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9780060609573

That's Funny, You Don't Look Buddhist: On Being a Faithful Jew and a Passionate Buddhist

Sylvia Boorstein

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Explores the intriguing relationship between Jewish and Buddhist traditions and discusses the reasons why so many Jews are drawn to Buddhism and become practicing Buddhists. 50,000 first printing. $40,000 ad/promo. Tour.

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About the Author:

Sylvia Boorstein, teaches mindfulness and leads retreats across the United States. She is a co-founding teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California, and a senior teacher at the Insight Meditation Center in Barre, Massachusetts. Boorstein is also a practicing psychotherapist. Her previous books are It's Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness and Don't Just Do Something, Sit There. She lives with her husband, Seymour Boorstein, a psychiatrist. They have two sons, two daughters, and five grandchildren.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

One More River


I HAVE DISCOVERED THAT THE QUESTIONS MOST ASKED of me by Jews are "how" questions. I am recognized as a Buddhist. I am also-and have become much more open about this part in the last few years-an observant Jew. No only more open, but also more observant. Because I am a Buddhist. Because I have a meditation practice. So the questions now are: "How did that happen?" "What is your practice?" "Do you pray?" "To whom?" "Why?" "Do you also do metta (lovingkindness) practice?" "When do you do what?" "Why?" "What are your'observances,'and why do you do them?" "How do you deal with the patriarchal tone of Jewish prayers?" 'What is your relationship to the Torah?" 'To Buddhist scripture?" Most of all, "How can you be a Buddhist and a Jew?" And, 'Can I?"

The answer to the "how" questions requires that I tell my personal story. Certainly not my story as a prescription for anyone else, but to explain how my Buddhism has made me more passionately alive as a Jew. And how my re newed Judaism has made me a better Buddhist teacher.

When I realized the degree of personal exposure that telling my story would require, I became alarmed that I was going to rock the boat. I had been quietly enjoying a privat life as a Jew and some new, pleasant recognition as a Buddhist teacher. I had been accepting invitations for som years to teach Jewish groups, and although I had worried initially that they would be hostile about my Buddhism, they weren't. They invited me back. Then I worried about the Buddhists.

"What if the Buddhists get mad at me for not renouncing Judaism?"

Clearly, this was my issue, not anyone else's. No one is mad at me. I've been announcing myself, regularly, at Buddhist teachers' meetings, and it causes no ripple at all. I feel anticipatory alarm, I tell my truth, and it is completely a nonevent.

Recently I was one of twenty-six teachers meeting with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India, to discuss how we are teaching Buddhism in the West. As part of the preparation for our meeting, we each answered the question, "What is the greatest current spiritual challenge in your practice and teaching?"

I thought, "Okay, this is it! These are major teachers in all lineages, these are people I respect and who I hope will respect me." And I said my truth: "I am a Jew. These days I spend a lot of my time teaching Buddhist meditation to Jews. It gives me special pleasure to teach Jews, and sometimes special problems. I feel it's my calling, though, something I'm supposed to do. And I'm worried that someone here will think I'm doing something wrong. Someone will say, 'You're not a real Buddhist!"'

It was another nonevent. I think-I hope-that was the "One Last River to Cross." I never did ask the Dalai Lama if what I am doing is okay. It had become, for me, a nonquestion by the time we got to our meetings with him. My particular group discussed "Lay and Monastic Practice in the West," and I did say, "I am a Jew, and monasticism is not part of Jewish tradition." I'm not entirely sure of the context in which I made that remark. It may not have been completely relevant to the discussion. Perhaps it was prompted by my desire to make sure I made my declaration publicly, in Dharamsala to the Dalai Lama, just in case that might emerge later as "one more river."

The three-hour return taxi ride from Dharamsala to Pathankot was occasionally hair-raising. Indian taxis are truly dangerous. Accidents, fatal ones, are common. I was sitting in front with the driver, trying to maintain some composure in the face of many last-minute reprieves. As we passed through one particular section of narrow mountain road, there were a few swerves that brought the taxi very close to the edge.

My friend Jack Komfield was sitting with Steve Smith and Heinz Roiger in the backseat.

Jack said, "I hope you are saying protection mantras, Sylvia."

I said, "Of course I am."

He said, "Are they Jewish mantras or Buddhist mantras?"

I said, "Both."

Jack laughed. "Good."

I Am a Jew and I Am a Buddhist


I AM A JEW BECAUSE MY PARPNTS WERE MILD-MANNERED, cheerful best friends who loved me enormously, and they were Jews. It's my karma. It's good karma. My parents' love included respect, admiration, high expectations, and a tremendous amount of permission. I can't remember ever being scolded.

I am a prayerful, devout Jew because I am a Buddhist. As the meditation practice that I learned from my Buddhist teachers made me less fearful and allowed me to fall in love with life, I discovered that the prayer language of "thank-you" that I knew from my childhood returned, spontaneously and to my great delight. From the very first day of my very first Buddhist meditation retreat, from the very first time I heard the Buddha's elegant and succinct teachings about the possibility of the end of suffering-not the end of pain, but the end of suffering-I was captivated, I was thrilled, and I was reassured. The idea that it was possible, in the middle of this very life, fully engaged in life, to live contentedly and compassionately was completely compelling. I felt better even before I was better.

It took me a long time, even after I had begun to teach Buddhist meditation, to get ready to say, "I am a Buddhist." I often hesitated. I circumlocuted. I said, when pressed to identify myself, "I am a Dharma teacher," or "I teach Buddhist psychology," or "I am a Buddhist meditation teacher." To say, "I am a Buddhist" seemed too much like taking a plunge that I didn't need to take.

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