The Three Pillars of the Spiritual Life

In the Ethics of the Fathers (1:2) we are told that the world stands on three things: “Torah, avodah (worship) and gimilut chasadim (acts of loving-kindness).”

Torah is the Word of God. It is the blueprint for creation. The Supernal Torah embodies the thoughts and desires in the Mind of God. It is the Divine Plan that guides the evolution of the universe.

Avodah is the worship in theTemple. TheTempleis the cornerstone of the world. It is the link between heaven and earth. The Temple anchors the Divine Presence on this physical plane.

Gimilut Chasadim is the outward expression of our divinity. It is the means by which we lift ourselves above our animal nature. It is the antidote to counteract the suffering and cruelty that are endemic to life in this world.

These three great spiritual forces are the foundation of the world, the pillars that uphold the whole of existence.

These three concepts can also be seen in a different light – as the three pillars that upheld Rabbinic Judaism. The combined practice of these three principles brought balance, harmony and firmness to the world of the rabbis.

The first pillar is Torah. For the rabbis, Torah meant study. The rabbis saw study as the central focus of all religious practice. All other dimensions of Judaism arose out of serious study. It was the path of study that led them to the experience of sublime spiritual joy.

Avodah (worship) is the second pillar. For the rabbis, avodah meant prayer. They called prayer “avodah shebalev” (worship of the heart). Prayer takes the place of the worship in theTemple. The words of prayer build a bridge between God and man.

The third pillar, gimilut chasidim (acts of loving-kindness) means good works in the rabbinic tradition. The rabbis understood that without acts of charity and kindness the world could not endure. They believed that man is not an impartial observer in God’s creation; he is an active partner in bringing the Divine Presence into the world. Acts of chesed play a crucial role in instilling the precious virtues of love and compassion into the hearts and minds of humanity.

 

These three pillars can also be seen as three different ways of approaching God – three different spiritual paths to suit the different temperaments of people. Seen in this way, these three pillars are akin to the three paths in yoga: jnana (wisdom), bhakti (devotion) and karma (action) yoga.

Torah is the equivalent of jnana; it is the path of the mind. Avodah is the equivalent of bhakti; it is the path of the heart. Gimilut Chasadim is the equivalent of karma; it is the path of the hands and feet, the path of action.

Though everyone follows all three paths, each of us has one path that seems to come more easily to us than the others; one path that speaks to us, that makes our spiritual life come alive, that resonates more fully with our soul. Therefore, while some of us are lovers of the path of Torah, others are devotees of the path of avodah, and still others are fervent believers in the path of gimilut chasadim.

 

These three pillars can also be defined in yet another way that reflects the concepts and consciousness of spiritual science. Torah, avodah and gimilut chasadim can be equated with the expansion of consciousness, the remembrance of God and self-transformation.

These three principles are loosely defined as follows:

Expansion of consciousness (Torah) encompasses all efforts to expand the boundaries of both our inner and our outer reality.

Remembrance of God (Avodah) includes all practices that help to bring the awareness of God into every moment of our life.

Self-transformation (Gimilut Chasadim) embodies all attempts to transform ourselves from animal creatures into Divine instruments – from what we are, to what God wants us to be.

The expansion of our consciousness is achieved through meditation, the study of the world scriptures, and the reading of other spiritual books. It is sustained and supported through reflection and discussion – both on our own and in the company of other spiritual seekers. A spiritual director or mentor can also be of great help in expanding our consciousness and opening us up to new ways of seeing the world and ourselves.

The remembrance of God is developed through prayer, mantra repetition, and constant turning of the mind towards God. These practices work to raise our consciousness and build a strong link with our soul. They gradually lead us to a state of consciousness where God is brought into everything that we say or do.

Self-transformation is accomplished through a combination of taking on disciplines and developing virtues. Self-examination and self-awareness are also important parts of this process. These practices enable us to identify the areas of our character on which we need to focus. With patience and perseverance, we can achieve a radical transformation in our nature.

These three concepts or pillars form the foundation for the spiritual life today. They set out the work and the goals that need to be achieved. In order to facilitate their practical application to daily life, I have included a series of questions called the “Daily Spiritual Accounting.” This daily accounting is a tool to help us organize our spiritual life. It provides a tangible way of assessing the level and effectiveness of our practice.

 

 

DAILY SPIRITUAL ACCOUNTING [1]

 

EXPANSION OF CONSCIOUSNESS (TORAH)

  1. How long did you meditate (stilling the mind, visualization, concentration, contemplation)?
  2. How long did you spend in the study of spiritual books?
  3. How long did you spend reading from the scriptures?
  4. How much time did you spend in personal reflection?
  5. How much time did you spend writing your spiritual diary (your struggles, spiritual experiences, doubts and questions) today?

 

REMEMBRANCE OF GOD (AVODAH)

  1. How much time did you spend in prayer?
  2. How much time did you spend repeating mantras or saying Psalms?
  3. How much time did you spend in the company of a mentor or other teacher/spiritual director?
  4. How much time did you spend in the company of other spiritual seekers?
  5. How much time did you spend in meaningless activity or talk?
  6. How many times did you go off into daydreams or reveries?
  7. How many times did you link up with God during the day?

 

SELF-TRANSFORMATION (GIMILUT HASADIM)

  1. When did you get up in the morning?
  2. How many hours did you sleep?
  3. How long did you do some sort of physical exercise (asana, walking, etc.)?
  4. How long did you spend in physical activity/chores (cooking, cleaning, gardening, etc.)?
  5. How many hours did you do of volunteer work or other selfless service?
  6. Did you get angry during the day, and what did you do to repair it (apologize, laugh at yourself, do your victim a good turn, show exceptional forbearance and patience in another situation)?
  7.  How many times did you fail in the control of other negative qualities (jealousy, greed, lust, gluttony, hate, fear, telling lies) during the day, and what did you do to repair it (be generous with your possessions, be content with less than usual, focus on the Divine being in the opposite sex, give up a food you like for a week, show love in return for hostility, confront a situation that you are afraid of, go beyond the letter in telling the truth)?
  8.  How many times did you become restless or agitated during the day, and what did you do to overcome it (mantra repetition, focusing on the energy of peace, repeating inspirational verses)?
  9.  For how long did you fall into depression, and what measures did you take to counteract it (mantra repetition, prayer, study of inspirational books, spiritual singing)?
  10. What virtue are you developing?
  11. What negative quality are you trying to eradicate?
  12. Were you regular in your disciplines, practices and meditations over the month?

 


copyright © 2006, by Yoel Glick

first published 30/6/2006

Acknowledgements    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Loosely based on the Spiritual Diary created by Swami Shivananda of Rishikesh

Please Share

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS
  • Print

Email
Print