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Yesh and Ayin

or, Being and Nothingness

What is Kabbalah?
Kabbalah: A General
The Meaning of "God"
Three Streams of Kabbalah
Kabbalah as a Spiritual

Theosophical Kabbalah
Light and the Sefirot
Keter, Hochmah, and Binah
Hesed, Gevurah, and Tiferet
Netzach, Hod, and Yesod
Evil: Traditional Views
Evil: Kabbalistic Views
Yesh and Ayin
Four Worlds

Prophetic Kabbalah
Sefer Yetzirah: Language as
Abraham Abulafia
Basic Meditation Techniques

Practical Kabbalah
Afterlife and Reincarnation
Demons, Dybbuks, &

Key Figures
Moshe Cordovero
Shimon bar Yochai
Abraham Abulafia
The Baal Shem Tov
Isaac Luria
Jacob Frank
Sabbetai Tzvi

Texts and Studies

The Epistle of the Baal
Shem Tov

There is no more fundamental

binarism than yesh and ayin,
something and nothing. Yesh
means, simply, everything that
there is. Ayin is Nothing. God
is both.
To approach the Divine in
yesh, we yearn for Gods love.
Like the Sufis, we pine for the
Friend; like the Hindus, we
envision God in manifold
mythologies and forms. To
approach the Divine in ayin,
we learn to allow thought to
cease, and simply open
ourselves to the great
emptiness which is the true
nature of every thing.
Here is Rabbi Arthur Green, in
one of his earlier writings, on
In all change and growth, say the masters, the mysterious ayin is present. There
is an ungraspable instant in the midst of all transformation when that which is
about to be transformed is no longer that which it had been until that moment,
but has not yet emerged as its transformed self; that moment belongs to the ayin
within God. Since change and transformation are constant, however, in fact all
moments are moments of contact with the ayin, a contact that man is usually
too blind to acknowledge. The height of contemplative prayer is seen as such a
transforming moment, but one that is marked by awareness. The worshiper is
no longer himself, for he is fully absorbed, in that moment, in the Nothingness
of divinity. In that moment of absorption the worshiper is transformed: as he
continues his verbal prayer, it is no longer he who speaks, but rather the
Presence who speaks through him. In that prayerful return to the source, the
human being has reached his highest state, becoming nought but the passive
instrument for the ever self-proclaiming praise of God. Through his lips the
divine word is spoken.
Arthur Green, Your Word is Fire
For those new to Kabbalah, the principle that everything is essentially empty may seem
remarkably similar to Buddhism and other contemplative paths. So be it. Ayin is the
ultimate Reality of all things. Nothing has separate, real existence.
Ayin, nothingness, is more existent than all the being of the world.

Resources/Learning More

David ben Abraham ha-Lavan, 14th century (Daniel Matt trans.)



Learn Kabbalah | Yesh and Ayin

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In both Buddhist and Kabbalistic cosmologies, a great deal of time is spent explaining
how the world seems to exist as it does. For the Kabbalists, this explanation involves the
emanation of the ten sefirot: the evolution of God from Nothing. But the Kabbalah,
again like Buddhism, emphasizes that this evolution is one of appearance only. It did not
happen at some point in time, and now its over and the world exists. Time itself is part
of the world which exists only as illusion. In the Now, in the present moment, where
is time?
The Kabbalah also shares with some schools of Buddhism a contemplative inquiry into
yesh and ayin. Because it is so beautiful, and similar to the Kabbalistic method, I would
like to quote Thich Nhat Hanhs well-known exposition of the interrelatedness of all
things, Interbeing, in its entirety. (It was meant to be written on paper, not a computer
If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet
of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot
grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the
paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either.
So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. Interbeing is a word that
is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix inter- with the verb
to be, we have a new verb, inter-be. If we look into this sheet of paper even
more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. Without sunshine, the forest cannot
grow. In fact, nothing can grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the
sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are.
And if we continue to look, we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought
it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see wheat. We know that the
logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became
his bread is also in this sheet of paper. The loggers father and mother are in it
too. When we look in this way, we see that without all of these things, this sheet
of paper cannot exist. Looking even more deeply, we can see ourselves in this
sheet of paper too. This is not difficult to see because when we look at a sheet
of paper, it is part of our perception. Your mind is here and mine is also. So we
can say that everything is in here with this sheet of paper. We cannot point out
one thing that is not heretime, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the
soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything co-exists within this
sheet of paper. That is why I think the word inter-be should be in the
dictionary. To be is to inter-be. We cannot just be by ourselves alone. We
have to inter-be with every other thing. This sheet of paper is, because
everything else is.
Suppose we try to return one of the elements to its source. Suppose we return
the sunshine to the sun. Do you think this sheet of paper will be possible? No,
without sunshine nothing else can be. And if we return the logger to his mother,
then we have no sheet of paper either. The fact is that this sheet of paper is
made up only of non-paper elements. And if we return these non-paper
elements to their sources, then there can be no paper at all. Without non-paper
elementslike mind, logger, sunshine and so onthere will be no paper. As thin
as this sheet of paper is, it contains everything in the universe in it.
Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step

The critical consequence of Interbeing is that the paper contains everything in the
universe, but nothing that it itself and not something else. Every atom in your being
was once inside a star. You are a temporary agglomeration of matter, which is itself a
manifestation of energy and which is also almost entirely empty. In fact, the only
thing which is holding together the bundles of energy and probabilities which
comprise your atoms are the laws of physics in Kabbalistic language, chochmah, the
first sefirah after Nothingness.
Chochmah operates on the quantum level, the molecular level, the biological level, the
ecosystemic level, the cosmic level it is, at every stage, the organizing principle of



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Nothingness. But what is it? Where are the laws of physics written? A seed contains
molecules of DNA, so that when the proper conditions are present, an oak tree can be
made of soil, water, and sunlight. But where is the DNA of the sun itself written?
It is possible to cultivate a mind which is more open to experiencing Nothingness than
our ordinary minds. But before we turn to these practices, it is worth remembering that
the column of ayin is not preferred to the column of yesh. True, in some Kabbalistic and
Hasidic sources, there is a disdain for the world of manifestation. But ultimately, yesh is
ayin; samsara is nirvana. The mystic quest culminates not in the experience of Pure
Nothingness, but in the return to the world in which the awareness of nothingness is
maintained. Especially for the Kabbalists, most of whom were teachers, fathers, and
community members, the world of yesh is not something to simply be left behind as we
die before we die (a Sufi phrase) into an experience of ayin. There is no duality, no
difference between yesh and ayin. This moment is God. This really is it.
Most of us simply dont believe it. We dont believe that this is really it, and so we
imagine that, at some other point, thats when well get it. Consequently, the mind must
be trained to unlearn the habits which block the Divine reality from us. In other
traditions, meditation is the primary method of training. In Kabbalah, meditation and
prayer are used.
One must meditate profoundly and at length on this thought according to the
capacity of apprehension of his brain and thought for as long as possible before
he occupies himself with Torah or a commandment, such as putting on the tallit
or tefillin. He should also reflect how the light of the blessed En Sof, which
encompasses all worlds and pervades all worlds, which is identical with the
Higher Will, is clothed in the letters and wisdom of the Torah and in the tzitzit
and tefillin, and through his study or donning these latter he draws over himself
His blessed light, that is, over the portion of Godliness from above which is
within his body, that it may be absorbed and nullified in His blessed light.
Tanya, Likutei Amarim, Chapter 41.
We could repeat these teachings over and over again, but insteadwhy not take a
moment in front of your computer and put these meditations to use? Choose Thich Nhat
Hanh or the Tanya, but choose something, because map is not territory, and the recipe is
not the meal. Youre not understanding these ideas if youre just reading them and
looking at them intellectually.

Image: Adrenaline by Peter Schwartz