Thursday, 24 January 2013

Great Work and being human

The Great Work

There’s a number of bloggers conversing about the Great Work at the moment. To be honest, I’m not really sure what the Great Work is… Anyway, here are some links that I recommend you read if you had not done so already.

Unlike a lot of other places in the internet, the comments are well worth reading.
  1. The Guru Trip by Rufus Opus 
  2. What the Great Work Is by Jason from Strategic Sorcery 
  3. On the Great Work by Michael from the Lion’s Den

Having read all that I’m still not sure what the Great Work is… but let’s use the definition of “to be more than human”. But why would someone want to be more than human? What drives someone to want to be a god?

Strife of the Spirit

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz in his book “Strife of the Spirit” asks (amongst other things) the question: is it better to achieve peace of mind or live with strife of the spirit. He argues convincingly (imo) that not only is achieving ‘peace of mind’ a hollow goal, if you’re not constantly trying to progress then you’re not only stagnating but actually going backwards. Life is an escalator that you have to continuously climb – stand still and it carries you back down.

Where does a person’s drive to go through strife of the spirit in order to grow come from? Why does a person feel hollow? Rabbi Akiva Tatz answered that question for me in this essay (see section II “One of the mysteries…”) in his amazing book “Worldmask”.

Growing Up is Hard to Do

OK, so a certain level of strife is conductive for growth (if you have the mind-set to want to be a better person). Also, we’re trying to rebuild our spiritual receivers so that we don’t feel quite as empty, I get that. But why is the path of magical or mystical growth so hard?

Gordon of Rune Soup argues that it’s getting easier. I see his point.

But as Sefer Yetzirah described in chapter 1 verse 1, there are 32 paths of Wisdom. As Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan explains in his commentary and translation – the word for path is Netivot, meaning private paths (as opposed to a public road that is easily accessible). In other words, they are internal paths of development that each person must discover for themselves. So it’s getting easier, right?

I’m not 100% convinced. In the Mystery of Marriage Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, he mentions an idea: unrectified imagination - the idea being that you have an ideal in mind that is not really achievable, but you cling to it regardless. Taking it a bit further – you may have a certain idea what developing along a magical or mystical path might be like… but if it’s not what you expect it to be then unrectfied imagination may be what is holding you back.


Hopefully you’ve got some food for thought about why we strive to be better and what may hold us back. There certainly seems to be a growing trend of magical practice increasing in the world.

Has anyone completed the Great Work and become more than human? I don’t know. The Rabbis teach that when a person dies – they will not be asked: why did you not reach the level of Moses? Instead they will be asked: why did you not achieve your full potential?

Here is a parting quote from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) about being a better person:
4: 1.
Ben Zoma would say:
Who is wise? One who learns from every man. As is stated (Psalms 119:99): "From all my teachers I have grown wise, for Your testimonials are my meditation." 
Who is strong? One who overpowers his inclinations. As is stated (Proverbs 16:32), "Better one who is slow to anger than one with might, one who rules his spirit than the captor of a city."
Who is rich? One who is satisfied with his lot. As is stated (Psalms 128:2): "If you eat of toil of your hands, fortunate are you, and good is to you"; "fortunate are you" in this world, "and good is to you" in the World to Come. 
Who is honourable? One who honours his fellows. As is stated (I Samuel 2:30): "For to those who honour me, I accord honour; those who scorn me shall be demeaned."

So if you think that you have completed the Great Work or become a god, can you honestly say that you have reached your ultimate potential and are at least as wise, rich, strong and honourable as described in the Pikrei Avot 4:1 quote above?