Rabbi Yonah, the Rabbi of Long Beach Hillel, started off as a client but is now one of the few people I enjoy randomly chatting with. He’s cool and funny and all the stuff a good Rabbi should be. Recently I came across an article about a Jewish Buddhist in Forward that I thought was interesting and sent it off to Rabbi Yonah for his commentary. Here it is:
Recently the Forward published at article called “The Buddha From Brooklyn,” about Jeff Miller, AKA Surya Das. The article’s author wrote: â€œIn a way, Surya Das’s Buddhist teaching is actually very Jewish.â€ And with that, I had to break my silence about Buddhism.
In discussions about the nature of Jewish life at the turn of this century, the Jubu phenomenon, deserves our attention. But don’t believe the hype, as it offers no solutions, only deeper problems.
Jews in large numbers have studied and adopted Buddhist practices. Some have become leading practitioners. In mainstream Jewish life, among Reform and Conservative congregations, one can hear references to Buddhism or Buddhists in sermons. Even my mother, from a traditional home, has offered to send me books that meld Jewish and Buddhist teachings, that tell Jews how many positive lessons Buddhism has for Jews to learn from.
Who are the JuBu’s?
Most Jews who do Buddhismâ€” Buddhist meditation, tantras and other stuff â€”know next to nothing about the faith and law of their ancestors. As Jeff Miller said â€œJudaism never really answered my questions when I was growing up. I asked questions, they said: “Be quiet. Stop with the questions. What’s wrong with you?” So I sought elsewhere.â€ The Judaism they encountered in horrific after-school programs vaccinated them against continued Jewish knowledge as they encountered adulthood. Justifiably uninspired by what they saw, Jews searched elsewhere to find peace, answers, and spirituality. No one can blame them for pursuing spirituality elsewhere, when their Jewish upbringing was based on material pursuits and juvenile explanations. The generations of Jews that annihilated tradition, knowledge, and meaning, bear responsibility for Jews today who are totally ignorant of their own culture and heritage.
So while we cannot condemn, we still cannot condone. Buddhism is antithetical to Jewish practice and belief. A basic understanding of the Torah’s prohibitions of idolatry, deism, and asceticism rule out any kosher involvement with Buddhism, its teachers, proponents, and practice. Those practitioners that claim no inherent conflict are simply ignorant.
What attracts Jews to Buddhism are kernels of wisdom that G-d planted there. Why did G-d do this? Hashem planted those kernels in order to test us. The popularity of Buddhism, the Dalai Lama, and Buddhist tchachkes, challenge each and every Jew to learn about their own heritage. Torah, Kabbalah, ancient Jewish prayer and meditation, represent the most unbelievably deep wisdom. Torah teaches how to engage life, the Godly sparks in each person, the nobility of each breath, and the humility to know our place in creation.
Though tempting, and seemingly benign, we must avoid Buddhist idols, symbols, altars, incense, offerings of food and water that are placed for ritual purposes. And since the main thrust of Buddhist teachings in North American are intertwined with meditation techniques, the conflicts inherent are not self-evident. Nonetheless, we must turn away from Buddhism, its JuBu practitioners, and return to Jewish practices and belief.
In words that are best known by the poet John Donne, â€œNo man is an island, entire of itself…â€. What a Jew does anywhere in the world has a powerful effect on the rest of the Jewish people. Each Jew is part of a great web of souls with a common root. Every sanctification of Hashem, every Shma Yisrael, every Sabbath candle, resonates in the life of the Jewish people.
We did not survive through history by chance or by fluke. We are here to carry on a crucial mission, Tikkun Olam. Repairing the world, bringing holiness into the world, bringing blessing to the world.
Don’t let the light go out, it has shined for so many years.