Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Some Notes and a Summary of Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels “Non-dual Judaism” PART ONE

Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels has an interesting article in the collection Jewish Theology in Our Time, called “Non-dual Judaism.”  It presents, in a clear way, some of the basic tenants of non-duality as expressed through Judaism, and maybe bolstered by  some eastern religious traditions.

He begins with the famous, and oft repeated story in non-dual Jewish circles, from the Baal Shem Tov of the king, his walls, partitions, and treasures.  Some stop at one wall for the treasure, others another wall.  Very few proceed on, moving beyond the walls and partitions to the king himself.  But once in the royal presence, a veil is lifted from one's eyes, and one sees that all the walls and barriers were just extensions of the king, presenting an illusion of separation.  The king, of course, is God.  The barriers, the world as we see it.

Rabbi Jacobson-Maisels gives us the take away from this story: “The fundamental insight it calls on us to strive and integrate is the divinity we encounter, the reality that there is ultimately nothing but God.” During the daily prayer Aleinu, these words are recited: “Hashem is God, in the heavens above and on the earth below, there is no other.”  For non-dualist Jews, these words are not just a denial of other gods beside Hashem, but a denial that anything exists other than God.  Non-dual Judaism is not a relation to some deity, “but one of awareness, connection, and relation to the divine nature of experience.”

When we learn to eliminate barriers between ourselves, others and the world “we find God as a quiet space within, the boundless loving presence, the falling away of fear, and the delight of wonder and joy.”  In short, we become aware of our own nothingness.  “We touch ayin (nothingness), to emerge from non-being into new being without the prison of self”

Of course, living with this awareness is impossible all the time, and Jacobson-Maisels writes about the early Kabbalist's flirtation with the concepts of yesh and ayin, being and nothingness, as a constant interchange.  Rabbi Jacobson-Maisels tells us that Rabbi Azriel of Gerona saw faith as the meeting point between yesh and ayin.  In fact, faith is living in the world of yesh while having the consciousness of ayin.  

But this mystical perspective goes even further. Rabbi Menachem Nahum of Chernobyl thought that if one does not see the Divine in every aspect of the world is guilty of heresy.  It is, simply, idolatry widely defined; “this mystical perspective sees idolatry as the affirmation of any other at all.”

The next step: how do we find this vision, this view of non-duality?  How do we get out of the rut of the self?  And just how “Jewish” is this quest at all?

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