The Tree of Life
could perhaps briefly be described as the "heart" of the Kabbalah, in the Western esoteric tradition. The Kabbalah is a metaphysical philosophy, or theosophy, with many different aspects.
The kabbalistic tradition is, like the chakra tradition, very old but the historical sources mention different years, so actually we have no exact dates until rather late. The book which is said to be most important, the "Zohar", was written by Rabbi Moses de Leon in the 13th century but is said to have a much earlier oral tradition. Another of the early important texts, "Sepher Yetzirah", is supposed to be still older.
During the 13th-15th centuries Spain was the center for the study of the kabbalistic teachimg. Because of this a separate Christian Kabbalah developed, mainly thanks to Raymon Lull and later on Pico della Mirandola. With his "De Occulta Philosophia" the German Agrippa of Nettelsheim was to play the most important role in popularizing the Kabbalah among European intellectuals from the 16th century onwards.
The Tree of Life symbolizes Creation and is the part of the Kabbalah that could be said to have some connection to the Chakra system. Despite the lack of a physical discipline, like yoga for the chakras, one often emphasizes the fact that the system won´t become fully alive until it´s used to a development purpose. Through the 10 spheres, or sefirot, of the Tree of Life, the kabbalistic basic theory on God´s creation is made evident by sequential emanations, from 1 (Ain) the totally unmanifested, to 10 (Malkuth), the physically visible manifestation.
Creation is made from God´s own substance. On it´s way to concretion the "energy" undergoes a differentiation and specialization and the material world is described in a beautiful way as "the place where God makes himself evident". Each sefira (sphere) has its own unique character depending on its position in the emanations. The Tree is divided in several different ways. There are four "Worlds" and also three "Pillars" which in a way could remind us of the energy flows Sushumna, Ida and Pingala in the Chakra system.
One way of dividing is to use the sefirot, which are of the greatest interest here for us since they have the most evident connection to the chakras, another to employ the 22 paths linking the sefirot and which could be said to represent subjective experiences, unlike the more objective realities of the sefirot. The 22 Paths are generally best known by their function in the Tarot cards.
I warmly recommend the book "Qabalah" by John Bonner. "Kabbalah", by Will Parfitt, is maybe a better introduction to the Tree of Life for the beginner.Up