Today a powerful spiritual hunger is arising as many seek comfort, support and meaning in a world that has spun out of control. There are endless paths to take, yet most have little knowledge of the ways in which Jewish and Zen practice can provide guidance, joy, strength, balance, and how they can heal your life. As we look deeper we discover what these practices actually are and how they enhance, enrich and illuminate one another.
In a sense, Judaism and Zen represent two opposite ends of a continuum: Zen is based upon radical freedom, individuality, being in the present and non-attachment. Judaism comes rooted in the family relationships, love, prayer to a Higher power, and the injunction to hold on and remember. A Jewish heart is warm, giving, human, devoted to family and friends, and filled with longing for the well being of all. A Zen eye is fresh, direct, spontaneous, planted in the present moment. It is unencumbered by ideas, beliefs, tradition, hopes or expectations. These practices are like two wings of a bird: both are needed if we are to be able to fly.
It is too easy to lose sight of the true purpose of any practice. Even with the best intentions, blind obedience, obsession, and group pressure to conform can and do lead many astray. Anger, judgmentalness, and domination can easily replace the kindness, generosity, and wisdom that we all long for. The practice of both Zen and Judaism together, is a protection against this. It creates a balance, clears away the weeds and allows your life to bloom.
The practice of zazen (Zen meditation) creates an atmosphere of love, acceptance, respect, clarity, kindness. Zazen reaches right into the core of who you are and brings forth that which is healthy, sincere, creative and heals loneliness and separation.
As we sit in zazen, concentration grows, stray thoughts lessen, defensiveness dissolves, the heart opens. In Jewish practice, prayer is central. We turn many times a day to the Source, offer blessings, ask for guidance and give thanks and praise. Zen not only illuminates Jewish prayer and teachings, but provides a deeper experience of them. It focuses the mind and heart, allows you to gather your scattered energy and be in touch with your essential self.
In many ways Zen meditation, or zazen, seems to be the opposite of Jewish prayer. During zazen you do not pray for help at all. You sit, back straight, legs crossed, eyes down, facing the wall. You do not speak, reach out, touch, or listen to the troubles of others. Certainly, you do not offer consolation or turn to others for support. In fact, what you thought of as support is taken away. If someone is having trouble on the cushion, experiencing sorrow or pain, you do not interfere. Their experience is precious and they are now being given the opportunity to face it fully. The support you offer is silent and profound, just sitting strongly besides them, facing your own experience, and not moving.
Ultimately, you cannot taste the real fruits of a practice until and unless you take some of it on and apply it in your life. Everyone should carefully observe what way his heart draws him to and then choose this way with all his strength. If you fall into guilt, pressure or condemnation of yourself or anyone else, you have lost the purpose of both practices, which is to bless, awaken and heal the entire world. As you practice daily, your life becomes rooted and filled with insight and joy.