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My Dissertation Proposal

"The Third Eye in Judaism and Hinduism" 8 Jul 2006 DISSERTATION PROPOSAL Heaps of Bones, Heaps of Ashes: The Third Eye in Hebrew and Sanskrit Sacred Texts Alan Lowenschuss The paper that has become the core of this dissertation was initially presented to Dr. Jeffrey Rubenstein to fulfill the requirements for a course in Talmud at N.Y.U. During the course of the semester I took Dr. Rubensteins class, I became intrigued by various Talmudic legends dealing with sages who could mete out death with a mere gaze. My interest was piqued not only because such tales seemed rather unusual, even for the aggadic genre, but also because I had been delving into Hindu mythology and I had come across what I thought was a similar motif in Sanskrit literature. The story that was the original impetus for this study is that of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son Eleazars flight to escape a decree of execution by the Roman authorities: They went and hid in a cave. A miracle occurred and a carob tree and water well were created for them. They would strip their garments and sit up to their necks in sand. The whole day they studied; when it was time for prayers they robed, covered themselves, prayed, and then put off their garments again, so that they should not wear out. Thus they dwelt twelve years in the cave. Then Elijah came and stood at the entrance to the cave and exclaimed, Who will inform the son of Yochai that the emperor is dead and his decree is annulled? So they emerged. Seeing a man ploughing and sowing, they exclaimed, They forsake life eternal and engage in life temporal! Whatever they cast their eyes upon was immediately burnt up. Thereupon a Heavenly Echo came forth and cried out, Have you emerged to destroy my world: Return to your cave! (bTalmud Shabbat 33b) This particular passage is unique of all the rabbinic stories that contain the motif of a sages baneful gaze (and there are several), as this is the only one that indicates how such a power was acquired, namely via mystical askesis, in this case rigorous study of Torah. It is also one of the only such stories with an implied critique of over-zealous asceticism. In that first incarnation of this project, the austere gaze of the sage was referred to as the evil eye, and its wielder a jettatore (the Italian term for such an individual). As things evolved it became clearer that there are broader and even more provocative issues involved here. In the Indian myths, found largely in the Puranas, there is generally reference to a third eye, particularly in the cycle of stories dealing with Shiva, who is also known as Tryambaka (the Three-Eyed One). In those stories, it is generally Shivas opened third eye that reduces his foes to ashes, perhaps most famously in his destruction of Kama, the incarnation of Desire: A great flame of fire sprang up from the third eye of the infuriated Shiva. That fire originating instantaneously from the eye in the middle of His forehead blazed with flames shooting up and resembling the fire of the final dissolution in refulgence. After shooting up in the sky, it fell on the ground and rolled over the earth all around. Even before the gods had the time to say "Let him be forgiven, let him be excused" it reduced Kama to ashes. Considering the similar motif used in the legendary material in the Talmud, the question arose as to why there seems to be no trace of this concept of a third eye in the Jewish sources. Or perhaps the concept might be found in some form in the extensive Jewish esoteric literature? After all, the Talmud contains numerous instances of the notion of the ayin ha-ra, or evil eye (a concept here taken to be subsumed under the more general rubric third eye), and as we shall see, like the evil eye, the idea of a third eye is found in the mythologies of many cultures. Notably, however, the third eye is not always referred to as such in these mythologies; in other words, it appears that the phenomenon is there, but not the noumenon, or that particular designation. There thus seems to be some justification in positing that the same might be true in the Jewish tradition -- even though the notion of a third eye or something similar is conspicuously absent from the sources, there does seem to be a similar if not parallel motif, beginning with the transfiguration of Moses face (Exodus 34:29-35), that is presented in the Jewish literature. This transfiguration, it should be added, has its parallel in Pali and Sanskrit texts in reference to the Buddhas enlightenment, as well as earlier and later heroes and gods such as Krishna. The transfiguration of Moses suggested other possible Tanakhic sources or inspirations for the rabbinic legends. Needless to say, perhaps, there are not a few suggestive verses, beginning with Gen. 1:3, Let there be light. Many biblical commentators have noted that this light that God creates at the beginning of the creation account precedes the creation of the celestial lights by three days. What was the nature of the light that came into being on the first day? The Talmuds proposal: The light that the Holy One, blessed be He, created on the first day, [was of such intensity] that a person could see from one end of the world to the other. But as soon as God saw the corruptness of the generation of the Flood and the generation that built the Tower of Babel, He hid it from them. And for whom did He reserve it? For the righteous 2 ones to come (Talmud Bavli, Chagigah 12a) The Zohar later expands on the nature of this primordial light to say it is also the light of the eye with which Adam could see from one end of space to the other end of time. To which eye does the Zohar refer? Could it be a non-physical organ? Even if a third or otherwise spiritual eye is not there

frequently attributed to the third eye in the Indian sources. Moreover, that the Zohar maintains that this light is so intense it could destroy the world and thus is necessarily hidden and sown like a seed, only to be barely glimpsed by the righteous ones who labor in Torah study, is a further indication that there is a possible connection between this light and the potentially baneful gaze of the transfigured sage. It also resonates with the mythology of Shiva (also called the Destroyer) which maintains that Shivas third eye must remain closed, else the world be burned up by its cosmic fire. Other Tanakhic sources dealing with the luminous and/or numinous nature of YHVH also were to be considered as a potential inspiration for the Talmudic legends of the jettatore. Theophanies in the biblical account are frequently awe-inspiring and destructive. These are only quasi-theophanies, however, if YHVHs words to Moses -- no man can see me and live are to be extrapolated to the rest of the biblical corpus. Here YHVHs statement is strikingly similar to Krishnas words to Arjuna in the hierophanic section of the Bhagavad Gita: Not with these mortal eyes can you behold Me. However, while YHVH grants Moses only the ability to see his back, as it were, Krishna (an avatar of Vishnu, or God incarnate) bestows upon Arjuna the gift of divine sight (divya chakshu): I will give thee divine sight Behold My Divine power! This concept of a divine eye is also found in Buddhist sources, which is to be expected given the shared ursprung of Buddhism and Hinduism. The phylacteries, or tefillin seem another fruitful avenue of exploration. The head tefillin is a small black box containing four passages of scripture (Ex. 13:1-10; Ex. 13:11-16; Deut. 6:4-9; Deut. 11:12-21). Most significantly, the box itself is put directly in the middle of the forehead -- at the location of the purported third eye and the same place that devout Hindus wear the tilak or bindi, a dot usually of sandalwood or vermillion. The tilaks function is sometimes to awaken the ajna chakra energy center, as well as to serve as a sign or symbol of divinity. Certain Indian forms of concentration and meditation exercises require the practitioner to focus attention at this spot, or otherwise to make the mind one-pointed (Skt. ekagrata). The tefillin were perhaps originally meant to serve a similar function of constant remembrance and mental focus. While the motif of the baneful gaze in the rabbinic sources could have had its inspiration from outside of the biblical corpus, whether from Persian, Indian, or Greek mythology, it seems reasonable to look first for a source or sources in the Tanakh itself. Indeed, similar literary strategies are employed in the exploits of Elisha and Elijah, particularly in Elishas curse of the children (II Kings 2:23-25), and Elijahs sojourn in the cave (I Kings 19ff). The latter story in particular may be something of a template for the legend of Rabbi Shimons cave experience, a possibility heretofore overlooked by scholars studying the bShabbat 34b. Turning next to the kabbalistic sources, and again, expecting to find more concrete evidence to support the notion of a third eye, we in fact find no outright mention of a third eye per se. There does seem to be suggestions of such a concept, however, particularly in the doctrine of the sefirot. In recent years there has been some tentative attempts at mapping the sefirot and the Indian concept of chakras on top of each other to show their correlations. Many of these comparative studies concur that the sefirah of Binah corresponds to the ajna chakra, which in many Indian traditions is the locus of the third eye, though some suggest it is the sefirah of Hokhmah, Binahs counterpoint, or that it may reside at the midpoint between these two sefirot, possibly at the locus of the quasi-sefirah of Daat. There are several sources, however, that suggest the third eye is associated with the sefirah of Keter, and this seems to be the implication of some of the kabbalistic sources we will be considering. The Zohar, to begin with, refers to Keter as the skull wearing the tefillin, and as having one, lidless and all-seeing eye that, in the words of one psalm (Ps. 121:4), neither slumbers nor sleeps. Cordovero likewise linked this one, open, lidless, all-right eye to Keter, the Crown. Other kabbalists maintained that Keter is also at times described as a supernal point, which is suggestive of the concept of Bindu, a concept often associated with the third eye in Hindu thought. All are not in agreement with this connection between Keter and the supernal point, however. In its preamble, the Zohar speaks of this point through which the Eyn Sof manifests itself in the world via the medium of the sefirot. Scholem, in discussing the enigmatic preamble to the Zohar in which this point is mentioned, explained why this primary point was associated not with the sefirah of Keter, but rather Hokhmah: By the Zohar, as by the majority of the other Kabbalistic writers, this primordial point is identified with the wisdom of God, Hokhmah. Gods wisdom represents the ideal thought of Creation, conceived as the ideal point which itself springs from the impulse of the abysmal will. The author extends the comparison by likening it to the mystical seed which is sown into Creation, the point of comparison apparently being not only the subtlety of both but also the fact that in either the possibilities of further being are potentially, though as yet invisibly, existent. Beyond the question of whether this primordial point is to be identified with Keter or Hokhmah, the fact that there is a point from which manifestation emerges does appear to correspond to Indian concept of bindu, which is variously rendered as drop, dot, seed, and source point, it being the origin of manifestation. From the Bindu, the primordial light and sound 3~ (AUM) emerges, and the 3~ is also the bija, or seed sound of the ajna chakra. In other words, manifestation can be said to originate from the ajna chakra, the traditional locus of the third eye. In the practice of some forms of yoga such as Kundalini Yoga and Layayoga, the yogin uses the 3 mantra 3~ to reverse the process of manifestation; in doing so, some yogins have experienced a blue point of light referred to as nilabindu, often rendered as blue pearl. In Tantra and Hatha-Yoga, the bindu also refers to semen, and it is through drawing up (urdhva retas) the semen to the brain