- File Size: 844 KB
- Print Length: 200 pages
- Publisher: Jewish Lights (August 2, 2016)
- Publication Date: August 2, 2016
- Sold by: Amazon.com Services LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B072J5TPRD
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Not Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,620,245 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
|Digital List Price:||$19.99|
|Print List Price:||$19.99|
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Me, Myself and God: A Theology of Mindfulness Kindle Edition
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"A theology of mindfulness is unique! Practitioners who have found that mindfulness has deepened their religious sensibilities will rejoice to find the God-language that resonates with their experiences of freedom and compassion."
―Sylvia Boorstein, author, That's Funny, You Don’t Look Buddhist: On Being a Faithful Jew and a Passionate Buddhist
“A literate and nuanced synthesis of mindfulness practice and the study of Torah.”
―Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, Emanu-El Scholar at Congregation Emanu-El of San Francisco; author, Honey from the Rock and God Was in This Place and I, i Did Not Know
“Jeff Roth has dedicated his life to seeing clearly, knowing directly and understanding truly for the sake of wisdom.... Here he invites us to join him―and it is worth doing!”
―Rabbi Jonathan P. Slater, DMin, Institute for Jewish Spirituality; author, RA Partner in Holiness: Deepening Mindfulness, Practicing Compassion and Enriching Our Lives through the Wisdom of R. Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev’s Kedushat Levi
“Bringing his deep understanding of Torah together with his wise understanding of Jewish and Buddhist teachings on meditation, Rabbi Jeff Roth unfolds a complex and compelling theology of mindfulness.”
―Rabbi Rachel Cowan, executive director, Insitute for Jewish Spirituality
“A fascinating and profound integration.... Will challenge you, inspire you and open your heart and your mind!”
―Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg, Institute for Jewish Spirituality
“A truly inspiring work of theology, radically grounded in experience, not doctrine and dogma.....This excited, exciting and revelatory book is a must for the reader seeking direct access to Torah for our time.”
―Norman Fischer, author, Experience: Thinking, Writing, Language and Religion and What Is Zen? Plain Talk for a Beginner’s Mind
“A wonderful example of the fruits of interfaith seeking.... Most certainly a gift to practitioners.”
―Ebn Leader, faculty, Hebrew College; co-editor, God in All Moments: Mystical and Practical Wisdom From Hasidic Masters
About the Author
Rabbi Jeff Roth helps spiritual seekers cultivate gratitude, awe and an awareness of the Divine Presence from a Jewish perspective. A well-known meditation practitioner, teacher and facilitator of Jewish retreats, he is founder and director of the Awakened Heart Project for Contemplative Judaism and co-founder of Elat Chayyim, where he served as executive director and spiritual director for thirteen years.--This text refers to the paperback edition.
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The challenge to the Hebrew Bible’s truth-value posed by Greek philosophy and science has been met by Jewish theologians and philosophers for over 2000 years. Now, we are confronted with challenges posed by "non-dual" Eastern religions, most commonly Buddhism. Rabbi Roth's book is an example of this more recent development.
Philo, an Alexandrian Greek Jew who wrote at the turn of the Common Era, interpreted Scripture through the lens of Stoicism and Platonism. In the 12 volumes of his writings that have come down to us, Philo emphasizes how the Hebrew Bible teaches piety, courage, kindness, devotion, and other virtues; the danger of the corresponding vices; and the superiority of the intellect over feelings, perceptions, and other lower order phenomena. He also develops a theory of the Logos that helps explain the relationship between the nature and activities of the universe and God’s nature and activities. As a faithful and observant Jew, Philo never swerves from his fervent belief in the existence of the God of the Hebrew Bible, His attributes (especially His goodness), and His role in creating and sustaining the natural and moral worlds. Never do we find him suggesting we study and borrow practices from other faiths. And he is steadfast in his belief in Judaism's superiority to even philosophical pursuits because of the additional elements of faith and love that it contains.
Josephus, a Jewish historian who lived at roughly the same time as Philo, but in Roman Judea, developed a similar project—technically referred to as an “apologetic”—directed to his Greek-reading Roman audience. In his case, the emphasis was on demonstrating that the figures in the Hebrew Bible were as, if not more, heroic, wise, statesmanlike, and powerful as any found in the annals of the Greeks and Romans.
Saadia Gaon, who wrote in the early years of the 10th century in Babylonia, was the first “academic” rabbi to present a systematic Jewish philosophy consistent with the teachings of the Hebrew Bible. Saadia faced additional pressure exerted by Muslim science and philosophy—which also were highly dependent upon Aristotelianism.
The culmination of this process was Maimonides’ “Guide of the Perplexed” which appeared at the turn of the 13th century. Here, the renowned Egypt-based Sephardic physician, philosopher, and theologian painstakingly and exhaustively refutes any and all charges of “irrationality” leveled at the Hebrew Bible. While demonstrating what he believed to be the seamless correspondence between Aristotle and the Bible, he also chose to differ when too close an agreement might open him to accusations of heresy; for example, regarding the creation of the world from nothing (an article of Jewish faith) versus its creation from a preexisting, co-eternal-with-God substance (as taught by Aristotle).
It was only Maimonides’ standing as the Talmudic giant of his day, the author of the authoritative handbook of normative Jewish law—the Mishneh Torah—that allowed the “Guide” to survive. Even then, it was subject to its fair share of book burnings by Jewish traditionalists who found it to cater too much to “Godless rational philosophy.”
Maimonides was supported and challenged by various theological philosophers over the next 450 years, including Judah Halevi, Gersonides, Chasdai Crescas, Joseph Albo, and Nachmanides. However, it was not until Spinoza’s “Theological and Political Tractate,” one of whose primary objectives was to refute Maimonides’ “Guide,” that one could no longer—at least in some circles—use the words “Hebrew Bible/Judaism” and “rational” in the same sentence. Either one lived, thought, and wrote in the realm of "faith," or one lived, thought, and wrote in the realm of "rationality." European Jewish philosophers like Mendelssohn, Cohen, Rosensweig, and their American counterparts such as Leo Strauss, have attempted to bridge the gap between faith and reason, but the stakes are certainly much lower now than they were in Maimonides’ and Spinoza’s times and communities.
These attempts to synthesize Greek rationality with the Hebrew Bible were intended to assuage the confusion—the “perplexity”—resulting from reading the text through the lens of an educated secular background. Whenever possible, Maimonides emphasized the plain meaning of the text; that is, the text means exactly what it says. And, that it is up to us to learn exactly what the text is saying. However, when contradictions within the text emerged, or when the text appeared to contravene common sense or morality, Maimonides employed secularized philosophical interpretations. For example, when the text mentions “God’s hand,” this is a reference to God’s power, His ability to produce effects in the universe.
It’s interesting to note that while there were sporadic attempts to reconcile Judaism with Christianity or Islam, usually by Jewish converts to Islam or Christianity, the above writers’ emphasis was to counter the challenge to faith presented by secular science and philosophy, not competing religions. In fact, when other religions were mentioned, it was nearly always in a pejorative light.
In “Me, Myself & God," one encounters an example of a more modern phenomenon: a Jewish cleric attempting to make Judaism comport with Buddhism. Other examples of this genre include “Letters to a Buddhist Jew” by Gottlieb and Tatz, Boorstein’s “Funny, You Don’t Look Buddhist: On Being a Faithful Jew and a Passionate Buddhist,” “The Jew in the Lotus” by Kamenetz, Lew’s “One God Clapping: The Spiritual Path of a Zen Rabbi” (a reference to the Zen koan referring to the “sound of one hand clapping”), “Opening to You: Zen-Inspired Translations of the Psalms” by the Jewish Zen master Norman Fischer, and "Everything is God: The Radical Path of Nondual Judaism" by Michaelson.
As opposed to the just-mentioned authors, Roth makes absolutely no reference to Buddhism. The only oblique reference is when he speaks of “the dharma (as presented by the teachers of mindfulness)” in the Acknowledgments section tucked away at the back of the book (page 115). Dharma is the Sanskrit word referring to the corpus of Buddhist teachings. Instead of explicitly declaring his reliance on Buddhist teachings, he takes a stealthier approach by emphasizing “non-dual theology”—derived from the Vipassana tradition of Southeast Asian Buddhism. This is disingenuous. Buddhism is a religion. And without the Buddhist religion, there would be no Vipassana meditation tradition, and without the Vipassana tradition, there would be no mindfulness practice. Perhaps those struggling with what to believe as a Jew might accept more readily something not called Buddhism. In any event, a disclaimer would have been appropriate, honest, and useful, by letting people know the religious bases of what they are reading.
In his introduction to the “Guide,” Maimonides states his purpose is: “to enlighten a religious man who has been trained to believe in the truth of our holy Law, who conscientiously fulfills his moral and religious duties, and at the same time has been successful in his philosophical [that is, secular or scientific] studies." For Roth, a successful engagement with his project will result in “observant Jewish atheists” who now “…can fulfill their religious obligation without necessarily addressing the Divine” (page 87). I will leave it to your imagination to visualize these observant Jewish atheists who so wish to fulfill these religious obligations.
In Roth’s view, humans suffer from “the sense of separation that comes from a confused and fragmented view of reality” (page vii). One of the cures for this is the (Buddhist) notion of “no-self,” introduced early (page xii) as an antidote to “the usual sense of 'self'…that creates a profound sense of isolation from other beings….” This is fine and good—a basic Buddhist tenet—but has very little to do with normative Tanakh-based Judaism.
Next, we learn that God is the “Truth of What Is Unfolding Each Moment.” The book of Genesis, is not what it seems to be, but is rather “a profound description of the arising of human consciousness and the sense of separation that comes from it” (page x). The Bible is not sacred “because it was transmitted to us by an external Divinity, but because of the intention that went into writing it” (page xi). After these introductory remarks,, we are now prepared for Part 1 of Roth’s book: “The Dualistic Misperception of Reality.” Again, this would fit in quite well in an introductory text to the non-dual teachings of Buddhism. But it is an allegorical approach to the Hebrew Bible, not its plain meaning. And there is enough in the plain meaning for the serious student to devote him/herself to for the rest of his/her life. Roth’s Buddhist allegorical approach—that we’re reading in the Hebrew Bible the same truths taught by Buddhism—is no different than Christian allegorical interpretations of the text that support Christian teachings.
I’m not qualified to judge the accuracy or validity of Roth’s use of Hasidic figures’ teachings, and his presentation of Kabbalistic metaphysics. However, if they are to be judged by comparison with his understanding of the Biblical text, they are not above suspicion. For example, he refers to the creation of the firmament on the second day as being called “good” by God in Chapter 1 of Genesis (page 12). In fact, the lack of the creation of the firmament being called “good” stands out in the Creation story, and has been the subject of innumerable commentaries. Similarly, he refers to the first account of the creation of humans in Genesis Chapter 1 as being of only one being, “not yet separated by gender” (page 13). This, too, flies in the face of the text, Genesis 1:27, where we read: “male and female He created them.”
I was invited to give a talk to the local TEDx group that meets in a wealthy, liberal community that is also the home to a major Vipassana retreat center. The retreat center was founded and is led by a Jew, and a high percentage of Buddhists in this city are “former” Jews. When I advised the organizer I would like to talk about my theories regarding the biology and metaphysics of Hebrew Bible prophetic experience, he objected, saying that the charge of the lecture series was “scientific.” When I pointed out that the national TED society had recently sponsored a talk by a Buddhist teacher on “compassion” and “mindfulness,” he advised me that “that was different.” That Buddhism isn’t really a religion. Finally, he warned me that because there would be so many Buddhists in the audience (read: Jewish apostates) that a discussion of Judaism “would not go over well.” Jews can talk about and listen to Buddhism, but not Judaism? Our discussion went no further.
I can’t recommend this book for a serious student of either Buddhism or Judaism. That is not to say that training the mind through Buddhist meditation practice is not helpful. On the contrary. Developing a successful meditation practice increases one’s ability to focus, while at the same time productively loosens the chains of associations, and is extraordinarily helpful in working one’s way through the Hebrew Bible and associated commentaries. However, conflating Buddhist theology with that of Judaism results in such a “lite” version of each, that one’s efforts would be much better spent digging through more cogent treatments of one and then the other. By doing so, it would become clear how far apart indeed are these two religions’ approaches to life, mind, the spiritual world, and our relationships. However, if one wants to get a sense of the most recent incarnation of Jewish apologetics, this time to the Eastward learning Jew, Roth's book is a benign case study. In the meantime, I eagerly await the appearance of books by Buddhists whose efforts are dedicated to demonstrating that Buddhism is really Judaism.
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