The Doctrine of the Origin of Evil


Lurianic and Sabbatian Kabbalah

and in the

‘Awakening of Faith’


Mahayanistic Buddhism


Evgeny A. Torchinov

The doctrine of evil is a crucial question for every religious and mystico-theosophical system of thought. In Christianity this problem was a source of a serious controversy which led to the appearance of a number of systems of theodicy, i.e., explanations of the coexistence of an all-good God Creator and evil in the world created by this God.

One of the most influential answers to this theological challenge was the theodicy of Leibniz who argued the tenet that in any case God has created the best world from all possible worlds. The explanation of evil as the consequence of the human free will and freedom of choice was also rather popular. But it could not explain the necessity of the choice itself: how there appeared the very possibility of evil if the source of the world (that is, God) was absolutely good.

Some theosophically oriented thinkers were ready to explain evil by postulating, in the very substance of God, the presence of some dark, or ethically indifferent foundation. The Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev developed this idea, proclaiming that before God there was a dark foundation which was also the source and root of God Himself, and which had potencies to explicate itself equally as good and evil. He called this pre-Divine substance ‘meonic freedom’ (‘nonexistent freedom,’ or ‘non-being-less freedom’). In this he followed Schelling who insisted that the sentence ‘God has his foundation in Himself’ means that this foundation is something really (not only formally and logically) different from God, existing nevertheless inside God and before God.

Kabbalah has always been extremely attentive to the problem of evil. Kabbalistic gnostics and theosophists as a rule followed the same course of thinking (or the same pattern) as the successors of Boehme and Schelling. It can even be ventured that Kabbalists were the real predecessors of this pattern of thought in Christian mysticism; but the question of the historical influence of Kabbalah on Boehme or Schelling is still open. Nevertheless, Kabbalistic theosophy suggested very original varieties of this pattern, sometimes even avoiding the dangers of dualism as well as those of pure illusionism.

In the very brief outline of the Kabbalistic approach to evil suggested below I will limit myself to the approach of Lurianic Kabbalah, mainly because of its role in the history of the Kabbalistic movement and the predominant importance of the doctrine of evil in its gnostic-theosophical system. I will add some brief references to the Sabbatean Kabbalah of Nathan of Gaza, which is directly derived from Lurianic Kabbalah as its source and paradigm.

The Lurianic Kabbalah, as explicated by R. Hayyim Vital, teaches that the hidden transcendent Absolute, Deus Absconditus (En Sof, Unlimited, or ‘Or En Sof � Unlimited Light) had to contract Itself to produce the place for the creation. If En Sof is everything, if It is unlimited and endless, there is no ‘space’ for the created universe. Therefore, En Sof, or Unlimited Light, contracted from the center outwards to ’empty’ a place within itself for the world to be created.

The technical term for this contraction is ‘zimzum‘ (tzimtzum). Throughout the ages, different interpretations of zimzum were suggested, from the literal and mytho-poetic to the philosophical. For instance, some Kabbalists interpreted zimzum as God’s self-limitation for the benefit of creation.

It is noteworthy in this regard that Nathan of Gaza, in his ‘Book on Creation‘ (Sefer ha-Beriy’a), taught the existence of some duality or even contradiction in the Divine Will: a wish to contract and to create (i.e., ‘thought-some lights’), and a wish to be in an eternal state of the hidden mystery without any contraction or creation (i.e., ‘thought-less lights’).

What was the cause of this divine contraction? Lurianic Kabbalah proposes that the nature of the Divine Will itself eternally strove to the unfolding of the hidden mystery of En Sof. But another source has been pointed out for the initiating of the cosmogonic process. It was the wish of En Sof to liberate Itself from the roots of evil potentially present in Its nature, understood as the roots of the power of Stern Judgement (din).

These roots had to be objectified, to be manifested so that it became possible for En Sof to emancipate itself from them. The Absolute had to become conscious of those roots in order to be liberated from them. Thus, the very process of creation as that of ordering, limitation and bordering is the process of the objectivization of the roots of the Stern Judgement.

Hence, It can be said that the moving force for the creation process (and for zimzum as its first stage) is the tendency within the Absolute (En Sof) to liberate itself from the potentially evil roots of Stern Judgement. But this process, by its very nature, is closely related to the explication of the roots of evil and their transition from potentiality to actuality. Only by giving existence to the powers of Stern Judgement, can the Absolute be liberated from them, or transform them into the principles of goodness and holiness.

This idea can be expressed as the immanence of the explication of the powers of Stern Judgement (and consequently, of evil) to initiate the process of creation: that is, the beginning of creation by necessity is contraction, zimzum. But every contraction, or limitation is a function of the powers of Stern Judgement. Thus, these powers are necessarily involved in the creation at its very foundation, and this involvement is pregnant with the appearance of the actual evil. Hence it is important for the aims of this paper to underline the following points:

  1. According to Lurianic Kabbalah the roots of evil (expressed as the power of din) are immanent to The Absolute (En Sof) itself and are contained in its depths.
  2. The process of creation explicates these potential roots of evil.
  3. This explication of din is the foundation of the very beginning of the creation through zimzum (contraction).
  4. The purpose of creation is the elimination of the element of din (and consequently of evil) through its explication and subsequent liquidation in the process of ‘divine catharsis.’ Keeping these points in mind we can now outline some Buddhist materials relevant to our topic.

In early Buddhism and in Theravada (Sthaviravada) tradition the problem of evil has been decided in a very simple way. Evil was understood as ‘suffering,’ duhkha which was thought to be one of the most fundamental qualities of being as such (together with anitya – non eternity, non constancy and anatma – essencelessness, or devoidedness of essence/’ego’). Briefly speaking, early Buddhism only demonstrated the fact of evil as a principal attribute of every existence as such. It also analyzed the cause of suffering and involvement of the sentient beings into the cyclic existence of the world of births-and-deaths (samsara), and this cause of this involvement was ignorant affectivity and desires, or defilements (klesa). Moreover, in the Abhidharmic texts (e.g., Vasubandhu’s famous ‘Compendium of Abhidharma,’ Abhidharma kosa, chapter 3, Loka nirdesa, ‘Exposition of the World‘) even the Triple Cosmos (traya lokya) itself was thought to be the objectivization (‘materialization’) of the summarized sequences of the affects of the living beings of the preceding cosmic cycle (kalpa). Nothing else but klesas (affects and desires in their latent, or subtle form) produce the material foundation of the universe at the beginning of every cosmic cycle. And this universe is only an expression of the beginningless desires and lusts which lead every being to the painful samsaric existence according to the Law of Interdependent Origination (pratitya samutpada). And this ‘evil’ character of samsara is confirmed by the doctrinal essentials of Buddhism, that is, the Four Noble Truths:

  1. every existence is painful/unsatisfactory,
  2. desires and attachments are the cause of pain,
  3. there is a state free from pain (nirvana), and
  4. there is a path toward liberation from samsara and attainment of nirvana (Eightfold Noble Path).

But the question of the origins of ignorant volitions and affects did not arise at all. Moreover it was thought to be an incorrect one because of the beginningless character of the cyclic existence of samsara. This position was tightly connected with the empirical treatment of the problem of consciousness: early Buddhism was interested only in analyses of the given contents of the psychic without an attempt to examine the question of the root, or source of consciousness (vijnana) and its contents.

In Mahayana (Great Vehicle Buddhism) the situation has been radically changed. Mahayanistic schools of Buddhism (first of all, Yogacara, or Vijnaptimatra) tried to find the source root of consciousness as well as the root of all samsaric existence. The Yogacarins proclaimed a famous tenet that all three worlds of samsara are but consciousness (vijnana, citta) and its states (vijnapti, caita). If samsara is but consciousness, it means that the roots of consciousness are the roots of samsara as well. The Yogacarins introduced a notion of alaya vijnana (store consciousness) as a source of all samsaric experiences. It is important to note that in the classical Yogacara this store consciousness was not understood as substance, or even substratum of the experiential world. The Yogacarins often used the image of the stream of water to depict alaya vijnana: it is a pure continuity of impermanent, or even momentary nature. The Tibetan word for ‘alaya vijnana‘ is sems kun gzhi, that is ‘consciousness which is the all-root.’

The concept of alaya vijnana was sufficient to explain the nature of samsara but it mostly failed to explain the nature of the final liberation, nirvana and Enlightenment, or more exactly, Awakening (bodhi) as attainment of the exalted state of Buddhahood.

This drawback was corrected by the doctrine of Tathagatagarbha the examination of which is essential for this study. Tathagata (Thus Coming One) is one of the most frequently used titles of the Buddha. The Sanskrit word garbha has double meaning. The first one is embryo, or foetus. The second one is a container of a foetus, that is the womb. In the first case Tathagatagarbha is the embryo of Buddhahood (state of the Buddha) not only immanent to our own original nature (as well as to the true nature of every sentient being) but it even composes this nature (every being is a potential Buddha, Buddha-to-be). In the second case Tathagatagarbha is One Mind, the Absolute Mind (eka citta) embracing all existence being the substratum of both � samsara and nirvana.

This Absolute Mind has four noble qualities which are contrary to the qualities of samsara: if samsara is unconstant (anitya), full of sufferings (duhkha), devoid of essence (anatma) and dirty (asubha), then Tathagatagarbha is constant (nitya), blissful (sukha), it has Essence, or Self (atma) and it is pure (subha). This Absolute Buddha-Mind is also the nature of every state of consciousness like water is the nature of every wave.

Here, the problem of Enlightenment/Awakening has been solved: it is the realization of our own inner nature which is but Buddha Nature. But the question of the origin of samsara with its unending chains of sufferings and frustrations obtained new actuality. If the nature of every existence (of all dharmas in the Buddhist terminology) is absolutely perfect, translucent and enlightened how is it possible for samsara to come into being (even conditioned and relative) at all? What is the source of samsaric existence with all its evils? Briefly speaking, the Buddhist Mahayana thinkers became trapped by the problem of theodicy.

The most detailed and distinct exposition of the Buddhist doctrine of the origin of evil (and samsara) as well can be found in Mahayana sraddhotpada sastra (Chin.: Da sheng qi xin lun), or the ‘Awakening of Faith in Mahayana‘. This text, now existing only in Chinese is a pseudoepigraph of the Indian author of the 1st century C.E., Asvaghosa. In reality it appeared in China in the 6th century. According to the Buddhist tradition it was translated into Chinese from Sanskrit in 550 by the famous Indian Buddhist monk and translator, Paramartha (499-569) but there are strong suspicions that it was written in Chinese by Paramartha himself or by one of his Chinese disciples, though the text artificially imitates the form and style of the Indian theoretical treatises. Additional strength to these suspicions are strengthened by the fact that there are no quotations from this work in any known Indian-Buddhist texts, as well as that there is no Tibetan translation of it. The famous Chinese pilgrim of the 7th century C.E., Xuanzang, was so struck by the fact that the Indian scholars he encountered were ignorant of such an important text that he even translated it from Chinese into Sanskrit.

The Awakening of Faith in Mahayana (henceforth: Awakening) became one of the most important texts of the Buddhist tradition of
Eastern Asia (China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam); it exerted an extremely powerful influence on the process of formatting the Far Eastern Buddhist schools (such as Tiantai, Huayan and Chan/Zen) and their doctrinal teachings.

From the theoretical side, it represents the highest point of the development of the Tathagatagarbha theory contaminated with some Yogacara doctrines, the most important of which was the doctrine of alaya vijnana, store conscious. Thus, the Awakening combined to form strong sides of both doctrines: the Yogacara theory of the origins of samsara, and the Tathagatagarbian teaching about Enlightenment and the Buddha-nature. Here we will try to examine the character of this doctrinal synthesis and its contents.

It is important to note that the Awakening declares the primeval existence of the only reality (tathata, or Suchness) which is but One Mind (ekacitta, yi xin). This Absolute is empty of our thinking being a kind of transcendent reality but not empty in itself, being the pleroma, or fullness of innumerable good qualities. Nevertheless, just this Suchness is a source of samsara with all its sufferings as well as nirvana with its bliss. The Awakening proclaims:

‘From the very beginning, Suchness in its nature is fully provided with all excellent qualities; namely, it is endowed with the light of great wisdom, [the qualities of] illuminating the entire universe, of true cognition and mind pure in its self-nature; of eternity, bliss, Self, and purity; of refreshing coolness, immutability, and freedom. It is endowed with this [excellent qualities] which outnumbered the sands of the Ganges, which are not independent of, disjointed from, or different from [the essence of Suchness], and which are supra-rational [attributes of] Buddhahood. Since it is endowed completely with all these, and is not lacking anything, it is called the Tathagata-garbha [when latent] and also the Dharmakaya of the Tathagata‘.

The text declares that the Absolute Mind (Suchness) has two aspects: the aspect of Enlightenment and that of non-enlightenment.

Original Enlightenment (Original Awakening, ben jue, literally, ‘root Awakening’) is a substance of Mind devoid of conceptual differentiating thinking. It is like unlimited empty space which pervades everything, and it is ‘One without second’ as the absolute body of the Buddha (dharmakaya, fa shen).

Non-enlightenment (bu jue) is also grounded in the original Enlightenment being of secondary and non-substantial nature. Nevertheless, because of its empirical existence there appeared the necessity for living beings (human beings) to cultivate mind by contemplative practices to realize their substantially enlightened nature. This kind of Enlightenment obtained empirically through psychological practices of the Buddhist yoga is called here ‘Enlightenment which has its beginning’ (shi jue).

Original Enlightenment is intrinsic, but non-enlightenment is accidental. The latter is a non-actualized state of the same original enlightenment. That is to say, man is originally enlightened or saved, but suffers because he does not realize that he is enlightened or saved and continues on as a blind or faithless man, groping for enlightenment or salvation elsewhere. The premise is that if man is not enlightened or saved originally, there is no possibility of his attaining enlightenment or salvation at all.

This obtained Enlightenment in its complete and perfect form is but the original Enlightenment by its essence and substance. Forms and types of the practice (bhavana) of the bodhisattva who will to attain Buddhahood and the stages of this practice have been described in details in the text of Awakening.

The unenlightened aspect expresses its nature in not realizing oneness with the True Nature of Suchness and illusory independence from it. This ignorance gives rise to the differentiating thoughts and then to subject-and-object dichotomy, passions and last and, finally, to all qualities of the miseries of the samsaric existence. Nevertheless, those ignorant thoughts have no substantiality of their own. Therefore, ‘they are not independent of the original enlightenment’. And commentators of the Awakening as well as the Buddhist thinkers who were connected in their philosophies with the doctrine of this work often graphically depicted this aspect of Absolute as the black dot in the center of the white circle of original Enlightenment (as it was done by Zongmi, 780-841, in his famous ‘Chan Preface‘ ).

The text also is attentive to the problem of the relationships between Enlightenment and non-enlightenment. It examined two kinds of such relationships: identity and nonidentity.

Because all phenomena in their foundations have no substance different from their Suchness, just as all kinds of pottery are of the same nature being made of clay. Therefore even magic-like appearances (maya; huan) in their root substantiality have the basic intrinsic nature of the Absolute Mind and its Suchness. Here the author of the Awakening refers to the canonical text of the unidentified sutra:

‘…all sentient beings intrinsically abide in eternity and are entered nirvana. The state of enlightenment is not something that is to be acquired by practice or to be created. In the end, it is unobtainable [for it is given from the beginning].’

The aspect of nonidentity has an accidental nature, just as different kinds of pottery have different images and forms. Therefore, empirically, illusions of samsara have their existence. The differences between the reality of Suchness and the illusory phenomena of samsara exist in accordance with the defiled consciousness of the sentient beings and their effective ignorance of the nature of Reality.

And, rather curiously, it can be said that the ignorant consciousness of the sentient beings has its relative non-substantial existence due to the non-enlightened aspect of One Mind which in its turn exists only for the deluded consciousness of the sentient beings having no existence of its own (svabhava; zi xing).

Let us see now, what is the way of the explication of samsara produced by the operation of the non-enlightened aspect of One Mind.

The Awakening describes three stages of the origination of samsara:

  1. Because of the existence of the non-enlightened aspect of Mind it becomes agitated, and this agitation is the activity of ignorance. The result of this activity is suffering (complete frustration, or anxiety � duhkha).
  2. Agitation destroys the unity of Suchness. As a result, the empirically perceiving subject appears to be existent.
  3. The world of empirical objects obtains its illusion-like existence because of the perceiving subject. The objects have their being only with their relation to subject. Without perceiving subjects there can not be the perceived objects. The subject as well as objects are devoid of their intrinsic nature. Their being is only relative to the unsubstantial non-enlightened aspect of Suchness and is completely conditioned by its erroneous nature. Mind, as such, by its true nature is calm and transcendent to the subject-object dichotomy.

On the third stage the mind became conditioned by the character of the objects. In this state it produces the following six aspects:

  1. Depending on the erroneously perceived world of objects the subject obtains the intellect discriminating between liking and disliking.
  2. Then the consciousness produces the awareness of pleasure and pain regarding the world of the objects. This awareness becomes uninterruptedly continuous.The consciousness superimposes its deluded thoughts on the world of objects and becomes attached to what it likes.
  3. The discriminations and mental constructing (vikalpa, fen bie). The consciousness attached to the objects produces analytical ability related to the words and concepts which are devoid of the true meaning. The words and concepts become substitutes of the true reality for the deluded consciousness.
  4. The attachment to the mentally constructed signs of word-and-concepts creates all manifold kinds of evil karma (ye); the consciousness becomes a subject of the cyclic existence of births-and-deaths.
  5. The consciousness suffered from the fruits of karma and is not free any longer. Thus, all the defiled states of consciousness are produced from ignorance, and ignorance has its illusion-like existence due to the aspect of nonenlightenment which is the relative and provisional aspect of Suchness.

Describing the beginning of the process of the emergence of samsara, the Awakening uses the word vasana (xun xi) which is the Yogacara technical term. Here it means the influence or actions which have abilities to permeate something. In the case of the origin of samsara it can be said that the nonenlightenment, having its ground in the original Enlightenment of Suchness, produces ignorance which is the primary cause of the defiled state that permeates into the substance of Suchness itself. And this permeation (vasana) is the cause of the appearance of the deluded consciousness. While the principle of Suchness has not been yet realized in the ‘Enlightenment which has its beginning’, the deluded consciousness continues to predicate the erroneously conceived objects of senses and mind. These objects, in their turn, permeate the deluded consciousness ‘and cause the deluded mind to attach itself to its thoughts, to create various… karma, and to undergo all kinds of physical and mental suffering’. An end can be put to this process only by Enlightenment which, being empirically a result of psycho-practical mind cultivation, is substantially the same as the original Enlightenment, just as the nature of Reality is such.

How does the Awakening describe the liberated enlightened mind? Here the text uses the rather popular metaphors in Buddhist works of waves and water. Here follows two rather important quotations from the text:

  1. All modes (laksana) of mind and consciousness [under the state of nonenlightenment] are [the products of] ignorance. Ignorance does not exist apart from enlightenment; therefore, it cannot be destroyed [because one cannot destroy something which does not really exist], and yet it cannot not be destroyed [in so far as it remains]. This is like the relationship that exists between the water of the ocean [i.e., enlightenment] and its waves [i.e. modes of mind] stirred by the wind [i.e., ignorance]. Water and wind are inseparable; but water is not mobile by nature, and if the wind stops the movement ceases. But the wet nature remains undestroyed. Likewise, man’s Mind, pure in its own nature, is stirred by the wind of ignorance. Both Mind and ignorance have no particular forms of their own and they are inseparable. Yet Mind is not mobile by nature, and if ignorance ceases, then the continuity [of deluded activities] ceases. But the essential nature of wisdom [i.e., the essence of Mind, like the wet nature of the water remains undestroyed.
  2. Question: If the mind ceases to be, what will become of its continuity? If there is no continuity of mind, how can you explain its final cessation?
    Answer: What we speak of as ‘cessation’ is the cessation of the marks of [the deluded] mind only and not the cessation of its essence. It is like the case of the wind which, following the surface of the water, leaves the marks of its movement. If the water should cease to be, then the marks of the wind would be nullified and the wind would have no support [on which to display its movement]. But since the water does not cease to be, the marks of the wind nay continue. Because only the wind ceases, the marks of its movement cease accordingly. This is not the cessation of the water. So it is with ignorance; on the ground of the essence of Mind there is movement. If the essence of Mind were to cease, then people would be nullified and they have no support. But since the essence does not cease to be, the mind may continue. Because only stupidity ceases to be, the marks of the [stupidity of the] mind cease accordingly. It is not that the wisdom [i.e., the essence] of Mind ceases.

Therefore, it can be said that Enlightenment stops the winds of ignorance from blowing under the surface of calm by its intrinsic nature of water. Water (which is an image of the self-nature of the Absolute Mind) does not change, its nature remains just the same, and only the accidental and substantially unreal waves (cyclic existence of samsara), produced by the wind of ignorance (avidya, bu jue) rooted in the depths of One Mind itself, cease to appear. It means literally that for the Enlightened mind all spheres of objects cease to be. And for this perfectly Enlightened Mind the ‘black dot’ of the aspect of non-enlightenment does no longer exists. This is a ‘correction’, or ‘catharsis’ of Suchness. It becomes what it really is from the very beginning: non-dual, self luminescent, absolute One Mind possessing innumerable good and excellent qualities of the Buddha as Dharmakaya. This is presented in the Awakening as follows:

In fact, there are no corporeal objects, because all objects are original from the mind. And as long as there are no corporeal objects at all, ’empty place’ can not be maintained. All objects are of the mind alone; but when illusions arise, [objects which are regarded as real] appear. When the mind is free from its deluded activities, then all objects [imagined as real] vanish of themselves. [What is real,] the one and true Mind, pervades everywhere. This is the final meaning of the Tathagata’s great and comprehensive wisdom.

Examining in brief all the most important teachings of the Awakening related to the roots of samsaric evil and the liberation from them, we can now to analyze and compare the typologies of the Mahayanistic and Kabbalistic approaches to these subjects.

In the attitude of the Awakening towards the problem of evil we can find a number of features which are comparable to the attitudes expressed in Lurianic Kabbalah.

  1. Both teachings support the view that the roots of evil lie in the Absolute itself. According to Lurianic Kabbalah these roots are the potential force of din (Stern Judgement) which can find its overdevelopment and isolation from the power of Mercy as qelippoth, or ‘shells’. Therefore, the dark side of being is latently immanent to the Absolute. According to the Awakening, the cause of evil and of the samsaric cyclical existence with all its sufferings originates from the unenlightened aspect of Absolute (Suchness as luminous One Mind), which has a secondary and accidental nature but nevertheless is responsible for all defilements and attachments of the empirical consciousness of the sentient beings.
  2. The very process of creation is seen as an objectivization, or explication of the roots of evil. In Lurianic Kabbalah the first point of the creative activities of the Original Unlimited Light of Absolute (‘Or En Sof) is its contraction (zimzum) — that is, its limitation. And every limitation can be seen as the manifestation of the powers of din which are the root of evil as well. Therefore, the explication of evil is the primary characteristic of the process of creation as such. In Awakening the first point of the emergence of samsara is ignorance originated from the unenlightened aspect of the Absolute. This ignorance manifests itself in the discriminating thought which erroneously takes itself to be different from the substance of Suchness. The development of this process results with the mental constructing, or appearance, of subject-object oppositions and different kinds of attachments.
  3. The process of creation is not only the process of the explication of evil, but also a means for the liberation of the Absolute from the potential roots of evil, and can be understood as a kind of cathartic activity of the Absolute. In Lurianic Kabbalah this process of the Divine catharsis results in the tiqqun, or restoration of being. (In some kinds of Lurianic Kabbalah the powers of evil, qelippoth, devoid of the forces of the Light, must be eliminated as a ‘waste product’ from the essence of the Godhead, in others they must be transfigured into the powers of holiness worthy of restoration in the realm of the Divine Lights). In Awakening the samsaric beings, because of the influence of their substantial original Buddha nature, attain Enlightenment which leads to the complete elimination of the non-enlightened black dot inside the Absolute, and its complete Enlightenment. The text does not speak explicitly about the cathartic character of the emergence and empirical existence of samsara but it can be easily supposed because of the very structure of the process of the movement from the Original Enlightenment through unsubstantial nonenlightenment to the empirical Enlightenment resulting with the complete Enlightenment as the absolute elimination of the shadow of ignorance.

Nevertheless, there are also very important and theologically substantial differences between the understanding of the nature of evil and the ways of its elimination in these two kinds of the mystical theosophies. And they are also important for an understanding of the essential specific features of the soteriological attitudes of Lurianic Kabbalah, as rooted in the Biblical world-view, and those of Mahayanistic Buddhism which is closely related to the traditional Indian ways of thinking.

First of all, it must be noted that the end of the world-process in the Lurianic Kabbalah is tiqqun � that is, the restoration of the purified creation to its perfect and undefiled state, or even its inclusion into the sphere of the Divine pleroma. In the Awakening, Enlightenment is seen as the state of elimination of all subject-object relations and the extinction of the manifold world as such: mind returns to its own intrinsic nature, and the waves (i.e., the world) caused by the wind of ignorance cease to appear in the phenomena, revealing the true calm self-nature of the Mind as the plain surface of the Ocean of the Absolute. Therefore the Lurianic attitude toward the creation (manifold world produced from the depths of the Absolute) is ontologically optimistic, while that of the Awakening is pessimistic.

Secondly, the very evaluation of the creative process is rather different in both systems: the moving power of the unfolding of One Mind/Suchness in the world of phenomena is delusion, and only by complete Enlightenment are the effects of this delusion (the influence of the unenlightened aspect of Suchness) and the universe (three worlds of samsara), eliminated. On the other hand, the corresponding attitude in Lurianic Kabbalah is more complicated. There, the shadow of potential evil participates in the process of creation from the very beginning, but that creation is also a positively evaluated act of the Divine unfolding. Moshe Hayyim Luzzato had even suggested that the Absolute En Sof was obliged to give up His omniscience and omnipotence, in order to be able to create the space-and-time dependent world. The Absolute is by its nature static, as Aristotle had asserted; therefore, in order to achieve a dynamic state of creation, the Absolute had to give up being absolute.

Summarizing the above-mentioned differences, it would be rather convenient to use metaphorically Nathan of Gaza‘s images of the thought-some and thought-less Lights. (Thought-some lights express the Divine Will to create, while thought-less lights express its Will to remain in the primordial quietness of its hidden mystery, understanding the creation only as an explication of the powers of evil and even as a revolt against the Absolute itself.) Comparing this problem of creation in Lurianic Kabbalah and the Awakening, the former expresses mostly a position of the thought-some Lights, while the latter expresses that of the thought-less Lights.

And last but not least, these two systems use very different languages to express their ideas: that of the Lurianic and Sabbatean thinkers is the gnostic mytho-poetic language of a highly suggestive character, while the language of the Awakening is a philosophical and speculative one, relating this text to the traditional treatises of the learned Buddhist scholasticism.

Moreover, it is important to note that the problem of examining Kabbalistic mysticism within the broad frames of intercultural researches is rather substantial, and this paper is only one of the first steps on this way. But an ancient Chinese sage said: ‘The way in ten thousand miles begins with one step’. And if this step has been done here, then the author can consider his task to be fulfilled.


On evil in Christian thought, see J.H. Hick Evil and the God of Love, New York 1977; G.R. Evans, Augustine on Evil, Cambridge Mass. 1983; S. Runciman, The Medieval Manichee: A Study of the Christian Dualist Heresy, Cambridge, Mass. 1982.
For a review of Leibniz’s theodical system see S.C. Brown, Leibniz.
Minnesota 1985; L. E. Loemker, Struggle for Synthesis: The Seventeenth-Century Background of Leibniz’s Synthesis of Order and Freedom, Cambridge, Mass. 1972.
Explanations of this sort were suggested, for instance, by A. Schopenhauer who ardently denied not only Christian approaches to the problem of freedom of will but even this principle as such (at least on the phenomenal being of existence). For a critical review see B. Magee, The Philosophy of Schopenhauer,
Oxford 1983.

Notable examples are J. Boehme, and Schelling who followed Boehme on this point. For review see R. F. Brown The Later Philosophy of Schelling: The Influence of Boehme on the works of 1809-1815, Bucknell University Press 1976 (Henceforth, Brown, The Later Philosophy of Schelling); M. Heidegger, Schelling’s Treatise on the Essence of Human Freedom, Translated by Joan Stambaugh, Ohio University Press 1985.

For a review of Berdyaev’s position on evil see N. Berdyaev, The Destiny of Man, translated by N. Duddington. New York and London 1979; L. E. Allen Freedom in God: A Guide to the Thought of Nicholas Berdyaev, New York 1980; A. F. Zamaleyev Lektsii po istorii russkoi filosofii (Lectures on the History of Russian Philosophy), St. Petersburg 1995, pp. 232-233.

For a review of Schelling’s position on the dark foundation of Godhead see F. Schelling, Of Human Freedom, trans. J. Gutmann, New York 1985; R.F. Brown, The Later Philosophy of Schelling.

For a review of Kabbalistic influence on Boehme and Schelling see Secret F. Les Kabbalistes chr�tiens de la Renaissance, Paris 1964; W. A. Schultze, ‘Schelling und die Kabbala‘, Judaica 13 (1957).

However, see J. Dan, ‘Kabbalistic and Gnostic Dualism‘, Binah 3 (1994), pp. 19-33 [First printed in Hebrew in Da’at 19 (1987), pp. 5-16].

G. Scholem, Sabbatai Sevi. The Mystical Messiah 1626-1676, Princeton 1973, p. 28. (Henceforth, Scholem, Sabbatai Sevi.)

For the sources of the doctrine of Zimzum in Lurianic Kabbalah see M. Idel, ‘On the Concept of Zimzum in Kabbalah and its Research‘, Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought, X (1992), pp. 59-112 [Hebrew]; B. Huss, ‘Genizat Ha-Or in Simeon Lavi’s Ketem Paz and the Lurianic Doctrine of Zimzum‘, Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought 10 (1992), pp. 341-362 [Hebrew].

Scholem has asserted that philosophical approach to Zimzum was suggested first of all by Italian Kabbalist Israel Sarug. See G. Scholem, ‘Israel Sarug – a disciple of R. Yizhak Luria?Zion 5 (1940), pp. 214-243 [Hebrew]. Altmann, however, disagreed and asserted that Sarug’s interpretation was actually mythical. See A. Altmann, ‘Notes on the Development of Rabbi Menahem Azariah Fano’s Kabbalistic Doctrine‘, Studies in Jewish Mysticism Philosophy and Ethical Literature Presented to Isaiah Tishby on his Seventy-Fifth Birthday, Jerusalem 1986, pp. 241-268 [Hebrew]. For a philosophical analysis of Zimzum in the thought of Herrera, Sarug’s disciple, see N. Yosha, Myth and Metaphor: Abraham Cohen Herrera’s Philosophical Interpretation of Lurianic Kabbalah, Jerusalem 1994, pp. 188-210 [Hebrew].

The most notable example is Moshe Hayyim Luzzato

Ch. Wirszubski, Between the Lines: Kabbalah, Christian Kabbalah and Sabbatianism, ed. M. Idel, Jerusalem 1990, pp. 156-159 [Hebrew]. A. Elqayam, The Mystery of Faith in the Writings of Nathan of Gaza, Ph.D. Dissertation, The Hebrew University, 1993, [Hebrew]; [henceforth The Mystery].

I. Tishby, The Doctrine of Evil and the ‘Kelippah’ in Lurianic Kabbalah. Jerusalem 1984, [Hebrew]. Tishby’s interpretation was also taken up by Scholem in Sabbatai Sevi, p. 30.

On the Yogacara philosophy see: L. de la Valle Poussin, Vijnaptimatra siddhi sastra (Le siddhi de Hsuan-tsang). T. 1-2, Paris 1928-1929; Th. E. Wood, Mind Only: A Philosophical Doctrinal Analysis of the Vijnanavada, Honolulu 1991; Th. A. Kochumuttom, Buddhist Doctrine of Experience, New Delhi 1982; Th. Stcherbatsky, Buddhist Logic, Leningrad 1930-1932.

The scriptural sources of the Tathagatagarbha doctrine are such canonical texts of Mahayana as Tathagatagarbha sutra, Maha parinirvana sutra and Srimaladevi simhanada sutra.

On the theory of Tathagatagarbha see: E.E. Obermiller, The Sublime Science of the Great Vehicle to Salvation. A translation of Uttaratantra of Bodhisattva Maitreya with the Commentary of Asanga, Acta Orientalia 9, 1931; Jikido Takasaki, Study on the Ratnagotravibhaga (Uttaratantra), Serie Orientale Roma 33,1966; D. S. Ruegg, La Theorie du Tathagatagarbha et du Gotra. Etudes sur la Soteriologie et la Gnoseologie du Bouddhisme, Paris 1969.

Peter N. Gregory, ‘The Problem of Theodicy in the Awakening of Faith‘, Religious Studies 22 pp.

All the citations from the Awakening will be given by the English translation of Yoshito S. Hakeda: The Awakening of Faith. Attributed to Asvaghosha. Translated with commentaries by Yoshito S. Hakeda, New York 1967 [henceforth: Hakeda]. The text was also translated from original Chinese into Russian by E. Torchinov: Traktat o probuzhdenii vey v Mahayanu (Treatise on the Awakening of Faith in Mahayana), St. Petersburg 1997. The original text of the Awakening is included in the Chinese Tripitaka (Buddhist Canon). See: Taisho shinshu daizokye (Tripitaka Taisho – TT), vol. 32 (No. 1666), pp. 575-583.

Hakeda, p. 65. The tenet that ‘one and the same mind which is a source of samsara as well as nirvana is rather common to such radical trends of Mahayana Buddhism as the tradition of the mahasiddhas (Great Perfect Ones) of the Tantric Vajrayana, Tibetan rdzog-chen and Sino-Japanese Chan/Zen. It is interesting that the idea that mind and mental attitudes are responsible for samsaric bondage or nirvanic liberation obtained its expression in the form of a kind of ethical antnomianism (compare with the mystical antinomianism of the Sabbatians). Thus, Candamaharosana tantra says: ‘The same fearful deeds which lead living beings to terrible hells, without doubt lead to liberation when done in accordance with the method of release. It is the established opinion that the mind is forerunner of everything, evil as well as good; the distinctions regarding state of existence, place and so on are forms of imagination of the mind’. See Lal Mani Joshi, ‘Religious Change in Late Indian Buddhist History, Part III‘, Buddhist Studies Review 9 (1992), p. 159.

Hakeda, p. 37. The words ‘without any second’ have been added in brackets by the translator (Yoshito S. Hakeda) but the notion of advaya (bu er), non-duality is extremely important for the Mahayana thought.

Ibid., p. 38.

Hakeda, p. 43.

Chan Preface (or Preface to the Collection of Explanations of the Origins of the Chan Truths) is included in the Chinese Tripitaka (TT, 48, pp. 409-414) with the title: Chan yuan zhu quan ji du xu. English translation: Broughton J. Kuei-feng Tsung-mi: the convergence of Ch’an and the Teachings’. Ph.D. Dissertation, Columbia University, 1975. Russian translation by K. Yu. Solonin: Zong-mi. Chanskie istiny (Chan Truths). St. Petersburg 1998, pp. 36-110 (diagrams and their explanations on pp. 102-103).
Hakeda, p. 46.

Hakeda, pp. 44-45.

Awakening, p. 57.

Awakening, p. 41.

Awakening, pp. 55-56. It is rather interesting that Nathan of Gaza also uses the image of water and waves regarding the relations between Absolute and the creation (personal communication with Prof. A. Elqayam).

Awakening, p. 75.

Professor A. Elqayam’s personal communication.

Elqayam A. The Mystery.

On the comparison of the Kabbalistic and Oriental mystical teachings see also: Torchinov E. Kabbala I Vostok (Kabbalah and the East), Vestnik evreiskogo universiteta v Moskve (Works of the Hebrew University in Moscow), 3 (16), Moscow-Jerusalem 1997/5758, pp. 96-128. Here I am very glad to express my profound and sincere gratitude to Prof. Avraham Elqayam for his invaluable assistance and consultations without which the aim of this article could not be attained.