, later generations of Jews encountered the response of those "heretics" to Nachman's arrogance. Certain "heretics" metamorphosed Nachman's text into "The Protocols of The Elders of Zion". All the heretics needed to do was substitute "money" or "gold" for "awareness", as the glue which holds the Jewish people together and is the true Source of Jewish vitality and dominance. And then, fifty years after the Protocols came the Holocaust, which might be seen as Europe's "final solution" to the problem created by Jewish apocalyptic chauvinists. So much for "Israel uber alles!" We may conclude, then, that either Nachman of Breslav was totally meshuggeneh, or there must be some other message hidden in lesson 52 of Likutei Moharan (LM 52) besides that conveyed by the official Breslav Research Institute translation of the text.
Let us begin our translating project, or rather our decoding project, once again. This time we will try to ferret out what Nachman actually meant. Or even if he did not mean it, we need here to sift out the wheat from the chaff, since if we do so it turns out that indeed there is much wheat to be found in this Torah commentary. In the meantime we will leave the totalitarian nonsense for those who crave that nonsense. Code word number one here is "Israel", which for Nachman codes for all those who find a proper balance between deductive and inductive logic, with a slight emphasis on the side of inductive logic as Maimonides requires for wannabe prophets. Then the non-Israelites, i.e., the rest of the world, are those unfortunates who rely primarily upon deductive logic, such as the Egyptians at the time of the Exodus. It is black and white for Nachman: induction or deduction, Israel or Egypt, good guys or bad guys, redeemed Jews or godforsaken goyim. He does not spell it out here, but in other essays Nachman makes much of ancient Egyptians as those who rely on deductive logic. Here in LM 52 the Egyptians are generalized to all "heretics" who rely primarily upon deductive logic, not only the imaginary, much abused Egyptians.
Another code word in the above passage which requires careful attention is "neh-ets-lu". The official Breslav translation is: "issued", but literally the word means "risen and drawn near", based on the word "etsel", meaning "near" from the root A-TS-L. Now, what is it that rises and draws near when we get in touch with reality? Answer: "reality" itself, i.e., what is tangible to our senses and other forms of awareness when we operate in an inductive manner, i.e., from the concrete particulars to the encompassing integration of the particulars in higher and higher orders of experience. The ultimate integration of awareness experiences goes by many labels, such as the glory of God, or Aristotle's "final cause", or Plato's "anamnesis" (remembering primordial ideas). And so we find ourselves in the framework of Gestalt therapy, since it is "figures" which rise up from the (back)ground and draw near to us when we take time for awareness experiences. Gestalt therapists label these rising figures "gestalts", which also alludes to their organic living reality, wholeness or pattern. Each moment of awareness is posited as a living organism, a strong gestalt, which gobbles up and encompasses lower levels of similar living realities, weaker gesalts. Leibniz labels the gestalts "monads", since each one is in a sense a single world of experience, whether referring to our everyday world, or infinitely large "worlds", or infinitely small "worlds". For Nachman and for Leibniz it is worlds within worlds within worlds, as endlessly as God is the "endless" (Hebrew: "eyn sof").
4. THE PHILOSOPHICAL CONTEXT: ARISTOTLE, PLATO, LEIBNIZ, GESTALT
Here again is the text which specifies necessary and contingent existence. Let's dissect it within the framework we have just established.
באמת העולם ומלואו הוא אפשרי המציאות. כי רק השם יתברך לבד הוא מחויב המציאות, אבל כל העולמות עם כל אשר בהם הם אפשרי המציאות. כי הוא יתברך בראם יש מאין, וביכלתו וכוחו ואפשרותו יתברך היה לבראם או שלא לבראם, על-כן בודאי כל העולם ומלואו הוא אפשרי המציאות.
We'll begin once again with the official Breslav translation of the paragraph, which is: "the truth is that the world and all it contains is a contingent reality. Only the Holy One must necessarily exist. However, all the worlds and all they contain need not necessarily exist. God created them creatio ex nihilo. For God had the ability, the power and the alternative to create them or to not create them. Therefore the world and all it contains are certainly a contingent reality."
The Hebrew word for "existence" here is "m'tsi-ute", which means literally "what is found", from the root M-TS-A, "to find". Again we are guided in the direction of inductive thinking based on awareness. Awareness is what we find/contact when to stop doing things deliberately and open ourselves to encountering the objects of our experience in a middle way, active passivity manner. We begin with moments of awareness and gradually we discover that these moments are part of a river of experience that is flowing towards a certain final integration of all types of awareness: environmental, bodily and fantasy. This subconscious or superconscious river does not flow when we are striving deliberately towards a goal definable within a deductive system or matrix, but it does flow when we simply are getting in touch with all the realities of the moment, the situation, the circumstances. Hightened awareness leads to a mobilizing of the total organism, so that once an optimal state of readiness is attained authentic action emerges spontaneously. "Say it with your whole body" is the Gestalt therapy maxim here. Taoists say, if you want to hit the target aim for the Tao and not for the target, which is their way to putting the emphasis on inductive rather than deductive thinking. And in Judaism total involvement in all the realities of the situation is another name for God, "the Place" (Hebrew: ha-Makom). We recall the definition of "local motion" which Maimonides took from Aristotle: motion in one place and in a circle, which is the basis of the spiraling dialectic of the logos, the Word, the tree of life, the Merkavah upon which God "rides on the Aravot".
Going back to the paragraph from Nachman above, what necessarily is found (exists) if we continue our finding is the ultimate integration of all awarenesses and motivations of the situation into action which is totally appropriate for the circumstances. Entering totally into this now time and this now place leads inexorably to holistic experience "necessary", "obligated", in this time and place. The drive towards this strongest gestalt is what Nachman refers to as "obligated finding", which the Breslav Research Institute translates vaguely as "necessary existence". Only the strongest gestalt possible in a specific time and place is an "obligated finding" in that sense. If we look at the big picture of the entire world, then, of course, for Nachman God is that largest gestalt, ha-Makom. Many philosophical systems have their own version of this process. For Aristotle it is the "final cause" which, like a magnet, pulls us towards authentic action in concrete circumstances. Nachman uses this Aristotelian point of view. He also uses the Platonic point of view. In the Prologue to Likutei Moharan he has Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai tell us that "the Torah will not be forgotten". This is a code for Platonic "anamnesis", "not forgetting" the primordial ideas of dialectical thinking: Abraham (awareness, the thesis), Isaac (difference, conflicts, the antithesis), and Jacob (identity in difference, authentic action, enlightenment, the synthesis). For Nachman the Covenant (Hebrew: "brit") which must not be forgotten is on the most basic level a commitment to dialectic logic. Thus Nachman uses the term "Israel" to represent those who avail themselves of the complete dialectic by combining deduction and induction. It is this Covenant which binds Israel to God, as the stages of dialectical thinking are bound to the Aristotelian final cause at the end of a long tunnel or to the Platonic idea at the origin of the seductive illusion we assume uncritically we know as "reality".
But what about the phrase the Research Institute translates as "contingent existence"? First of all, the literal meaning is "scattered finding", from the root P-Sh-R, meaning "to divide". See the Talmudic dictionary for this antique sense of the word. Division is what we find in our here and now awareness experience of inductive thinking. The myriad figures that rise here and now from the ground of possibilities are scattered willy-nilly without any apparent system at first. This "scattered finding" ("Contingent existence") does not appear at first to be a "necessary, obligated finding", unless, that is, we commit ourselves totally to following the river of awareness back to its Source (Plato) or on to the great ocean (Aristotle). Then, once each moment of awareness has been discovered, it is a part of the higher levels of Gestalt integration as we ascend the right side of the tree of life. This is the paradox which Nachman is alluding to in LM 52. (1) The final cause, God, is necessarily found if we go with the phenomenological river of experience. (2) But any moment of initial awareness is merely a chance occurrence, a "scattered finding". (3) Nevertheless, paradoxically, once that moment of awareness has emerged from the ground of possibilities it now is locked into the endless process of more and more encompassing gestalts leading to the particular final cause, strongest gestalt, divinity, archangel, name of God, which is acting as a magnet in the field of gestalts or monads or (to use Nachman's metaphor) "souls". For in Nachman's jargon "souls" are gestalts, monads, living centers of consciousness in a sphere in which any point, any soul, is potentially the center. If it is your soul at this moment of the messianic now which is the most inflamed in the search for God or truth, then you at this messianic moment are the center of the Jewish universe, the lamed-vavnik, that the Jewish people needs at this moment as a redeemer. Of course, Nachman has his sights on this job, when he sees himself as the brook in the Prologue to Likutei Moharan. For him the brook implies the proper middle way relation between the river of inductive ideas and its deductive banks, the river of chochmah and its binah banks, the river of divine light and its shekhinah banks, the river of chet and its nun banks (see LM 1).
5. BARE BONES HITBODEDUT
With this philosophical context in place, we now can easily unravel the rest of Nachman's prescription for religious perfection based on what he calls "hitbodedut". As usual we will find Nachman's unfolds his tale on two levels, the simple level for simple folk and the more complex level for more sophisticated seekers after truth. Here we need not go word by word through Nachman's text, since the implications of the basic philosophical structure already are much more obvious than is the buried structure which we just have ferreted out from Nachman's hassidically tinted prose. We see immediately, for example, that we need not take Nachman literally when he tells us to do hitbodedut only at night and alone. For the process works just as well, perhaps even better, in a well lit room when supervised by a Gestalt therapist with a group of perhaps 50 fellow pilgrims observing - provided, of course, that the observers respect the process and do not meddle by trying to be "helpful". Gestalt therapy originally was labeled by its founder Fritz Perls "concentration therapy", with the assumption that the sort of concentration called for in the process is of the inductive sort. In general, participants in a Gestalt group session discover that the power of awareness work is so formidable that most people can focus reasonably well on their own phenomenological river and ignore what other people who are observing might be thinking deductively.
What comes to mind regarding the river of inductive thinking is the childhood ditti: "Row, row, row the boat, gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream!" That is to say, if we flow with the river of awareness, we have an opportunity to wake up from our silly dream of deductive thinking and get a lot closer to reality itself. Or as Nachman would put it, we can discover easily how we got stuck being heretics. Once we see how we got stuck, then we also see how easy it is to get un-stuck. Nachman says, "pray, study, pray!" That is to say, shift the balance of your life so that most of your focus is on inductive experiences rather than deductive experiences. For Nachman, "praying" equates, once again, to a proper middle way balance of deductive and inductive thinking, while "studying" equates to an overemphasis upon deductive thinking. Nachman develops this notion of what prayer is in LM 2. See my essay on LM 2, "Simple As Child's Play" for details.
6. HITBODEDUT AS POETIC LANGUAGE AND GESTALT MONOLOGUE
דע שעיקר הביטול, שאדם מבטל יישותו ונעשה אין, ונכלל באחדות השם יתברך, אין זה אלא על-ידי התבודדות. וההתבודדות צריך מקום וזמן מיוחד, שלא יבלבלו אותו המונעים.
My own translation of this text of Nachman is: "Know that the main point concerning negation of one's ego, that a person negates his existence and becomes nothing and is included in the oneness of The Name, may it be blessed, this is only by means of hitbodedut (that is to say: secluding oneself and talking to God). Hitbodedut requires a special place and time, so that the hindrances will not confuse him."
The hindrances in question here are precisely those spelled out in texts of Gestalt therapy under the heading "self-interruptions", and in the writings of Johann Georg Hamann under the heading "prose versus poetry". In fact, this text of Nachman is a restatement of the basic tradition of the Lurianic kabbalah moment of tsimtsum 2 (negation of the two sides of an impasse in the void by means of getting a new idea), with the crucial addition of a verbal monologue.
Nachman's emphasis on the role of language in pietist religion places Nachman squarely on the road travelled by his predecessor Johann Georg Hamann (1730-1788) in Konigsberg, East Prussia, in his resistance to the German Enlightenment movement. Some earlier philosophical roots of Hamann in the philosophy of inductive thinking of Francis Bacon (1561-1626) are demonstrated by James O'Flaherty in his analysis of the work of Hamann, entitled "Johann Georg Hamann". In short, what Nachman labels "hitbodedut", Hamann labels "poetry". Frederick Copleston elucidates Hamann's view of poetry as the mother language of mankind as follows: "The speech of primitive men was sensation and passion, and they understood nothing but images. It was in music, song and poetry that they expressed themselves." ("A History of Philosophy", Volume 6, p. 136) Gestalt therapists make a similar distinction between poetry and prose. A client who is babbling away without much personal connection to his verbiage is "talking literature", while a client whose speaking is directly related to his authentic actions is considered to be speaking poetically.
Nachman's "heretics" are those of the Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment movement) who prefer prose (deductive thinking and babbling) to poetry (inductive thinking and committed action) in Hamann's sense of the word poetry. See my own extensive commentary on LM 4, entitled "Bacon, Hamann and Nachman" for a detailed treatment. Nachman's emphasis on a monologue in solitude also places Nachman squarely in the tradition of Gestalt therapy, which is a bare bones version of the hitbodudut process: minus the theological jargon, minus the rustic solitude hard to find these days, and minus all the melodrama concerning the mystical powers of darkness and King David's harp which, says Nachman, begins chiming by itself at the midnight of a hassid's existential despair. The hindrances/self-interruptions in the Gestalt formulation are: (1) confluence, (2) introjection, (3) projection, (4) retroflection, (5) egotism. See "Gestalt Therapy" by Perls, Hefferline and Goodman or "Gestalt Therapy Verbatim" by Perls for details. Also, see my 90 minute video, "Hitbodedut", for an illustration of these Gestalt self-interruptions at work during the hitbodedut process. The defining traits of "poetic language" in contrast to prose, according to O'Flaherty's analysis of Hamann are: (1) imagery, (2) analogy, (3) parataxis, (4) paradox, (5) multiple levels of language, (6) affective terminology. See O'Flaherty for details. My aim in this clinical and philosophical dissection of Nachman's pietist process of hitbodudut has not been to disparage the process itself. What Nachman of Breslav calls "Hitbodedut" and Fritz Perls calls "Concentration Therapy" or "Gestalt Therapy" and Johann Georg Hamann calls "Poetry" is a dimension of human experience of crucial importance, a dimension which indeed accomplishes very well the goals Nachman of Breslav or Fritz Perls or Johann Georg Hamann claim it accomplishes. I merely am suggesting that once the hitbodedut process is carefully demystified, and the bones are picked clean of obfuscating viscera and suspect chauvinistic motives, hitbodedut is rendered much more useful for many different types of people in many different sets of circumstances, for example, training for spiritually inclined performers of a not so frum Jewish theater. A pharmaceutical wedding between Nachman's medicine and Fritz Perls' medicine in a Hamann inspired poetic crucible would preserve the best of all three systems, while reserving the pure Nachman, pure Fritz and pure Hamann versions for specific populations most in need of either a purely hassidic redemption, or a purely secular healing, or a purely spiritual poetry, respectively.