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On one of my trips to India a few years later, I visited Janaki in her remote Himalayan retreat.
She met me dressed in an ochre sari, wearing her prayer beads.
Not one of them mentioned the possibility that perhaps -- just perhaps -- they had never learned Torah in the deep way they had learned Buddhism or Hinduism.
In admitting that his "complaints" were partly due to his own ignorance, David Gottlieb opened the way for a dialogue with a rabbi that was dazzling in its illumination.
Many years ago, I heard a tape of a panel discussion by Ram Das, Jack Kornfield, and a couple other luminaries of Eastern spirituality in America addressing a question that went something like, "Why don't we relate to Judaism?
" Their discussion focused solely on their negative experiences growing up Jewish.
After years of studying and practicing Buddhism at a Zen center near Chicago, he received lay ordination as a Zen Buddhist in 2002.
"I am a Zen Jew struggling to resolve these two identities," he writes.
Since the affinity of Jews for Eastern paths is a push-pull dynamic of attraction to the East accompanied by aversion towards many aspects of what they consider to be Judaism, David sought answers for the issues that turned him off about Judaism.
Yet, I sometimes felt like a wife who divorces her first husband because he never brought home a paycheck and marries a second husband who supports her in grand style only to feel, whenever she encounters her first husband, that, unaccountably, she still loves him.
For many Jews in Eastern paths, their dual identity remains a low-grade ambivalence. David Gottlieb, who grew up Reform, is a writer who has worked in theater and public relations.
In time, I came to see certain elements of Buddhist meditation as extremely helpful to me personally, but the adoption of Buddhism as a religion to be a source of internal and external division." David's religious conflict was exacerbated by his wife Galit, who had a strong Jewish identity and education.
Soon after starting to meditate at the Zen Center, David brought Galit to see the center and to meet his teacher, a female Zen priest. "Well," my meditation teacher says, "the statues of the Buddha are there as reminders of the essence of what we call 'Buddha Nature.' They represent a certain kind of centered, aware, solid presence that we each have and can cultivate within ourselves." "In my religion," my wife says acidly, "we call that idol worship.Other than her light complexion, she was indistinguishable from the myriad of saddhus (spiritual renunciates) wandering around India. When my eyes adjusted to the darkness, the first thing I saw, prominently displayed on the wall of the cave, was a hand- printed poster in Hebrew with God's ineffable name surrounded by Hebrew Scriptural passages. Amidst all the trappings of a highly committed Hindu practitioner, hidden in the deepest recesses, was a cherished Jewish identity.This incongruous juxtaposition abides in the hearts of many Jews who follow Eastern spiritual paths.I am complicated with Judaism." During my own 15 years as a monastic member of a Hindu ashram, I experienced a similar ambivalence.