That's Funny, You Don't Look Buddhist: On Being a Faithful Jew and a Passionate Buddhist


In this landmark book, esteemed Buddhist teacher Sylvia Boorstein addresses this incisive question in a warm, delightful and personal way. With the same down-to-earth charm and wit that have endeared her to her many students and readers, Boorstein shows how one can be both an observant Jew and a passionately committed Buddhist.

Why do Jews make up such an astonishing number of today's Western Buddhist leaders and practitioners? Sylvia Boorstein--beloved author of ...

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That's Funny, You Don't Look Buddhist: On Being A Faithful Jew and a Passionate

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In this landmark book, esteemed Buddhist teacher Sylvia Boorstein addresses this incisive question in a warm, delightful and personal way. With the same down-to-earth charm and wit that have endeared her to her many students and readers, Boorstein shows how one can be both an observant Jew and a passionately committed Buddhist.

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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060609580
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/28/1998
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 487,252
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.43 (d)

Meet the Author

Sylvia Boorstein, teaches mindfulness and leads retreats across the United States. She is a co-founding teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California, and a senior teacher at the Insight Meditation Center in Barre, Massachusetts. Boorstein is also a practicing psychotherapist. Her previous books are It's Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness and Don't Just Do Something, Sit There. She lives with her husband, Seymour Boorstein, a psychiatrist. They have two sons, two daughters, and five grandchildren.
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Read an Excerpt

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.

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Table of Contents

First Page 1
One More River 2
I Am a Jew and I Am a Buddhist 5
An Early Introduction to Buddhism 13
Good Karma 15
"So, What's a Nice Jewish Girl Like You... ?" 17
Basic Dharma 21
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
Emptiness 57
Karma Is True 60
Permission and Inspiration 67
Torah All Around 72
Psalm 121 77
Hineyni 80
Serve God with Joy 82
Abounding Love 86
An Alternative, Almost Wordless, Liturgy 89
Prayer 91
Liturgical Optimism 108
Serve God with Sorrow 111
Holocaust 114
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
Lineage 161
This Is How American Buddhism Looks 163
Last Page 166
Acknowledgments 169
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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 10, 2001

    Jewish/Buddhist teachers

    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.

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