I have been an acquaintance of Reb Dovid Sears for many years. Here he pens a review of Yoel Glick’s recent book Living The Life of Jewish Meditation. Below is part I offering a few choice opening words and then provide Jewish texts parallel the Hindu ones cited by Glick. In Part II, Sears will offer a few critiques including a deep questioning of Glick’s neglect of Jewish teachers.
Living The Life of Jewish Meditation by Yoel Glick
Reviewed by Dovid Sears
Dovid Sears is an author/translator, Breslov teacher and visual artist. He founded the Breslov Center of New York in 1997 under the aegis of Rav Kenig of Tsfat, and is the creator of the Solitude-Hisbodedus website, an online archive on Jewish meditation. His books include Compassion for Humanity in the Jewish Tradition (1998); The Vision of Eden: Animal Welfare and Vegetarianism in Jewish Law and Mysticism (2002, about to be republished through Amazon); The Breslov Pirkey Avot (2012); and many others. His latest book is The Water Castle (Breslov Research Institute 2014). -The photos below are Sear’s.
When I was asked me to review Yoel Glick’s new guide to Jewish meditation for this blog, I must admit that I didn’t expect much. But I was in for a pleasant surprise. While boldly eclectic in its synthesis of Indian mysticism and its Jewish mystical core, this is not just another New Age mishmash. Yoel Glick has done his homework and produced a worthwhile book. Plus he speaks as a genuine practitioner and also as a rabbi who in his youth studied at YU. But his spiritual quest has taken him far and wide.
Although this was supposed to be a book review, I’d rather confine myself to commenting on a few random points that caught my attention. I’ll also pass on discussing perennialism and mystical pluralism. These views, as conditioned by the author’s study of Advaita Vedanta, are reflected throughout the book, but especially in the Introduction, Chapter 12 (“Two Paths to the Supreme”) and “The Protective Influence of the Divine Kingdom” (pp. 196-187). To religious Jewish readers, this is probably the most controversial issue in Yoel Glick’s book—because what he has written is indeed a synthesis of ideas and practices, albeit with a Jewish core. And he segues from Shankara to Rumi to the Baal Shem on the turn of a rupee.
The particular combination of mystical teachings presented here seems to reflect the author’s personal journey, and does not attempt to be comprehensive or academic. Again, Yoel is a practitioner who is speaking to kindred spirits—of whom there are more than a few these days. On the one hand, more traditional Orthodox readers (myself among them) would fault him for his Hindu, Buddhist and to a lesser extent, Christian, Sufi and other referents, particularly when there are similar quotes from Jewish masters (and from the range of Chassidic and Kabbalistic texts the author cites, I think he knows those Jewish sources). Chazal state, “If someone tells you that other nations possess wisdom, believe him. If someone tells you that other nations have the Torah, do not believe him” (Eikhah Rabbah). Accordingly, in presenting the Torah’s teachings, we need have no recourse to other religious traditions, whatever their merits may be. On the other hand, Yoel Glick’s meditation manual is not a mainstream book for mainstream readers, and his quotes from other forms of mysticism will speak to many contemporary seekers. It seems that Yoel elected to go this way because these diverse religious thinkers are among his own teachers, whether through personal relationships or through their writings, and this is how he “hears the music.”
Perhaps a few more parallel sources deserve mention (although this is another one of those seemingly endless tasks, and I’m only mentioning what immediately comes to mind). If Yoel had wished to do so, he could have used such teachings in the place of a number of those taken from other traditions.
I must add that I’m listing these additional Jewish sources matter-of-factly, but when I first came across many of them, they knocked me off my feet!
Glick 22: “The rousing of our will is founded upon a tangible awareness of the truth of our innate divinity.” Then Yoel quotes Swami Chidananda: “To be like God is the natural ability of every individual soul. The ability to shine as God—sublime and radiant—is the natural heritage of one and all.”
Compare: Rav Moshe Cordovero’s Tomer Devorah, the classic 16th century kabbalistic ethical treatise on emulating the Thirteen Divine Attributes of Mercy (“yud-gimmel mechilin de-rachamey”) and the ten sefirot in both our inner work and our relations with others. This emulation of God is only possible because we are all created in the “Divine Image.”
Glick 26-27: The Tibetan yogi Milarepa on “wrong intention” (which in his case involved the use of sorcery during his youth):
Compare: Rabbi Chaim Vital writes that his master the Arizal stood opposed to the use of “kabbalah ma’asiyut,” meaning the sort of kabbalistic “white magic” found in various medieval writings (e.g., see Shaarey Kedushah, beginning)—and needless to say actual sorcery, which is a Torah prohibition. The most obvious reason for the Arizal’s opposition to kabbalah ma’asiyut would be the spiritual dangers involved, but it may also be because this is a sidetrack for those on the spiritual path.
According to Chassidism, the risks of “wrong intention” are described in even more subtle ways. For example: “Many attempted to emulate Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, but were not successful” (Berakhot 35b). The Baal Shem Tov taught: They wanted to mortify themselves in order to reach the level of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai—and that it why they were not successful. One’s intent in divine service should be to gratify the Creator alone, not to attain madreigot (spiritual levels or powers) (Tzava’at ha-RIVaSH 47).
The Mittler Rebbe of Lubavitch stressed that even to seek religious ecstasy as a goal unto itself is a form of ego-gratification; rather ecstasy must always be a natural, uncontrived by-product of contemplation (Kuntres ha-Hitpa’alut).
Glick 36-37: Anagarika Munindra’s taught: ““If the rock-breaker strikes the stone ninety-nine times and it doesn’t break, yet it breaks on the hundredth strike, were the first ninety-nine wasted? Perhaps all ninety-nine strikes were needed before the stone would break, but at the ninety-ninth strike you may feel like you are making no progress at all.”
Compare: Rabbi Nachman of Breslov’s analogy of the “hundred year tree” that shows no signs of growth until after a century it suddenly explodes into full bloom. Sometimes we need to build a “komah sheleimah,” a complete spiritual structure, before we can see the results of our long and arduous efforts (Likutey Moharan II, 48).
Glick 38: Swami Ashokananda advocates “serene strength”: “Balanced strength is the true strength. It is like the serene surface of a calm lake. It goes deep, deep. One feels one can give oneself to it and be held securely. If necessary, serene strength can raise waves mountain high.”
Compare: The Gemara (Shabbat 77b) tells how Rabbi Zeira asked Rabbi Yehuda, “Why is the antenna of the locust soft?” The second sage replied, “Because it lives in the willows, and if its antenna were hard, it would snap when it strikes the wood, blinding the locust—because as Rabbi Shmuel taught, the locust’s vision depends upon its antennae.” Similarly in Ta’anit 20b, Chazal observe that one should always be “soft like a reed and not hard like a cedar.” In describing the “serene strength” that one must cultivate in dealing with the ups and downs of life and the difficult conundrums that beset us, Rabbi Natan cites these sources; see Likutey Halakhot, Hil. Eruvey Techumin, Halakhah 6.
Glick 46: “Breathing: The Rhythm of Life” presents the breath as a meditative focal point.
Compare: “the long breath” that “fills all lacks,” as discussed in Likutey Moharan I, 60; and the confluence between the prajna-like cosmic breath and the “krekhtz” or sigh in Likutey Moharan I, 8.
Glick 50: yogic meditation on chakras and their parallel with sefirot:
Compare: the Komarno Rebbe’s meditation on the array of Divine Names and sefirot as corresponding to the human form in Heikhal ha-Berakhah (also mentioned below). I once translated a small excerpt from his collected meditations and posted it here. Alan Brill has already noted these Tantric and kabalistic parallels, as posted here.
Glick 52: mantras and formal prayer texts:
Compare: The Baal Shem Tov teaches that in uttering the words of prayer, one must concentrate in order to create a yichud (unification) with each word. This creates a bond with the Shekhinah, since all holy speech is an expression of the Shekhinah (see Sefer Baal Shem Tov, Noach, “Amud HaTefillah”).
Rabbi Nachman also describes how each letter and word of prayer begs the one who utters it to not forget it; yet one must continue praying and not remain stationary. Therefore, one must make “echad,” a unity of the entire prayer—so that paradoxically, one both continues to add more letters and words, but never leaves the preceding letters and words behind. See Likutey Moharan I, 65 (which Rabbi Glick mentions elsewhere in his book).
Glick 55: the role of music in spiritual practice:
Compare: the Rambam’s association of music with prophecy in Mishneh Torah, Yesodey ha-Torah 7:4; also Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi in Kuzari, Ma’amar II, 50. In this spirit, the Baal Shem Tov praised music as a vehicle for deveykut, cleaving to God. He expounds on the verse, “When the musician played (kinagen ha-menagen), the hand of God came upon him” (II Kings 3:15). That is, when the musician plays “like an instrument (kinagen ha-menagen),” unselfconsciously and with no self-serving motives, then “the hand of God will rest upon him.”
Rabbi Nachman describes singing and chanting in prayer as creating “radiant garments for the Shekhinah”; Likutey Moharan I, 42. Also see Lesson 237 about Levi, neginah and deveykut. Contemporary Rabbi Shmuel Stern, who is both a Rosh Yeshivah and composer-musician, has written an entire volume on music and mysticism, “Shir Binah.”
Glick 58: Ramana Maharshi on the Self and “making room”: “They fill the mind with all sorts of impressions and then say there is no room for the Self in it. If all the false ideas and impressions are swept away and thrown out, what remains is a feeling of plenty and that is the Self itself. Then there will be no such thing as a separate ‘I’; it will be a state of egolessness.”
Compare: In addition to the Breslov sources Yoel brings, there is a related (although somewhat different) teaching in Likutey Moharan I, 110, on not “corporealizing” (hagshamah) the Torah one learns by approaching it as “me” getting “information.” Then the information “takes up space.” However, when one learns for the sake of the One who gave the Torah, the new information won’t displace the old, because none of it occupies space. (The way Rabbi Nachman proposes in that lesson to overcome the tendency to corporealize is through fasting.)
Both teachings above regard the ego as the root of the problem. Rabbi Aharon of Karlin cites the The Baal Shem Tov as having taught, “If not for his ego, a person would apprehend [Godliness] like the Tannaim and Amoraim” (Beit Aharon, “Seder ha-Yom”).
Glick 64: meditative visualization:
Compare: Sichot HaRan 62 (which I translated in “The Tree That Stands Beyond Space,” pp. 60-61, as “Thought is Potent”). There, Rabbi Nachman discuses how intense concentration can enable one to achieve a desired goal—even to the point of making something happen in the world through concentration alone. He also applies this principle to the attainment of one’s goals in Torah study.
Glick 83-84: As they sit beside a pool, Sri Ramakrishna tells his disciple, “Look at the fish. Meditating on the formless God is like swimming joyfully like these fish, in the Ocean of Bliss and Consciousness.”
Compare: the Baal Shem Tov’s metaphor of a pearl diver for one who meditatively prays: The diver who must hold his breath as he submerges himself in the sea; yet it is not enough to remain underwater—he must search for pearls. These are the words of prayer one utters in an expanded state of consciousness. The same principal also extends to Torah study and all religious acts in light of the realization that in truth, everything is Godliness. See Ohr ha-Gannuz la-Tzaddikim, Mattot (which I translated in The Path of the Baal Shem Tov, pp. 26-27). (The most conspicuous difference between the two teachings seems to be that the Baal Shem Tov addresses “meditation in action” re. prayer and other forms of avodah; see Part II.)
Glick 141: “Remembering” / Sufism, Rumi / zkhir:
Compare: Rabbi Nachman’s concept of “remembering the World to Come”—which alludes to the Divine Oneness that transcends the world of our ordinary, time-bound experience; see Likutey Moharan I, 54.
Glick 142: Ramana Maharshi: “When the harmonium … is being played there is a constant note that is called the sruti. Along with that, other notes also come out. If the ear is fixed on this note that is constant, then, while listening to the other notes, that original note cannot be forgotten. Actually, that first note gives strength to all the other notes.”
Compare: Likutey Moharan I, 22, on Direct Sound and Echo, upon which Rabbi Natan elaborates in Likutey Halakhot, Hil. Periyah ve-Rivyah, Halakhah 3, sec. 19 and 21 (translated in the Breslov Pirkey Avot, Part II, as “Sound and Echo,” “Listening to the Unheard Sound,” and “Ten Types of Song,” pp. 329-331).
It is likely that, as in Indian music, the drone is used to evoke a sense of the mystical “one note” in some early Chassidic niggunim, such as the Maggid of Mezeritch’s melody (“Maggid”) that Andy Statman recorded on his Shanachie CD, “Music of the Jewish Mystics,” and also “Reb Michel Zlotchover’s Niggun” on the live recording of his Bremen Concert, “On Air” (Tradition and Moderne).
Glick 144: Yoel quotes the verse “Hashem tzilkha,” G-d is your shadow. The Baal Shem Tov also expounds on this verse, although in a different sense: that whatever we do is “shadowed” by G-d: “God is your shadow…” (Psalms 121:4). When a person treats another in this lowly world with love and virtue, the Supernal King treats him the same way—like a shadow. Whenever a person moves, so does his shadow. Thus does the Creator relate to man. Thus it is written, “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself (kamokha), I am God” (Leviticus 19:18)—that is, “kamokha,” as you show love, “so do I, God” (Sefer Baal Shem Tov, Kedoshim 21).
Glick 152-153: equanimity:
Compare: To the best of my knowledge, the term hishta’avut (equanimity) is not used until prior to the Rishonim, but I think the same concept is found in the Gemara (Berakhot 60b). There, Chazal expound on the verse, “When [God is revealed as] Y-H-V-H, I will praise His word; [when God is revealed as] ELoHYM I will praise His word” (Psalms 56:1). That is, whether we experience God’s mercy (Y-H-V-H) or judgement (ELoHYM), we should respond the same way—with praise. Rabbi Nachman cites this Gemara in Likutey Moharan I, 33, which deals with finding the “good days” within the “bad days,” i.e., the nondual within duality.
The Baal Shem Tov relates hishta’avut to the verse, “I have placed (shiviti, which may be homiletically related to hishta’avut) God before myself always” (Psalms 16:8). Whatever happens, one should say, “Does this not come from the Blessed One? If so, should it not be acceptable to me?” (Tzava’at ha-Rivash 2). (Prior to the Chassidic movement, hishta’avut is mentioned in Chovot ha-Levavot, Me’irat Einayim, Reishit Chokhmah, and Maggid Mesharim, among other sources.) Rabbi Avraham Maimonides, the Rambam’s son, also discusses this concept in his classic Sefer HaMaspik le-Ovdey Hashem.
Glick 175: “Perhaps the greatest of the inner changes that emerge after union is the ability to see through the Universal Mind of God … In this state of union with the Mind of God, the whole world and all of the heavens are in the grasp of these transcendental actors.”
Compare: Likutey Moharan I, 61 on the consciousness of the tzaddik as one with Chokhmah Ila’ah (Supernal Wisdom), which he also describes as the sekhel ha-kollel, all-encompassing or universal mind. Similarly, in L”M II, 72, he speaks of the moach ha-kollel, which seems to be the same thing; see there. Rabbi Nachman discusses the concepts of “Torat Hashem” (invoking Psalms 1:20 and ma’amarey Chazal from both the Bavli and Yerushalmi) and “tefillat Hashem” (as in Isaiah 56:7) in the sense of the individual becoming a vehicle for the Divine through Torah study and prayer (Likutey Moharan I, 22, sec. 10)
Glick 181: “realized souls” and universality:
Compare: These terms seem to parallel many teachings about the souls of the tzaddikim, particularly those of the highest level. In modern times, Rav Kook is distinguished for giving voice to such universality. For example:
“Great souls cannot dissociate themselves from the most universal concerns. All they desire and aspire for is the universal good, universal in its comprehensiveness, universal in its full width, height and depth… The higher unification, in which everything finds its completion, rests on the influence of the knowledge of God and the love of God, from which it necessarily derives, to the extent that one has embraced it. When the knowledge of God is suffused by a great love, when it is pervaded by its true illumination, according to the capacity of each soul to receive it, there radiates from its absolute light a love for the world, for all worlds, for all creatures, on all levels of their being. A love for all existence fills the hearts of the good and kindly ones among creatures, and among humans. They yearn for the happiness of all, they hope that all may know light and joy. They draw into themselves the love for all existence, differentiated into its many forms of being, from the higher love for God, from the love of absolute and total perfection in the Cause of all, who created and sustains everything” (translated by Ben Zion Bokser in his Paulist Press anthology, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, “Lights of Holiness,” pp. 226-228 / Orot HaKodesh, Vol. II, pp. 456 457)
Similar sentiments may be found in the writings of Rav Kook’s contemporary and friend, Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag, author of the “Sulam” translation of the Zohar, Talmud Esser Sefirot, and other important kabbalistic works.
As for specific meditative techniques, Yoel might have added the one at the end of Rav Chaim Vital’s Shaarey Kedushah, sec. 3, for attaining ruach ha-kodesh, which was posted on the Solitude-Hisbodedus website, as translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan:
Or see the expanded version in Sefer HaBris, Chelek II, Maamar 8 and Maamar 11 (in the section of the book about the mysteries of prophecy). Yet these meditations would be inappropriate for those who have not prepared and perfected themselves according to the extremely demanding instructions in the main part of Shaarey Kedushah. (Which is probably why the Lubavitcher Rebbe – unlike Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan – did not recommend Kabbalistic meditation for the masses, but only meditation as a therapeutic aid and a relaxation technique.
Many of the visualizations in Living Jewish Meditation are the author’s creations, although based on traditional sources and concepts (as in the section “Meditation on the Name”). For those who can understand their intricate kabbalistic meanings, there is an entire volume of such meditations (in Hebrew) printed in large type designed for actual practitioners in Rabbi Eliyahu Ovadiah’s Be’er Eliyahu: Achdut Ha-Olamot, derived from mystical writings of the Komarno Rebbe found in Heikhal ha-Berakhah. However, this is not for beginners. What Rabbi Glick has accomplished is that he has simplified such methods in order to create Jewish meditative techniques with an “open admissions policy.”
Your ability to show a wide array of parallel teachings from Judaism shows how broad Judaism is and those who seek wisdom in the East should look at their own religion first . How much of an impact do you think this book will have ?
I was always puzzled by the introduction of the ramban in peirush al hatorah where he says the 49 levels of understanding are of the creation and not of the Torah but that seems to reflect many of the above thoughts anyway