Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Rabbi Rami's Guide to God

I’m a fan of Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s books in the broadest definition of the word fan.  I agree with most of what he says regarding religion, Judaism, God, and the reality of our true nature, and this enables me to let slide  any relatively minor disagreements I may have with what he writes.

This is certainly the case with Rabbi Rami’s Guide to God.  Here, Rabbi Shapiro presents “The Perennial Philosophy” as enumerated by several thinkers, particularly Huxley, and given Rabbi Shapiro’s own spin.  Essentially a primer of the idea of the Perennial Philosophy, this book explains how all religions have an "outside" composed of rules, regulations, and texts (the exoteric side) and an "inside" (the esoteric side) usually expounded by mystics, and which is free of rules, regulations; it is experiential, rather than dogmatic . 

Of course, Shapiro endorses the latter.  For him, all great religions at the inner core expound the same version of mystical reality.  To quote the book: "God is the Source and Substance of all reality. God is all there ever was, is, and will be; God is both infinite potential and finite actualization of that potential.”

As much as anyone can get at such a truth, the mystics in various religions are the best candidates.  They are the ones who see the interconnectedness of all things, and see all things as expressions and manifestations of one field of all-encompassing reality.  Some call this God.  Other traditions use other terms.  But the result is the same.

This is a neat dichotomy and the symmetry is pleasant.  There are the ridged clerical bean counters, and the ecstatic and free mystics.  Problem is that there have been all kinds of mystics, some of which were exactly as Rami Shapiro characterized.  They did not care as much for the formal rules of religion and often ran afoul of religious authority, like Mansur al-Hallaj.   

But there were other mystics who were formal conservatives, obeying every jot and tittle of the law.  Take Joseph Karo, who wrote the massive halakhic compendium the Shulchan Aruch.  He was a mystic of the highest order, but he also upheld the strictest standards of halakic adherence, so much so that he literally wrote the book on it. In fact most Jewish mysticism as expressed in the Lurianic Kabbalah upheld Jewish religious practice, endorsed it, and made it essential to mysticism.  It is only in our time when the two, mysticism and Jewish law, have gone their separate ways. 

Yet we should not hold this against Rabbi Shapiro.  He is not writing a history, after all, but a guide.  He is one the few writers today in Jewish thought who is not afraid to break away from the pack and create new and meaningful forms.  His ideas challenge tradition, while respecting them.  Read this man's books.

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