With Bath of Bright Silence artist and practitioner David Chaim Smith continues his ongoing exploration of “contemplative alchemy” and “non-emanational Kabbalah”, this time focusing on an avenue of contemplative practices based on medieval Kabbalistic texts illuminated through the lens of his own “unbroken lineage”. The book is part of a series called Lighting Flash of the Alef, which has a previous volume Deep Principles of Kabbalistic Alchemy in which the the core tenets of Smith’s mystical philosophy or “gnosemic” view are expounded. In this latest shorter text, Smith attempts to open a window to “the higher understanding of what contemplation actually is.”
Readers will cherish the always superb images that accompany Smith’s book and serve as a sort of gothic mandalas or diagrammatic contemplative apparatus in which the complex Kabbalistic and alchemical imagery is laid out in a “twilight language” that appeals evenly to the imagination and to the senses. Smith combines the zeal of a contemplative with a rich visual imagination, ably mapping out the different stages of the mystical path in a web of interlacing, resonant symbols. Not inaccurately he has been dubbed an “esoteric cartographer.” The symbols displayed -a “meaning-saturated field”, a bursting “sacrificial universe”- are part of the path and can be used as objects of contemplation. One can wallow in the intoxicant feeling-tones and take a bath in their bright speaking silence.
The basic premise of contemplative alchemy is, according to Smith, that the contemplation i.e., the alchemy can be undertaken with anything. The whole is present in the part, the light of the Infinite (Aur En Sof) rests undeterred all throughout the manifestation. One might think that things are corrupted and distant from the ground of being, but Smith’s non-emanation, non-dual view holds that they are actually always the ground and root, and all its splendour will shine forth if only we look hard enough, as to go past the rough edges and the conceptual mirages of our reification.
The only indispensable feature for the practice is the “fire” or “life-force” of contemplation which one takes to be the actual attention or gnostic desire: this life force is the matter being transmuted but also the agent doing the transmutation. As was the case with medieval alchemists, who believed the matter for their opus could be found everywhere, even among the most vile and profane, any object will serve -everything is infused with the mercurial spirit- and contemplation with all its wonders can begin just where you are, in this very moment.”Each moment we are offered a look into the eye of the divine beloved. In this moment the divine sees itself. This act of selfrecognition is what ‘we’ actually are. We are the sight, the organ of seeing whereby the divine participates in itself as beauty unfolds to itself.”
The first phase in the system is to “hold”. This is the holding of the object of contemplation but also the withdrawing of the basic life-force of the mind from the distractions and preoccupations of worldliness and its pair of opposites and concentrating it continually on the process of cognition itself. Moving away from the content into the context. Most mystical traditions begin with a movement from outward focus to inward focus, a “turning of the light”, which is a form of self-knowledge (whether there is such a thing as a self or not!) Ultimately this means moving from the impermanent “empty promises of the human realm”, into the consideration of what is essential and changeless and divine: awareness itself.
“The key to the practice is the cultivation of the philosopher’s stone that crystallizes in silence”, writes Smith, a consummated lover of silence, as we have learned from his other works. The stone is “the crystallization of En Sof”, a distillation of the infinite while in the transient (curiously Baudelaire’s definition of alchemy), the joint of the transcendent and the inmanent… The mystery of “a finite infinitude”… The substanceless substance that equalizes all phenomena to the ground. Certainly a paradoxical locus, which obviously cannot be named, and that’s why one speaks of silence, and even a speaking silence or a “lamp of darkness” -paradoxical language is most fitting for the mystical. It is a language that goes beyond reason and engages unconscious depths and stirs beckoning forces, which can become vectors of gnosis.
The method of contemplation takes from alchemy’s famous axiomatic interplay of “solve et coagula”. Concentration (or distillation), the one-pointed focus of the fire of awareness, which cooks, as it were, the stone; and dissolving (or bathing), the release of effort into the openness where no form can crystallise but where all forms delight in the endless expanse of pure dynamics. Smith points out that these oscillations are actually not two different activities, but a seamless whole that must be realized. While alchemists wanted to spiritualize matter and create a glorified inmortal body (the “lapis of the philosophers”), Smith speaks of breaking free from substance and solidified patterning into “continually arising substancelessness.” A selfless and godless resurrection that does not deviate from the primordial playful purity in which “the light of En Sof assumes unlimited appearances through the primordial aether of transformation, beyond any static condition of presence or absence.” Smith quite radically takes all of substance and solidity to be a mere “whispered rumour”, reified ghosts of the luminous aether, the avira. In truth there is nothing to hold on to; the stone is no stone; a “no-thingness” that is always-wholeness-becoming. The stone is just the transparency that allows the shining of the light of En Sof through all the substanceless worlds and bodies, shattering all conceptions, in myriad suns of bliss-clarity unfolding. “The stone is a diamond-like clarity that annihilates all reification”. One can just imagine and faintly savour what it would be to inhabit such a magical universe (and perhaps we do!), surfing the light of awareness in all its creative display (b’reshit), where “one drop is a complete ocean, and the ocean is inherent in every drop”, where shefa, the luminous dew of deathlessness “pervades all things, marking entry into the profound bliss of contemplation”, roiling and frolicking and lambasting in “infinite circles… contained in every point”, through:
endless variation of sizes all only infinitesimal points… each mutually interpenetrating and non-obstructing… opening out without end into perfectly empty space and at the same time seeming utterly solid and impenetrably diamond-like. In every tiny point there are 1,000,000,000,000 x 1,000,000,000,000 cosmic scale circles, each one occupying the same place at the same time… mutually interpenetrating and non-obstructing… each perfectly distinct as a trilocosm of universes. Every billionfold universe with its limitless number of inhabitants lives timespace dramas in subjectively manufactured worlds appearing as a real commerce of lives, births, and deaths. And all of it encircles circles within billion-fold universes within each tiny point. All of it never happened, never will happen, and is not happening now. This miracle is the root that streams through mind and fashions reality… each moment according to its specific conditions. The mind that is absorbed within this miracle and never returns to the mundane no matter what appears has realized the philosopher’s stone.
David Chaim Smith’s Website
by Alejandro Martínez Gallardo