Category Archives: Buddhism

Alan Lew Z”L – Between Paul Williams and Paul Knitter

Rabbi Alan Lew, (1944- 2009) was the spiritual leader of San Francisco’s Congregation Beth Sholom. He was in the forefront of attempting to cultivate a spirituality bridging Judaism and Buddhism.

Lew’s coming of age as a Jew actually happened as he sought to deepen his Zen Buddhist practice. Disillusioned by the Judaism he’d experienced as a child, Lew was considering becoming ordained as a lay Buddhist priest. But he found himself unable to sew a priestly garment while on a retreat in the 1970s at Tassajara, a Zen center in Carmel Valley. As he meditated on that resistance, Lew said that “there was some sense of conflict between my being ordained as a Buddhist with my being Jewish.” It became a turning point, leading Lew toward Judaism, and ultimately to rabbinical school.

Lew seems to have a Buddhist view toward reality, its root metaphors without the religion itself. Life is a great sea of Being, an endless flow, we are all interconnected, and feel other people’s suffering. He formulates Judaism as mindfulness using the metaphor of “layered grid of awareness” as a bridge idea, both Buddhism and Judaism have a layer grid of awareness. Jewish prayer is about energy exchange and mindfulness.

That we are afloat in a great sea of being, an endless flow of becoming in which we are connected to all beings.” (This is Real, 16)
We die to the world every time we breathe out, and every time we breathe in, every time our breath returns to us of its own accord, we are reborn, and the world rises up into being again. (Ibid, 17)

Every spiritual tradition I am aware of speaks of a kind of layered mindfulness, a sensibility that works up and out of the body, to the heart and then to the mind and then finally to the soul. The Buddhist sutra On Mindfulness describes this kind of layered grid of awareness, and the Kabala, the Jewish mystical tradition, speaks of it too. According to the Kabala, we start out with our awareness in Asiyah – the world of physicality, the world of the body, our most immediately accessible reality. Then we become aware of the heart, yetzirah – the world of formation or emotion, that shadowy world between conception and its realization in material form. From there we move on to the world of pure intellect, Briyah, or creation, and then to Atzilut, the realm of pure spiritual emanation. (Ibid, 190)

I would visualize the words as an energy exchange – the words going up to God and God’s attention coming down. Prayer began bringing me to the same place my Zen practice had taken me… Before I prayed, I would study, in a prayer shawl and teffilin, sitting in half-lotus (One God Clapping, 154)

So yoga and directed meditation became part of the practice I offered at my synagogue. The meditation group changed the whole tenor of the Friday night minyan. Suddenly the service had great density and feeling… My goal was to help Jews deepen their Jewish practice with Buddhist-style meditation techniques, (Ibid 287)
Meditation and Jewish practice lead us to experience the oneness of all beings. We are all connected; each of us is created in the divine image, and other people’s suffering is our own. (Ibid 296)
But the first noble truth is that everything is suffering, and both Judaism and Buddhism insist that the only appropriate response to this suffering is to turn toward it, to attend to it. Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, is “The Hearer of the Cries of the World,” and the Torah God is repeatedly described as hearing the cries of the oppressed. (Ibid 297)

I am used to the critique that Bu-Jews remove the religion from Buddhism and only leave the meditation However, I found in one review of Lew compare him unfavorably with Paul Williams, The Unexpected Way. So I read the latter work. Williams was a trained professor of Buddhism, familiar with the languages and the religion of Buddhism, who converted to Catholicism later in life. Williams study of Buddhism lead him to reject a religion without a theistic God, revelation, redemption, reward, and providence. He wrote a coherent, rational, and theological critique of Buddhism from a catholic point of view. The book was not one of those bad books for Jewish outreach kiruv that know neither Buddhism nor Judaism, and have little rationalism. This was a defense of theistic religion. Reading Lew in light of Williams, one is struck by the lack of any engagement with the theology of Judaism or Buddhism, beyond the metaphors. Lew comes off as more pragmatic than grasping the path of enlightenment, in either tradition. Or here is the debate in another context:

Rabbi LEW: It’s perfectly all right to use elements of one practice to nourish another, but you have to have a sense of what your central practice is, and you have to have integrity about following that path.
Nathan Katz practiced Buddhism for 15 years, and thinks there are irreconcilable differences between the two religions.
Professor NATHAN KATZ: I would say the fundamental difference between the two traditions is one is theistic and one is not. And even if you take the most esoteric, Judaic concepts of God, they still don’t reconcile with the Buddhist criticism of all concepts of God.

On the other hand, I just read Paul Knitter’s Without Buddha I Could Not Be A Christian. Knitter as a progressive catholic, ex-priest, boldly proclaims himself a syncretic who follows two religions. Knitter describes how his seminary students see it as adultery. Buddhism lets him give up the traditional categories of God, religious language, and revelation. The book harvests the last quarter century of American appreciation for Buddhism as a contribution for religion. Alan Lew avoided Buddha, Buddhist ritual, and Buddhist holidays and created what he called “Buddhist style” practices for import into Judaism. Knitter is not satisfied with Buddhist style and feels that accepting refuge in the Dharma does not conflict with being a Catholic.

Are there other solutions for Judaism? Are there other places to make the division between Judaism and Buddhism? For example, one of the sometimes readers of this blog who lives a haredi life in Brooklyn wants to write a book on non-dual Judaism from the sources of Judaism- Chabad, Rav Nahman, Nefesh HaHayyim, and Ramak. This would directly present Jewish thought, in a way that Lew does not. But at the same time, it would not reject the insights of seeing oneself in the Buddhist mirror. A Jewish theist who knows Kabbalah may not have to throw out the best that they see reflected elsewhere. Any thoughts?

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

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Shlomo Pines and Yoga

I just discovered that there is a website and society dedicated to the memory of Professor Shlomo Pines of The Hebrew University. Pines is popularly associated with his translation of Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed, but for scholars he is known for his seminal articles on almost everything. As a polyglot he had an uncanny ability to find kabbalah in Church Fathers, show that Judeo-Christians lasted for many more centuries than we thought, explain the atominism in Gaonic writings, find Ismaeli and Shiite influence on Halevi, contextualize Maimonides in the thought of Farabi and Ibn Bajja, find Hinduism in Arabic texts, and show how scholastics used Jewish thought.

Ever year they have a guest speaker in his honor. This year’s lecture in his honor is Prof. Jean-Luc Marion (of the French Academy, The University of Paris-Sorbonne and the University of Chicago) will be our next lecturer for the Shlomo Pines annual lecture at the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. He will speak on “Saint-Augustine and the Naming of God – idipsum”
The lecture will be held on March 11, 2010 at 18:30 at the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.
It will be followed by a seminar on Friday, 12 March from 10:00 to 12:00 at the Belgium House, Givat Ram, the Hebrew University.
You missed the lecture but try and catch the seminar. Marion is known for bringing God back into phenomenology.

The website has four articles about the life and thought of Shlomo Pines well worth reading

It also has a few articles of the dozens that Pines wrote available as pdf’s. It seems they started this project and then left off. But the articles that the web site does have up are his four articles that contain transcriptions and analysis of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras as available in their Arabic translation. Also available are articles on the use of Indian and Buddhist thought in the Kalam

These articles show that Jews in Muslim lands knew about various aspects of Indian religions through the Arabic (and Persian) mediators. The earliest Muslim scholar to show sustained interest in Indian religious and philosophical texts was the great scientist and philosopher al-Biruni (973-1048). He translated a number of Sanskrit works into Arabic (including selections from Patañjali’s Yogasūtras and the Bhagavad-Gita) in connection with his encyclopedic treatise on India. Al-Biruni did not translate the names of foreign deities, nor did he incorporate other gods into his own theology. Like those who translated polytheistic Greek texts into Arabic, al-Biruni rendered the Sanskrit gods (deva) with the Arabic terms for angels (malā’ikah) or spiritual beings (rūhāniyyāt), a theological shift aiding in the acceptance of Indian texts. Well- versed Jewish readers would have been acquainted with these translations and would have been thereby shielded from the foreign god implications of the original texts. These texts created a universal commonality since they understood Indian religions as monotheistic. In a similar manner, Jakata tales and the life of the Buddha tales became the various Hebrew collections of tales we know as the King and the Ascetic.

My New Book Just Came Out-Judaism and Other Religions

My book Judaism and Other Religions is to be officially released on March 2nd by Palgrave-Macmillan. But it is already available in the warehouse and available for purchase, Be the first one on your block to own one. Buy it now:

Click here to buy it at Amazon

Editorial Reviews

“This wide-ranging but carefully organized collection of Jewish thought about other religions constitutes an indispensable resource for Jews and non-Jews engaged in interreligious relations today and for Jews seeking to develop a text-based contemporary Jewish theology of religions for our global world. Brill accompanies his lucid presentations of each approach with insightful critiques that will help guide their contemporary applications.”—Ruth Langer, Associate Professor of Jewish Studies, Theology Department Associate Director, Center for Christian-Jewish Learning, Boston College

“Serious Jewish engagement with other religions has substantially deepened and widened in recent years, both stimulating and responding to an increasing interest in Judaism from within the other world religions. Brill’s book provides essential access to the classical sources within the Jewish tradition relevant to this encounter.”—Rabbi Dr. David Rosen, International Director of Interreligious Affairs, AJC

“This is an excellent work: reflective, engaging, well-written, and perhaps most important—timely. Brill knows both the theoretical foundations for interreligious dialogue and rabbinic approaches to ‘other religions.’ It is a fine piece of scholarship, and it is also creative in bringing together three fields of discourse in a way they have not before been aligned. It blends both traditional and modern thinking about interreligious dialogue, and it analyzes these materials convincingly.”—Nathan Katz, Professor of Religious Studies, Florida International University

Product Description

With insight and scholarship, Alan Brill crisply outlines the traditional Jewish approaches to other religions for an age of globalization. He provides a fresh perspective on Biblical and Rabbinic texts, offering new ways of thinking about other faiths. In the majority of volume, he develops the categories of theology of religions for Jewish texts. He arranges the texts according classification widely used in interfaith work: inclusivist, exclusivist, universalist, and pluralist.

Judaism and Other Religions is essential for a Jewish theological understanding of the various issues in encounters with other religions. With passion and clarity, Brill argues that in today’s world of strong religious passions and intolerance, it is necessary to go beyond secular tolerance toward moderate and mediating religious positions.

Click here to buy it at Amazon

There is a forthcoming sequel volume Judaism and World Religions, which will be available at the end of 2010.

Aleksandrov, Rav Kook, Buddhism, and Gentile Religion

I subscribe to the VBM shiur by Tamir Granot on the letters of Rav Kook. Currently, the discussion is a letter of Rav Kook to Shmuel Aleksandrov on the topic of modern philosophy and the wisdom of other religions. The shiur is entirely from Rav Kook’s perspective, I want to add a little background on Alexandrov and the give Alexandrov’s perspective.

The initial letter from him is in Samuel Alexandrov, Mikhteve meḥḳar u-viḳoret: al devar ha-Yahadut ṿeha-rabanut ba-zeman ha-aḥaron (Yerushalaim: M. ṿe-G. Aleksandrov 1931). The first volume of Mikhteve Mehkar from 1906 is readily available, but the 1931 second volume is missing from JTSA and YU, rumored by a catalog to be at Penn and seems to only really exist in the US at Harvard. However, it is available in several copies at JNUL. Most of the following is from Alexandrov’s letter.

Rabbi Shmuel Aleksandrov (d. 1941) had been a close friend of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook in Volozhin, where they both studied. Unlike Kook, Aleksandrov never left Russia, and became a rabbi in Bobruisk. Until his death at the hands of the Germans in 1941, Aleksandrov was a spiritual leader to many rabbis, particularly during the severe religious persecutions of the 1920s and ’30s in the USSR.

Aleksandrov propounded a grand theory of the relationship between Jews and Gentiles, containing deep roots in the Kabbalah and Maharal. According to Aleksandrov, of the two trees in the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge, the former is an exclusively Jewish possession, i.e. Torah, while the Tree of Knowledge belongs to the Gentiles. Among its fruits are scientific-technical progress, philosophy, and art. Nevertheless, there exists a mystical exchange of the fruits of both trees. By giving to the world the fruits of the Tree of Life, Jews consecrate the Gentile world, while simultaneously Jews receive from the Gentiles the fruits of vital knowledge and ideas.

Among these ideas of the nations, Alexandrov especially seeks to find a place for the wisdom learned from other religions, specifically the idea of Buddhist nothingness. Aleksandrov claimed that one universal truth forms the basis of all religions; hence, the Buddhist concept of nirvana and Hasidic concept of ayin point to the same concept in different words. He made this assertion based not on the study of texts nor from encountering Buddhists, but rather from the conceptualizations of religion found in the writings of Schelling and Schopenhauer.

Alexandrov postulates a universal religion given by Moses and reiterated by Plato,that overcomes the abstract intellect knowledge of contemporary knowledge by incorporating emotional and psychological knowledge, and offering individual salvation.

Aleksandrov reinterprets the thought of his forefather the Maharal to suggest a complementary movement between Israel and the nations, rather than an antagonistic struggle. For Alexandrov, the dialectic of Israel and the nations, presented by Maharal, will be overcome at the end of days when all national differences will be abolished by the coming of the Messiah.

Rabbi Kook found this approach to concede too much to universalism. Rav Kook responded to Aleksandrov’s universal claims with a inclusivist claim that all truth is from Judaism, and in other places states that Jews can elevate the light in other faiths. Here, Rav Kook presents his view of God as not the monotheism of the philosophers, rather the light, the spectrum of colors, and Edenic watering of the Zohar. Rav Kook accentuates the Schopenhauer pessimism of Buddhism and states that even Buddhists want to get beyond the pessimism of this world. (Google Schopenhauer and Buddhism for more details). I don’t have a scan of Alexandrov in my computer but I will cite Rav Kook as in the VBM shuir and another paragraph from latter in the same letter. He writes:

Monotheism is a fabrication of gentiles, an imprecise translation, a sort of self-contradictory comprehensible infinity, and therefore can lead to nothing. This is not the source of the name of the God of Israel, the infinite, incomprehensible root of all existence, because He is the existence of the world who can be comprehended and spoken of only through the nuances of colors through many deeds and abundant peace, his profusion of love and courage. Israel proclaims, “This is my God and I will adore Him,” and can see these [colors], not the barren wilderness of Islamic monotheism, nor Buddhism’s negation, only the highest existence which brings joy to all and gives life to everything, revealed through the subjective revelation of all hearts who seek and comprehend him.

As for the reality of nothingness in the statements of those of Buddhist leanings, it seems that they mean the reality of the force which aspires to negate and nullify absolutely…Jewish consciousness, however, in the goodness of God’s knowledge, brings about a recognition of the absolute reality. …Thus we find that even this contradiction between Buddhism and Judaism is not absolute opposites, because reality as viewed without God is everywhere evil and bitter, and in its midst lies the longing for absolute negation, which will in the end be fulfilled.

Aleksandrov had observed that Jews throughout history acquired knowledge from the wisdom all of nations during the exile, and claimed that contemporary Jews can continue this process through study of Buddhism and other religions. Rav Kook, on the other hand, found all of religion in Judaism, minimizing any need to study other religions.

This debate played itself out in their differing concepts of religion. For Aleksandrov, an infinite inner core of the Divine resides behind the particular Jewish commandments; the current versions express the infinite by limiting it to concrete forms. In contrast, for Rav Kook, the commandments in their concrete particular forms contain an infinite essence that needs to be brought into daily life.
For Aleksandrov, Judaism and its commandments are themselves limits on the infinite Divine, while for Rav Kook the commandments are the very conduits of the infinite.

Once we move beyond the 19th century German idealism of the debate – what value does this debate hold for today? Any Thoughts?
On the subject of Buddhism and Judaism, here was one of my very first posts on this blog – The first Jewish reference to the Dalai Lama.

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

Jewish Meditation 1995-2005

Here is an account from The Forward that parallels what I have seen in the field. In the early and mid nineties there was a great desire for the technical aspects of meditation and Jewish meditation. Then, after only 5 years it started broadening into all forms of spirituality especially musical forms and emotional healing. And finally right before our eyes, it all stops around 2005. People started coming to a class listed as Jewish meditation and assumed that it has something to do with guitars, bongos and chanting. In 1995, people wanted meditation and came with Zen or Vipasssana backgrounds and then flash it was gone by 2005, leaving revivalism in its wake.

Even the local Buddhist center here in NJ, gave daily and weekly meditation classes in 2000 and now only offers a once a month introduction to Happiness, saving any serious meditation instruction for biannual retreats.

Chochmat HaLev came to life in the 1990s… One of these teachers, Rabbi Avram Davis, proposed creating a Jewish meditation center that could be a community resource…. Chochmat HaLev was launched, first as a series of classes in 1992 to 1993, and then as a nonprofit organization in 1995… In focusing on Jewish meditation, Gefen and Davis were at the forefront of a wave of interest in training a generation of Jewish “spiritual leaders,” who could bring meditation to their own congregations and lead meditation retreats and workshops for nonaffiliated Jews. So in addition to holding its own retreats and workshops, Chochmat pioneered a year-long leadership program with an initial cohort of 40 students.

Something happened on the communal meditation cushion, however. Joined by their interest in Jewish spirituality, the initial group felt a desire to pray together — a development that took Gefen by surprise. Davis, however, had thought of offering services from the beginning, because for him, Jewish meditation could exist only as part of a larger practice.

From the start, Davis led Chochmat’s services, distinguished by the constant thrum of a six-piece band composed of guitar, bass, drum set, keyboards and vocalists, its musical direction owed in equal parts to Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, American rock and Moroccan beats. During a typical service, continuing today, participants dance in the aisles, clap, stomp their feet and sway with hands in the air, in an atmosphere most reminiscent of evangelical rapture

From 2000 to 2005, Chochmat HaLev functioned much like a cross between an institute for Jewish spirituality and an independent minyan.  Holding these two very different organizations together was a tight-knit, supportive community.

The year 2005 marked a crisis for Chochmat. The meditation school had essentially vanished. Aside from one year-long distance-learning program, the school was not offering more classes than an active synagogue. And because of its regular religious services, Chochmat was no longer seen as a non-denominational resource center: Its original mission was gone.

In 2005, the Chochmat board decided to become a functioning synagogue, and Avram Davis chose to leave.

Full version

Now Jewish meditation is once again for the few.People still do visualizations – part motivational part Neo-hasidic as a way to get psyched or as a means of bringing a moment of silence or a visualization into a regular service.  People are very sympathetic, “lets do it for a few minutes or a mini-course” and then let’s move on.

More on the year 2000 from the same author.

The year 2000 would see the establishment of the New York-based Institute of Jewish Spirituality, a Jewish meditation center run by Rabbi Sheila Pelz Weinberg; Makor Or, a San Francisco-based center founded by Rabbi Alan Lew (z’’l) and Norman Fischer; as well as a new emphasis on meditation at Elat Chayyim under Rabbi Jeff Roth and a burst of books on the topic (among them books by Gefen and Davis).

Ten years ago there was a meditation moment.

UPDATE – see the detailed rundown by Len Moskowitz in the Comments section. The comment shows that there is no diminution.
Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

Many Americans Mix Multiple Faiths: Eastern & New Age Beliefs Widespread

Last week, the Pew Forum has put out a report on how Americans believe in many contradictory things. Many Americans “Mix Multiple Faiths and that Eastern, New Age Beliefs Widespread”

Some 24 percent of U.S. adults surveyed (including 22 percent of those who identified themselves as Christians) say they believe in reincarnation — that people will be reborn in this world again and again. Other results of the Pew Research Center survey:

* Belief in Astrology: 25 percent
* Seen or felt a ghost: Nearly 20 percent
* Consulted a fortuneteller or a psychic: 15 percent

“The religious beliefs and practices of Americans do not fit neatly into conventional categories,” Pew analysts concluded. “Large numbers of Americans engage in multiple religious practices, mixing elements of diverse traditions. Many say they attend worship services of more than one faith or denomination — even when they are not traveling or going to special events like weddings and funerals. Many also blend Christianity with Eastern or New Age beliefs such as reincarnation, astrology and the presence of spiritual energy in physical objects.”

Nearly half (49 percent) said they have had a religious or mystical experience, defined as a “moment of sudden religious insight or awakening.”

Most this applies in equal percent, if not greater, to the Modern Orthodox community. There are several of us who have watched the local community list serve for several years and have noted the ever increasing magic and superstition.

To return to the discussion of rationality from below. If someone calls the Modern Orthodox community rational and the Yeshiva world superstitious then does it correspond to the facts? On one hand it does not since the modern community displays all the beliefs of the Pew Report. Are they saying they want to be rational and rather than engaging in rationality they say other are others are superstitious?  Or is it that modern Orthodox has reached a point where they have a rational public Judaism but a magical superstitious private life. Meaning that to treat Torah as irrational is no good, but to live a new age life is OK. Or is it just a denial of what people actually think?

Maimonides would not approve of any of these beliefs but he was willing to write off the masses or at least seek to change them minimally by fiat. But what is this rationality of modern orthodoxy that does not involve rational training. It is like the works of Chassidus that describe dvekus as a way to warm people’s hearts even if they are not having such an experience. (This is a whole Michel Certeau  discussion to be had here)

One way of looking at this is to return to the discussion of rationality of the 1970’s of Wilson-Barnes-Winch. who used the African Azande tribe described by EE Pritchard as their model. The Azande tribe knew that trees fall for natural causes but if someone is hurt it had to be witchcraft , this way they can speak of theodicy and meaning. But this case of the tribe of the Modern Orthodox is a bit tougher to unravel.. What is the first order causality and what is second order? Do they live in the world of their secular professions and suburban lives and then make a leap into a second order world of Torah and halakhah in order to make meaning in life and give order to a secular existence? Or do they live in the rational world of their professions and have a halakhah equally secular of the supernatural so they find solace in the supernatural, new age, and superstitious beliefs? Is Torah their primary cosmology or are the beliefs of the Pew study their cosmology? Do they get meaning that transcends their rationality from Torah or from superstition?

An alternate way to explain things might be to compare the orthodox community to religion in China, where Daoism, Confucianism and Buddhism exist simultaneously.  As Rav Lichtenstein, and others, have noted, halakhah functions as a proper order of life, providing education, hierarchy, values, and respect similar to Confucianism. Here is a possible extension after the Pew study, the superstition and new age functions like Daoism- it provided “scientific” explanations of sickness, of power and of magic.. People live surrounding themselves with forms of Daoism like Fung Shui and Chinese medicine. And finally, only some people, those more monastic and meditative, seek the greater explanatory force of Buddhism. So too here, while everyone does the ordered life of halakhah, the Jewish magic and new age is ever present in the community, while only some people go in for either philosophy or spirituality, akin to Buddhism, with their greater explanatory power but their greater removal from ordinary life.

A Post-Secular Jewish Dharma Bum

I have a review in this week’s Forward. My original title was the one on this blog post.

Everything Is God: The Path of Nondual Judaism By Jay Michaelson

Jay Michaelson is well known to readers of the Forward for his column, “The Polymath,” a title well chosen to mitigate the frequent changes in his byline, which varied from dot-com software designer, to doctoral student in Jewish mysticism, to lawyer, to environmentalist, to poet, to GBLT activist. As one of the founders of the journal Zeek, Michaelson was one of the instrumental creators of the new Jewish culture — the hip mixture of ironic and post-ironic aesthetic gestures — which moved Jewish culture beyond baby boomer concerns. Michaelson’s theology is as diverse as his former bylines and reflects the same shift to the values of the new Jewish culture.

In this new book, “Everything Is God: The Path of Nondual Judaism,” Michaelson’s regular stream of post-secular book reviews provided the framework to work out his own popular theology, and the book reflects that history, capturing his spiritual insights in edgy 1,000-word bursts.

Skipping to the ending

Nevertheless, Michaelson does not start his reader on the long journey of transformation, nor does the book speak from a point of nonduality, as the Hasidic or Eastern religious works do. Instead, we listen to his breakneck embrace of the nondual world: Talking breathlessly about meditation, creating myriad perspectives on oneness and meeting everyone there is to meet upon the path.

The book reminds me most of the 1960s wandering independent polymath Alan Watts — an earlier articulate proponent of Asian philosophies of nonduality. Watts scandalized his straight-laced Western audience by preaching an eclectic nonduality outside of organized religion; however, Watts is more famous for antagonizing the world’s leading Zen teachers by claiming that Zen has little to do with sitting but is in fact a path of nonduality justifying “sheer caprice in art, literature, and life” — a spirituality offering a radical new worldview articulated in jazz rhythms rather than in the contemplative flavor of Zen. Like Watts, Michaelson sometimes makes grand pronouncements based entirely on his own experience.

Read the entire review here

Here was my original penultimate paragraph that was removed to keep to the word count and to remain focused on the book under review.

As I once waited backstage, before appearing on a Jewish cable TV show to discuss Judaism and Buddhism, a senior Orthodox rabbi from a staid upper crust synagogue, seeking to make conversation on my topic, confided to me how he read Alan Watts as a youth and gained many lessons that stuck with him through out life. The Rabbi never again dabbled in any other Asian thought or non-dualistic thinking, but the brief exposure to Watt’s Beat-Zen offered many lifelong tools for thought.

Most of the book is available online as articles at Zeek, The Forward, Jewcy, Reality Sandwitch.