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Chesed - Full Text

An introduction to the nature of Chesed

The sphere of Mercy, fourth on the path of emanations:  Chesed is the highest of the spheres below the abyss, in the section of the Tree of Life described as the Qabalistic world of Briah.

As the middle sphere of the Pillar of Mercy Chesed is the first manifestation below the abyss of the masculine, expansive energy of Yang, descending from the sphere of Chokmah. As the sphere of compassion it represents the expansion of the awareness beyond the confines of the individual entity, beyond the self and its partisan perspective, to understand the existence of others from their own perspective. It is love in its highest sense, devoid of any connotations of desire or dependency.

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In this expansion beyond the self to transpersonal and collective levels of awareness we can discern the reason why the sphere of Chesed is associated with the concept of governance. The pursuance of collective goals, the act of the individual in tempering purely self-interested behaviour with an awareness and understanding of social needs, the establishment of and adherence to collective goals and ‘the greater good’ (from paying taxes to not just stealing whatever you want) are all based on the ability of the individual to be aware that they are but one of many, to see the world from other peoples perspective and use this awareness as a basis for action, and therefore are based on the compassion (in its original sense not an act, such as mercy or charity, but a feeling or awareness) of Chesed. This principle finds one of its purest expressions in exoteric religion, that is, religion as a system of morality and community rather than a personal path of spiritual growth, which seeks the establishment of an idealized social order in conformity with the Will of God. In this context religion is seen as the path to the establishment of the governance of God over the world, as expressed in utopian visions such as the Biblical descent of the ‘New Jerusalem’, in which the greater good (as expressed by the Will of an infinitely compassionate God) is followed by all individuals in their actions. The Divine name of Chesed is El Gedul, meaning the Highest God, or sometimes translated as the High God. This Highest God of Chesed does not represent the highest and most purely spiritual aspect of divinity, which belongs above the abyss with the highest trinity, but rather the High God of exoteric religion; the highest aspect of divinity manifest below the abyss in the material realm of plurality; the Lord God upon his throne as the true ruler of the world, his divine right to rule established by virtue of the fact that His Will is for that which is in the best interests of all people, in other words, by virtue of His unbounded compassion.

On a more personal and esoteric level the sphere of Chesed is also traditionally associated with memory. It is important to recognize, however, that this does not refer to the conscious act of remembrance, of re-experiencing past events, which may perhaps be more appropriately associated with Yesod, the sphere of the past. Rather, it refers more properly to constant action of memory in unifying disparate perceptions and mental functions into a singular whole, and in creating a fluid experience of existence from one moment to the next. This is the same unifying function of Chesed as is described above in the consideration of governance, this time operating within the individual themselves, rather than between individuals. This is the governance of the psyche, which forms the archetypal basis of the ‘worldview’ – our perception of the nature of reality. It allows us to perceive the universal in the particular, divining the common truth of all things.

It is said in the Bible that ‘charity begins at home’, and in its most esoteric sense this points us to the transformative power of compassion which can allow us to perceive and understand the nature of our existence as a whole, rather than in isolated events. The absence of compassion, as a presence in our psyches in its own right, as a pure archetypal energy rather than its application in particular acts of compassion, leads to the fragmentation of the psyche and ultimately insanity, most notably schizophrenia, autism and depression.

The process of cultivating a unified awareness of the nature of the whole of reality through the power of Chesed finds its parallel in eastern thought through the Buddhist concept of ‘mindfulness’, which is essentially the cultivation of a continuous memory. The importance of memory as a tool for personal spiritual growth is also clear in the medieval practice of creating ‘memory palaces’, which exceeded their original purpose as a tool for remembering large amount of data and became an essential tool in exploring the nature of divinity.


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