Rodger Kamenetz: The Jew In The Lotus

24 June 2018 | A friend lent me The Jew In The Lotus after we had a 4-hour dinner discussion about faith and ethnic disciplines. Before the dinner,  we were business partners then separated because of business failure. In about 7 years,  each follows own ways. The friend very much practices Judaism. Mine is Buddhism. We however are both non religious. The friend is not a Jew. I am not a Buddhist.

The dinner is memorable. We lived in two different cities,  did different businesses while having same belief in the power of G-d (= Mother Nature), the universe law of attraction,  the karma,  the law of cause and effect,  the value of family, the value of integrity and honesty,  and hard working attitude.

The book is read one year after the dinner. The title of the book explains why the two friends see the same faith and common values in the other. The book tells stories about “Jewish roots and Buddhist swings.” Then it poses a question about “Buddhist roots and Jewish swings” – which is more likely who we are.

The followings are notes from reading through the stories.

  • “Bread & Wine” symbolize words of wisdom,  and anyone who shares wisdom with another is as holy as the ancient priests. Isn’t it a way of honoring the mentors?
  • Fahrenheit 451: It’s not enough to have books,  you need people who are living books.
  • The meaning of prayer “Your G-d is a true G-d” is that people would have to find the images of their G-d form themselves out of their own experience,  and in their own language. (p. 59)
  • The real secret of Jewish survival is probably that there wasn’t time in the universe to finish the Jews’ arguments among themselves.
  • Tibetans want to know the view, the path, and the goal. In Tibetan Buddhist teaching, the view is a fundamental orientation toward the nature,  cause,  and elimination of suffering. The path is a definite method of spiritual improvement through systematic meditations. The goal is to become a bodhisattva, a living buddha, whose great compassion will help all sentient beings eliminate their suffering.
  • Four supernal worlds in Judaism are presented in the diagram below.
4 supernal worlds
  • Before you go to sleep,  you say,  What was my day like?  What did I do?  Why did I do what I did?” (p. 84) .  In reality,  many famous and successful people practice this on daily basis. And this has its root in a praying practice in Judaism.
  • Gilgul = transmigration = being on the wheel = bánh xe luân hồi.
  • G-d is “the basis of all existence, not necessarily to create with a certain motivation or willingness.”
Yale_University

In Tamuldic accounts, the jewels on the breastplate are inscribed with the names of the tribes, and through a light shining on them, various combinations of letters are projected and combined. But also associated with the breast-piece are the urim and thummim – the mysterious Hebrew words inscribed today on the seal of Yale University and mentioned in Exodus 28:15 and Leviticus 8:8. According to scholars, the urim and thummim were lots – possibly marked sticks or stones – that were held in a pouch behind the breastpiece. Yes or No questions were answered by pulling out the objects – urim for no, thummim for yes.

All of this oracular technology was lost a long time ago – the last biblical mention of consultation of the oracle is at the time of King David. The oracular role passed on to the prophets of Israel. And when the line of the prophets died out, visions and revelations came through the rabbis, through merkavah mediation and other meditative practices.

Mentorship And Jewish Method Of Transformation

There are two forms of Jewish meditation. One attempts to open a person up to greater insight, clarity, and vision. The other works on “purifying the vessel, changing the human being, and making the human being more perfect.” Though distinct, these two purposes to some extent overlap. [Thực hành thiền trong Đạo Do Thái có hai hình thức. Hình thức thứ nhất cố gắng khai mở con người tới những thấu hiểu vĩ đại hơn, sáng tỏ và có tầm nhìn. Hình thức thứ hai thanh lọc cơ thể, thay đổi con người và làm cho con người hoàn thiện hơn.]

An example of the first type is doing meditation during prayer. “We examine ourselves during praying, we focus on sounds.” Chanting the name of G-d, busing using different vowel sounds with the consonants yod he vov he is “a very powerful, enlightening, opening meditation.” Through this meditation different vowel sounds are joined with colors and organs of the body. Such meditation is described as “on different parts of who we are, different powers in different names of G-d. This refers to the kabbalistic theory of the sefirot, ten powers, aspects, or grades of G-d. They are commonly named (1) Keter (crown), (2) Chokhmah (wisdom), (3) Binah (understanding), (4) Chesed (kindness), (5) Gevurah (power), (6) Tiferet (beauty), (7) Netzach(endurance), (8) Hod (Majesty), (9) Yesod (foundation), and (10) Malkhut (kingdom). Through prayer and mediation one connects with these sefirot as a way of coming closer to G-d. (p.194)

10powersofG-d

The second type of Jewish meditation aim at transforming the human being is close to what the Tibetans call “purifying the mind of afflictive emotions.” To Tibetan Buddhists, as we’d already seen, such human failings as anger, lust, and ignorance are obscurations of the true clarity of the mind. In fact, these three in particular are known by the Tibetans as the three poisons. Getting rid of these poison requires a tremendous discipline of mediation, prostration, and recitation of mantras. On this method, it is very different in form from the Buddhist discipline, because “much of the work of inner clarification have done in dialogue with a teacher. The teachers often change students/followers through stories.” Such way of changing other by telling stories reminds the discipline of mentorship.

Hasidic masters often offers counselling to their followers in the form of parables or tales. The stories the masters told, and the stories about the masters themselves, were compiled by their followers. They are probably best known in the general Jewish world through Martin Buber’s well-known collections, Tales of the Hasidim. However, the stories were not intended as literature but as ways of teachers to change students. Hasidic counseling is usually one-on-one and includes the delicate art of picking the right story for the right student at the right time.

Journey to heaven is the interpretation of Torah
It is said in the Zohar that every new interpretation of Torah creates a new heaven. That means, when people study the Torah together and bring out new meanings that fit their situation they had created a new reality, and indeed a new heaven for themselves.

Torah is a living presence, a tree of life. It is because the life project of the Jew is to make the Torah a way of living. “Loving your neighbor in a book is easy; loving your neighbor in life is hard.”

Torah can be interpreted in at four levels. At pshat (literal level), the plain level, Torah is a book of stories and laws. That meaning is refined through remez (implicative level), implication. Then through midrash, “the level that the rabbis developed, used today in every synagogue” comes “a freedom the Torah gives us. The word drash means … Seek me out, take me, stretch me, make me real to you. If this stays a book, it’s dead. If you make it part of your life, it is a tree of life to all that will hold fast to it.”

At the deepest secret level – sod, Torah is really the name of G-d, repeated again and again. It’s made up into a narrative so people can understand it and teach it to children. But the reality is far deeper, and one spends a lifetime searching for the real meaning, the secret.

Torah is not just a historical record, but truly a tree of life to those who hold fast to it. It is a source of wisdom that can comment on our lives, that can and must continually be made new. The task (of the Jews) is not simply to take it as it is but to renew it through study, through the creativity of own commentary and own midrash. That path has three parts: prayer, study, and act of loving-kindness.

Differences between Buddhism and Judaism are perhaps more than the two following points.

  1. Kabbalist must be married while Buddhism masters must not. It is because “there is a lot of discussion of sexuality and sexual energy in the meditations. This is only appropriate for someone whose blood us not boiling.” (p.199)
  2. Phật Giáo tin vào luân hồi của linh hồn cá nhân. Theo đó, việc gì chưa làm được vào kiếp này thì sẽ tiếp tục làm trong kiếp sau. Linh hồn bất tử sống nhiều kiếp để hoàn thành sứ mạng.
  3. Do Thái giáo không bác bỏ sự tái sinh của linh hồn (?) nhưng đề cao tính thực hành ngay trong hiện tại. Gia đình là phương tiện truyền tải thông điệp trong các điều răn giữa thế hệ quá khứ, thế hệ hiện tại, và thế hệ tương lai. Những gì chúng ta mong muốn hôm nay nhưng chưa thực hiện được sẽ được gửi gắm vào kỳ vọng ở thế hệ con cháu trong tương lai. Gia đình là bánh xe luân hồi của cuộc đời.

Value of Family

A synagogue is more than just a place of worship. It is a house of assembling, a gathering place. A synagogue is a focus for the community, a place to study and learn, and a place to share happy occasions. To this end, any place serves theses purposes should be considered as a synagogue. Popular synagogue is home and school. In Vietnam, traditional pagoda is exactly a synagogue. In modern time, where so much emphasis is placed on individualism, the synagogue helps to reinforce the value of community responsibility.

2 comments

  1. […] An example of the first type is doing meditation during prayer. “We examine ourselves during praying, we focus on sounds.” Chanting the name of G-d, busing using different vowel sounds with the consonants yod he vov he is “a very powerful, enlightening, opening meditation.” Through this meditation different vowel sounds are joined with colors and organs of the body. Such meditation is described as “on different parts of who we are, different powers in different names of G-d. This refers to the kabbalistic theory of the sefirot, ten powers, aspects, or grades of G-d. They are commonly named (1) Keter (crown), (2) Chokhmah (wisdom), (3) Binah (understanding), (4) Chesed (kindness), (5) Gevurah (power), (6) Tiferet (beauty), (7) Netzach (endurance), (8) Hod (Majesty), (9) Yesod (foundation), and (10) Malkhut (kingdom). Through prayer and mediation one connects with these sefirot as a way of coming closer to G-d. (p.194) […]

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