Back in July 1979, a rabbi sitting outside on a porch in the Catskils, with a friend or older bachur, he was listening to the Fabrengen. I was called over to listen to it because the Rebbe was speaking about Transcendental Meditation, he assumed that I would be interested. I was not particularly enthralled since all I heard was “avodah zarah,” “idols, incense and gurus” “worship of the sun and moon,” “it is OK for doctors to teach.” At the time, I felt that it did not reach the issues and was too removed, too Biblical, and was not really showing understanding. Beyond that he treated TM as a pathology to be dealt with by physicians. He did not want any connection of meditation to Kabbalah. Yet, for some reason I still remember the event, the cloudy evening, and my reaction, especially my disappointing mulling it over for some time that evening.
Yesterday, someone sent me a question on Yoga and Judaism, and after an initial email the response reminded me of the Rebbe’s sicha.
The Rebbe compares TM to the avodah zarah of the sun and the moon. The Rebbe does not address other religions but deals with the issue as part of the problem of cults. He wants the creation of something new called “Jewish meditation” to wean people away from TM. It should be seen as a medical problem and should only be taught by someone who knows the laws of avodah zarah. It is interesting that the Rebbe is careful not to call all of it “ruah tumah” or “klipot nogah.” Rather, the problem is the incense, bowing, and the false gods or treating the guru as a deity. The patriarch Abraham is portrayed as engaged in solitude, yet the Rebbe does not want this new invention of Jewish meditation connected to Kabbalah, it should be done clinically by physicians.
There in an issue, which is connected with the physical and psychological health of many Jews, that demands attention. It is quite possible that these words will have no effect. Nevertheless, the health of a Jew is such an important matter, that efforts should be made even when there is not a sure chance of success.
This issue is the idea of meditation. Meditation has its roots in the very beginning of the Jewish heritage. The Torah commentaries explain that Avraham and the other patriarchs chose to be shepherds so that they could spend their time in solitude.
The sun, the moon, and the stars are necessary for life of earth. They bring about manifold goodness. However, they also have been worshipped as false gods. One might ask (as the Talmud asks): “Since they have been worshipped as false gods, shouldn’t they be destroyed? However, should G-d destroy the world because of the foolishness of the idol-worshipers?” The same concept applies in regard to meditation. Though essentially good, meditation can also be destructive. There are those who have connected meditation to actually bowing down to an idol or a man and worshipping it or him, bringing incense before them etc.
The cults have spread throughout the U.S. and throughout Israel as well.
They have called it by a refined name “transcendental meditation” i.e. something above limits, above our bounded intellects. However, they have also incorporated into the procedures the bringing of incense and other practices that are clearly “Avodah Zorah,” the worship of false gods.
Since we are living within the darkness of Golus, many Jewish youth have fallen into this snare. Before they became involved with this cult, they were troubled and disturbed. The cult was able to relate to them and bring them peace of mind. However, their meditation is connected with Avodah Zorah, burning incense and bowing to a Guru, etc. Since the aspects of idol worship are not publicized, there are those who have not raised their voices in protest. They don’t know if such a protest would be successful and since no one has asked them, why should they enter a questionable situation.
Two conditions must be taken into consideration: 1) meditation should only be used by those who need it. A healthy person doesn’t need meditation. On the contrary, if he begins to meditate he will hurt his psychological health. The only meditation that all should carry out is one which is part of one’s service to G-d, for the Shulchan Aruch states that before each prayer one must meditate on “the greatness of G-d and the humble state of man.” However, that meditation is done with a fixed time and a fixed intent. Its goal is not to calm one’s nerves. 2) The meditation must be based on a Kosher idea or a Torah concept e.g. Shema Yisroel, the meanings of the prayers. Thus, this will bring one to an awareness of the greatness of G-d and the humble nature of man.
Also, since as in all treatments, the healer gains a certain amount of control over his patient, we must take care that the professional who is leading the meditation have a clear and well defined knowledge of what is permitted according to the Shulchan Aruch, what leads to Avodah Zorah, etc.
Even in Yerushalayim, the holy city, such a center has been established. I, myself, received a brochure from such an institution. It was professionally produced, containing pictures and a description of how in Yerushalayim, a center for meditation has been set up. They purchase American addresses, and send them this brochure. It makes a powerful impression and arouses curiosity. Thus, we can see how serious the situation is.
In view of this situation, psychologists, psychoanalysts, etc. have a holy duty to advance their knowledge of meditation, and work to develop a Kosher program. Furthermore, since we live in a country in which publicity plays a large role, efforts must be made to publicize the treatment in the broadest means possible.
Furthermore, this treatment should not be connected with any side issues. There are those who maintain that meditation must be connected with the secrets of Torah. Meditation on the secrets of Torah is very important, particularly in the present age when the Wellsprings of Chassidus must be spread outwards. However, the subject at hand is different. There are Jews who are involved in “Avodah Zorah,” worship of false gods, who must be saved. This is the first priority. If one begins by teaching the secrets of Torah, it is extremely likely that the majority of them will not respond. Even the few who might show an interest should be separated from “Avodah Zorah” first.
We cannot sit and wait practically until someone asks to be helped. We have to approach those who are afflicted and speak their language, without mixing in any other Mitzvos. Our object should be merely the Mitzvah of healing their troubled psyches.
Each one of us knows such a doctor. We can interest a doctor in such activities, and he will find a way to attract those who have fallen into these snares.
In all the other exiles, the redemption did not involve the entire Jewish people. However, the Messianic redemption will reach every Jew. The prophet Isaiah (27:12) declares: “You will be collected one by one” from even the furthest extremes of Golus. These efforts to draw Jews away from the Golus of “Avodah Zorah” will help hasten the fulfillment of the prophecy. The Talmud states that all the appointed times for Moshiach’s coming have passed, and everything depends on Teshuvah. When the Jewish people do Teshuvah, they will immediately be redeemed.
In 1979, The Rebbe had a yehidus with a couple from Australia, where he said the same thing.
Already in the prior year in 1978, the Rebbe turned to a doctor to help him with this request to develop meditation without idolatry. It gets reprinted around the web as if the Rebbe was answering a question from the doctor rather, in fact, the Rebbe was seeking out the doctor. Notice the Rebbe’s citation of the Federal Court case.and his assumption that much of this is already part of medical practice. I did include parts that are similar to the Sicha- full version here, and here. We can see the Rebbe’s thought in formation
By the Grace of G-d Teveth, 5738
In as much as these movements involve certain rites and rituals, they have been rightly regarded by Rabbinic authorities as cults bordering on, and in some respects actual, Avodah Zarah (idolatry). Accordingly Rabbinic authorities everywhere, and particularly in Eretz Yisroel, ruled that these cults come under all the strictures associated with Avodah Zarah, so that also their appurtenances come under strict prohibition.
Moreover, the United States Federal Court also ruled recently that such movements, by virtue of embracing such rites and rituals, must be classifies as cultic and religious movements. (Of. Malnak V. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, U.S.D.C. of N.J. 76-341, esp. pp. 36-50, 78)On the other hand, certain aspects of the said movements, which are entirely irrelevant to religious worship or practices, have a therapeutic value, particularly in the area of relieving mental stress.
It follows that if these therapeutic methods – insofar as they are utterly devoid of any ritual implications – would be adopted by doctors specializing in the field of mental illness, it would have two-pronged salutary effect: Firstly, in the view of the fact that these methods are therapeutically effective, while there are, regretfully, many who could benefit from such treatment, this is a matter of healing of the highest order, since it has to do with mental illness. It would, therefore, be very wrong to deny such treatment to those who need it, when it could be given by a practicing doctor.
Secondly, and this too is not less important, since there are many Jewish sufferers who continue to avail themselves of these methods though the said cults despite the Rabbinic prohibition, it can be assumed with certainty that many of them, if not all, who are drawn to these cults by the promise of mental relief, would prefer to receive the same treatment from the medical profession – if they had a choice of getting it the kosher way. It would thus be possible to save many Jews from getting involved with the said cults.
It is also known, though not widely, that there are individual doctors who practice the same or similar methods at T.M. and the like. However, it seems that these methods occupy a secondary or subordinate role in their procedures. More importantly, there is almost a complete lack of publicity regarding the application of these methods by doctors, and since the main practice of these doctors is linked with the conventional neurological and psychiatric approach, it is generally assumed that whatever success they achieve is not connected with results obtained from methods relating to T.M. and the like; results which the cults acclaim with such fanfare.
In light of the above, it is suggested and strongly urged that:
Appropriate action be undertaken to enlist the cooperation of a group of doctors specializing in neurology and psychiatry who would research the said methods with a view to perfecting them and adopting them in their practice on a wider scale.
All due publicity be given about the availability of such methods from practicing doctors.
This should be done most expeditiously, without waiting for this vital information to be disseminated through medical journals, where research and findings usually take a long time before they come to the attention of practicing physicians. This would all the sooner counteract the untold harm done to so many Jews who are attracted daily to the said cults, as mentioned in the opening paragraph.
In conclusion: This memo is intended for all Rabbis, doctors, and layman who are in a position to advance the cause espoused herein, the importance of which needs no further elaboration.