The recent US election results have created a storm of reaction, ranging from let’s revolt, even violently, to let’s all be kind to each other and hope nothing bad happens. These are two expressions of the two spiritual forces of Justice and Mercy. Two unbalanced expressions.
On the Kabalistic Tree of Life, Justice and Mercy are represented by the polarities of Geburah and Chesed, on opposite sides of the tree at what would be shoulder-level on a human. These spheres are high on the tree, above Tipareth at the heart, the place that represents the enlightened and sacrificed God, so you can see that the energies are big and cosmic, and balancing them can be a challenge for us mortals.
Geburah is often represented by the sword, sometimes the flail in Egypt, while Chesed by the shepherd’s crook. Geburah is Cosmic Justice, creating boundaries and limitations, restraint, passing fair judgment. It is the sphere of might and strength, giving us the ability to tear down old patterns that don’t work anymore and rebuild something that is more functional.
Chesed is grace, benevolence, and compassion. Chesed is the wise and good leader, the desire to embrace all of creation in loving kindness. It is the comforter, the restorative, the silver lining. It is the boundless outpouring of Divine Love.
The mistake spiritual people make is thinking we should always go with the crook. We should be the kind shepherd who gently guides the sheep who are straying, that we should always give mercy, understand extenuating circumstances, give people the benefit of the doubt. If it doesn’t work, we chastise ourselves that we are not merciful enough, that we should curb our anger, that we should act like Buddha or Jesus. But remember Psalm 23, “Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” These are images of Geburah first and Chesed second. The two go together.
Think of William Blake’s two poems that are about a similar balance–“The Lamb” and “The Tyger.” After the sweet lamb, he writes about the tyger, and asks the ultimate question: “Did He who made the Lamb make thee?” Of course the answer is yes.
But Chesed can become imbalanced just as Geburah can. Justice is imbalanced when it is too harsh or done for personal gain. Imbalanced Geburah is violence for its own sake, punishing too much, choking off the life force, limiting for personal gain rather than correction.
Too much Mercy can lead to an imbalance as easily as too much Justice. Mercy is imbalanced when it is emotional weakness, gullibility, giving to someone who is manipulative or exploitative. We see bullying but we’re afraid to confront it, so we don’t speak up. Or “Johnny, this is the tenth time you haven’t cleaned your room, but I know you don’t feel like it, and last time your foot was hurt, and the time before you had homework, so I’ll overlook it. Again.” Johnny ain’t never going to clean his room this way, right? Johnny needs some discipline. That’s where Justice comes in.
Do we beat Johnny? Do we ridicule him? Do we throw him out of the house so he’ll learn his lesson? No. That’s imbalanced Justice. We set limits and boundaries. We create consequences. We help him learn by using balanced discipline. Good Geburah is just this. Balanced discipline.
Our own behavior trying to be merciful in the face of bullies and tyrants can take a toll not just on our health, but on society. Even the world if you live in the country that has as much power as the US does at the moment. When we’re constantly stuffing our feelings, trying our best to act in a certain way to assuage the bully, to point out that, for example, industrial waste is killing the animals and perhaps the corporation might feel compassion and act responsibly pretty please, do you have much chance of success? Most likely not.
Yes, but we’re supposed to always be positive, to always be nice, to always act with compassion, never to be violent. Right?
I’ve discussed this idea in another post. Acting enlightened is not the path to enlightenment. An enlightened person is constantly in touch with that One Consciousness and acts under the guidance of cosmic law. Because they directly experience that we are all immortal, that everything is the One, they don’t feel restricted by what is happening here in the created world. Yet, do they always act nonviolently? Do they always appease?
No. Jesus kicked butt in the temple and threw out the money lenders. Did he act against cosmic law? No.
Arjuna is frozen at the start of a battle in The Bhagavad Gita. Should he fight and incur karma? Or should he sit the battle out and allow his family and friends to be slaughtered, thus incurring karma? He turns to his chariot driver, Lord Krishna, for advice.
Krishna’s advice? “Established in Being, perform action.” That means, gain enlightenment. Establish your consciousness in the One, and from that cosmic perspective, perform action that will be in harmony with creation. In the end, Arjuna does go into battle, because going into battle is the right thing to do in those circumstances.
What about us poor slobs who aren’t quite established in Being yet? Do we get to sit on the sidelines and meditate, not acting since we might make a mistake?
No, we do not. We act. We set limits. We do what will bring society back toward balance. We study Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.’s techniques of nonviolent action. We do our best.
It’s OK to feel angry. To feel depressed. To feel desperate. But we do need to act. We might make mistakes doing it, but we can learn from them. And when we go home from the march or hang up from the call to our congressman, we meditate. We do ritual. We move closer and closer to becoming established in Being.
Best of luck out there, kindred. We’ve got quite a job ahead of us.