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Why do Jews make up such an astonishing number of today's Western Buddhist leaders and practitioners? Sylvia Boorstein--beloved author of ...
Why do Jews make up such an astonishing number of today's Western Buddhist leaders and practitioners? Sylvia Boorstein--beloved author of It's Easier Than You Think--and writer Sharon Lebell explore one of today's hottest religious topics--the encounter between Jews and Buddhism.
I have discovered that the questions most asked of me by Jews are "how" questions. I am recognized as a Buddhist. I am also -- and have become much more open about this part in the last few years -- an observant Jew. Not only more open, but also more observant. Because I am a Buddhist. Because I have a meditation practice. So the questions now are: "How did that happen?" "What is your practice?" "Do you pray?" "To whom?" "Why?" "Do you also do metta (lovingkindness) practice?" "When do you do what?" "Why?" "What are your 'observances,' and why do you do them?" "How do you deal with the patriarchal tone of Jewish prayers?" "What is your relationship to the Torah?" "To Buddhist scripture?" Most of all, "How can you be a Buddhist and a Jew?" And, "Can I?"
The answer to the "how" questions requires that I tell my personal story. Certainly not my story as a prescription for anyone else, but to explain how my Buddhism has made me more passionately alive as a Jew. And how my renewed Judaism has made me a better Buddhist teacher.
When I realized the degree of personal exposure that telling my story would require, I became alarmed that I was going to rock the boat. I had been quietly enjoying a private life as a Jew and some new, pleasant recognition as a Buddhist teacher. I had been accepting invitations for some years to teach Jewish groups, and although I had worried initially that they would be hostile about my Buddhism, they weren't. They invited me back. Then I worried about the Buddhists.
"What if the Buddhists get mad at me for not renouncing Judaism?"
Clearly, this was my issue, not anyone else's. No one is mad at me. I've been announcing myself, regularly, at Buddhist teachers' meetings, and it causes no ripple at all. I feel anticipatory alarm, I tell my truth, and it is completely a nonevent.
Recently I was one of twenty-six teachers meeting with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India, to discuss how we are teaching Buddhism in the West. As part of the preparation for our meeting, we each answered the question, "What is the greatest current spiritual challenge in your practice and teaching?"
I thought, "Okay, this is it! These are major teachers in all lineages, these are people I respect and who I hope will respect me." And I said my truth: "I am a Jew. These days I spend a lot of my time teaching Buddhist meditation to Jews. It gives me special pleasure to teach Jews, and sometimes special problems. I feel it's my calling, though, something I'm supposed to do. And I'm worried that someone here will think I'm doing something wrong. Someone will say, 'You're not a real Buddhist!"'
It was another nonevent. I think -- I hope -- that was the "One Last River to Cross." I never did ask the Dalai Lama if what I am doing is okay. It had become, for me, a nonquestion by the time we got to our meetings with him. My particular group discussed "Lay and Monastic Practice in the West," and I did say, "I am a Jew, and monasticism is not part of Jewish tradition." I'm not entirely sure of the context in which I made that remark. It may not have been completely relevant to the discussion. Perhaps it was prompted by my desire to make sure I made my declaration publicly, in Dharamsala to the Dalai Lama, just in case that might emerge later as "one more river."
The three-hour return taxi ride from Dharamsala to Pathankot was occasionally hair-raising. Indian taxis are truly dangerous. Accidents, fatal ones, are common. I was sitting in front with the driver, trying to maintain some composure in the face of many last-minute reprieves. As we passed through one particular section of narrow mountain road, there were a few swerves that brought the taxi very close to the edge.
My friend Jack Kornfield was sitting with Steve Smith and Heinz Roiger in the backseat.
Jack said, "I hope you are saying protection mantras, Sylvia."
I said, "Of course I am."
He said, "Are they Jewish mantras or Buddhist mantras?"
I said, "Both."
Jack laughed. "Good."
Excerpt from THAT'S FUNNY, YOU DON'T LOOK BUDDHIST, copyright © 1997 by Sylvia Boorstein. Reprinted with permission of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.
|One More River||2|
|I Am a Jew and I Am a Buddhist||5|
|An Early Introduction to Buddhism||13|
|"So, What's a Nice Jewish Girl Like You... ?"||17|
|All Attachments Cause Suffering||25|
|More Profound Is Not the Point||28|
|Another Attachment Story||30|
|The Possibility of Peace||34|
|Silence Is a Fence for Wisdom||37|
|A Renewed Jew||41|
|Not Quite Beyond Words||52|
|Karma Is True||60|
|Permission and Inspiration||67|
|Torah All Around||72|
|Serve God with Joy||82|
|An Alternative, Almost Wordless, Liturgy||89|
|Serve God with Sorrow||111|
|V'ahavta - Metta Practice||128|
|Compassion Is Compassion||132|
|The Great Way Is Not Difficult||137|
|A Biet Knesset Is Not Supposed to Be a Zendo||140|
|Jewish in Jerusalem||149|
|Dinner Party in Jerusalem||152|
|This Is How American Buddhism Looks||163|
Posted September 10, 2001
Interesting book for the bi-religious or for anyone curious about this phenomenon. A book of personal reflections by a Jewish/Buddhist teacher of meditation. I also recommend books by a young Jewish/Buddhist teacher named Taro Gold.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.