Chapter 5. Obeying Nature's Law. Life's Purpose
It is not possible to run a course aright
when the goal itself has not been rightly placed.
The general force that operates and sustains Nature is an altruistic force. This force impels all parts of Nature to exist as organs in a single body, in balance, and in harmony. When these parts achieve this condition, they achieve the bonding called “life.” This bonding exists at all degrees besides man; hence, it is the purpose of man’s life to independently create this bonding. And this is exactly what Nature is goading us to achieve.
Such bonding is acquired through an altruistic attitude toward others, and is expressed in caring about others’ wellbeing. This attitude grants perfect joy, since by creating this kind of bonding with others, one reaches equilibrium with Nature’s comprehensive law and becomes completely integrated with Nature.
We are the only creatures that do not operate from a state of reciprocal bonding, and this is why we do not feel “life.” Although it is true that we are “alive” in the superficial sense, in the future, we will discover that the term “life” actually relates to a completely different mode of existence.
The road that leads to the realization of life’s purpose consists of a long phase of egoistic evolution, one that lasts several millennia. At the end of that period, we “sober up” from the notion that the ego will make us happy, and discover that the increase of egoism is at the basis of our every predicament!
Next, we must come to realize that we are each part of a single system. We need to begin to relate to others according to the law of altruism, and bond with them as compatible organs in a single body.
In the beginning, we will do this only to escape the problems in our lives, and our immediate reward will be relief from suffering on every realm in life. We will also be granted a new sense of meaning and substance in our lives. However, when we begin this process, we will discover that Nature’s plans for us reach far beyond convenient living. If that were all there were to it, the balancing-software, the altruistic quality, would have been instilled in us just as it was instilled in animals.
But, in fact, we were created with an egoistic Nature only so we could understand by ourselves that the current form of our ego is harmful to us, since it is opposite from Nature’s own quality. The independent search for balance gradually leads us to recognize the merits of altruism, the quality of loving and giving.
As we have seen, each element in Nature operates to benefit the system it is in. However, this balanced existence is instinctive, at the material level. The difference between man and the rest of the degrees in Nature is that man is a thinking being, and the power of thought is the most powerful force in reality.
The power of thought transcends all the inanimate forces, such as gravity, the electrostatic force, the magnetic force, and the forces of radiation. It is also above the force that prompts growth and evolution at the vegetative level, and above the force that prompts animals to be attracted to what benefits them, and repelled from what harms them. The power of thought is even above the force of man’s egoistic desires.
Thus, while in the still, vegetative, and the animate, the good attitude of an element toward the system is expressed at the material level. With man, the level that requires correction is the level of thoughts and attitude toward others. The Book of Zohar, one of the seminal books in the wisdom of Kabbalah, written some 2,000 years ago by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, defines it thus: “All is clarified in the thought” (The Zohar, Part 2, item 254) .
Our inherent resistance to bond with other people into a single whole is an expression of our egoism. Altruism is the opposite; it is an intrinsic motion of a person, from within one’s heart and one’s desire, toward sensing others as part of oneself. Thus, to balance between us and Nature’s law of altruism, we are required to be in a state where we want to enjoy our altruistic attitude to others, to enjoy bonding as parts of a single system, instead of wanting to exploit and dominate others.
The process of changing our source of pleasure from egoistic-based to altruistic-based is called Tikkun (correction) of the ego, or simply Tikkun. This process relies on the building of a new desire within us, a desire to acquire the attribute of altruism.
To progress in the correction process, we must use the power of thought. In his essay, “A Thought is an Upshot of the Desire,” Baal HaSulam explains that our desire to enjoy determines what we will think about.
For example, he says that we do not think of things that contradict our desire, such as the day of our death. We only think of things that we want. And the desire begets the thought; it induces the appearance of thoughts that facilitate the realization of our desires.
However, continues Baal HaSulam, thought also has a special capability: it can act in the opposite direction. In other words, it can increase the desire. If we have a small desire for something, and we think about it, this desire will grow. And the more we think about it, the more the desire will grow.
This ability creates an intensifying cycle, where the growing desire intensifies the thought, and the thought continues to intensify the desire. Using this mechanism, we build a great desire for something we consider important, but for which we haven’t the appropriate level of desire among our numerous desires. In this manner, we can make the desire to acquire the quality of altruism the center of our desires.
This brings up the question: “How can we increase our thoughts about altruistic bonding to others, when our desire for it is not the greatest desire within us? After all, at present, there are many more desires within us, and great desires, too, much more tangible and palpable, and they are the ones we think about.” Or, more concisely, “How we can set this wheel of thought desire thought in motion?”
Here is where the influence of our social environment comes into play. If we know how to build around us the appropriate environment, it will serve as a source of new desires and thoughts, which will intensify our drive to attain Nature’s quality of altruism. Because of the importance of man’s social environment to his evolution, we will dedicate the next two chapters to this topic.
WHAT SHOULD WE DO?
We need to start thinking about the benefits of reaching equilibrium with Nature’s force, recognizing that a positive future depends on that. We must focus our thoughts on being parts of a single, integrated system that contains all people wherever they are, and begin to relate to others accordingly.
A correct, altruistic attitude toward others means directing our intentions, thoughts, and concerns to the wellbeing of others. When our thoughts are aimed toward others, we wish everyone to receive all that they need for their sustenance. However, beyond physical wellbeing, we should focus our power of thought on elevating others’ level of awareness. We must want every single person to feel part of the whole, and to function accordingly.
This is first and foremost an internal work, at the level of thought. It is important to contemplate this thought, and not let it out of our minds. We should ascribe such thoughts great importance, since our happiness and wellbeing depend on them. It is through them that we will be saved from our problems and adversities. At first, it may seem abstract, but a positive future depends precisely on that, and only on that.
Besides the internal altruistic attitude toward others—at the level of thought—we can also perform altruistic actions toward them: we can share our knowledge about the purpose of life and how to reach it. If we confer that knowledge on others and they become partners in the awareness of the problem, if they have the same thoughts and the same mindset concerning the solution, then we have prompted a positive change in the one system of which we are all part. As a result, our awareness will intensify even more, and we will immediately experience positive changes in our lives.
A single person who changes his or her attitude toward others induces change in the whole of humanity. In fact, we can picture the relationship between the individual and humanity in the following manner: You and all humankind are part of a single system. However, the other members of humanity are completely dependent upon the way you operate them. The whole world is in your hands. This is how reality is arranged for every single person.
To understand this, let us picture a cube with about seven billion layers, approximately the number of people on Earth. Each layer stands for one person and is operated by that person. Within each layer, there are seven billion cells, one of which is you. The rest of the cells symbolize the incorporation of the other people in you. This is how Nature’s single system is built. In other words, every person is integrated into all the other people; hence, we are all tied to one another.
If you correct your attitude to even one of the other cells in your layer, you have awakened your own part in the other. This creates a positive change in that individual, which brings one closer to wanting to correct one’s attitude toward others.
And that change affects more than just that one person. It affects that person’s entire level, including all the other cells with which one is integrated. Moreover, each of the other cells has its own layer in the cube, and that layer, too, is now awakened.
In fact, when a single person corrects his or her attitude toward others, this instigates a chain of events, a process of unconscious, positive changes in the awareness of all people. Such interactions between layers in the cube promote all of humanity toward correction and wholeness.
We should keep in mind that at the moment, humanity is in contradiction to the altruistic Nature. Hence, even if we have made the slightest change at all, we have brought humankind just a little closer to balance with Nature. The increased balance means reduced imbalance, and along with it, reduction of negative phenomena.
Although people who have not corrected their attitude toward others will not feel it yet, those who induce this change will sense it immediately. Thus, the more we pursue these thoughts and actions to increase our awareness that we are parts of a single system, the sooner we will feel that we are living in a welcoming world, a joyful and good place.
Man’s power of thought and his crucial impact on reality are expressed in the following words of the great Kabbalist, Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaCohen Kook (manuscript, p. 60): “It requires much accustoming to feel the power of life and the reality of the power of thought, to know the might of the concept and the enforcement of life, and strength of the reality of the thought. And by awareness, to understand that the more the thought ascends, refines, and polishes, man and the world ascend, refine, and polish. And all sides of reality, which are always below the power of thought, their ascents and descents depend on the ascent and descent of man’s power of thought.”
When one’s thought rises, and he or she is rewarded by correcting one’s attitude toward others, one acquires new aspirations:
Kesef (money) comes from the word Kisuf (longing). This pertains to one’s desire to acquire others’ desires and care for their satisfaction, much like a mother tending to her children and enjoying providing for their needs.
Respect—one respects every person and treats all as partners.
Knowledge—one wishes to learn from every person so as to understand what others need, to bond with them and thus reach equilibrium with Nature. As a result, one is granted the understanding and the sensation of the altruistic thought that encircles reality: Nature’s thought. This is the entrance to the highest degree in Nature, the perfection.
MUCH EASIER THAN IT SEEMS
The correction process, in which we change our source of pleasure from enjoying egoism to enjoying altruism, at first seems quite complicated. But reality is quite unlike its initial impression. In “Peace in the World,” Baal HaSulam says: “At first glance, the plan seems imaginary, as something that is above human nature. But when we deeply delve into it, we will find that the contradiction from reception for oneself to bestowal upon others is nothing but a psychological matter.”
The term “psychological matter” does not mean that it is a problem to be solved by therapists; rather, it indicates that the problem is with our internal attitude toward how we enjoy. We are used to deriving pleasure from egoistic fulfillments; it is hard for us to grasp that it is even possible to enjoy in some other way.
It seems easier to us to go along with the ego as it is without correcting it—to idle away and be carried by the streams of life, the “que sera sera” approach to life. But the truth is quite different. Although we are unaware of it, our ego, the one we so trust and rely on to always lead us to our optimum state, is not really “us.” Rather, the ego is like a tyrant who sits within us and subjugates us to its demands. We have simply gotten used to thinking that these demands are our demands, and that our ego works to our benefit.
We need to recognize the ego as dominating us without asking if we are interested in that dominion, as tricking us and working within us as if we want certain things, when it is actually the ego that wants them. When we realize the amount of effort and energy it costs us to carry out the ego’s demands of us, and the miniscule reward we receive for this tremendous effort, we will treat the ego, in its present, uncorrected form, as the worst of all tyrants.
Baal HaSulam says that if people compared the effort they make with the pleasure they actually experience in life, they would discover that “…the pain and suffering they endure to attain their sustenance is many times greater than the little pleasure they feel in this life” (“Introduction to The Study of the Ten Sefirot,” item 3). However, this fact is hidden from us.
Our ego hides itself and clothes itself within us, as if we and it were the same. Time and time again, it impels us to aspire to egoistic pleasures. However, in truth, our essence is merely a desire to enjoy, not an egoistic desire to enjoy, as it may seem to us. In other words, “our” ego is not really our ego, and we should distinguish between the two.
In the moment one makes that distinction and wants to acquire the quality of altruism to balance with Nature, one immediately feels Nature’s positive support. We should also note that there is a big difference between making an effort towards egoistic actions, and making an effort towards altruistic actions. Once an individual acquires Nature’s quality, the altruistic actions one performs no longer require energy and effort. On the contrary, they are performed with ease and comfort, bringing sensations of elation, exhilaration, and satisfaction.
Actually, altruistic actions do not require energy; they produce it. The reason is that an altruistic force acts like the sun, which emits light and is a constant supplier of virtually unending energy. The egoistic force, however, always wants to receive and to acquire; hence, it is always in deficit.
One can compare this phenomenon to the positive and negative poles in an electric battery. The minute one identifies oneself with the positive force, one feels energized and filled with unending capabilities. One becomes like an endless spring that creates and releases infinite energy from within itself.
Hence, as Baal HaSulam said, the problem facing us is merely psychological—to become detached from egoistic calculations, which only seemingly benefit us, and switch to altruistic calculations. In this manner, we are guaranteed that our will to receive will experience immediate and unlimited pleasure, since real and complete pleasures are found in altruistic bonding with others.
A LONG WAY AND A SHORT WAY
Acquiring the quality of altruism is our purpose in life. We are pushed toward it by Nature’s evolutionary law through egoism itself. Nature’s purpose is for us to understand the required correction, and to complete ourselves by awareness and understanding, by agreeing with the process of changing our attitude toward others. Hence, each of us can choose between two paths:
Promoting ourselves in the evolutionary process by recognizing our egoistic Nature as harmful and as opposite to Nature’s quality of altruism, and learn the method of correcting it.
Wait until blows, pressures, and suffering that stem from imbalance with Nature force us to look for a method to correct the imbalance against our will.
Correcting the ego by escaping pressures and suffering is guaranteed. But we are given the option of choosing the evolutionary process first, thus understanding and controlling the ego. In doing so, we will quickly and painlessly be balanced with Nature’s common law—the altruistic law of giving and loving. These two paths of evolution are called “the path of correction” and “the path of suffering.”
There is no question about Nature being the ultimate “winner,” whose laws we will ultimately obey. But the question is, how will we choose to do it? If we prefer to march toward balance of our own volition, before suffering compels us to do it, we will be happy. Otherwise, hardships will impel us from behind and give us a different kind of motivation. Curiously enough, in Latin, the word for motive is stimulus, which is really a sharp stick that asses are poked with so they will walk more quickly!
It would seem that to experience the state of equilibrium with Nature, which is the best state that exists, we need to first experience its opposite state, the worst state that exists. This is so because we perceive things through two opposites: light compared to darkness, black compared to white, bitter compared to sweet, and so on.
However, there are two possible ways to experience the bad state. The first is to actually be in it, and the second is to picture it in our minds. This is why we were created as emotional and intelligent beings.
We can picture the terrible meaning of total imbalance between us and Nature without experiencing it physically, as it is written, “Who is wise? One who sees the future” (Talmud Bavli, Tamid, 32:1). If we imagine the worst possible state clearly enough before we reach it, the depiction will serve as a motivating force that can turn us away from future harm and toward goodness in due time.
By doing so, we will be spared tremendous suffering and we will accelerate the pace of our evolution. Disseminating the knowledge about the reason for all the crises and the problems, and the way to resolve them and head toward a new life, will hasten humanity’s march on the path of correction.
 All references to The Book of Zohar relate to Yehuda Ashlag’s Zohar with the Sulam Commentary.