As the world becomes smaller and peoples intermingle more and more through the internet, we are coming into closer contact with cultures and ideas from all over the globe. The mysteries of foreign thought are becoming more commonplace. China in particular has always fascinated Americans. Every year ideas are crossing the seas to become common knowledge.
Who today hasn’t heard of Feng Shui? The word “Tao” is even overly used. There are books on every subject from The Tao of Statistics to The Tao of Poop.
Some ideas when introduced for the first time, can be very influential on your attitude, and/or seem like a long lost friend, something you somehow sensed but didn’t “know.” And our sages tell us, “Who is the wise man, the one who learns from every man.” It’s also written that “There is wisdom amongst all the nations of the world.”
Kabbalah, being originally from that area of the world, has aspects that are very common in flavor to other eastern religious ideas. And the fact that Kabbalah goes back even before the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai causes us to wonder if in fact there aren’t ideas that were handed down from the time of Adam that are now in the minds of divergent ancient religions like Taoism and Judaism.
What exactly is “Chinese Philosophy” is confusing, but there is/was a common saying that every Chinese wears a Confucian hat, a Taoist robe, and Buddhist sandals. Its way beyond the scope of this article to deal with many of the issues involved in comparative religions. I only intend to merely spark your thought and curiosity.
People familiar with both traditions like to point to the phrase in the Torah that says Abraham sent the children he had with other wives (not Sarah) off towards the East with “gifts”. And commentaries explain these gifts to be spiritual ideas or powers. This suggests that the same person, who so heavily influenced the minds and hearts of the Israelites, is also a founding father of Eastern thought as well. Yet few writers are capable of doing a full comprehensive comparison.
Here are a few ideas to think about:
Tao Te Ching
This text, the primary text of Taoism which dates back to about 600 BCE, is difficult to translate and has seemingly vague statements one after another. So it would be easy to take a piece like this one from the first teaching
“So, as ever hidden, we should look at its inner essence:
As always manifest, we should look at its outer aspects.”
and see how the discussion of Tao is uncannily similar to how we talk about the Almighty being completely hidden and at the same time part of every molecule of existence.
However the translations vary, and only real students of the Chinese language and of the Tao Te Ching are equipped to give a valid explanation of the text. “Any translation is an interpretation,” says Arthur Hummel, scholar of the Chinese culture and language. And only then could a true student of Kabbalah be able to connect the dots. Nonetheless, the superficial similarities are compelling.
One of the older texts, dating back supposedly to 3000BCE has a system of 64 diagrams of six lines representing two opposing forces in the universe, yin and yang. Although some refer to this text as a system for divination, it is much deeper than that. The martial arts are often patterned after the ideas inherent in the I Ching and commonly have patterns of movements that imitate the patterns of the six lines. Some, like Tai Chi, and Chi Kung discuss the idea of harnessing Chi, a type of universal life force or energy.
It’s noticeable that in Kabbalah the number six is associated with all the forces in the physical world. By the way, it’s been said that Confucianism deals with man’s relationship with man, and Taoism deals with man’s relationship with nature and the world. Six are the directions in this world, the forces of the universe; seven, like Shabbos, is when the forces of the universe are harnessed for a spiritual purpose.
Kabbalah describes a human being as a microcosm of the universe, containing all aspects of the world inside us. Chi work also deals with tapping into this consciousness and directing our thoughts and feelings to a harmony with the forces of the universe. We also learn from Kabbalah the idea of physical soul. This intangible force is housed in the blood. Since it is intangible, yet physical, this may or may not be the very same thing that Chinese philosophy calls Chi. At the very least, they are extremely similar concepts. Acupuncture manipulates the flow of Chi through the organs. Kabbalah also links spiritual meaning to the major organs.
The Kabbalists describe the world as a dichotomy that starts with male/female and travels throughout nature. Din and Chesed, Chochma and Bina, (Justice and Love, Wisdom and Understanding.) These are opposing forces in the universe and are indicated on the famous diagram of the tree of life, ten circles linked from top to bottom. There are also three lines that run vertically that, simply put, describe two opposing principles and a third resolution or harmonizing of the opposition.
The famous yin yang symbol shows two opposing forces that are united, and each contains a little bit of its opposite. The most discussed dichotomy in our holy books is the battle between the body and the soul. They are meant to be like a horse and rider, not that one kills the other, but the mind harnesses the powers of the body for the use of the soul.
Spirituality, e.g. the soul, and Physicality, e.g. the body, are both created by God and have the potential to serve him. But left to its own devices the body is drawn away from spirituality. Just like a horse needs to be trained by an experienced rider, the body needs to be trained by the mind and the soul.
The Torah is the training manual.
An extension of this idea is an oft quoted verse from Ezekiel 1:14 “the living angels ran and returned.” This statement means several things, but includes the concept of our spiritual ups and downs. We naturally feel closer to God and spirituality sometimes and farther away at other times. If you have an intense prayer, you can feel completely divorced from the physical realm, but later that day, night, or the next day you can become the animal again, foraging for food in the fridge, getting angry at your neighbor’s dog, etc.
Da Liu in Tai Chi Chuan and Mediation quotes a seventeenth century scholar on the I Ching who says that the I Ching never speaks of “birth and destruction” but only of the alternation of “coming and going.” The Yin and Yang are constricting and expanding, coming and going, they alternate inside us and as part of the universe.
Acupuncture, Chinese Herbs, Astrology, etc. all seem to be connected to or based on the same ideas. Here are a few ideas from a manual on Chinese medicine that could just as easily be in a Kabbalah text:
- The natural order of the universe is harmonious and organized. If you live according to its laws you will be harmonious.
- The universe is dynamic; change is constant. Lack of change is contrary to the universe and therefore causes illness.
- All life is interconnected. Always use a “systems” approach. (As opposed to separating out one part of the body to isolate and treat.)
(Extract from www.chinesemedicinesampler.com)
In this entire article, I am not coming to any specific conclusions regarding the origins of Kabbalah or Chinese philosophy, but the connections are curious and interesting for those studying either discipline. I leave any conclusions to those of you who may have more expertise than I.
Great recipe for Chimi-Churri Sauce, an Argentinian dish, I learned from Jim Adelson “the herb guy” while I was in the Catskills. It goes very well on grilled skirt steak, and you can try it on chicken and other things as well.
#1 Skirt steak can come extremely salty. Wash it well.
#2 Take the following and blend in a food processor:
1 Cup of fresh cilantro
1 Cup of fresh parsley, flat leaf variety
1 Cup of olive oil
3 cloves of garlic
½ Cup of peppermint leaves
1 tsp. of charissa or any other hot sauce of choice
¼ Cup of White wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
#3 Blend until smooth.
#4 marinate skirt steak overnight in half of the sauce and keep the other half for dipping.
#5 Grill steak and serve with sauce on the side.
btw- if you keep kosher and want to know how to clean the herbs properly, I recommend the following link