“All mystics speak the same language, for they come from the same country,” declares Rabbi Shmuel Braun. There is a mystic reality greater than any religion. This is the position of perennialism or perennial wisdom, a perspective in spirituality that views all of the world’s religious traditions as sharing a single core or origin from which all doctrine has grown.
Rabbi Shmuel Braun is a Chabad educated rabbi who has been teaching Chassidus around the NY-NJ area. In this video, he is having a conversation with Ajahn Sona, abbot of the Birken Forest Buddhist Monastery. Braun is, by his own admission, a perrennialist. He states that all of the world’s religions are about seeking the core of religion the oneness and non-duality of reality.
Rabbi Braun originally studied at Ner Israel Rabbinical College and Brisk Yeshiva in Jerusalem eventually found his spiritual home in Chabad. Now as a Modern Orthodox Chassidic, he looks to wider religious horizons including Buddhism.
In this sweet discussion with the Buddhist Abbot, Rabbi Braun does not actually discuss Buddhism or any commonalities of faith. Rather, he focuses the discussion on the realm where all religions are the same. He calls this the realm of Pre-Faith, with explicit Heschel influence. “We are all united in silence.” “We are all the same inside.” “Language is confining.” “God is beyond language.” For him, there is no name for God, all the names of God are just human attempts to speak of God.
Since God is beyond language and reason, the way to God is by mean of meditation. Judaism is about practice of the mizvot. We do mizvot to bring the infinite divine into our world. But also a reaching up to the infinite, the eyn sof. The words “boundless” and “infinite” are the same words used to describe Buddhist Nirvana showing their commonality. Buddhism is just this universal truth. Braun generally sounds more Vedanta than Buddhist. God is not a being or an existant, rather God is existence itself.
In the Second Temple period, according to Braun, everyone meditated but the techniques were lost due to the Anti-Semitic persecution of exile. But we have tefillah to guide us; we should treat prayer as meditative. But we were not let with clear instructions. He knew of the writings of the Piesetzna Rebbe on stilling the mind, but how does one connect to it? He found the answer in classes by Rabbi Dovid Weiss, who gives classes in Israel on Vipassana for Orthodox Jews. Weiss openly labels his class as Vipassana and even has approbations from Hardal rabbis. (see Rabbi Weiss’s interview with Tomer Persico.) Weiss’s classes turned him onto meditation.
Personally, I am not a perennialist, but this is still a sweet video. Forty years ago, these positions of Buddhist –Jewish encounter would have been seen as part of Jewish Renewal, influenced by Reb Zalman, or really pushing the traditional envelope. See for example, Harold Heifetz, Zen and Hasidism : The Similarities between Two Spiritual Disciplines (1978) or even Harold Kasimow’s Beside Still Waters: Jews, Christians, and the Way of the Buddha (2003). Now, it has made itself at home even in the Haredi world. Tomer Persico in his various articles has shown the influence of Buddhist meditation on diverse Haredi rabbis, including Rabbi Erez Moshe Doron, Rabbi Avraham Tzvi Kluger, Rabbi Itchie Mayer Morgenstern, and the aforementioned Rabbi Dovid Weiss. I dealt with Rabbi Avraham Yurovitch,
Braun stresses that many Jews are attracted to Buddhism, and we need to allow Jews (he adds- “and all people”) to feel God. Therefore, we need to bring some of the Buddhist teachings to help the contemporary Jew. Braun is one of at least a half dozen NY-NJ Chabad trained figures seeking a following for their spirituality teachings. The others give classes, write books, make podcasts and have tisches. So too Braun, who is seeking to found an organization called SOUL- Seekers of Unity and Love – to be beyond religion and teach the ineffable source of all religions – the mystery and transcendence beyond anything we can speak or articulate. We wish him mazal and auspicious good fortune.