From negative to potential existence, from the absolute to the finite: some of the themes on which kabbalistic speculation questions itself attempting to grasp the meaning of being in the world.
The central doctrines of the Kabbalah are designed to solve the following problems:
- The Supreme Being, His nature and attributes.
- The creation of angels and man.
- The fate of man and angels.
- The nature of the soul.
- The nature of angels, demons and elementals.
- The importance of the revealed law.
- The transcendent symbolism of numbers.
- The peculiar mysteries of the Hebrew letters.
- The balance of opposites.
The “Book of Concealment ” (Sifra di-Ẓeni’uta) opens with these words: “The Book of Concealment is the book of the equilibrium of balance”. What does the term “equilibrium of balance” mean here? Equilibrium is that harmony that results from the analogy of opposites; it is the empty centre where, as the strength of the opposing forces are equal, stillness succeeds movement. It is the central point. It is the “point within the circle” of ancient symbolism. It is the living synthesis of counterbalanced power. We apply the term “balance” to the two opposite natures in each triad of the Sephiroth, from whose equilibrium the third Sephira is formed in each ternary. This doctrine of balance is a fundamental kabbalistic idea.
The three veils of negative existence
Moving forward with the “Book of Concealment”, it is established that this “Balance anchors itself to that region that exists negatively”. What is negative existence? What is positive existence? The distinction between the two is another fundamental idea. Clearly describing negative existence is impossible because if defined distinctly, it ceases to be negative; it becomes a negative existence that passes into a static condition.
Consequently, the Kabbalists have barred the first AIN, the negatively existing One, and the Ain Soph, the Boundless Expansion, from human understanding; while also of the Ain Soph Aur, the unlimited Light, you can have at most a feeble concept. Again, if we think deeply, we will see that such must be the primitive forms of the unknowable and unnameable One, of which we, in the most manifest form, speak as GOD. He is the Absolute. But how to define the Absolute? Even if we define it, it escapes our grasp because it fails when defined as the Absolute. Could we say that the Negative, the limitless, the Absolute are, logically speaking, absurd since they are ideas that our reason cannot define? No, because being able to explain them, we should, so to express, contain them with reasoning. Therefore, they would not be superior to it; for a subject to be liable to definition, certain limits must be assignable. How then can we limit the Unlimited?
The first principle and axiom of the Kabbalah is the name of Divinity, translated in our version of the Bible, “I am who I am,” Ehieh Asher Ehieh. A better translation is “Existence is Existence”, or “I am He who was, who is and who will be”.
Éliphas Lévi says, in his “History of Magic” (I, 7): “The Kabbalists are horrified by everything that resembles idolatry; they, however, ascribe the human form to God, but it is simply a hieroglyphic figure. They regard God as the intelligent, living and loving Infinite One. He is for them neither a collection of other beings, nor an abstraction of existence, nor a philosophically definable being. He is in all, distinct from all, and greater than all. His real name is ineffable, and again this name expresses only the human ideal of His Divinity. What God is in Himself is not given to man to know. God is the absolute of faith; existence is the absolute of reason. Existence exists by itself, which is why it exists. The reason for existence is existence itself. We might ask ourselves, ‘Why do things exist?’ ‘Why do such and such things exist?’ But not, without feeling ridiculous, ‘Why does existence exist?’ Because this would mean assuming existence before existence. “And again the same author says (ibid . III, 2): “To say, ‘I will believe when the truth of the dogma has been scientifically proven to me,’ is equivalent to saying, ‘I will believe when I have nothing more to believe in, and when the dogma has been destroyed as such by becoming a scientific theorem’. In other words: ‘I will admit the Infinite when it has been explained, determined, circumscribed and defined for my benefit; in a comment, when it has become finite. So I will believe in Infinity when I am sure that Infinity does not exist. I’ll accept the vastness of the ocean when I see it bottled.’ But when something has been proven and made understandable to you, you will no longer believe it; you will know it.”
The Bhagavadgītā  (IX, 19) says: “O descendant of Bhārata ! You will see countless wonders, never seen before. In my body, Guḍākeśa , there is the whole universe, all that is movable and motionless, all in one”. And again (ibid . XI, 38, 40), Arjuna says: “You are the primordial God, the Spirit; you are the Ancient One, the supreme Vessel of this universe. You are the Knowing Subject, the Object to Know and the Supreme Throne. It is you, with infinite shapes, who unfold the universe … Homage to you in front and behind. Homage on all sides likewise, o [you who are] all! Your heroism is limitless, your value endless; you extend yourself to everything; therefore, you are the Whole! “
Therefore, negative existence can exist as an idea, but it does not tolerate definitions since the concept of definition is utterly incompatible with its nature. Nor can it be described as negative subsistence because, as such, it cannot be anything other than negative subsistence; it cannot vary, it cannot develop; negative subsistence is nothing. Hence, negative subsistence cannot be; it never existed, does not exist and will never exist. But negative existence carries positive life hidden within itself; because in the unlimited depths of the abyss of its negativity lies the power to go beyond itself, the power to project the spark of thought into the absolute, the power to rewind the syntagm within oneself. Thus shrouded and veiled, the intensity is absorbed in the centreless vortex of the immensity of the expansion.
But between two ideas as different as those of negative and positive existence, a specific nexus or connection is required, so we arrive at the form called potential existence, which is still poorly defined. At the same time, one approaches more closely to positive existence. It is existence in its possible form. For example, in a seed, the tree that can grow is hidden; it is in a condition of potential existence, but it is not still defined. At least for a seed that has the possibility of germinating. But the latter is in a condition far from manifest if somewhat analogous to potential existence; that is, it exists negatively.
But, on the other hand, positive existence is always subject to definition; it is dynamic; it possesses tangible energies and is, therefore, the antithesis of negative existence and even more so of negative subsistence. It is the tree, no longer hidden in the seed but developed outside. But positive existence has a beginning and an end. It, therefore, requires another form to depend on because, without this other negative occult ideal behind it, it would be unstable and lacking.
There are three kabbalistic veils of negative existence, and in them are formulated the hidden ideas of the Sephirot not yet come into being, concentrated in Kether, which in this sense is the Malkuth of the hidden ideas of the Sephirot. The first veil of negative existence is Ain = Negativity. This word is made up of three letters, which therefore overshadow the first three Sephiroth or numbers. The second veil is AIN SVP (Ain Soph) = the Unlimited. The title consists of six letters and prefigures the idea of the first six Sephirot or numbers. The third veil is AIN SVP AVR (Ain Soph Aur) = the Unlimited Light. It consists of nine letters and symbolises the first nine Sephirot, of course only in their hidden idea. But when we reach the number nine, we cannot progress further without returning to unity or number one. The number ten is nothing more than a repetition of the unity just formed by the negative, as is evident at a glance of its conventional representation, in Arabic numbers, where the circle 0 represents the Negative and one the Unity. It follows that the unlimited ocean of negative light does not proceed from a centre because it has no centre but concentrates a centre, which is the number one of the manifest Sephirot, Kether, the Crown, the first Sephira. Therefore, it is said to be the Malkuth or number ten of the hidden Sephirot (fig. 1). Hence, “Kether is in Malkuth, and Malkuth is in Kether.” Or, as a renowned alchemical author (Thomas Vaughan, better known as Eugenius Philalethes) says, apparently quoting Proclus: “Heaven is on earth, but in a terrestrial way, and the earth is in heaven, but in a celestial way.” As an unspeakable subject as a negative existence, as previously illustrated, it is considered by the Kabbalists to depend on the number of unity rather than separate from it; therefore, they applied the same terms and epithets indiscriminately to both. Such aliases are, for example, “The Occult of the Occult,” “The Ancient of the Ancients,” “The Ancient of Saints”.