Judaism via Vipassana
Jerusalem Post; 6/7/2002;
Headline: Judaism via Vipassana
Byline: Ruth Mason
Friday, June 7, 2002 -- Stephen
Fulder was a young Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1975 when the British
government asked him to lecture for a year in Indian universities.
During that year, he discovered meditation and today he teaches
Vipassana and other Buddhist practices throughout Israel.
Ruthie Avidor was a high-school
student in working- class Kiryat Haim in the 1950s when she met
a group of young people who were also searching for meaning in
life - and felt she had finally found what she was looking for.
The group eventually founded Yodfat, a moshav in Galilee, and
entered the Fourth Way, a spiritual path founded by G.I. Gurdjieff.
Dani Davidi had just been
discharged from an elite army unit in 1980 when a high-school
friend told him she had encountered something interesting. At
first he resisted. Today, he travels the world lecturing about
Emin, a spiritual philosophy whose goal is personal, societal,
and universal development.
Sigal Halperin, a psychologist,
was having relationship difficulties with her partner a few years
ago when she turned to a book a friend had lent her. She wrote
to an address listed in the book, found the help she needed,
and now is a teacher of Pathwork, a way of working on one's self
to expand one's consciousness.
Arie Ben-David had journeyed
to India and Nepal in 1979 after his discharge from the the General
Staff Reconnaissance Unit and a stint of working to earn money.
During his travels, he experienced a dimension of reality beyond
the physical. When he returned to Israel, a friend suggested
he read the works of Rudolf Steiner, founder of the "spiritual
science" of anthroposophy. The books gave him a framework
for understanding his experiences. Today he teaches at Jerusalem
Waldorf Teachers' College, which is based on Steiner's teachings.
Fulder, Avidor, Davidi, Halperin,
and Ben-David are just five of the thousands of Israelis who
are committed to some kind of spiritual path outside of - but
not necessarily in conflict with - Judaism. Like many people
throughout the West, Israelis are searching for greater satisfaction
and meaning in life.
Many find what they're looking
for within Jewish tradition. But many others encounter books
or people that introduce them to philosophies and concepts, often
esoteric, that are not attached to a particular religion. Perhaps
ironically, Judaism often becomes more important to people once
they have embarked on a spiritual path of any kind.
"There is a proliferation
of interest and a supermarket of techniques," says Fulder,
55, who immigrated from London 20 years ago, lives in Clil, a
community village in Galilee, and has three grown daughters.
He is also the author of 12 books on herbal medicine. "People
are really interested and curious to know what's out there -
to help them with what's inside."
What's inside tends to reflect
what's outside, and what's outside is often uncertain, overly
materialistic, and lacking connection and direction.
People want answers to deeper,
more eternal questions. Who am I? Why am I here? What is the
purpose of life?
"This kind of searching
became a meaningful phenomenon in Israel at the end of the 1980s,"
says Yoav Ben-Dov, a Tel Aviv University researcher who looks
into the interface between contemporary culture, science, and
mysticism. "We've come back to ourselves a little. The ideal
of science and rationalism as an answer to everything is not
as convincing. People are looking for answers elsewhere."
People on a spiritual path
often follow a structured course of inner work which they hope
will bring them answers to eternal questions. Techniques include
meditation, close observation of oneself, movement, physical
work, expressing old hurts, chanting, and various spiritual exercises.
Just about every spiritual path has or had a teacher, master,
or founder whose wisdom is venerated.
G.I. Gurdjieff, who has groups
of followers here and throughout the world, was an Armenian mystic
and philosopher who spent years traveling in search of ancient,
hidden knowledge. His book, Meetings with Remarkable Men describes
some of what he found.
His basic teaching is that
most people live in a state of waking sleep and that transcending
this state requires specific inner work. Groups, usually attached
to Gurdjieff centers, do this work together with the help of
People work on their thoughts,
feelings, and bodies using exercises and special music and movements
Gurdjieff found in that "hidden knowledge" he sought.
"We had been at Yodfat
about six years and had done important things here with organic
farming, ecology, and living with our Arab neighbors but something
was missing," says Ruthie Avidor, 61.
"Around that time, P.D.
Ouspensky's In Search of the Miraculous [a book describing the
Gurdjieff work] came to Steimatzky's and a few of us started
reading it. We tried to work by ourselves. We didn't realize
you needed to be attached to a school."
Eventually the group at Yodfat,
along with others who had also been affected by Ouspensky's book,
made contact with a Gurdjieff center in France which began sending
"Gurdjieff didn't give
us answers, but he showed how to ask questions," says Avidor,
a grandmother of 11, who has been doing this work for 33 years.
our inner attitude changes as well as our relationship to ourselves
and hence to the world. People who ask existential questions
about life experience a kind of lack. It's important to learn
about that lack. It's hard because when do questions arise? In
time of distress, of war. And then people forget. The trick is
to remember to live with the questions, and to be able to accept
someone else's authority, to become part of a hierarchy. That's
very hard (especially for us Jews - who all have our own opinions)."
Many of Yodfat's second generation
are continuing on the path, Avidor says. While she didn't discuss
her spiritual activities with her kids, they absorbed enough
to become serious searchers themselves.
"This gives me a feeling
of satisfaction," she says. "They are partners in the
Two of her five children have
become religiously observant over the past few years.
Referring to the need to accept
authority and be part of a hierarchy, Avidor says: "In order
to be a master of yourself, you must first learn to be a slave.
It sounds idiotic, but it's true."
Without necessarily using
the word, many spiritual paths have as their premise the idea
that people really are slaves. We act not out of free choice
but from our conditioning. Much of the work required of people
on a spiritual path is self awareness: to observe ourselves deeply
to become cognizant of - and free of - our conditioning.
Freedom is at the heart of
anthroposophy (literally "wisdom of man"), a spiritual
philosophy developed by the Austrian philosopher and scientist
Rudolf Steiner as a result of his attempts to reconcile science
and his own extrasensory experiences.
Israelis often first encounter
Steiner's ideas in one of his 50 books, How to Attain Knowledge
of Higher Worlds, and its methods and exercises for "building
the inner stability, sensitivity, and clarity necessary for a
healthy development," in Arie Ben-David's words.
Steiner wrote that for every
spiritual step he takes forward, a person must take three moral
Ben-David's paintings and
sculptures and his work with his wife Jan Ranck, who directs
the Jerusalem Academy of Eurythmy (a form of movement inspired
by anthroposophy) are informed by Steiner's ideas. He also trains
teachers to work in Israel's four Waldorf schools, which are
based on Steiner's insights into child development. They emphasize
experiential learning and the arts.
"One of the main goals
of our teachers' training is to develop the ability to really
experience and be one with: with a child you meet, a plant you
grow, a bee you see flying to its hive, the color red - which
then leads you to experience yourself differently.
"At anthroposophy's center
is a freely developing human being," says Ben-David. "It's
a path of development that aims to create a healthy integration
between man and the world around him and has inspired practical
initiatives based on spiritual knowledge."
Among these initiatives here,
apart from the schools, are Kfar Raphael, a village in which
small groups of mentally handicapped adults live with regular
families and work in various workshops, and Kibbutz Harduf, well-known
as producers of organic products farmed according to the methods
of biodynamic agriculture, another offshoot of anthroposophy.
The kibbutz also houses a residential home for children from
"What's unique about
anthroposophy is that there are as many paths to it as there
are individuals who walk the path," says Ben-David. "The
idea is not to bring spirituality into small rooms of people
who read books, but into your daily life.
"'Know thyself' is a
phrase that resounds from ancient times," says Ben-David.
"Observe yourself. What are your pains, your fears? The
idea is not to repress them but to gradually transform them so
we can meet the world freely and creatively. There are many ways
to do this within anthroposophy. You can read books and do the
exercises in them; you can work through the arts, through movement,
Like those who teach Kabbala
to the masses, Ben-David says that the spiritual world, which
used to be accessible only to a few, is today is accessible to
everyone who is interested in developing his soul to perceive
Sigal Halperin would agree
with Ben-David. The path she chooses toward greater spirituality
is based on the writings of another Austrian, a Jewish woman
named Eva Pierrakos. Her book, The Pathwork of Self Transformation,
is a series of lectures she delivered which she says were "channeled"
through her by a spiritual entity that calls itself "The
Guide." In 258 lectures, The Guide sets down a way to become
acquainted with and gradually to transform one's "negative"
"The Pathwork says that
the more you are capable of cleaning out internal barriers, like
false beliefs about yourself, incorrect perceptions about life,
inner conflicts that block you, the happier your life will be,"
says Halperin, 37 and the mother of one.
She heard of the Pathwork
through a friend who had encountered it in the US and had taken
an introductory course there. The friend bought every book she
could find on the Pathwork back and when Halperin saw them, "it
was love at first sight."
"I felt such happiness
and curiosity. Just looking at the chapter headings in the table
of contents, I saw there was a connection between the psychological
[she has an M.A. in clinical psychology] and the spiritual. In
a way I'd been looking for this my whole life. There are a lot
of good and interesting ways to develop and search - and everyone
needs to find the one that suits him. This one fits me."
Halperin went on to translate
The Pathwork of Self Transformation into Hebrew and to study
with Pathwork "helpers" in Italy. Eventually a group
formed here that brings in a teacher from Holland for workshops.
Halperin also is working on integrating Pathwork ideas into her
"I like the emphasis
on working on the lower self," she says. "There is
a lower self, a higher self, and our mask. The lower self is
the yet undeveloped part in us that still contains negative emotions,
thoughts, and impulses, such as fear, hate, or cruelty. The higher
self is the divine spark in us, which is part of the universal
intelligence and love that pervades life. The mask is the outermost
layer, with which we cover up our lower selves and often even
our higher selves as a protective shield.
"The task is threefold,"
Halperin explains. "To become aware of the mask so we can
free ourselves of its automatic patterns; to transform the negativity
of the lower self and to get more connected to our higher self.
"My mask is one of being
nice. I was nice to everyone, always. Even if it was not appropriate
to the situation. I wouldn't put boundaries when I needed to;
I couldn't get angry. That was the way I learned to behave as
a child in order to get love. Part of the goal is to become aware
of these automatic patterns, so we can become more authentic
and free to choose more adaptive behaviors.
"People often have a
lot of anger about their childhoods, their parents. When our
parents' love was limited, it hurt us. In the work, you connect
with the anger in you and you express it. These feelings have
energy. If you just sit and talk like in therapy, you understand,
but you don't get the energy of it out. So we yell, we hit pillows.
You feel the energy leaving your body. It took me two-and-a-half
years to be able to do this. I'm a nice person. How could I show
anger? But once I did, I felt surprisingly stronger, more whole."
Halperin says one of the most
moving things in the Pathwork is to see other people doing this
kind of work, to "watch people going to really low places
that in daily life we don't dare go, to give it real expression
and to transform it. I see it as an alchemy of the soul."
Halperin is now translating
Creating Union, the book that brought her to the Pathwork. "Pathwork
says that as you work on connecting and integrating different
parts of yourself, you can connect better with others and you
will feel more connected with the universe - which is what we
all long for."
The universe figures prominently
in Emin as well. "We see personal development as a necessary
stage for fulfilling a higher goal," says Dani Davidi, 44,
a father of two and one of the six world leaders of Emin and
the promoter (usually known as "secretary") of Ma'aleh
Zvia, a Galilee village whose adult residents are all Emin members.
That goal, man's purpose,
is nothing less than to help the development of the universe.
"We think the entire
universe is in a process of continual development and that it's
now in a transition from being automatic and robotic to being
more conscious," Davidi says. "Man is the crown of
creation that helps the universe get to a higher consciousness
by his own conscious development and as a result, the growing
consciousness of the human race.
"The last 150 years have
seen more changes than the past thousands. Why? There is a new
permission from the universe, from God and all of his messengers,
to the human race to move into another evolutionary stage. That's
why we're seeing so much interest in spirituality now."
Just what is personal development?
Davidi sees it as a multilevel process that lasts a lifetime:
getting to the point where we can live according to values we
consciously choose; shrinking the size of the ego so that we
see ourselves in proportion and not as the center of the universe;
working on personal weaknesses to reduce them as much as possible;
and enhancing our human faculties to enrich human life.
A concrete example is to be
able to see a problem from all perspectives and not just our
"The Israeli will always
look at the Arab-Israeli conflict from the Israeli point of view
and the Palestinian from the Palestinian point of view. Neither
will see it from a common perspective or even a higher one,"
he says. "This is true also of personal conflict. We don't
try to understand the other side. If we try to understand the
feelings of the other side, we have a much better chance of solving
Emin teaches that all the
answers are inside oneself. Hence the name Emin which is an anagram
for "in me."
The movement was founded in
London in 1971 by a salesman and seeker who calls himself Leo.
There are 1,700 Emin members in the world, 500 of whom live here.
Members believe that the world
is going through great changes and that many templates are in
the process of changing: families, nations, health, religions,
ecology. Emin members work in groups to discover new templates
through research, study of ancient cultures, and experimentation.
They believe that intuition is our sharpest and most acute tool
and that we need to develop it.
Davidi speaks of the template
of gardening that uses special knowledge of plants and their
influence on people. "Cherry trees will sedate mental activity,"
he offers. "Weeping willows are calming and inspire peace.
We're working on how to use this knowledge to create special
gardens. Ma'aleh Zvia is probably one of the most beautiful villages
you'll ever see. It incorporates color, form, structure, buildings,
gardens, lakes, water canals, special healing gardens."
Davidi stresses that he is
first a Jew, second an Israeli, and third a member of Emin. His
spiritual explorations in Emin led him to study in yeshivot for
Stephen Fulder, the Vipassana
teacher, has become Sabbath observant since finding meditation.
Ruthie Avidor and her fellow
moshavniks built a synagogue and put a lot of energy into celebrating
Is this kind of searching
kosher? While the spokesman for Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yisrael
Meir Lau refused to comment on the phenomenon, other Orthodox
figures, familiar with people who have explored other spiritual
paths, mostly take this kind of searching in their stride.
"People are searching
for spiritual meaning and many of them - especially at the beginning
of the road - are incapable of looking within Judaism because
of the conflict in Israel between the religious and the secular,"
says Rabbi Mordechai Frank, 33, a Braslaver hassid and head of
the Or Torah boys' yeshiva in Jerusalem. Many searchers, especially
those who traveled to India, eventually reach the Braslavers.
"Things are much more
spiritual than we think," he adds. "Why didn't this
happen 50 or 100 years ago? I think it's the beginning of the
fulfillment of the prophecies of the End of Days. The prophet
Amos said that there would be hunger in the land - not a hunger
for bread or a thirst for water but for knowing God.
"Israel will search,
long, feel that something isn't right - and from this will burst
forth the great redemption. We are part of that process."
Frank says he sees the kind
of searching described in this article as a positive phenomenon.
"We know that the moment a person begins to search, he'll
get there," he says. "I know many returnees to Judaism
whose gurus and spiritual teachers told them, 'What are you doing
here? There's a lot more where you come from.' "
Mordechai Gafni, an Orthodox
rabbi and head of Bayit Chadash, a local spiritual community,
says the black-and- white choice of religious or secular with
which Israelis are presented does not satisfy their spiritual
"Israelis are seeking
a new vision indigenous to Israel, deeply Jewish and connected
to mitzvot, yet rooted in love and spirit and not politics,"
he says. "The ability to provide such a narrative will determine
the future of the State of Israel. If Israelis are forced to
look outside Judaism for their primary source of spiritual nourishment
- well, this will be Judaism's greatest failure since the destruction
of the Temple."
Gafni uses the metaphor of
a symphony to describe his position. "Each musician needs
to master his or her own instrument in order to make music,"
he says. "To dabble in other instruments is lovely, to appreciate
the music of the rest of the orchestra is essential. But one
only makes music through one's own unique instrument."
Sarah Schneider, who founded
A Still Small Voice, a correspondence school in classic Jewish
wisdom, traveled her own circuitous spiritual path to Orthodoxy.
"It's not surprising
that Israelis are looking around," she says. "We say
that every Jewish soul experienced the revelation of the Torah
at Sinai. It whet our appetite for spiritual content; we know
how sweet it is. It's in the nature of the Jewish soul. Nothing
else is going to satisfy it."
Schneider says that the power
and the drawback of the Jewish path is that "there aren't
a lot of peak experiences built into it. At a certain level of
search, people are looking for that. We were peak experience
junkies. I think it's a stage in the process. But transformation
that happens during a peak experience doesn't sustain itself.
A person's taste buds become more refined and they start looking
for teachings that penetrate more deeply even though they may
not feel as exciting.
"That's when a lot of
people start exploring their Jewish roots. Jewish practice is
very deep and is able to bring light to the Jewish soul, to touch
certain places there that can't be touched with any other practice.
It's like a glove that fits your hand. No other tool is shaped
to fit that place."
Schneider says she thinks
traditional Judaism is enriched by returnees who come back enhanced
from other spiritual disciplines.
"They bring a newness
that enlivens the traditional Jewish world, a freshness that
enriches us all."
(Box)A partial glossary of
wide-world spiritual paths in Israel
The Fourth Way of G.I. Gurdjieff
Groups meet to work on themselves
in an effort to awaken from the "waking sleep" in which
all humans live, according to this Armenian mystic, and to discover
the true nature of man and the cosmos.
Developed by Austrian philosopher-scientist
Rudolf Steiner who had mystical experiences since childhood.
Teaches that we have different bodies, including non- physical
ones. Has many practical offshoots including Waldorf education,
biodynamic agriculture, medicine, architecture, art, and movement
A psycho-spiritual path based
on a series of lectures from a spirit "guide," channeled
by Eva Pierrakos, wife of John Pierrakos, co-founder with Alexander
Lewin of bio- energetics. Emphasizes work on the "lower
self" in order to attain higher consciousness.
Founded by the Javanese, R.M.
Muhammad Subuh Sumohadiwidjojo (1901-1987), who received what
he called "the great life force" and could transmit
it to anyone who asked for it sincerely. After going through
an initiation called an "opening," people meet in groups
for bi-weekly "latihan" during which they open themselves
to receive the divine.
The Art of Living
A path founded by the contemporary
Indian guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar based on breathing exercises,
meditation, yoga, and service to others.
Founded in 1971 by an Englishman
who took on the name Leo, Emin describes itself as "a cutting
edge exploration into the fundamentals of how things actually
work, why and how this can be useful in the improvement of a
persons' life in all aspects."
An "ancient teaching"
which resurfaced in 1965, Eckankar teaches spiritual exercises
to experience the "light and sound of God" and to engage
in "soul travel" which moves us into "greater
states of consciousness."
An intense form of Theravada
Buddhist meditation that encourages practitioners to look within.
"The meditator comes to understand, though personal experience,
the truths of dukkha (suffering), anicca (impermanence), and
anatta (lack of an enduring self.)"
Keywords: Philosophy. Judaism.
Israel. Perception. Personal. Religion.
Copyright 2002 Jerusalem Post.
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