Shelly: My Personal Reflections by Jeffrey Gold

Part II: Shelly’s Interpretation of the Four Worlds of Kabbalah

Shelly’s view of the Four Worlds of Kabbalah is different from the traditional Jewish/Kabbalistic explanation. However, the two different interpretations are not incompatible because the objectives are not the same.

The standard Jewish/Kabbalistic account is that the Model of the Four Worlds is an explanation of the Creation of the universe. The puzzle that the Kabbalists were trying to solve is: How can we get from an infinitely powerful and incomprehensible Divine Source to a finite, limited, apprehensible, and ordered universe? Wouldn’t an infinite Power Source shatter a finite universe?

Shelly, however, was interested in a different issue and applied the Four Worlds terminology to that other topic.

The Traditional View

I will start by explaining the traditional Jewish/Kabbalistic elucidation of the Four Worlds. The Hebrew word for world or universe is Olam. There are four universes. In the traditional Jewish understanding, each universe can be conceived as a step-down station. Step-down transformers reduce the voltage of electricity for safe use. David Sheinkin says:

Another analogy relates to the electricity that we use in our homes. The electricity may be produced at a power plant that produces some half a million volts of charge. The wires running from the plant carry this half a million charge of volts. Such a charge cannot possibly be brought into a line to the house because it would burn the house down. To make usable the volts produced by the power plant, it is necessary to have a series of step-down points. In this way, the large energy is distributed from a central area and reduced to fifty thousand volts; from there, in turn, it is further reduced to smaller and smaller units. Finally, the unit is small enough so that a wire can run into a house and be safely utilized. The basic notion is that the original energy source is simply too powerful for ordinary use and that it must be reduced gradually through a series of steps…This analogy helps us understand that the power of Ain Soph (The Infinite) is not only beyond human comprehension but also beyond our capacity to withstand. A system comprising a step-down arrangement between Ain Soph and the human individual must exist between our separate identities. -- David Sheinkin, Path of the Kabbalah, 1986 Paragon House, p. 39.

In other words, this realm of people and planets and nations and trees is too fragile to handle the infinite energy of the Divine. Each of the Four Worlds operates like a step-down station.

The World of Emanation

Each universe reduces the amount of energy coming from the source, Ain Soph (The Infinite), so that we can withstand it. The universe "closest" to Ain Soph is called Atzilut (the world of emanation). It is the first emanation from the Divine. Atzilut comes from the Hebrew word etzel meaning nearness as it is the universe closest to the Divine. This world or universe cannot be described. It is beyond the human brain’s capacity to comprehend. It is powerful but formless.

The World of Creation

The second world is the world of Beriyah. It is the world of creation (from the Hebrew word Bara meaning "to create.") This is the world in which we begin to make sense of the powerful but formless world of Atzilut. This is the first world that is the world of somethingness, independent existence, and human graspability. Details begin to emerge. Perhaps we can think of Atzilut as looking directly into the sun. It is too bright and powerful and will damage our eyes. But if we put our sunglasses on (the world of Beriyah), the brightness is reduced, and we can begin to see the solar disc against the background of the sky.

The World of Formation

The third world is the world of Yetzirah. It is from the word Yatzar meaning to form. It is the world of formation. It is the world of Plato’s forms, of archetypes, of general concepts, and blueprints. It is the world of genus-species hierarchies in which things are categorized by the type or kind of things they are (for example, mammals are the genus and humans the species). In this world of formation, we are capable of understanding categories and able to systematize things.

The World of Completion

The fourth and final world is the world of Asiyah. It is from the word Asah meaning to make or complete. It is the world of making or the world of completion. It is the completed physical world in which we are physical vessels capable of receiving the (reduced or diminished) light of the Divine (Ain Soph Aur) just as the small home is capable of receiving the electricity of the Power Plant. Yetzirah is the world of form, Asiyah is the world of matter or physical stuff. The form is the type of thing an entity is (a house or chair or cloud). The matter is the stuff the entity is made of (wood, brick, concrete, flesh and bones).

As we move from the upper worlds to the lower worlds, the energy is reduced while the substantiality, organization, and comprehensibility is increased.

The Creative Process

The next principal analogy that Kabbalists use to help us understand the creative process is the analogy of the builder. To build a building (or anything else), the creator or architect has a creative breakthrough in which he or she has a eureka moment. It is a flash of inspiration, powerful but not fully formed. This is the seed. It is the initial inkling in its earliest and original stage. This is the world of Atzilut or the world of emanation, the emanation of the first idea.

The next stage is the stage of thinking. The embryonic idea formed in Atzilut is beginning to take shape and crystalize. This is the part of the creative process in which the builder sees the big picture concerning building a skyscraper or a bridge or a Temple. The inventor begins to realize what it will take to successfully build such an edifice. This is the world of Beriyah or the world of creation.

In the next stage, the idea takes form and becomes more detailed. The builder comes up with blueprints filled with technical symbols. It is the abstract representation of the skyscraper or bridge or Temple. This is the world of Yetzirah or the world of formation.

The fourth and final stage is putting the plans into action. It is the building stage involving concrete, wood, nails, paint, siding. This is the stage of manifestation or completion in the physical realm (Asiyah).

Merging the builder analogy with the step-down analogy might go something like this: Originally, there is a lightning bolt of energy, an ah-hah moment in which the creator has a creative breakthrough. It is an elemental spark, the birth of a new idea, an inspirational flash with significant power but little structure or detail (Atzilut). Next comes comprehension, focus on the big picture, grasping the all-inclusive idea (Beriyah). After that, comes drawing up the blueprints, the abstract form of the creation (Yetzirah). Finally, the world becomes instantiated. It comes into being. The White House or the Golden Gate Bridge or Solomon’s Temple are constructed in the physical world (Asiyah). This is, very briefly, the Jewish/Kabbalistic understanding of the Four Worlds, at least as I understand it.

Shelly's View

I will now (finally) turn to Shelly’s view of the Four Worlds. He uses the same terminology as the Kabbalists, but his objective is somewhat different. Shelly is a mystic in the following sense: His emphasis is on obtaining and maintaining a numinous perspective. His interest is in experiencing the world in a certain sacred way. The phrases he uses regularly are "bliss," "God consciousness," "Balanced Self-Conscious Awareness," and "the peace that surpasses all understanding."

His objective is to provide tools for his students to reach some level of mystical awareness, whether we call it "bliss" or "the peace that surpasses all understanding" or "Balance." Shelly wants us to climb Jacob’s Ladder for ourselves, by engaging in certain meditative and behavioral practices. And so, the four worlds, as Shelly teaches them, are not so much a description of creation but a depiction of four different levels of consciousness obtainable by self-existent beings. Shelly presents a program that will lead to "Balanced Self-Conscious Awareness" or "deep peace."

I am basing my interpretation of Shelly’s view on a recorded conversations that I had with him in the mid-1980s, and the following excerpt which appears in the Quotations section of this site, from Ray Grasse’s An Infinity Of Gods: Conversations with Shelly Trimmer:

In simplest terms, there are four worlds of existence. I use the Hebrew system because I think it’s the simplest. There’s the realm of Assiah, or what yogis would call the Pingalic world — that’s the world that you’re in right now. Then there’s the world of Yetzirah, what the yogis call Ida, which is the world of dreaming and the afterlife. And there’s Briah, or Sushumna, which is the world of Balance that leads to Krishna consciousness. And then there’s Atziluth, which is the realm of God Consciousness. So, there are four different worlds, and each one is called by its own particular name. And when you reach Krishna consciousness or Christ consciousness, which is that third realm, you’re no longer in this world, you’re no longer like a pendulum that swings back and forth. It’s like an entirely different existence from this one, as different from the astral as the astral is from this world here.

The Waking World

Shelly said similar things to me. Each world represents a different state of consciousness. He described Asiyah as "the waking world or the world we must function in now. It is the world from here to the Quasars and back." Shelly told Ray Grasse that it is the "the Pingalic world". It is the familiar world that we live in day to day.

This is how Morpheus described it in the movie The Matrix:

The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work... when you go to church... when you pay your taxes.

The Astral Plane

The second world, the world of Yetzirah, is, according to Shelly, "the world we experience when we go to sleep, or go into a trance, or die." He calls it "the astral plane." It is the world of dreams and visions. It is, I surmise, a Neptunian world. In conversation with Ray Grasse, he called it "the world of Ida" (p. 41).

There are several planes in the world of Yetzirah. Shelly says the 3rd plane is "a semi-dreamlike state in which you have to shake an individual for them to know you are there." Shelly said that "the various hell states exist there, and the various heavenly states exist there." And one of my favorite all-time Shelly quotes is: "The hell worlds are not considered a favorable place to be." I don’t know why I laugh when I think of that, but I do. In Shelly’s view, the 5th plane is where intellectuals go, and the 6th plane is the last plane in which we look like humans. We are no longer "a glorified ape but a ball of light."

The World of Balance

The third world is the World of Beriyah. This is the world of "Balance". Shelly refers to it as the world of "Christ Consciousness" or "Krishna Consciousness." And, referring to the Yogic system, he tells Ray Grasse that it is the world of Sushumna. Shelly often calls it the world of "Balanced Self-Conscious Awareness." Shelly makes very clear that this state of Balanced Self-Conscious Awareness is achieved in two ways: 1) meditative practice and 2) unselfish love or sacrificing the self for the non-self.

Shelly uses the word "Balance", therefore, in two ways. In the first way, when a meditator balances the Ida current with the Pingala current and breathes straight up the center of the spine, this is one sense of balance (like walking a tightrope and not swaying to the right or left). This is the sense of balance as "walking on the razor’s edge" without falling (equilibrium). Psychologically, it is a technique in which the meditator cultivates the state of not being hooked by or infatuated with or pulled by the Pingalic world of money, power, sex, prestige, etc. or the Idic world of drugs, alcohol, trances, etc. This is the meaning of "Balance" in the context of meditative practice. Shelly says:

When the intensity and duration of the up current equals the intensity and duration of the down current, it collapses into Sushumna.

In the second way, turning from meditation to behavior, unselfish love is the path to Balance. By sacrificing oneself for another, one achieves Balance. The first (meditative) way of understanding Balance is not to be pulled off-center, not to be drawn toward Ida or Pingala. Meditation is the technique for achieving Balance in this sense. The second sense of balance is related to the Hebrew word for sacrifice, korban, which means to draw near or draw close. When we sacrifice our ego, our desires, our "gimme-gimme urges" for another, we draw closer to Balanced Self-Conscious Awareness. This is balance in the sense of mental harmony or personal peace via the practice of helping others. Since, for Shelly, we are all transmitting stations where the transmissions are stronger at the source than at the destination, as we send out transmissions of love and compassion, we experience that serenity ourselves.

The Ineffable

The fourth and final world is the realm of G-d Consciousness or Atzilut. After doing his best to explain G-d Consciousness to me, Shelly concluded: "This is using words to try and explain what can’t be explained unless you experience it directly." The ineffability of G-d-consciousness connects Shelly to the Jewish sages who believed that the Ain Soph was beyond our ability to explain and describe:

For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts. -- Isaiah 55:8-9

The ineffability of G-d-consciousness connects Shelly with multiple mystical traditions. The Upanishads of India insist that Brahman is indescribable:

In the beginning all was Brahman, ONE and infinite. Brahman is beyond north and south, and east and west, and beyond what is above or below... The Spirit supreme is immeasurable, inapprehensible, beyond conception, never born, beyond reasoning, beyond thought. -- Maitri Upanishad

Chinese Taoism makes a similar point. Lao-Tzu opens the Tao-te-Ching with the following line:

The Tao that can be described is not the true Tao.

After emphasizing the ineffability of the Divine, Shelly does the best he can to give us some hints. In Shelly’s system, an individual can reach Christ-Consciousness in the world of Beriyah. I will allow Shelly to speak for himself concerning the transition from Christ-Consciousness to G-d-Consciousness (Atzilut):

The best I can explain God Consciousness is this way: Now you are aware of things. In God Consciousness, your awareness is all these things aware of you. An inversion has taken place. And this is what the inversion is and how it takes place. Normally, you are aware of things and even in meditation you are aware of things, when the number of objects of awareness begins to reduce down towards one, you finally find yourself. You are the meditator and also the object of meditation. When this happens, an inversion takes place like 1/x becomes x/1. When you invert meditator/the object of meditation, you become the object of meditation. The object of meditation becomes the numerator, and the meditator is in the denominator. It is as if you are standing off and viewing yourself. An inversion has taken place. So, the object of meditation becomes the power holder. The self is not a thing, it is a no-thing. This is using words to try and explain what can’t be explained unless you experience it directly.

The Inexpressible

Much of this is over my head, which is to be expected because, as Shelly insists, he is trying to express the inexpressible. But here are some points:

... or something like that.

On One Foot

This has gone on far longer than I anticipated, so I will get back to basics. In the Jewish tradition, there was a famous Rabbi named Hillel. Here is the most illustrious story about him:

The great Talmudic sage Hillel was born in Babylonia in the first century BCE. One famous account in the Talmud (Shabbat 31a) tells about a gentile who wanted to convert to Judaism. This happened not infrequently, and this individual stated that he would accept Judaism only if a rabbi would teach him the entire Torah while he, the prospective convert, stood on one foot. First he went to Shammai, who, insulted by this ridiculous request, threw him out of the house. The man did not give up and went to Hillel. This gentle sage accepted the challenge, and said:
"What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation of this—go and study it!"

Shelly’s system was complicated, obtuse, esoteric, mysterious, and occult. He could spend hours answering a single question. However, in the end, I suspect he could explain his system while I stood on one foot by saying: "Mental equilibrium and deep peace can be achieved through Kriya Meditation and Unselfish love. That is my teaching; the rest is explanation of it—go and study it!"

My next entry will connect with this one. In it, I will try to explain, as far as I understand it, the connection between Shelly’s teachings and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.