Toward a New and Kerygmatic Credo
Zalman M. Schachter Shalomi
Chair of World Wisdom;
The Naropa Institute
This essay is a plea for research into the spirituality of the future and invitation for collaboration to bring this about.
Much of my perspective is based on my devotion to the Ribbono shel Olam, the divine Life-Spirit of Gaia. I come from a deeply spiritual Jewish formation in which the values of Tikkun Olam (Healing the planet) and the biblical command of Bal Tash’hit (not to destroy any natural resources) are an essential and constant feature.
In some ways I am on one foot, one of the last Mohicans of pre-holocaust Jewish mysticism and on the other foot I stand on concern with our future. Not only the future of our Jewish people and the continuity of its tradition and lineage but with the global future, our survival as humans on their way to the Great and divinizing metamorphosis.
I was born in Poland, grew up in Austria, studied at a liberal Gymnasium as well as a Talmudic Yeshivah, a generally incompatible education. My family fled to Belgium after the “Anschluss” and there I met my Jewish mystical mentors. My soul seems to have the need to hang in tension between polar opposites. These friends provided that with generosity. On the one hand I was initiated into the study of Hassidic texts and meditation and introspection on these - and on the other they gave me Romain Roland and Anker Larsen (a Danish mystical novelist and playwright) to read. This could have confused me but instead it infused me. I could not separate the reality map that came from the Torah, my sacred magisterium from that of the empirical and cultural world. The reality map that came from the Torah, my sacred magisterium, was solidly laminated to the reality map of the empirical and cultural world.
Early on, the attempt to keep them together led me into some tortuous routes. As a teenager I still was trying to make the years of anno mundi (now 5758) work out with evolution. As the years passed I found texts in our mystical tradition that made for more harmony with what the cosmologist were saying and so too did I find that cosmologists were embracing theories that danced in rhythm with the multi-dimensional teachings of the Kabbalah. Moreover I found that the mysticisms of other traditions had intuited much of what I came to experience and to believe. I started to put experience first and let belief form later. I have come to see how creeds and theologies are but the afterthoughts of what we experience by intuition.
Thus I now come from Hassidism, Kabbalah, Transpersonal Psychology and much sympathetic study of other mythologies, religions and lineages. The contemplation of how consciousness and brain interact focused my interest in Brain-Mind technologies. There are many secrets to unlock in this area. The future of life on Earth depends on our finding the pneumatic keys to greater awakening.
Paradigm Shift in consciousness
Right now we find ourselves in the midst of a paradigm shift which is shattering our reality maps. We all have grids of meaning which we express through language. In order for us to have any discourse, to share a covenant of communication, we must have a shared reality map. So when we say something is "self-evident," we refer to a common reality map, that collusion in which we all play by the same rules of evidence in order to converse and meet in the same universe of discourse.
Only with great difficulty and subtle discernment can our reality maps become accessible to our explicit inspection. Most of the time we don't even realize that we bring maps of meaning to every situation. They are, so to speak, laminated to our consciousness, to our apperceptive systems. As such, they are mostly expunged from visibility. They are like the blind spot through which the optic nerve connects to the brain. It is necessary to our seeing, while at the same time, the place where it goes through the retina is the place where we are blind. We can, as in a blind spot, make them become accessible to awareness, but not fully visible.
AFTER THE HOLOCAUST
This is not the first time Judaism has dealt with paradigm shifts. During the time when there was a Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which was the only venue where we were permitted to make offerings on the altar, we offered animal sacrifices as our way of serving God. But because the Temple, its altars, and its priesthood that slaughtered and offered the animals are destroyed, we can no longer make offerings of life that has to be killed for the sacred service. The cause, however, is even deeper than the destruction of a building: sacrifice was no longer the right sacred technology for serving God. Another sacred technology, utilizing words, had to come to take its place. It has lasted to nearly the present day .
Paradigms shift at crisis points: one third of Jewry was destroyed with Auschwitz, and something fundamental in the world was destroyed with Hiroshima and Nagasaki; something about the old was destroyed. So we recognize that being Jewish after these events can no longer be a matter of simply following the past.
Being aware that we are going through the birth pangs of a paradigm shift that most traditions have not found a way to traverse I am also concerned with the future of the spirituality inherent in those lineages. There are treasures there that need to be safeguarded against the breakdown of the old cosmologies with which they were yoked.
FROM MACHINE TO ORGANISM
There are helps, icons or images, that can help us render our maps accessible. The kabbalists called these partzufim. In every age and place people have dreamed the partzufim, these mythic icons, and from these emerged the legends, stories, meanings, motivations and covenants of the age. The dominant icon of the nineteenth century was the machine, a complex which includes notions of linear causality, of motivation, of causes creating effects. Its message was that in whatever one did somebody or something was always at one's back, pushing. People call this paradigm "scientism," a way of looking at the universe as mechanical. It was a Cartesian world in which everything had to be like clockwork. That's how you run a machine.
A new reality map is emerging which is based on an organismic model. It says that Earth is alive; she is Gaia, the living planetary organism. Earth is alive and every part, every species, every part of the chain of life, the tz'ror ha-chayyim, is integral and needed. For example, were it not for the mitochondria inside the bacteria inside my body, I couldn't live. In the chain of life there is an organismic relationship among things. This is the new partzuf: not the machine, but the organism. Naturally, there is a relationship between the dominant reality map and the shape of society.
The map isn't enough; we also need forms that make it manifest. In the Cartesian model, we harked back to an earlier form, which was distilled in the sense of the word "monarch". Monarchy from the Greek means "single ruler," (mono-archon): the single ruler was on top, so there was a hierarchy. The other word, from the Greek hieros, means "holy." Hierarchy means the way the holy rule governs. In the Roman church there is a hierarchy, topped by the "triple crown:" the Pope is 1) the king, the "mon-arch" of the Vatican, 2) the highest priest of that church, and 3) the supreme legislator, the one who ultimately makes the definitive and final decisions. That is what Papal infallibility really means. It doesn't mean that he is always factually correct; it only means that the people below him in the hierarchy have to follow what he says.
Alas, we have found a problem with hierarchical systems: the ones on the top don't listen to the ones on the bottom. In the case of the Roman church, for years, people have been saying women should be ordained. For years people have been saying that the priesthood won't work very well if it has to be celibate; you will not get the vocations that you need. You have to pay attention to the needs of the people. You can't tell people to have numberless children when this doesn't work anymore. The world is dealing with overpopulation. Why is it that the ones on top can't listen to voices from below? Because hierarchy is deaf to the words that come from below.
As we know, there came a time in history when people said, "We can't go on in the monarchial hierarchical mode." Then there emerged another possibility: Liberté, fraternité, egalité. At that point we flattened everything out. In Scotland there arose the anti-hierarchical Presbyterians and Congregationalists. There was a notion that everybody has an equal voice. Of course, there is something to be said for that idea, expressed exactly in the Bible in Qorah's critical words to the Moses, the leader, "The entire congregation, they are all holy and God is in their midst. So why are you raising yourself over the congregation of God? (Numbers 16:5)"
On the other hand, we have also seen that this flattened out level, about which there is so much democratic rhetoric, is a lie. In what we call democracies, there are still hierarchies, some people who call the shots and wield power over others, whether in government or in corporations. The question is not so much whether or not there is true egalitarian democracy, but rather, "Is laissez faire democracy the answer?" It leads to so much chaos, there's no plan, no leadership--we are at the mercy of market forces. After all, one reason that there is so much crime today is that there is so much chaos.
We can observe that the mythological scaffolding of the various traditions has collapsed and new scaffoldings have not arisen. The absence of a vital mythology for a whole and healthy Earth, one shared by all peoples and species is a cause of great concern. Earth is in dire crisis for survival and we have as yet no means to re-dream our hoped for story. We soon face an historic turning point; the millennium. Our missing mythology may cause an even greater crash than the computer problem of (Y2K) the year 2000. There is a need for visioning the future of human spirituality in harmony with our Gaian understanding. Here too most religions are failing us. Established lineages and religions seem to see as their task to focus on conserving the treasures of the past and not in planning the innovations needed in the incoming era. Most of the theologians drive by looking at the rear view mirror. Many are still in the thrall of a triumphalist hope that their religion will be ultimately vindicated as the Only True One and thus triumph over all the others.
THE TORAH OF THE FUTURE
Torah has many dimensions of meaning for Judaism. When we talk about what the past can teach us, we also confront what the past cannot teach us. Some of the things that the past cannot teach us, we are being taught from the future. I make a simple blessing with the usual formula: "Blessed are you, God." Then I say the next two words, melekh ha-olam, literally, "King of the Universe." By that I don't mean an autocratic king with power over us; I mean the governing organismic being, of ha-olam, of Earth. The Gaia principle gives this blessing has a new, deeper meaning for me.
As Hoyle has stated: once we will see a picture of our Earth from outer space we will have experienced an immense shift of perspective. Even greater than any theoretical jump that we have made is caused by our seeing the image Earth Suspended in space. No religious ikon has such compelling force as Earth seen from outer space. There can no longer be a triumphalist attitude by any religion once we have encountered the planet as a living entity. In such an organismic view all traditions are like vital organs of humanity. The task of updating the skillful means of all the various traditions and lineages that assist in awakening can only be entrusted to people who come to terms with this paradigm shift ..
When I see a picture of Earth as seen from outer space I see no national boundaries, but rather an organic wholeness, a completeness. This is part of the Torah of the future. As Earth learns to understand and be aware of herself, she has her mattan torah, her gift of Torah. The earth is waking up to consciousness. And in the view of this totality, you and I and all of our little egos melt into a higher state of being conscious cells of that melech ha-olam, that vast life being that there is.
The resurrection of the Dead.
Let me give another example of how a tradition such as Judaism spirals in light of a new paradigm: each day I recite several times the traditional Jewish formula, "Blessed are You who revives the dead". In what way can one affirm this ancient principle of the faith? I do not believe that the crypts will open up in cemeteries and slimy corpses will crawl out of them. Should I believe that at some time at the end of days the individual cells of my remains will be reconstituted? How many bodies have I already worn out in only one lifetime? We keep on changing. I cannot claim that this body will rise at the time of the resurrection. Which one of my various bodies would it be, from which incarnation, from which time in history? How then can I believe in the resurrection of the dead and mean it?
I believe that resurrection occurs when dead matter becomes a conscious living being. This resurrection seems to be happening to the totality of this planet at this very moment. A characteristic of the old machine paradigm is that we thought of matter as dead and unconscious. Today, in this age of nuclear technology, genetic engineering and supercomputers, matter is coming alive to us! We speak of atoms, molecules and cells as strings of information. Biologists have discovered that genetic consciousness is encoded in DNA and RNA. With the advent of the computer we now think of the memory as resident in silicon, a stone chip, in aluminum and now copper. So what Descartes thought of as a mere machine also contains and holds the information of life. Our thinking about matter and the physical world has undergone a shift from death to life.
It is clear to us what the core of the Universe is saying to us: "As the chief head, this is how I want you to be: harmonious, for this is my purpose. You are integral, you are not an "oops", it wasn't a mistake that brought you into the world, you have a right to be here, you are a child of the Universe." I can't imagine anyone saying "No" to that. That integral feeling is the new mattan torah, the new revelation. You can't help but say, in Torah's words, na'aseh v'nishma', "we will do and we will conform, listen," in response to that, promising to further that aim in the world. I invite our dreaming, mything, midrashing, myth-rush-ing experiencing and thinking to help shape that next phase of our evolution. This is the blessing that we Jews are given: to serve as the organ of Jewry in the organism of the planet, as an instrument for healing and wholeness and as an agent for holiness. This too applies to other people who are " Israel" Godwrestlers, as it applies to all who have experienced an initiation into Gaian membership.
RECONFIGURING THE PARTZUFIM
It is a deep work to reshape the partzufim, literally: the faces, masks, the inner templates that govern manifestation on this plane, and it requires our immense concentration and patience. The time for the either/or choices in religion is over. We can no longer consider the other world religions to be idolatry. If an Elijah at Carmel were to appear today demanding us to choose between YHVH, the rider of the clouds and, let's say, Ba’al the rider of the clouds, a distinction of name and not function, many of us would tell him to go back to the ultra-orthodox world and not to bother us. My commitment to the life of the planet is stronger than my commitment to any philosophy or creed. Many of us have the same commitment. If you have felt commanded by the Divine Imperative to protect Earth from planetary destruction, then you have undergone the first stage of a Gaian Initiation.
Such an experience also requires that we, all of us, undergo an identity shift from ethnic to global so that we can begin to live that initiation. As Susan Saxe once put it, we have to become "matriots" of mother Earth instead of patriots of a particular state.
In more traditional Jewish language, my theological approach is based on the realization of the pervasiveness of hashgahah, Divine Providence, the unfolding of Earthmind. That is, we are deployed from beyond ourselves. Let us have emunah, loyal faith, and bittahon, trust, that the universe is unfolding as it should. Accept that you will be led by Wisdom Hokhmah, Sophia, as She arises from the planetary mind. Open up to the possibility of accessing on the inner-net, the inner internet, what the melekh ha-olam requires of us. The Torah that is now coming down vertically will harmonize with what has come down through history longitudinally.
It is nearly impossible today to talk with Jews without someone bringing up the holocaust in such a way that it becomes an issue that blocks any chance of deepening Judaism. The moment you say something good about anything, someone says, "But, the holocaust..." It is the conversational ace of spades and those who play it believe that it always trumps.
The theodicy question is, "How could God be good if there is evil?" You can't simultaneously, in a naive way, have faith in God's absolute goodness and in God's absolute power. If He loves, how can He permit evil? If He permits evil, isn't this a sign that He doesn't love? How is it possible that He should be omnipotent and loving and permit evil, especially an evil of such vast dimensions? Why do the good people suffer, and why is there no justice in the universe? Theodicy is such a powerful hook that there is hardly a person alive who hasn't been snared by it.
ANGER AT THE GOD OF THE OLD TRADITON
That is because on the deepest psychological level, it has to do with our anger about not being asked by God whether we wanted to be created. It sounds strange when you actually say it out loud, but what right did God have to create me? He didn't ask me, and it's not sporting and it's not fair. The rabbis of the Talmud go through this whole business; for eight years they argue about: "Is it better to be created? Is it more convenient to be created? Is it less convenient to be created?" They concluded, "It's less convenient to be created", so God did us no favor.
Now there is a Talmudic rule that you can do a favor for a person, and assume automatic and implicit consent, even if she isn't present, provided there is no trace of a liability connected with it. So, if life were an unblemished good, a pleasant favor for us, our consent would be implicit. But God can't take our consent as implicit if it would have been easier for us had we not been created. Why then did God have to create us? This looks like technically legal question, but on a deep existential level, it comes out like a deep underlying depression and enduring frustration with life. Sometimes when we are in a panic, in painful life situations, we think, "If I could rub myself out of existence right now, I'd much rather do that than face this terror." Can you imagine how it would have felt for those who lived under the holocaust? How easily might they reach the place of saying, with Job, "ribbono shel olam, Master of the Universe, cursed is the day my mother conceived me." That's a very heavy thing. Everybody has some anger with God. This anger constitutes the "tumah," the impurity, that our souls carry.
When there is no way to express it, we turn the anger at ourselves. It is useless to say that you shouldn't be angry; we cannot legislate what another should feel. I have found that the only thing that helps is to take the time to tell the Master of the Universe that our greatest anger is in that He made us without our consent. After all, we didn't make ourselves. I can't express genuine love to God or fellow beings if there is always a lid on my anger. I can say to God, "You're beautiful, You're marvelous, and I love You, and I'm glad I live in Your world," only after I have had a chance to tell Him of my rage. No one who hasn't taken a vigil for a night and had it out with ribbono shel olam, can get to a place where faith becomes real.
THE "THOU" OF GOD MAKES ROOM FOR US
I can think of God as It, as He/She - in the third person absent from me , and as Thou - in the second person facing me. If I think of God as the "omni omni," the infinity of infinities, then I am speaking of what I call the "it" of God. Since that part of God is infinity to an infinite number of levels, to infinite power, there is no space for a world; nothing else is happening. In that conception, God is godding endlessly, like thought thinking itself--there isn't even what we understand as thought there. So what are we talking about when we are talking about the "it" of God? I can't say anything meaningful, because that place where the "it" of God exists, even my soul hasn't been begotten.
Now, there is a divine dimension which is the "He/She" of God. The "He/She" of God, where the insurance companies speaks of disasters as an “act of God”, is divine activity which is in nature. In nature, Elohim has an infinity of power, but is morally totally neutral to human beings. If a person gets to the top of the Empire State Building and jumps off, and half-way down says, "Please, God, I won't do it again," the laws of nature will inexorably have their way because that's the way they were made. God as He/She and nature are one, as some of our teachers have it: The numerical value of the word Elohim = 86, the identical (Hebrew numerology) sum of the word Hateva’, nature, in Spinoza’s words; “ deus sive natura”.
THE POSSIBILITY OF EVIL
There is another aspect of God, and that is the "Thou" of God, the moral being of God. This is the One whom we hear addressing us and giving us laws, and revealing to us all the things we have to do. We encounter God as Thou in our history and in our life. But in order that we should have space to do or not do, to obey and disobey, the infinite God as well as God in the aspect of He/She, has to limit that God-self. That God can be Thou means that God must be infinity-minus something. The problems as well as the possibilities of the world lie in the reality that there should be a minus one, that God contracts Her/Himself so that others can exist for whom God is Thou. But, out of that fantastic self limitation of the infinite God comes the possibility of evil, the randomness, the chaotic element in our experience.
We ask, why doesn't it work out that the Thou of God and the He/She of God live cooperatively so that whenever there is a need for a miracle, the He/She of God, the God of nature, accommodates the Thou of God? And, for that matter, why did He/She even bother to create? Wasn't it for the sake of the Thou? Is it right that this should happen? So, you begin to see what complex issues we have in this cosmic conundrum.
AS FAR AS EAST IS FROM WEST
How far are we from one another when we stand back to back? As far as East is from West. How then are we going to meet? We could walk around the globe and maybe we'd meet. But if we turn around, then we are not far from each other. Infinity minus one, God's contraction, is the possibility for us to turn ourselves away from God. However, living a life under divine commandment, under mitzvah, in submission to that vow and in connection, communion, and covenant with that vow, we can turn back; we can give back our "minus-one" each time. Each time this connection is made again, at least for me, that moment when I am communing with the Thou, at least for that moment in our small life space, our communion, there suddenly, it's already turned to the harmonious good!
The only solution is that all the minus ones turn and their polarity, their facing, their orientation be straightened out again. It's about integration and wholeness. Our religions have been dealing with the individual first, and then the group. Now the individual has reached a level of consciousness where nobody is happy unless there is an element of shared being with all. So we are looking to create a Gestalt, a more comprehensive level of unity. The only way to get it together is together. The individual alone can't handle it alone anymore; the systemic element has grown more complex. The only way is to create that "Homo-gestalt out of individual egos." Moral talk and action can't happen unless the Homo-gestalt gets joined in a big and global way.
WHOM SHALL I SEND?
Sometimes it seems to me that God needed a lightening rod in a world where when things were going crazy there could be a discharge that would keep the world from exploding. Jews have served as a lightening rod for the last two thousand years of history.
The other image that has come to me in meditation is that we Jews are like the white corpuscles in the body of humanity. Wherever there are infections, the white corpuscles are sent to that place where they have to eliminate the infection and in the course of this they die. Who knows, maybe it was necessary.
We can tell a God-story about the holocaust in this way. God is sitting in heaven saying, "Whom will I send? Who will go for us? I must give the world a lesson." We Jews have to get to the place where we can say that we promised God that if there was need for someone to be an example, we would be the example. But even from the place of that story I must ask, what did we contribute to it that we should never contribute again? I don't think we can get to any understanding of what the holocaust means unless we first deal with the interpersonal homework and our deep anger. So far that has kept us from looking clearly at the issues that we have to look at.
CLEANING UP THE WORD "GOD"
As long as people have been on this planet, whenever they needed to get to the hot line, whenever they needed to get to the center of the universe and to send a message from the depth, from where they have been calling out, they have been saying, "Give me God." So, on the one hand the word God has become tainted, and on the other hand, it is the only word that is so quick to transcend all the garbage when we are in such a place that, as Mary Baker Eddy liked to say, "Man's extremity is God's opportunity." We get to that place where we can't help ourselves any more. Then we send out a distress signal, an SOS, and that call usually goes out addressed to the name "God." It's a very strong call, and it has a whole tool chest of prayer, with sounds and gestures. Should we throw it away? Has the word "God" gotten so bad that we have to throw away all the sacred technology?
What do you move when you can't move something out there? You move your thought, your image. Restructuring our ideas is sometimes easier than restructuring outer reality. However, we would much rather have a head that is most faithful to the contours of reality out there. So, from time to time, we have to let the head go soft, so that the head can take on the contours of what is really out there. That's a mind move. When you make a mind move you save a lot of energy.
So now, I want to take the word "God" and clean it up a little. What happens most of the time when people are faced with a set liturgy in a prayer book? They see words that their head can't take in. It withdraws energy from the process of prayer. But the words do not belong to the head, they belong to the heart. Taken on the level of the heart, we are not interested in them as information. It is as if my wife says to me, "I love you," and I say, "You told me that yesterday." It's a silly answer because she was not trying to inform me of something I didn't know. It's a feeling she wants to transmit. It's heart to heart. I'm not talking head stuff, I am talking heart stuff.
The Siddur, the prayer book, is "heart stuff." There is dualistic language which my head cannot really digest about G-d, that G-d is an other, a way, way far off "other." I can't deal with that; I don't see the Santa Claus in the sky. So what am I talking about? I am talking about that Being who is the center of the universe, the volition, and the mind center of the universe, the heart and love center of the universe, and that's what I want to communicate with. That's the part of me that says, "Every moment I energize in your being, and every moment I am prepared to receive your glorification." Now that nourishes something very deep in the soul that has gotten very hungry among us.
What is it that we have to do in this world? An in-tuition, an "in-teaching," comes in and says the most risky thing: You have to Love. You have to proceed in the world as if all the chaos and pain, the shadow, were not around. You cannot fight the darkness with the means of darkness; you have to bring in light, and the light has to take risks. Something has to give, something has to change. The status quo can't be maintained because it has become too expensive for the individual and for the planet.
Out of the Chaos
The blessing in all this is our new understanding of what impermanence is about. The future brings with it a process that undermines the status quo. The old cosmology and its institutions are failing. The pain of the meltdown of the accepted scaffolding is great. It becomes bearable and brings hope when we put our trust in the Source of our lives. There is a providential guidance toward more consciousness, greater cohesion and harmony amidst the burgeoning complexity. Chaos theory has come to open us to the future. The dissipation of known structures points to a higher integration. Growth will likely continue on a higher point of the spiral or, if you like, on the next more containing level of the fractals, the higher holon. After all, we are Theomorphic beings: we can't help but grow toward God.
One needs to have a grasp of the empirical-experiential mode of research that involves subjective-intransitive, introspective reporting that would allow for the replication of a process and experience in the spiritual work of more than one lineage’s spiritual discipline.
Why? We experience an increasing diminishment of the past repertoire of the traditional lineages. For instance; the Roman Catholic Church had in the past a much greater range of liturgical tools, with novenas, canonical hours, offices, etc. is in most cases now reduced to the Mass. Most churches - denominations are panicked by innovators like Fr. Matthew Fox. The suburban synagogue has by and large not fared better. The three daily weekdays services are often not held. Special spiritual celebrations like all night study and meditation vigils, ecstatic dancing and many ”minor” feast and fast days are only sporadically observed by those who live in Hassidic enclaves or in the circles of Jewish Renewal.
From Religion to Spirituality
Despite the pessimistic outlook on the whole there are here and there signs of positive breakthroughs. Meditation is embraced by many people who have no other religious commitment. It has now gone beyond the mere ‘relaxation response’ that meditation can provide. It has led people to greater spiritual growth and awareness. While it seems that religion is “out” for many, spirituality is “in”. People want to learn how to experience the sacred not just talk about it. There is real interest in how adepts do what they do. This interest is not mere curiosity. It is an inquiry into the how that allows for emulation. As in the classic A Kempis’ Imitation of Christ; a misnomer in terms of current usage of the word imitation which has come to mean Ersatz. Once it meant more like following, emulating the great model Mensch. So we entered into what I called the dialogue of devoutness. There is a great comparing of notes, of insight and understanding to be shared by those who reverence the name of God and love Him. God listens, he hears and records these things. (Mal. 3:16). Such dialogue concerns souls, their journey to God, the difficulties they encounter on the path.
Dialogue of this sort is between the soul and her God. A person who is too busy to live in a state of vulnerability vis-à-vis God has no way to enter into this dialogue . Such a person can say ‘I believe this' or ‘I believe that' and still be spiritually inactive . . . Religion to such persons is only the things they give verbal assent to, not the things they experience, not the way they face God. They are registered as a Jew or a Protestant or a Catholic like they register as a Republican or Democrat. and having registered have done their duty. The function of a creed is to give people a program for life, not just a list of things to be asserted. Some of the creeds need to be updated so they become effective as catalytic affirmations. Here is an example of such an update that took Maimonides’ mediaeval 13 Principles of the Jewish Faith and brought them into our current world view.
The Teaching of the Beit Ha Midrash at Elat Chayyim:
Each one who aligns oneself every day with these principles of the faith and lives according to them can be assured that s/he will have a role in the World to Come for us and for all the peoples on the entire world soon:
1. May it be the [Divine] will that I believe with perfect faith in the G d who is infinite and the blessed light that issues from that Infinite [Source, who is beyond time and space, yet who longs to have a dwelling place among those [in the worlds here below; and who, out of loving beneficence to Her creatures, contracted Her light and Her radiant glory, in order to emanate, to create, to form, and to effectuate all that exists in the universe.
2. May it be the [Divine] will that I believe with perfect faith in the Oneness of G d and of all creation, a oneness of the kind of One that has no second; and that all which exists in the universe exists solely according to the will of that G d, who constantly calls everything into being - causes all existence at every moment.
3. May it be the [Divine] will that I believe with perfect faith that the Creator has an intent and a purpose in creation, and that one of the aspects of that purpose is so that He shall become known to us by and through it; and that we creatures have a task to broaden and enlarge that knowledge /awareness until the world will be as filled with knowledge of G d as the waters cover the sea.
4. May it be the [Divine will that I believe with perfect faith that the hoped for goal is that all of us will come to constitute one united [interconnected] and organic whole and that every living being will know that You are the One who constantly causes its existence.
5. May it be the [Divine] will that I believe with perfect faith that all the pathways through which the Holy Spirit is manifest and revealed are of one piece with the Torah that was given at Sinai.
6. May it be the Divine] will that I believe with perfect faith in the mission of Judaism, which is one of the vital organs of [the collective being that comprises] all existence, and that through G d's compassion on all creatures, it is revealed to them also their integral indispensability to all existence l/how indispensable and integral they are to the health of all the species of the planet].
7. May it be the [Divine] will that I believe with perfect faith that the universe is not ownerless and abandoned , and that every one who does good with his/her lifetakes part in the fixing on the world and vice versa [/that every one who uses his/her life for evil participates in the destruction of the world;] and that every action has an impact on the rest of existence.
8. May it be the [Divine] will that I believe with perfect faith that the amount of good in the world is greater than the amount of evil, and that the entire order of movement through the chain of evolution is designed to bring about the fulfillment of the Divine intention.
9. May it be the [Divine] will that I believe with perfect faith that the deeds of the fathers and mothers accrue to the benefit of the children, and that the tradition [that is passed on] contains within it the seeds of the light of redemption.
10. May it be the [Divine] will that I believe with perfect faith that our prayers are heard and answered.
11. May it be the Divine will that I believe with perfect faith that the Holy Shechinah dwells within our midst and that all who show kindness to living creatures show kindness too to the Sh’khinnah, and vice versa.
12. May it be the divine will that I believe with perfect faith that physical death does not terminate the existence of the soul; rather, that there are innumerable worlds within which they return to live again.
13. May it be the [ Divine] will that I believe with perfect faith in the fixing of the world [Tikkun Olam, the concept that the world can be fixed] and its becoming alive; and that besides coming to life, the world will come to possess a consciousness and feeling, and as such will become a fitting vessel for the revelation of the Divine will.
This is my restatement of the reconstructed and renewed credo that lends itself to kerygmatic realization.
Kerygma is a good Greek word - one like by theologins - which means a program for living. One’s soul can become pregnant with Kerygma and give birth to spirit .
Each tradition and lineage needs to make such a re-statement and share with other theologians. Theology is the afterthought of believers and must match their sacred experiences. Approaching recasting creeds with this attitude has prepared the way for a greater dialogue: the dialogue of the devout that we have been talking about, the kind of sharing that can take place between people who are religious on both sides
Thomas Merton O.B.M. held many a dialogue of devoutness with the contemplatives of various lineages and traditions of the East. We are experiencing an unprecedented lateral opening: Never before have the Upaya- skillful means - of parallel lineages been so available to those of other lineages. Parallel to Aggiornamento there appeared such books as Catholic Zen and Christian Yoga.
Moreover we have observed Zen Satori and Yoga Samadhi by EEG in empirical and scientific observation and found that they are different in the way they are processed by the brain.
Because Earth is in dire crisis for survival we need a task force to do the research and development for the healing of the planet and this includes the futuring of the classical contemplative and transformative spirituality in parallel with the yet unexplored territories of the brain and the mind. The theoretical and practical advances of transpersonal psychology, of spiritual emergences, in concert with our understanding of brainwaves and attunements to states of “altered” consciousness afforded by the biofeedback and brain-mind technologies could spell a quantum leap in human awareness.
The late Yitzchak BenTov spoke about hothousing the development of our nervous system to be able to deal with the emerging complexities.
A crucial dimension of our complexity is our relation to time. Like the frog in the heating kettle we do not notice the increase in the speed of time. Though we may not be awakened to the speedup, it works on us and against us. It is as if we had repressed that besides the neo-cortex that can manage immense association speeds we also have a body with its own rhythms and are greatly controlled by our basic bios (like in computers and in life) and our life operating system that is resident in the reptilian and a limbic brain. Harmonious life incorporates the time dimensions of the organic systems.
Yet the civilizational speed up that not only has propelled us from “snail mail” letter writing - when I received such a letter in the past I had a week or two to answer. Not so with fax and e-mail where the immediate response is demanded. In the back ground there are devices speeding up to now 350 MHz, driving the passing of time relentlessly at greater speeds.
We have found out that Beta brainwaves are speedier than Alpha and Theta waves. Yet the creative work happens when we are in the “flow” between pain and boredom. Pain puts us into the aggressive-defensive mode and cramps our awareness down to a basic survival operation. Boredom makes us fall asleep. This an awareness we encounter in an awakened state in the flow that is not in the reflex mode of the sympathetic nervous system. In the “meditative” para-sympathetic mode we are both awake-aware and apt to allow our consciousness to be in “play” not in “business”.
Formatting the unused Brain
The often quoted statement that we do not utilize even 15% of our brain’s capacity makes me wish to learn to expand that. There are those who like Jean Houston have worked on the Possible Human, who have devised Mind Gyms, who have dreamed with Michael Murphy as he envisioned Jakob Atabet and Bob Masters who has worked on potentiating our bodies. Doc Childre’s Heart Math and his Freeze Frame method has shown amazing effectiveness in helping people to shift out of the stress mode to enter heartspace and shift to clearer and better processing of one’s situation. It saves the T cells about six hours of rebuilding to the point one was at before the impact of the stress stimulus..
Recently I underwent surgery for bladder cancer. In preparation for it I did transformational imagery, alternative healing and strengthening of my life force, dietary and herbal regimens as well as Hypno-therapy. I asked my hypnotherapist to prepare for me a tape in which the deep region of my body would be contacted and programmed to see in the surgeon’s incursion not a traumatic hurtful invasion that the body would have to resist but as a helpful healing intervention, an ally to the body’s own healing work. And it helped immensely in recovery. We have relegated hypnosis to the sidelines but there is much yet to explore.
I have heard from homeopathic practitioners that there are highly reduced remedies that can bring about “altered states” So too have I heard from acupuncturists that needles placed at certain meridians can induce high consciousness states.
I am convinced that in these realms there lie more ways to effect the shifts we need to make as we work toward healing our selves and our planet.
There is the need to socialize the Upaya, the skillful means need to be made to work inter-personally , not merely intra-personally. Meditation is usually a solitary task. At times one feels that it may only be a solipsistic preoccupation. Much growth happens when mediation is socialized. In spiritual intimacy radical life changes can occur. In Mondo - Zen, the Yehidut - in Hassidism, in Sohbet - in Sufism, in the Darshan between guru and disciple, in the “conferences” at spiritual retreats people have experienced quantum leaps.
One reads the tales of Hassidim, Zen Masters, and Sufi Dervishes that remind us of the Desert Fathers like the one described in this story.
There was a Christian desert Father to whom everyone came each day to ask for a verbum—a word of instruction for the day. One of the stories about him tells about the day a monk came up. "Do you have a verbum for me? "No," said the Father. "How come?" "I don't know. I don't make these things up you know. They come through me. Chances are you didn't do very well with the one you got yesterday so they're not sending a new one for you today."
Or take Reb Moshe Kobriner, his Hassidic counterpart in a little town in Lithuania. People would come to him from all sides asking all sorts of questions. One day he was having his breakfast. It's about three o'clock in the afternoon. and all he has is some kasha (buckwheat cereal) and this other man comes in and says, "Master, I have so many troubles."
“Blessed art Thou, O Lord, King of the Universe Who has made everything by Thy Word," said Reb Moshe Kobriner (and this was the proper blessing to make before one eats kasha.)
And the man said,. "Master, didn't hear me? I have so many troubles."
And Reb Moshe said, "You know, your father once came to me with the same situation and he heard me give this blessing that everything comes by His Word and he stopped complaining. Don't you hear?”
Not only with teachers can one enter into such shared meditation. When Buber taught us of the I-and-Thou relationship he spoke of healing through meeting. Working with friends and colleagues in dyadic meditation one comes to a deeper and more affect oriented process. From my experiences in “socialized meditation” I am convinced that we need to move beyond transpersonal psychology to transpersonal sociology. As Wilber has pointed out higher holons have more complex ways of integrating what on lower levels seems like contradictions.
All of our conflict resolution efforts have to date not managed to turn a recalcitrant “ Saddam” in to a collaborating member of global society. The research in this area is crucial to our survival. Look at the extremely sophisticated teamwork in technology that can produce a stealth bomber and compare this to the primitive state of correcting dysfunctionalities in society
I believe that it is important to consolidate all these efforts and I would like to work together with others on these soul and mind tools. There is a need for visioning the future of human spirituality in harmony with our Gaian understanding.
Whom can we trust to adjust the system files?
Established lineages and religions seem to see as their task to focus on conserving the treasures of the past and not in planning the innovations needed in the incoming era.
I believe that this task will not prosper among people who
a., have not come to terms with the paradigm shift , people who have not experienced an initiation into the Gaian community.
b., have as an interest only to shore up the crumbling facades of their institutions.
c., who do not have a grasp of the empirical-experiential mode of research that involves subjective-intransitive, introspective reporting that would allow for the replication of a process and
d., who have no experience in the spiritual work of at least one lineage’s discipline.
In all this we need to pay attention to individual differences ( gunas) and life phases (Ashramas) and see what works for whom best. Aldous Huxley in his Perennial Philosophy explored this issue under the category of Religion and Temperament. The cerebrotonic person needs a different approach than the viscerotonic one or the somatotone. So too are life-phases to be considered in prescribing a growth process.
The new consciousness frontiers that Jean Houston has explored, some dealing with the spiritual software of archetypal models she offered to the First Lady are still seen by the conventional shopping mall minds as some sort of witchery.
There has been much written on past life residues that need clearing up. Here we have an other frontier to explore with shamans, channels, mediums and sundry sensitives. Not only medical but also psychological intuitives have vital processes to offer.
We need to assemble inventories of available skillful means: Yoga, Tai Chi, Ignatian Meditation, Kabbalah, Sufism both the vacuum methods - those methods that work toward emptying the mind as well as the pressure methods - those methods that work toward filling the mind. There is need to revisit Avatar, Ridwan, Hoffman Process, Scientology, Silva Mind Control and the many etceteras. This we need to do with an eye to be able to reproduce empirically and also to see if we could experience the states described in the traditional contemplative literature. It would be important to investigate the range of application of classical methods and the reinforcement of certain phases to look for new ways and settings in which these could be applied and elaborated and adapted to our current needs. I am confident that in this research we will invent and encounter totally new forms of spiritual work; i.e. the emerging practice of an asceticism of simple pleasures in the sacred life.
We might find out that not everything works. Much of the classical material needs a matrix of beliefs that we cannot adhere to because they are incompatible with our reality maps. Thus we will be learning from failures by reporting negative results.
Lawrence Kohlberg, ( and Carol Gilligan) has shown us that there is a scale of moral development. His student colleague Fowler demonstrated that faith development proceeds in a parallel way. We who would like to raise the level of public morality would do well to create the social experiments that would help us apply our findings to the task of healing our cities. The high cost of maintaining the penal institutions could be greatly reduced if we were to do the research necessary to make effective rehabilitation and to reduce the recidivism that turns prisons into revolving doors.
Traditions in upheaval
All traditions are in trouble because of the paradigm shift. I would dearly like to have dialogue with others in both Eastern and Western traditions. My experience in the renewal of Judaism may be of some use to others in their lineages. Their experience must be of importance to my tradition. Heinrich Heine made a pun in German; Wie es Juedelt so christelt es sich. – How it Jew-els so it christ-als. In other words: Just as it happens among Jews so it happens among Christians and Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists; we all need to transform in order to make our contributions in a way that is relevant for a healing world.
Although new theology is emerging from a Gaian understanding, there are still Jews to be found in ultra-orthodox communities in Israel and in Brooklyn who hold on to a triumphalist notion, just as do the people in the Vatican, in Mecca and Medina. Their thinking goes like this: "When the end of days will come, when the Second Coming is here, when the Mashiah, the Messiah comes, when the Mahdi, the final Imam, appears, when Maitreya, the last Buddha, reveals himself, it will be shown that all along we alone were right and all the others were wrong." That's the basic attitude of triumphalism: "In the end it will be shown that they were in error and we were free of error all along; that we were the true carriers of the divine transmission, and that all the others had failed."
IN GAIA ALIVE
But when we understand Gaia, we begin to see that just as every species is important, so is every religion. If all the pesticides killed all the insects, we would have a silent spring, because there would be no birds--so the whole chain of life depends on everything being there. Analogously, my sense is that Judaism needs to have Christianity to challenge it, and in the same way each religion is a necessary, integral part of the planet. So we are beyond triumphalism. But to say that therefore we will need to give up our special way of being misses the mark; the world needs us.
Looking at a box of matches in the kitchen this morning, I saw the equivalent of the circled "U", the kosher trademark that says the food is ritually pure for Jews. This was a green triangle. It was saying that this is "eco-kosher," ecologically pure. This sign of concern brings to the world something that comes out of our tradition and makes that an integral and necessary part of the world. We can't let go of what is our special task and heritage -- because if we were to, the world would suffer, it would lack something that it needs -- so, too, we cannot demand that any other religion should let go of what it offers to the world. Because then the world would lack that essential and vital component. And in this way the conflicts between universalism and particularism get straightened out, because once you understand that we are dealing with an organismic process, it is different from either hierarchy or the flatland way.
Apologia pro vita sua
Perhaps some further thoughts would be of help; What follows came from an interview about Jewish Renewal in which I am involved and a description of some of what I deal with in my Paradigm Shift.
When I use the term "paradigm shift" I mean to describe an emerging and radically new way of looking at reality. When the patch jobs on old reality maps, like the Ptolemean (ca 100 BCE) world view (which saw Earth as the center of the Universe) no longer works and it has become essential to design a new one, like that of Copernicus, (that the Earth revolves around the sun,) we have a paradigm shift. A mind-move of such proportions has taken place that it represents not a mere adjustment of the old paradigm, correcting a detail here and another there, but rather a radically changed Weltanschauung.
A religious tradition contains faith treasures that are independent of the reality maps with which they have become combined. Many religionists confuse the reality maps that arise from their empirical roadmaps with the ‘magisterium’ of their lineage. In this way even though a paradigm no longer works, many people hold on with desperate tenacity to what has become obsolete. For many a ‘true believer’ a major shift of their reality-view threatens to unbalance the scaffolding of their value structure. So much of our assumptions and behaviors depend on these value complexes which they cannot separate from the shared and now obsolete reality maps. In the high anxiety about losing their moral moorings they tend to go into denial about the inadequacies of their maps and declare the new outlook as ‘heresy’. The high anxiety would be allayed if they trusted enough that once we delaminate our faith-treasures from the earlier maps, we can connect these valued treasures of tradition to the new maps.
What I am about to offer is meant as a witnessing to the process of updating religious traditions. All of us who cherish a sacred lineage and are imbedded in it are experiencing serious upheavals In describing my dealing with my tradition I hope be of help to others in other traditions dealing with similar problems.
Judaism has undergone several such "paradigm shifts": one with Abraham and the Patriarchs, Moses and the First Temple, another after the destruction of the First Temple and an even greater one after the destruction of the Second Temple, when all of our practice and belief had to be reframed. There have been some other shifts and adjustments. However Auschwitz, Hiroshima and the moon walk have instigated yet another and even more dislocating shift. In my Paradigm Shift Jason Aronson 1993 I offer the journey of my own re-contextualization of Judaism as helped by Jewish Mysticism. Having seen the process of regeneration in history I was part of the application of this transformation in the current Jewish Renewal.
Jewish Renewal, differs from Restoration, which seeks to hold on to the last paradigm. People in Jewish Renewal do not want to abandon sacred and cherished traditions to toss them out along with outworn cosmologies. We are now privy to information which floods us with wonder at the view of a wider and ever more complex cosmos, and we don't want to put our minds in pawn as the price of our staying wedded to our tradition. Still, we look to fill our spiritual needs as experienced in the present with a maximum of tradition. To make this happen we have to retrofit our spiritual technology to the demands of our era. We are sensitive to feminism, human potential, ecology and Whole Earth thinking.
Autonomy <-> Heteronomy
Traditionalist often challenge renewalists; "what right have you got to modify a long standing and Divinely revealed tradition?". My response is that revelation continues in the present. We are as much at the service of Divine revelation as earlier generations were. We have at this time an additional task, and furthermore, we are aware that we have a task. While there are those who may be better equipped than we they don't perceive this as a need - so it devolves upon us.
In feeling this challenge I did not experience one seismic and pivotal moment with its special theophany. The process was gradual. There was a long series of these epiphanies, often unrelated to one another and the effect was cumulative. And - this is crucial - making sense of these "Aha" moments. takes first of all an introspective attitude as well as some meditative and contemplative training. In this way I kept revising and readjusting my credo. I grew through adolescence during the Holocaust years. In the midst of hopelessness I saw glimpses of the Presence to which I pledged my life. This created a dynamic tension causing me to hold fast to both doubt and faith. The process was amplified by other experiences: by meeting great souls, by deep prayer and by the struggle we call Godwrestling.
I received much help from Jewish Mysticism; the Kabbalah. Critics of the Kabbalah, from either rationalistic-scientistic circles or fundamentalist one criticize those who teach it. Their criteria are largely ideological, intellectual and rationalistic ones. In those circles, preoccupation with Kabbalah was thought dangerous. Still smarting from the excesses of the followers of pseudo-messiahs, they felt the need to defend themselves from an unstable, reality-denying mysticism.
They used to say it is getting worse - but maybe not?
Today our situation is different. As one encounters souls in process, one marvels at the amount of inner knowledge and sensitivity they possess. In my own adolescent searches I was blessed to find those who listened seriously to my questions, and encouraged me to reach for answers that matched my inner learning, my in-tuition. So I find that those who honor this direct knowing will not place obstacles in the path of the seeker. Because I have a foot in the past and a foot in the future which was my given in life I too was able to listen. I was uniquely placed to comprehend and bridge many worlds, both by historical events and by personal disposition I held fast to both, often at great personal cost. This put me in a position to understand the complex struggles of the next generation and to teach them from an extraordinary vantage point.
The people I teach are often of much greater soul sophistication than those who have heaps of traditional book learning. The established institutions of Jewish education did not know how to cope with the issues that agitated many of the young of the post-Holocaust generation. They went to look elsewhere for their spiritual nourishment, and found in a variety of places e.g. Zen, Vedanta, psychedelics etc.. Hungry to relate the reality of the experiences to their ancestral tradition, they found very few who could honor their questions and answer them. Most members of the established leadership had not had these experiences and could not relate to them. The exoteric-ideological stance of the establishment repelled the seekers. Traditional esoteric teachers demanded that the seekers relinquish and deny their sacred encounters outside of the tradition and begin basic observances, first acquire Hebrew and study the basic text and only after they were sure of their loyalty to traditional Torah Hashkafah - ideology - would offer them a smidgen of our treasures.
Where do we start?
There is a concept of T'shuvah, repentance, turning, that is from below to above, to begin with the scrupulous observance of the commandments and rules of religious conduct, and this is what the traditional teachers demanded from the seekers. This is also how many of the returnees have made their way back. There is, however, also the concept of the T'shuvah from above. In that thrust one connects first the higher centers of ones being and later, when one is in relationship with God, one implements what one needs from the tradition to round out one’s life. There are now countless individuals and families that have taken the second route and many of these are the members of Havurot, living room alternative fellowships and connected with Jewish Renewal.
When asked on what beliefs do you base your life my response is;
That there is a living God and that earth is alive. We are theotropic beings who grow toward God, and we have the help of revelation and tradition in our process of growing toward God.
There's the Infinite, and there's the God-where the Infinite exists. The Infinite is. Nothing else is. We are absorbed in that. We don't quite exist. Where we exist, our connection with the Infinite is made via a root metaphor, a name-God. So when we speak of the name God, the word God, the being God, that's not the Infinite. God is an interface that becomes transparent to the Infinite, who connects us finite beings, caught in time and in space, with the Infinite. I believe in the God, worship the God, adore the God, and call on God's help, but when I say God I don't quite mean the Infinite.
Meister Eckhardt would speak of the Infinite as the Godhead and of the other as God. So when someone says, "Do you have a personal God?" the personal God is that interface, that root metaphor. When I say, "God is a Father," then I'm a child. When I say "God is a Mother," I'm a child. When I say "God is a Judge," then I'm the one who's up for being judged. When I say "God is a King," then I'm a subject. Each one of these is a facet of the God. None of these are facets of the Godhead of the Infinite because the Infinite is not this and not that. There is a Part that connects us to the Infinite, of whom I can say, "Yes, God is the nurturing, nourishing, revealing, caring Being."
People generally want God to be the God of the good. They don't realize that the same Source that is the Source of what we call good is the Source of evil. The Source of what we call the beautiful is the same Source of the ugly. In fact, it is the Source of Allness. When we start picking and saying we like "this" better and "that" less, we are making the division between good and evil.
When two negatives don’t make a positive
One of the problems about resisting any negativity is that, in resisting the negativity, we become negative ourselves. But when we come into contact with evil, there is a witnessing there. That is what Aikido and the other martial arts keep pointing out: If we get to that place, we can sidestep it and let its impetus cause it to fall. That's much better than trying to resist it with the same energy it comes at us with, because then we have to use the methods that that energy, the opposing or evil energy, uses. So, anti-terrorism is terroristic! It doesn't work either.
When two positives make a negative.
Too ready agreement is not always for real. We hear what we are told and it feels either like old hat or we already have made a cynical judgment about an issue and in our assent we are killing it. The Yiddish inflection of Yea Yea! is precisely that; a put down, a negation. The two positives that have made a negative. The issues are serious and need pro-active solving. They won’t go away. We need to consult our values daily and recall our commitment to them. We need to keep in touch with our understanding of the purpose of life.
The purpose of life?
Depending on which level of observation we are on the answer shifts. On the level of an atom, the answer would be to become a part of a molecule! If you ask a molecule, the molecule would say, "To become part of the cell." If you ask a cell, the cell would say, "To become part of an organ." If you ask an organ, the organ would say, "To become part of the organism." If you ask an organism, a human organism, the answer would be to become part of a larger social organism, ultimately the organism of this planet. That is how it is on this plane.
On other planes of existence, the purpose can be defined differently. For example, each time we become flesh, we become incarnated. In mystical Judaism, we believe in reincarnation. It's called gilgul. We believe each time we incarnate, we move a step forward. Coming down one time prepares me for the task I have to do the next time. Whatever I conclude in this lifetime, if I come back again, I can take up from where I left off-not with the same memory, mind you, but with the same traces and vibrations and merit and clarity and God-connection that I had. Then I can go farther in the next incarnation to provide more input. If I learned a lot this time around, I get to teach the next time around! If I did wrong this time, I may get a chance to fix some of the wrong I did.
There are other levels of spirit, higher levels, where the purpose of life is to become permeable while in the body to the highest spiritual stages available. Up to now, people have not achieved that, by and large. There are only a few holy geniuses who have achieved a kind of cosmic consciousness while being involved in everyday life.
What is the highest ideal a person can reach?
There is no general statement one can make, because if I say "X or Y is the highest ideal," then we think everybody has to achieve that. But if you achieve what I have to achieve and I achieve what you have to achieve, then I haven't gotten my realization and you haven't gotten your realization. There are individual differences. The Universe is made up of so many individual bits. Each one has to achieve what it is meant to achieve. For someone who is a dancer, the ideal may be the ideal leap. For another person, it may be the ideal meditation. For another, the ideal act of love, kindness, or charity. If I were to say that the greatest philosophical understanding is the Ideal, then Mother Teresa hasn't reached it. If I say the greatest amount of unselfish caring is the Ideal, then Einstein hasn't reached it. I have to give them both credit for genius in their specialty. But a person doesn't have to specialize, because if a person has to be a generalist, he must "specialize" in being a generalist. You have to specialize in your own thing. One Hassidic Master said it very beautifully: "I'm not afraid that God will ask me, 'Zusha, why have you not become an Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob?' But I am afraid that God will ask me, 'Zusha, why have you not become what Zusha was intended to be?'"
You can’t attune to what you merely read.
The method, up to now, has been called Spiritual Direction Literature. There is Eastern Spiritual Direction Literature; there is Western Spiritual Direction Literature. The trouble is, the literature alone can't show one how to achieve attunement. For instance, if I have a symphony and I show it to you through the literature, you will still not be able to tune your violin by it. I have to present a tuned sound by which you can tune your violin. That's why we're always looking for a school where spirituality is being done. We're looking for a Master, someone who has mastered the art and gained that knowledge. And we begin to attune. After a while, we learn how to pray. When we learn how to pray, we learn not just how to recite words, but how to open the heart. It's like biofeedback: When we are with a person who is opening the heart, we can feel attuned to it. "Ah, now it feels right in my heart!" But if somebody says, "Open your heart," and you've never had that "thing," how do you know you've done it correctly? If you're in a larger group where all the people are doing this and there is a liturgy being celebrated, you get to feel at one with the people who are in this elated place. That's how you attune to it. The spiritual direction people have gotten it on that level.
Some people do overtly religious things; other people do martial arts or make pottery. It doesn't make any difference how one attunes because total realization can happen anywhere. It can happen spontaneously, and it can happen under direction. Very often, even that which is under direction requires the moment of grace, of spontaneity. But there are people who can achieve attunement in synagogue and church but not in the marketplace, for instance.
Rabbi Nachman teaches about the flesh
( Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav 1772 - 1810)
“A person needs to take great pity on the flesh of his body. One must show it some light from all that the soul attains so that the body too will know this realization. This is what the sentence " From thy flesh do not hide" ( and while normally this means your family next of kin R' Nachman here takes it literally and underscores it by adding) read his in the most concrete way your own body's flesh. The compassion one has on the body needs to focus on its refining so that one might make known to it all the enlightenments and realizations that the soul attains. It is in the nature of every one's soul to see and realize the highest realizations of which the body would have no idea at all. So for this reason one must out of compassion to the body cleanse and purify the body to become available to the what the soul constantly attains.
This is of great benefit to the soul also. The soul is liable to fall from its rung and if the body is clear and pure transparent to the light then the soul can lift herself and return to her rung because of the body. For when a body is in bliss then the soul too can remember her bliss place and attune again to it and rise to her own bliss. For if the body is good and kosher in its own way and not addicted to pleasures you will not get locked in to them. So the soul can rise again to her high rung through the bliss of the body.
The pleasure of the light and realization that the soul shared with the body left its imprint in the body. This can bring the soul back to it's own memory of the event and thus it can rise again. This is what Job said " From my flesh do I vision G d" precisely "from my flesh"! Through the very flesh of my body [the soul can say] I will see G d. meaning; divine realizations. So such a transparent body can see and vision the divine that the soul is ever in touch with.
If the body is truculent and resistant then the soul cannot even approach it to teach it of her realizations for such a body addicted to its pleasures can become a trap for the soul. So the soul needs its own strength and holy pride.....
The soul and the body
Most disciplines have something to do with the body, the way in which one interacts with the body, so that the body is under a kind of control. I don't mean a rigid control, but I mean that the body is open to interact. Then the next level is the feeling place. There are four levels: the yoga of body, the yoga of feeling, the yoga of mind, and the yoga of being and intuition. Our prayer book operates on those four levels. Every day there are things to take from level to level to level, and then back down again. The spiritual practices have those four levels involved. Some people concentrate more on one level than another, but somehow all four contribute something. Some people are personally gifted on one level but not on other levels. Some people like to do the stuff they're gifted in and ignore the other levels. That catches up with them; it's no good. The issue is wholeness, roundness-holistic spirituality.
How does one attain this ideal?
First of all, if one needs to be more grounded, just simply be "you." Feel the earth beneath you; feel the chair; feel how gravity upholds you. Gravity is the way earth loves us and attracts us. We should allow ourselves to be supported by that. Second, do one thing at a time; be totally in that thing you're doing. That's a way to be grounded! The next way to be grounded is to realize that there is stuff above that the groundedness has to support. The point isn't just to be flat on the ground. The point is to be firm enough on the ground so that the rest of you can go up.
What is the greatest obstacle to obtaining new levels?
"The sin that is the hardest to atone for is habit." That is the biggest obstacle to reaching new levels, as one rabbi put it. The more we're in a habitual state, the more unlikely it is that we'll go beyond. We won't be in the moment; we won't be in the here and now. We will hear the routine rather than the challenge that comes at this moment.
Will all people eventually reach this ideal?
I believe that all people will reach what they have to reach. I'm a universalist, in that sense. That they will reach the same state is not likely. It is enough for a toe to be the toe of a realized person. If I could be the toe, as it were, of realized humanity, that's fine. Not everybody is going to be the brain cell that fires off a great realization. Still, we'll all be organically connected with that, and the organic connection is what fires, just as an organism has a connection with the toe. So the final enlightenment will have a connection with that concept. It's not likely that there is going to be a final enlightenment. I don't like the word final, either, because enlightenment continues to the next level and the next level, and it's infinite in God. We no longer have the temple in Jerusalem, but when it existed, the holiest person on the holiest day at the holiest time in the holiest place would pronounce the holiest word. There would be a kind of implosion of all the Onenesses. That name is a connection, and each year on Yom Kippur, the old connection goes away and the new connection starts coming in. Sins interfere, spoil and ruin the old connection.
Sooner or later everyone will become integrated into to harmonious greater whole. When we are on the human level, we're already talking about all the lower levels, the molecular, cellular, organic, organismic, and social levels. It may just be that my connection with you the reader and your connection with other people all we need to do to participate in the process of that enlightenment. And having done that, it's enough. That's our contribution to "it." It's very hard to say that everybody's going to graduate with ease. We graduate if we have done the task that was ours to do. Then, when all of us graduate, that is like saying, When the whole of me graduates, my toe will graduate, also.
For we do not yet know how we shall serve YHVH, our God until we get there.(Ex. 10:26)
There are some things we won't know until we get there. There is the Divine potential of the Infinite. The more it gets realized, actualized in all the realms-not only the material realms, but the spiritual, astral, intuitive, and divine realms-the more the Universe becomes the Divine. The Universe, which begins as a potential for being divine, becomes in actuality the Divine. That Infinite is like an hourglass. One can't really speak about this in finite terms, but in finite terms it's as if all the stuff from one side has poured itself into the other side, and then it turns around again. We are now in a phase of making the whole globe, the whole planet, conscious. This is what some people have called the Divinization of the planet.
Choice is available even on earlier levels than the human. That's what, to some extent, the Heisenberg Principle of Uncertainty is about. We can predict the statistics, but we can't predict the specificity of it-which electron is going to jump off and when-and that is like an element of choice. On the other hand, I reject the whole notion of either-or-ness in terms of choice and determinism, because I think that's sort of a mental trap. We are not 100 percent free, and we are not 100 percent determined. It goes between 99 percent on one side to 99 percent on the other side, and the pendulum swings. There are times when there are such moments of high confluence between choice and determinism that we call it synchronicity. What I'm doing and intending is so together with that flow of things, it doesn't feel as if we're fighting at all.
Cycles and Cycles
Now one of the purposes, if I speak from our Judaic mystical tradition, goes like this: Prior to this cycle of world creation, there were other cycles of world creation. Holy sparks from those other cycles of world creation, when they were broken, lodged here. Our task is to find those sparks, gather them and bring them together, and restore the balance in the cosmos-to enthrone God again. The Divine Crown, as it were, has gems missing, and in each physical act, we pick up a spark here, a spark there, and bring them together. When all sparks have been gathered, our tradition speaks about the coming of the Messiah. To me, this means something like global oneness-peace and harmony on the globe when we reach the next level of integration.
When we become more conscious of the physical and at the same time aware of the highest spirituality, we'll have what I would call the Resurrection of the Dead. This resurrection happens together on a physical and spiritual level. The physical plane is our plane of observation, though everything that happens on a physical plane is not open to our observing. What's happening between atoms we don't quite see with our eyes, but if we were on the atomic level we would say, "Ah, this oxygen atom got married to two hydrogen atoms, and they made a water molecule!" But we don't operate on that level of awareness. When I put a pot of water on the stove to cook, a lot of weddings take place between the oxygen from the air and the hydrogen that's in the gas, so water gets created. That's a level of observation, the submolecular level, that we don't see.
Now in our personal drama, on another level of observation, higher things are happening. Ultimately it takes a meditative leap into other dimensions to be able to see. There is a Latin phrase “sub specie aeternitatis - under the aspect of eternity." It means to look down, to see what is happening in the temporal realm. Then we begin to see what Earth is about, what the planet is about, and what history is about from a much higher level. I believe we are just learning the beginnings of the holy psychotechnology, a spiritual psychotechnology that will allow us to get to such places as observing fine moments-or larger ones. Some people have had the larger experiences. Geniuses have had profound mountaintop experiences before. I would say, "If they can see the Infinite, they can see the infinitesimal also, because awareness is up and down the scale." By and large, people haven't bothered to look at the infinitesimal. Now, with nanotechnologies becoming important, people are beginning to concentrate on those things.
What about death and what happens after death?
I do believe that death is only part of the connection between the physical and the inner. It's like pulling the plug. Most people know enough to get their inner out of the way. Let's say you drive in your car and it's rattling; it's in bad shape. Finally, it's all over. You drive it to the junkyard. You get out of the car, and then a crusher comes and crushes it down. You'd be a fool to sit in it after the car is dead. I have the same attitude toward the body. Bodies wear out, and it's a wonderful thing that they wear out. They get recycled, which gives the passenger a chance to get out and pick another car, another vehicle . . . or to decide not to walk the earth for awhile.
Our tradition teaches that a whole series of things happens after death. A soul has to go through purification because of the contamination of being on this level and the habits that are acquired on this level. After purification (which is what Purgatory means: one gets purged), then come other things that are delightful, ecstatic, and marvelous. Some of them have to do with the realm of feeling. That is one Heaven. Others have to do with the realm of knowing. That's another Heaven. Then there is the Heaven in which we know intuitively and are known by God; we are identical with That. There's a higher level still. Sometimes one just stays there, because it's wonderful. Sometimes one is needed back down here and gets called.
In Judaism after people die we say the Kaddish, the memorial prayer, and we do acts of charity for the souls of the deceased. This allows us to help people advance their process now and to help in their purification if they haven't been able to do it in their lifetime.
Care packages to eternity
If you see yourself bounded by your skin, then you would ask, "How would something I do help the deceased?" When you recognize that half of your chromosomes are your father's, half are your mother's, and a quarter of them are your grandfather's, you realize that your grandfather is still alive in you, in a quarter of your chromosomes. So if you say a prayer, it is almost as if a portion of him is still available to help that other part of him that is beyond. That's why the disciples of a Master get together at the anniversary of his death to celebrate. There is a feeling that there is so much more of the Master available at that moment.
Why is there suffering in the world?
That's a question that gets us into trouble! Every time I've figured it out, I have to learn another level of the same thing. One could say the greatest education we get is through suffering. Consciousness is being raised through deprivation. I will never know what it means to give people food when they're hungry unless I have experienced hunger myself. I will not know how to help somebody who is in pain unless I have experienced pain myself. One could say suffering is the school for empathy. It creates that, but that's only one element of suffering.
Sometimes suffering exists in order to bring us to our senses. Sometimes suffering exists in order to show us that there are tragedies we can't overcome with our childish omnipotence in the world. We begin to see that every choice we make has its consequences. Suffering is the way in which we learn, after the fact, the consequences of our moves. Then there are some people who suffer and can't identify this reason or that reason. It's just one of those things. "Why do bad things happen to good people?" is the question behind all that, and I haven't yet found a convincing answer. Sometimes no matter what we do, we get clobbered! On a lower level of preparation and understanding we would say, "If we do only the good and the true all the time, we're going to be okay." On a higher level being good doesn't help. The biggest ethical questions are based on just that point.
Do all religions or spiritual paths lead to the same place?
All is a big word. If I want to honor all religions, I would say yes. There is such a thing as what Matthew Fox called "the deep Ecumenism" or what I call the generic religion, which is a no-frills religion. Behind the brand names, there's a no-frills religion. Sometimes in the supermarket we buy generic products rather than brand names. It's cheaper that way. The active ingredients, whatever works, are there. The frills of packaging, of extra flavor, of this or that are left out. Each religion has frills. Each has an ethnic component. The Roman Catholicism of Haiti wouldn't do very well in Ireland. It's hard to separate religions from one another. Each religion is a living, organic thing. If it helps its people and has the basic ingredients-that is, if the no-frills religion stuff is there-then I would say it works.
There are some religions or some cults that take people off the path and lead them to some negative things. Maybe the people in Jonestown when they took the Kool Aid had last-minute enlightenment and sanctification. Maybe they did, but I doubt it. I wouldn't equate a religion like the one in Jonestown with, say, Hassidic Judaism or Trappist Catholicism or Tibetan Buddhism. It's not in the same league. So I just don't want to say all are the same.
If you could meet anyone throughout history, whom would you want to meet and what would you ask that person?
I would like to meet myself at the moment after enlightenment. Then I would like to ask, "How did you do it?" All the other people would just satisfy a kind of curiosity, but it wouldn't help me in my stuff, so I wouldn't want to go into the past so much as into the future. But you want me to name somebody in the past I would want to connect with. There are many Hassidic Masters, but I would like to go the founder of the Hassidic movement, Ba'al Shem Tov, and just be with him and not ask him any questions. I would want to look at him, to have him look at me, and then to pray in such a way that I could learn something from him. I would want to attune to his spirituality. That's all. It's not words I would want.
What is the most significant thing that ever happened to you, and what did it teach you?
It doesn't work that way, because there are moments when one thing is significant and moments when something else is significant. For a man to be present at the birth of a child is an overwhelming thing. I've been present at the birth of my children, and it's really amazing. I think that's the greatest, deepest miracle, because all other things have their space . . . Yet when I look back, every once in a while I make a kind of rosary of high moments and start saying, "There were moments of love; there were moments of insight; there were moments of prayer." There were even moments of terror, almost like facing death, that made me say, "Aha! Now I understand what it's all about." But I'm still learning about spiritual and holy eldering. Most people don't know how to live the holy life after retirement. You see, popes have remained in the saddle and rabbis have remained in the saddle until they die. I would like to learn how to withdraw gradually from the active life and to spend the last years furthering my solitude with God. That's what I feel life has to teach me. I'm learning to let go of things that are not in my hands to change, learning to live with what, otherwise, would be increasing frustration when I get older.
Life is my teacher. Artificial intelligence is trying to do what natural intelligence is doing. Natural intelligence means that a naturally intelligent organism continues to learn throughout life. Each situation provides a deeper learning, greater learning, a more profound learning. We're all going through a learning, so if I had to pick out one learning as the most significant, I'd say, "I can't; it's constant. The learning that is happening in life is constant because life is a teaching machine." From whom did I learn about life? I learned from life about life, by living life.
What is your core practice?
All the Judaic forms are connected with how my life goes. Judaism's form is important to me. This is why, for instance, I wear the fringes underneath my shirt: so It touches every aspect of my life. The kind of food I eat, when I work, when I don't work-it governs the year, governs the life cycle. That's my practice in general. Three times a day there are prayer times. That's important. The practice that nourishes me most these days is quiet prayer of the heart. Just sitting very quietly and opening the heart and letting God in. Some people call it Centering Prayer. In Hasidism it's called Dvekut or Shivithi.
What makes you happy? sad? angry?
I'm happy when I have contentment and moments of no conflict. I'm happy when I feel love coming and going from my heart to those who are around me, when I feel integrated with the Universe and at peace with God. The opposite makes me sad. To see people suffering and not to be able to help makes me sad. The child has an earache, and there's nothing at this point that can be done. I can hold a child, but it's not going to make the earache go away. To be powerless over pain that others experience is sad. What makes me angry is willful malicious obstruction of the common good.
Some people say that getting married and having relationships get in the way of spiritual progress, especially some religions where monkhood is the ideal. What do you think about that?
I've seen and heard of people, in history and also during my lifetime, who have become recognizable as saints. When I start looking, I see that the development of their saintly characteristics was at the expense of other parts of their beings. In the past, one might view somebody who lived on a pillar, like Simon, and say, "Oh, he's such a saint!" whereas today we'd say, "He's off!"
Who is a saint? Today's saint is the holistic person who manages to carry on and stay centered and loving and caring, who is clear as can be. I don't see any single quality that makes a person saintly. There is more than one way to be a saint.
Look, for instance, at what happens with a child or parent. Situations between them stir up many things. Often there are people whom you'd call saintly and holy, but if their mother starts messing with them and calling them to clean up their room, all of a sudden they're little kids again. They lose "it." Or the dad wants to meditate but the kids bug him at that time, and he doesn't know how to create a situation that can embrace both the child and meditation. People who have done it without being in the world have done wonderful things, but a few of them might be spiritual idiots savants. In one area they're wonderfully developed, but in other areas . . . So I trust saints who are householders more than I trust celibates.
There is another element. If saints would marry one another, they could have good kids. What has happened in some religions is that the most wonderful genetic stock did not get reproduced. St. John of the Cross didn't marry Teresa of Avila, and so they didn't have any kids; or St. Francis and St. Claire didn't have any kids. That means that it was the genetic end of the line for the stock of saints. I'm much more for the householder's way.
What is most important to you?
Can't say. It varies and changes. If I can't take a breath of air, then the most important thing is to take another breath of air. Imagine: I'm diving underwater and can't get to the surface. How important a breath of air is then! When I have the breath of air, then what's important is how I reach the shore. I don't believe these things are static. There is a dynamic element that's always before us. Right now what I want is to finish the week and to clean up as much of that as I can. Then, to come to a Sabbath rest is the most important thing. It will keep changing all the time.
I do what I do out of concern. My sense is that the more life, the better education, and the more tools that are made available for people to manage their physical and spiritual life, the better off the planet is going to be. And that's what I'm most concerned about.
What are the greatest problems in life?
The main problems in life are making a living, making a loving, and making a dying. Making a living is a big problem for many, many people. When that's together, then there's the question of making a loving-how to have good relationships and to receive and to give love. People who don't have that can have all the money in the world, but it's no good! For people who've had a good life and a good loving and a good living, when the time comes to leave that life, the problem is how to do that gently and gratefully.
Do you think there's a basic difference between men and women besides their physiology?
That's not a "besides," because the physiology alone determines so much. Look at what it means for a woman to go through menopause, for instance. I can understand what's going on with people who are on drugs. Then I think, how much more is going on with people on drugs that the body produces at a given time? A teenager getting hot on sex presents the same situation. Something is happening in the body that is very strong stuff and often not understood. Things happening to males and females are of such a nature that we haven't begun to learn the vocabulary of what they're all about. I believe men and women have a different way of looking at the universe, maybe based on physiology. Men by and large look at the universe in discrete detail, like particles in particle physics, everything boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. I believe women see the universe as a lot more connected, like waves. Whether or not this difference is due to physiology is, at this point, a moot issue. Maybe the viewpoint happened in their soul, and they chose a female or a male body.
One of the greatest needs this planet has for healing is blessing. It is underblessed. Underblessed reality is like empty calories. It takes elders to offer blessings. What a blessing achieves is the enlargement of the possiblities for good. Like an enzyme for growth, like a catalyst in a chemical process the blessings serves to offer the dynamic help that makes a process clear the barriers.
We need people who have learned to offer blessing. I want to ask the reader who followed me to this point to join with me in blessing the planet, the next generation, all species, all good intentions in people's hearts, all those who face burn-out in their service to others, to the scientists and physicians who work on finding cures for cancer and AIDS, for prisoners in our penal systems who want to start a new and better life, for the prisoners of conscience to be freed, for warring nations to find the way to peace and cooperation, for those whose time has come to leave their body to be able to do so serenely and aware, for the children about to be born to become agents of blessing.