by Bob Turner
In Genesis 28:10-13 we read, “Jacob slept and dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to Heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him …..”
Western religions that generated Jacob’s ladder passage are today perplexed by its meaning, and the art and commentary take the dream literally. Thus in one picture, we see fair-haired youthful angels gliding down and up a stairway with the upper terminus in a blaze of light, an elderly anthropomorphic god sitting near the sleeping young man in another picture, a long tedious ladder with winged beings laboring up and down like ants, etc. Various commenters provide fanciful disparate attempts at interpretation. It is interesting, perhaps entertaining, but no real lesson emerges from the passage, which gets dismissed as a psychic experience of a desperate individual with little relevance to the reader.
This is because the original understanding of Genesis 28:10-13 has been lost to a literal interpretation of the bible. The author intended to illustrate an exquisite picture of the psyche and its connection to the living Universe. But current western religious philosophy and dogma have atrophied to where the proper context to understand Jacob’s ladder no longer exists. Thus, the beautiful story gets relegated to bizarre nonsense, even fodder for scoffers. Fortunately, the Yogi Tradition and also some areas of Buddhism, reveal a profound and lovely elucidation of Jacob’s ladder allegory, for indeed the passage is a parable which conceals a glorious lesson.
First, some nomenclature and background are necessary. Throughout the human body are located scores of chakras or focal points for astral energy; these chakras are known to Hindu mystics and also to Chinese medicine. Along the spine are six major chakras, the first located at the base of the spine and the sixth at the medulla oblongata (the top of the spine connecting the skull). The seventh chakra (Sahasrara) is located at the top of the head, where cosmic energy (Prana or lifetrons) can flow into or out from the meditator. At conception, the soul entered the tiny embryo through the Sahasrara, and this chakra is a connection with the external universe (God or Heaven). Lifetrons, as with all matter, are condensed Spirit and therefore possessed of intelligence, which automatically responds to the laws of nature. Higher intelligence can direct these lifetrons to its will, which is how life heals itself and how Masters can perform apparent miracles. Meditating yogis will Prana to travel up and down the spine, activating chakras and releasing latent powers, wisdom, and bliss.
The first (base of the spine) chakra has always been known as the earth chakra; the Sanskrit name for the earth chakra is Muladhara. The Muladhara is in proximity with the crucible of kundalini. Intelligent lifetrons traveling up as kundalini power, or downward from the Sahasrara (or also from the medulla oblongata) activates chakras.
With this background let us review and interpret Jacob’s ladder:“ …. Jacob slept and dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to Heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him …..”
The “earth” is the earth chakra (Muladhara) and the “ladder” is clearly the spine. The vertebrae even resemble a ladder with steps. So the ‘ladder (is) set up on the earth’. The top of the spine (ladder) reaches up to the higher centers (Sahasrara), where God sends lifetrons‘ down the ladder’. These intelligent lifetrons (angels) ‘ascend and descend (the ladder)’ responding to the (sometimes conscious) will of the meditator in concert with breath. God-seeking meditation is a communion, during which bliss is prevalent and chakras and the ‘ladder’ are illuminated with astral light (“And the Lord stood beside him).
So the ladder is not external to the meditating yogi, but internal. In material terms the ladder is about 3 feet long, extending from the base of the spine (earth) to the crown of the head (heaven). Thus the passage is describing the arcane human anatomy and is both relevant and inspiring to the understanding reader. The ancient author of the Genesis passage is describing how to commune directly with God and rapidly advance spiritual evolution. The author clearly understood the timeless perennial philosophy of India, either through direct contact or parallel development of universal truth.
An alternative writing of the parable might read: “The soul who identified as a mortal named Jacob briefly awoke from his lifelong stupor and ephemerally became aware of the tree of life which lay within his body, which allows energy to flow from the (earth) base to the (heaven) crown, and as lifetron energy (angels of God) rises and descends in the spine it activates the chakras, providing awareness of the Living Universal Spirit (God) within. Then the soul again lost self-consciousness and reentered a delusional state (Maya) when ‘Jacob’ awoke to the material world.”
A talented artist could picture a human sitting in meditation, with the spine resembling a ladder (each vertebra being a step on the ladder) running from the first (earth) chakra, at the base of the spine, to the crown chakra at the top of the head. Intelligent lifetrons quanta (angels) that look like sparks would rise and descend along the yogi’s spine, coincident with breath inhalation and exhalation, energizing the various chakras. The yogi would be shown in dark but grand cosmic surroundings, but the ladder (spine and chakras) would glow with the light and power of “the Lord standing beside him”. The light at the crown would be dazzling.
Manly Hall has also interpreted the metaphor of a "ladder of bones” in his book, Man, The Grand Symbol of the Universe.
“This ladder of bones played a most important in the religious symbolism of the ancients, where it is often referred to as a winding road or stairway (the straight and narrow way), sometimes as a serpent, and again as a wand or sceptre.”
Omar Khayyam was a Persian Sufi mystic who authored the Rubaiyat, which consists of about 100 quatrains, around the year 1120 AD. The text was overlooked for centuries. Around 1860 the English academician and poet Edward Fitzgerald recognized the great beauty buried in the forgotten manuscripts and translated the Rubaiyat into Victorian prose. It took an eminent poet to recognize the skill and beauty of another great poet. But Fitzgerald, being an atheist, assumed Khayyam was writing about drink and earthly pleasures, flights of fancy, and beauty for its own sake, and dismissed his work as devoid of august spirituality. Fitzgerald was limited by his background (or lack thereof), as are many interpreters of the Jacob’s Ladder passage.
Some 80 years after Fitzgerald’s translation of the Rubaiyat, the God-absorbed Spiritual Master Paramahansa Yogananda encountered the work and immediately recognized a masterpiece from an enlightened yogi. It took one to know one! Yogananda, using divine intuition, analyzed and provided a spiritual interpretation for every quatrain. His book “Wine of the Mystic” is a beautiful work of art and is available from Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF). The interpretation below and glossary are abstracted from “Wine of the Mystic”.
The Jacob’s ladder passage is reminiscent of Rubaiyat quatrain XXXI.
“Up from Earth’s Center through the Seventh Gate
I rose and on the Throne of Saturn sate;
And many Knots unraveled by the Road
But not the Master-knot of Human Fate”
“Earth’s Center” is defined in Yoga treatises as the Muladhara chakra, located in the coccygeal plexus; the first or lowest spiritual center in the spine. It is the first gate through which the interiorized consciousness and life force have to pass in their upward climb to Spirit in the brain.
The 'Seventh Gate' is the Sahasrara, the highest Yogic center of divine consciousness and concentrated life force, located in the brain at the top of the head. This center is figuratively spoken in Yoga as the thousand-petaled lotus because the concentrated power of Spirit enthroned here emanates thousands of rays of divine light.
“I rose”: I lifted my consciousness and life through the six cerebrospinal chakras to the thousand-petaled lotus. “On the throne of Saturn sate”: The “throne” refers to the seat of consciousness and life in man, concentrated in the brain and the subcenters in the spine. “Saturn” here refers to Satan, (the material realm) the negative aspect of the cosmic creative force, which keeps all creation in a state of delusion or seeming separation from God, through the power of Maya, ignorance, and delusion. The ordinary man is ruled by this ignorance and attachment to material existence. But in the state of uplifted divine consciousness, ignorance is dethroned and wisdom rules in its stead.
“Many knots unraveled by the road”: My consciousness passed through all seven cerebrospinal centers, untying in each on the knots of life and consciousness that had bound the soul to the body. Many cosmic mysteries were revealed with the opening of each center.
“Not the knot of human death and fate”: Even with temporary enlightenment, the soul is not permanently free from karma (the effects of one’s past actions or so-called fate), or from the wheel of death and birth, until it has fully overcome delusion and leaves its physical, astral, and causal body encasements and merges in Spirit.
Yogananda’s Spiritual Interpretation continues,
“In deep meditation, I transcended the sensory perceptions of the body and experienced divine realization by lifting my life force and consciousness upward through the yoga chakras, from the earth vibration in the coccyx (Earth’s Center) to the thousand-petaled lotus in the brain (Seventh Gate). King Ignorance, who sat on the throne of consciousness and ruled my life in the body-identified state, was deposed: and I, the all-wise soul, one with Spirit, reigned in his stead.
“Ascending the spinal highway (Jacob’s ladder!), I had unraveled in each of the six lower chakras the knots of life and consciousness that had tied me to the body. Thus, when I entered the seventh center, I was momentarily free in cosmic consciousness.
“But this experience in meditation did not completely liberate me. Because of my karma, the results of my past actions over many lifetimes including this one, I could not escape permanently into Spirit. To sunder the karmic bonds and conquer death forever, I had to first learn by deeper meditation to consciously go in and out of the body at will. This mastery, and the wisdom of divine consciousness it brings, frees the soul permanently from delusion. Then the soul can leave not only the physical body, but the astral and causal encasements swell, and merge in Omnipresent Spirit ~ a fully liberated soul!”
Jacob’s ladder and Quatrain XXXI, from two different traditions and separated by two millennia and thousands of miles, each offers a similar practical application of Yogic Chakra Technology. Without this background, the depth and beauty of each allegory cannot be realized, and the underlying wisdom remains concealed.
Note: Lifetrons defined as a conscious pranic particle of light.