Thursday, November 10, 2005

Judaism and Buddhism/Hinduism etc.

A fellow-blogger, who calls himself Jewish Atheist, posted a post this week on his experience going from Judaism toward Buddhism. Read the comments there and you'll see my comment that his experience appears the diametric opposite of yours, truly. I also mentioned over there something that is important enough to bear repeating here.

I had been dabbling in Buddhism - even considered myself a "practicing Buddhist" - when I started to explore Jewish traditions seriously. (No one ever caled me a "Ju-Bu", maybe because I'd abandoned most of the little Judaism I'd had).

Anyway, my journey eventually led me to Jerusalem, where I studied in several different yeshivas and privately with a Kabbalist, and one day realized that when I was doing the "Shema" or even a Bracha (blessing) properly (as defined by my teachers), the experience was extraordinarily similar to the Buddhist meditation I'd been doing.

I started to explore this theme both in practice and intellectually, and that pet research project resulted in a book (or here) recently published by Penguin. The original title of my book was The Jewish Meditation Handbook as I saw it as an entry-level prequel to Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's book, Jewish Meditation (which I do not necessarily recommend for beginners; however, I do recommend his book Meditation and the Bible).

Basically, for the benefit of the uninitiated, my view is that several Jewish meditative practices resemble what is found in Buddhism and other Eastern religions but differ on key points of theology and purpose. What happened while writing my book was I realized that "meditation" is not a sufficient term for naming that group of Jewish spiritual practices that I had dubbed "meditative" - hence the term "the Art of Amazement", which was coined, I believe, by Heschel and revived recently with considerable force by Rabbi Cardozo.

What I tried to achieve is a book that would appeal to both beginners and advanced readers. Its footnotes contain not only references to the primary Jewish texts (Torah, Talmud, Kabbalah) but also comparison-contrasts with Hinduism, Buddhism, Yoga etc.

The blogosphere may be particularly interested in a fascinating cognate (some would suggest false cognate, but I believe its real):

Avraham = Brahama
Sarah = Sarasvati

Sarah, of rourse, is the primary of Abraham's 2 wives, according to the Torah. Sarasvati is the primary of Brahama's 2 wives. The priestly caste of India are the Brahamas. What would explain such a correspondence, if it is indeed real and not a false cognate? The traditional dates for Abraham and Sarah is ca 1700 BCE, which is just before the apparent arrival of the Aryans whose arrival to India ca 1500 BCE sparked the beginning of Vedic religion that later spawned Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and others.

Does this correspondence of names point us to the destination of Abraham's children of his old age, whom he "sent eastward, to the land of the east, before he died"? (See Genesis 25:1-6).

I don't spend a lot of time in the book on this topic because it's really a side point to the main story, which is Jewish, but it is the main topic of my current doctoral research and I've so far drafted about 20 pages of the evidence and thesis surrounding the above correspondance. Hopefully will be publishable one day.

There are, of coruse, other great books and resources on Jewish transcendent spirituality....In addtion to shamelessly promoting my own book, here is an amazon list of readable books that will give anyone a solid foundation in the what, why and how of Jewish meditative practices.