Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Midah Keneged Midah

(Painting by Leonard Baskin)

A Mile Down the Road commenting on More On Comparing Judaism And Buddhism:

I recently sent my mentor Chabakuk Elisha the following story, which I called "A Zen View of 'Ein Ode Milvado' ":

Nothing Exists

Yamaoka Tesshu, as a young student of Zen, visited one master after another. He called upon Dokuon of Shokoku.

Desiring to show his attainment, he said: "The mind, Buddha, and sentient beings, after all, do not exist. The true nature of phenomena is emptiness. There is no realization, no delusion, no sage, no mediocrity. There is no giving and nothing to be received." Dokuon, who was smoking quietly, said nothing. Suddenly he whacked Yamaoka with his bamboo pipe. This made the youth quite angry.

"If nothing exists," inquired Dokuon, "where did this anger come from?"


Returning the favor, Chabakuk Elisha then sent me the following Chassidic tale:

A Lesson in Acosmism

A Chossid once complained to the Tzemach Tzedek that another Chossid owed him money, but refused to pay. The Tzemach Tzedek called them both in to his private room and asked the second Chossid why he was refusing to pay -- to which the latter responded: "Ein Ode Milvado -- I don't exists, he doesn't exist, and the money doesn't exist!"

"Aha," said the Tzemach Tzedek. "Very true."

He turned to the Gabbai, and as the eyes of the Chossid who didn't want to pay widened, he said, "Bring the whip that doesn't exists, and whip the Chossid who doesn't exist until he pays the money that doesn't exist to the other Chossid who doesn't exist..."

The stubborn fellow quickly jumped up and said, "Oh no, that's not necessary! I'll pay, I'll pay!"


At April 9, 2008 at 7:48:00 AM EDT, Blogger yitz said...

perhaps i'm out of line, but might i suggest that this pesah we eradicate the avodah zara from within our midst and stop belittling Judaism to the point that we are comparing it with avodah zara?

in an open forum on the web something like this would seem perfectly acceptable, but on A Simple Jew, everytime the topic comes up, it rankles.. i don't think it's part of 'Simple' Judaism.

But that's just my suggestion, based on my opinion. I'm sorry that it offends some people.

ASJ, sorry if i create a controversy, or if I caused you any personal offense.

At April 9, 2008 at 8:03:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

No need to apologize, Yitz :)

At April 9, 2008 at 1:38:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really loved the second story though and even sent it to my family, so ya'asher koach!

At April 9, 2008 at 4:40:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think your kinah is missplaced. There is nothing here that belittles Judaism, chas v'shalom. This is just another case of "chochmah ba'umos, taamin."

Don't be rankled. The Eybishter's world is bigger than our small minds.

Chag kasher v'same'ach

At April 9, 2008 at 11:08:00 PM EDT, Blogger Eli said...

Before my comment, I would like to say that I am a new reader to A Simple Jew, and that I have been so blessed to find this sight, a true light in the "wilderness" of the internet. Additionally, I certainly do not wish to offend any readers, however, I feel I have a responsibility to comment honestly on this topic by relating the following personal story:

Last winter I was struggling to finish my senior year at University, when I stumbled across The Zen Practice group. This group met at 7 in the morning on the other side of the campus, which meant crossing a large, snow-filled green to get there. At first, this "Zen Challenge" motivated me to get out of bed in the mornings instead of sleeping through my classes, and very quickly I attached myself to Zen and the teacher. By the time graduation rolled around I was a full devotee, and crediting my Zen Practice with helping me finally graduate college.

This year I remained in my college town to work local jobs, mostly so that I could keep up with the Zen. Despite all of this intense devotion, however, I never really felt much benefit or enjoyment, apart from the sense of discipline it provided me. All this while, I was also getting to know the local ChaBaD rabbi, but the fantasy I had in my mind the whole was to be some kind of "Zen Jew". All I could think about was how I would be a guru and "Zen Master" for Jews, and enlighten the whole Jewish world, and the rest of the world for that matter too. I began visiting local Tibetan monks, and practicing 2 or more times daily, burning incense and bowing to an icon of the Buddhas. Because I was the only student who could keep up with the rigorous practice schedule (my body hurts a lot now because of it...), I became something like the teacher's assistant, and would lead the group when he left to visit his own master in California (who also happens to be the poet Leonard Cohen's teacher). I gave up most meat and took up yoga.

In December, I was blessed enough to visit Eretz Israel on Birthright with my ChaBaD rabbi, and spend time visiting with my family in Jerusalem. Over the course of my three weeks, it came to my attention that I was practicing avodah zarah. First, it came up in conversation with a friend, at which point he related the story that Avraham Aveinu had the angels remove their shoes in case the dust of idol worship entered his tent. I said to him, "It's not good, I need to do something about it." Several days later, while strolling through the Old City, I decided that I would try and make some changes in my practice (still, of course, convinced that I could succeed and fuse Zen with Judaism, thereby saving the world).

When I returned to America, and my life here, the immediate changes were actually more apparent in my practice of Judaism. Although I wore a kippah before leaving (a bizarre side-effect of living in a pseudo-ashram over the summer; one day it just kind of turned up on my head), I now started davening 3 times/day and keeping kosher, aided by my job as the masgiach at the college's dining hall (the hekscher is not reputable, thus I was the extent of the supervision). Also, because I was so busy in Israel, I had not meditated for several weeks, and could not quite get back in the rhythm (although I knew it helped me fight depression).

After several weeks of this, I emailed the friend mentioned earlier, who was still in Israel, asking him for advice: If I don't meditate I become depressed, however, if I meditate than I am committing one of the three worst aveiras. My friend davened at the graves of the tzadikkim in Safed, and that week I brought the subject up with my Zen teacher. I told him that I no longer felt comfortable doing the group bow at the end of our practice in front of the Buddha statue. I assumed that he would compromise with me, and I could move on with my "fusion"; something like I bow towards Jerusalem, while everyone else bows towards the idol. However, and I believe this was a revealed miracle from shamayim because I had always known him to be very agreeable, Hashem "hardened his heart", and he told me it was his way or the highway. At the end of our chat, I told him that I would not attend the next practice session, and have never been back. That day I emailed my Rov and told him that "I felt like I had been freed from the Egyptian slavery".

For several weeks I tried to continue altered practices, like replacing the icon with something else (it's all emptiess anyway, right?), however, I realized that without the Buddha, there was no Buddhism, so I basically stopped, and started just focusing on Torah-Mitzvahs, especially the kashrus of my restaurant. Since then I have not looked back. I have been doing teshuva for about three months now, and, Boruch Hashem, have not had any spells of depression. G-d willing, I will go back to Jerusalem in August to attend yeshiva!

My purpose in relating this story is of course not to bash any religion or criticize any Jew, but instead to reach out to others who might be in a similar situation; maybe someone will google "Zen and Judaism" and find this. The truth is that Buddhism IS avodah zarah. Not only is it avodah zarah, but it is an extremely dangerous form of avodah zarah, as evidenced by the large numbers of "Ju-Bu"s now in America. Just because it does not involve sacrificing children, or other practices associated with Baal, may his name be erased, does not mean it is any thing different. In fact, the "benign" nature is one of its most dangerous aspects.

If anyone would like to learn more about this, especially a Jew who currently practices Zen, Buddhism, or any other religion, please email me at eli.meltzer@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading this long post from a newbie, you should all have nothing but simchas!

At April 10, 2008 at 6:04:00 AM EDT, Blogger yitz said...

@a mile down the road, with all due respect, i'm a very 'everything is a grey area' kind of person. but I don't think my zealotry is misplaced here. Zen/Buddhism is diametrically opposed to Judaism. Avodah zara is the ONLY (to the best of my limited knowledge) aveira you can perform without any action or speech at all. It is the only aveira that for which we can be held responsible for merely a thought. When we perform something in the name of Zen, even simply meditation, then all the light of everything it accomplishes goes straight to the 'other' side. This is as opposed to living your whole life doing everything by rote, in which case, nothing ventured nothing gained, but more importantly nothing lost, no harm done. One single act of avodah zara creates real problems.. and it (Zen) is very enticing, it promises all of the intellectual and spiritual stimulation that Judaism offers with none of the burden of the responsibility, of the mitzwoth. if someone even sees the word Zen/Buddhism here and goes to explore what that is, it's problematic. So no. there is no middle of the road approach to avodah zara.. just as there is no middle of the road approach to ga'avah and anger, two things that are tantamount if not outright (according to many opinions) avodah zara. Seeing as how ASJ has made it his mission to overcome his nisyonot of anger, i fail to see how he can court something as dangerous as mentioning Zen/Buddhism which shares the same shoresh, the same root, as anger and not expect it to trip him up. I pray that this is not the case. Again, i'm sorry to create a controversy, but regarding avodah zarah, i'm compelled to comment with azut as it says in the beginning of the shulchan aruch, that we need to have azut of kedushah to overcome the peer pressure against doing mitzwoth.

At April 10, 2008 at 12:47:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm sure you mean only l'shem Shomayim. But I don't think you really know what you're talking about.

Also, no offence intended.

At April 10, 2008 at 9:35:00 PM EDT, Blogger Eli said...

A Simple Jew: In my very humble, intrusive, and lightly learned opinion, I think that you have a halachic right, and possibly an obligation, to censor A Mile Down the Road. If this seems fanatic, see what Hillel has to say about Avodah Zarah and get back to me.

At April 11, 2008 at 1:12:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rabbi Akiva Tatz has been involved in Jewish-Buddhist dialogue. Please email him and ask him if he thinks there is anything wrong with my posting. If yes, I would be happy to have ASJ remove it. If no, I would ask that your comments be removed. Fair enough?

At April 13, 2008 at 8:04:00 AM EDT, Blogger yitz said...

@a mile down the road,

no offense taken.
happy to engage in a machloket l'shem shamayim with you :)

At April 13, 2008 at 11:48:00 AM EDT, Blogger Eli said...

I don't have R Katz's email, but I would be happy to write him. Why don't you contact Gil Locks while we're at it?

AMDtR: Are you a Buddhist interested in Judaism, a Jew practicing Buddhism, a Jew interested in Buddhism?

My comments may be removed as per the responses we get, however, I would like to keep my story up because I think it is important for people to hear.

At April 15, 2008 at 10:00:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

With trepidation, I would like to throw my "two cents" into this machlokes l'shem Shomayim -- while the principals in the dispute wait to hear from Rabbi Tatz (whom, I believe, may be reached through the Learning Exchange of London, England's website).

I don't think A Mile Down the Road cited the Zen story in order to promote that tradition, but merely to point out a similarity to a wonderful Chassidic story. That is a far cry from avodah zarah!

As for citing stories from gentile sources in rabbinic literature, there are numerous examples of this (although not necessarily explicitly so).

According to academic scholars, a Sufi story about equanimity as a prerequisite to hisbodedus appears in Reishis Chokhmah, Sha'ar Ahavah, and again in Sha'arei Kedushah, Chelek Revi'i. Another Sufi story appears in Reishis Chokhmah, Sha'ar Anavah 3.

Certain Chassidic Rebbes liked to quote the sayings of Ukrainian peasants, while other sang gypsy songs at their Shabbos tables -- all presumably with the kavannah of restoring these "holy sparks" to their source in the realm of kedushah.

L'khaf zekhus, that's most likely what A Mile Down the Road had in mind.

Have a chag kasher v'samei'ach, cyber-chaveirim!

At April 16, 2008 at 4:16:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm a baal teshuvah who was interested in Buddhist and existentialist philosophy before I became frum a few years ago, and still feel a need to integrate that things that are consistent between the two paths, while rejecting what does not "shtim" with Yiddishkeit.

Through this blog I have become close to Chabukuk Elisha, a very "Chassishe" but still broad-minded talmid chochom, whom I consider my mentor. (But he bears no responsibility for my possible mixed-up opinions!)

Smashed Hat:

Raising up holy sparks?

Thanks for the limud zechus. But as the old Mississippi bluesman said, "I donno nuthin about train time, babe, I'm just hangin around tryin to make a few dimes!"

Chag kasher v'sameiach to you, too!

At April 17, 2008 at 4:48:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is the link to contact Rabbi Akiva Tatz, whoever wants to take the initiative:


Kol tuv

At April 24, 2008 at 7:57:00 PM EDT, Blogger Eli said...

Smashed Hat:
You have a very good point, and I apologize for my aggressive stance. However, as I express below, I believe Buddhism poses a particular threat to Am Yisrael. Also, I don't think that's his email, I think that's the email for the company that sells his tapes...

Why do you "feel a need to integrate that things that are consistent between the two paths"? I can't tell how much experience you have had with Zen (or existentialism, I have a tall tale for that one too), but in my opinion there is not even a comparison between the two. Torah is so far beyond anything that the other "paths" offer as to make them bitul.

ASimpleJew: I apologize for this rant; perhaps I should post in on my own amateur blog where it belongs.

I don't understand why Buddhism gets off so easy. If someone came on this blog talking about their interest in Christianity he would get eaten alive. From the large numbers of JuBus today, frum Jews should be terrified and doing everything in their power to stop this trend. I don't think we've lost this many to other religions since the Conversos, and maybe even since Baal (may his name be erased)!

R Sears, you should be blessed for the work that you do with JuBus trying to bring them closer to Yiddishkeit, as well as all other who do this most important work. Your articles on ASJ are very well written, thoughtful, and quite educational about chassidus. As I mentioned in my story, if there was not a Rabbi working with me and keeping me attached to the Torah, than I may have spiraled off into the abyss of my Zen cushion for good.

I, however, am just a simple Baal Teshuva who only knows how to contribute to solving this epidemic with my first-hand knowledge of Buddhism; knowledge that it is Avodah Zarah! Another important part of my story was that a friend had to put his foot down and flat out tell me I was participating in Avodah Zarah before I could mend my ways. If R Sears is the right hand than I am happy to be the left (maybe I got this backwards).

In todays aliyah, parshas Kedoshim, we learn that the punishment for "going astray" after Molech is kareis. This extends to worshiping any idol "in its way". Hashem knows that I myself am liable for this punishment. Sanctify yourselves and stay very far away!

At April 24, 2008 at 7:58:00 PM EDT, Blogger Eli said...

and a hag sameach, next year surely in rebuilt Jerusalem!

At April 30, 2008 at 7:19:00 AM EDT, Blogger yitz said...

@Smashed Hat,

just to point out, sufis are, if i'm not mistaken muslim, which is technically NOT avodah zara, hence no problem taking stories from there.

Similarly simple peasant's tales are again not rooted in avodah zara with the express purpose of transmitting the view and perspective of avodah zara.

I don't know anything about gypsies, but music is an entirely different category in which it may be more important who is doing the singing than what they are singing--at least according to Rebbe Nachman.

Also, perhaps using a zen story/koan without mentioning zen or buddhism at all might be a different case altogether, [if the person mentioning the story had experienced it before their teshuvah.] Perhaps this is why [even] the sufi stories [if the stories were even actually borrowed from sufism] are quoted without mentioning their source..

At March 22, 2009 at 10:50:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For Whom It May Concern:

Since my mentor Chabakuk Elisha has now moved north of the city, my new blog name is "Thirty Miles Down the Road."

As the old song goes, "And its many . . . a mile . . . I've been down that road . . . "

Don't forget Tefillas HaDerekh!


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