Today I finished reading This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared. It was… an unusual book, attempting to blend Judaism and, I think, Buddhism. I rarely know what to make of such attempts; on the one level I appreciate I appreciate their ecumenicism. I think that two things are vital to keeping this world going: 1. Religion; 2. Mutual respect within and between religions. I honestly have no problem with a person for whom these disparate elements gel. Yet I cannot honestly understand how they make sense together.
However, I will mention one of the few attempts at Buddhist outreach to other religions in general (not just Judaism in particular) when I found great personal meaning at the monk’s attempt to explain his faith to mine. I read Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation and did find one insight that has kind of stuck with me: According to Hanh, a person must embrace the seeds of suffering in order to turn them into joy. I find this idea emblematic to an underplayed aspect of Judaism: redemptive suffering, both on the part of the Messiah (for those who believe) or the Jewish people (for those with a more liberal understanding). My own theory is that while not all great leaders die like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King and George Bell (who visited Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a supporter of the “Confessing Church” and who ploughed the seeds of the World Council of Churches), it is often the case expressed by Martin Luther King about Moses, “I can see the Promised Land,” that land they envisaged, just out of reach. The fact that their level of holiness is impossible for most of us should not depress us: we should be inspired by their efforts in order to further our own. And I am sure there are advocates of the Buddha or Krishna who realize sainthood in their practicing the faith.
I must confess here that though I have tried, I have never successfully meditated. Despite this, reading Hanh has helped me in my prayers: I have come closer to God by praying to God about personal hurts and disappointments as much as joys and successes. If mere contemplation of past hurts with feelings of love and acceptance–and I know that’s a little mushy–than the belief that the feelings resulting is God’s answer is helpful to my faith. Don’t get me wrong: I believe in the works aspect of my faith. For Jews, it is practicing of Judaism that makes a good Jew. Don’t get me wrong. I believe in faith, too. Yet I cannot believe that faith which is unenforced by works will not simply die of grief.