Judaism via Vipassana
- Forwarded by Christine - no editorializing
Judaism via Vipassana
Jerusalem Post; 6/7/2002; Ruth Mason
Headline: Judaism via Vipassana
Byline: Ruth Mason
Friday, June 7, 2002 -- Stephen Fulder was a young Ph.D. in biochemistry in
1975 when the British government asked him to lecture for a year in Indian
universities. During that year, he discovered meditation and today he teaches
Vipassana and other Buddhist practices throughout Israel.
Ruthie Avidor was a high-school student in working- class Kiryat Haim in the
1950s when she met a group of young people who were also searching for meaning
in life - and felt she had finally found what she was looking for. The group
eventually founded Yodfat, a moshav in Galilee, and entered the Fourth Way, a
spiritual path founded by G.I. Gurdjieff.
Dani Davidi had just been discharged from an elite army unit in 1980 when a
high-school friend told him she had encountered something interesting. At first
he resisted. Today, he travels the world lecturing about Emin, a spiritual
philosophy whose goal is personal, societal, and universal development.
Sigal Halperin, a psychologist, was having relationship difficulties with her
partner a few years ago when she turned to a book a friend had lent her. She
wrote to an address listed in the book, found the help she needed, and now is
a teacher of Pathwork, a way of working on one's self to expand one's
Arie Ben-David had journeyed to India and Nepal in 1979 after his discharge
from the the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit and a stint of working to earn
money. During his travels, he experienced a dimension of reality beyond the
physical. When he returned to Israel, a friend suggested he read the works of
Rudolf Steiner, founder of the "spiritual science" of anthroposophy. The books
gave him a framework for understanding his experiences. Today he teaches at
Jerusalem Waldorf Teachers' College, which is based on Steiner's teachings.
Fulder, Avidor, Davidi, Halperin, and Ben-David are just five of the
thousands of Israelis who are committed to some kind of spiritual path outside of -
but not necessarily in conflict with - Judaism. Like many people throughout the
West, Israelis are searching for greater satisfaction and meaning in life.
Many find what they're looking for within Jewish tradition. But many others
encounter books or people that introduce them to philosophies and concepts,
often esoteric, that are not attached to a particular religion. Perhaps
ironically, Judaism often becomes more important to people once they have embarked on a
spiritual path of any kind.
"There is a proliferation of interest and a supermarket of techniques," says
Fulder, 55, who immigrated from London 20 years ago, lives in Clil, a
community village in Galilee, and has three grown daughters. He is also the author of
12 books on herbal medicine. "People are really interested and curious to know
what's out there - to help them with what's inside."
What's inside tends to reflect what's outside, and what's outside is often
uncertain, overly materialistic, and lacking connection and direction.
People want answers to deeper, more eternal questions. Who am I? Why am I
here? What is the purpose of life?
"This kind of searching became a meaningful phenomenon in Israel at the end
of the 1980s," says Yoav Ben-Dov, a Tel Aviv University researcher who looks
into the interface between contemporary culture, science, and mysticism. "We've
come back to ourselves a little. The ideal of science and rationalism as an
answer to everything is not as convincing. People are looking for answers
People on a spiritual path often follow a structured course of inner work
which they hope will bring them answers to eternal questions. Techniques include
meditation, close observation of oneself, movement, physical work, expressing
old hurts, chanting, and various spiritual exercises. Just about every
spiritual path has or had a teacher, master, or founder whose wisdom is venerated.
G.I. Gurdjieff, who has groups of followers here and throughout the world,
was an Armenian mystic and philosopher who spent years traveling in search of
ancient, hidden knowledge. His book, Meetings with Remarkable Men describes some
of what he found.
His basic teaching is that most people live in a state of waking sleep and
that transcending this state requires specific inner work. Groups, usually
attached to Gurdjieff centers, do this work together with the help of a teacher.
People work on their thoughts, feelings, and bodies using exercises and special
music and movements Gurdjieff found in that "hidden knowledge" he sought.
"We had been at Yodfat about six years and had done important things here
with organic farming, ecology, and living with our Arab neighbors but something
was missing," says Ruthie Avidor, 61.
"Around that time, P.D. Ouspensky's In Search of the Miraculous [a book
describing the Gurdjieff work] came to Steimatzky's and a few of us started reading
it. We tried to work by ourselves. We didn't realize you needed to be
attached to a school."
Eventually the group at Yodfat, along with others who had also been affected
by Ouspensky's book, made contact with a Gurdjieff center in France which
began sending a teacher.
"Gurdjieff didn't give us answers, but he showed how to ask questions," says
Avidor, a grandmother of 11, who has been doing this work for 33 years.
"Through questioning, our inner attitude changes as well as our relationship
to ourselves and hence to the world. People who ask existential questions
about life experience a kind of lack. It's important to learn about that lack.
It's hard because when do questions arise? In time of distress, of war. And then
people forget. The trick is to remember to live with the questions, and to be
able to accept someone else's authority, to become part of a hierarchy. That's
very hard (especially for us Jews - who all have our own opinions)."
Many of Yodfat's second generation are continuing on the path, Avidor says.
While she didn't discuss her spiritual activities with her kids, they absorbed
enough to become serious searchers themselves.
"This gives me a feeling of satisfaction," she says. "They are partners in
Two of her five children have become religiously observant over the past few
Referring to the need to accept authority and be part of a hierarchy, Avidor
says: "In order to be a master of yourself, you must first learn to be a
slave. It sounds idiotic, but it's true."
Without necessarily using the word, many spiritual paths have as their
premise the idea that people really are slaves. We act not out of free choice but
from our conditioning. Much of the work required of people on a spiritual path
is self awareness: to observe ourselves deeply to become cognizant of - and
free of - our conditioning.
Freedom is at the heart of anthroposophy (literally "wisdom of man"), a
spiritual philosophy developed by the Austrian philosopher and scientist Rudolf
Steiner as a result of his attempts to reconcile science and his own extrasensory
Israelis often first encounter Steiner's ideas in one of his 50 books, How to
Attain Knowledge of Higher Worlds, and its methods and exercises for
"building the inner stability, sensitivity, and clarity necessary for a healthy
development," in Arie Ben-David's words.
Steiner wrote that for every spiritual step he takes forward, a person must
take three moral steps forward.
Ben-David's paintings and sculptures and his work with his wife Jan Ranck,
who directs the Jerusalem Academy of Eurythmy (a form of movement inspired by
anthroposophy) are informed by Steiner's ideas. He also trains teachers to work
in Israel's four Waldorf schools, which are based on Steiner's insights into
child development. They emphasize experiential learning and the arts.
"One of the main goals of our teachers' training is to develop the ability to
really experience and be one with: with a child you meet, a plant you grow, a
bee you see flying to its hive, the color red - which then leads you to
experience yourself differently.
"At anthroposophy's center is a freely developing human being," says
Ben-David. "It's a path of development that aims to create a healthy integration
between man and the world around him and has inspired practical initiatives based
on spiritual knowledge."
Among these initiatives here, apart from the schools, are Kfar Raphael, a
village in which small groups of mentally handicapped adults live with regular
families and work in various workshops, and Kibbutz Harduf, well-known as
producers of organic products farmed according to the methods of biodynamic
agriculture, another offshoot of anthroposophy. The kibbutz also houses a residential
home for children from broken families.
"What's unique about anthroposophy is that there are as many paths to it as
there are individuals who walk the path," says Ben-David. "The idea is not to
bring spirituality into small rooms of people who read books, but into your
"'Know thyself' is a phrase that resounds from ancient times," says
Ben-David. "Observe yourself. What are your pains, your fears? The idea is not to
repress them but to gradually transform them so we can meet the world freely and
creatively. There are many ways to do this within anthroposophy. You can read
books and do the exercises in them; you can work through the arts, through
movement, through medicine."
Like those who teach Kabbala to the masses, Ben-David says that the spiritual
world, which used to be accessible only to a few, is today is accessible to
everyone who is interested in developing his soul to perceive it.
Sigal Halperin would agree with Ben-David. The path she chooses toward
greater spirituality is based on the writings of another Austrian, a Jewish woman
named Eva Pierrakos. Her book, The Pathwork of Self Transformation, is a series
of lectures she delivered which she says were "channeled" through her by a
spiritual entity that calls itself "The Guide." In 258 lectures, The Guide sets
down a way to become acquainted with and gradually to transform one's
"The Pathwork says that the more you are capable of cleaning out internal
barriers, like false beliefs about yourself, incorrect perceptions about life,
inner conflicts that block you, the happier your life will be," says Halperin,
37 and the mother of one.
She heard of the Pathwork through a friend who had encountered it in the US
and had taken an introductory course there. The friend bought every book she
could find on the Pathwork back and when Halperin saw them, "it was love at
"I felt such happiness and curiosity. Just looking at the chapter headings in
the table of contents, I saw there was a connection between the psychological
[she has an M.A. in clinical psychology] and the spiritual. In a way I'd been
looking for this my whole life. There are a lot of good and interesting ways
to develop and search - and everyone needs to find the one that suits him.
This one fits me."
Halperin went on to translate The Pathwork of Self Transformation into Hebrew
and to study with Pathwork "helpers" in Italy. Eventually a group formed here
that brings in a teacher from Holland for workshops. Halperin also is working
on integrating Pathwork ideas into her clinical practice.
"I like the emphasis on working on the lower self," she says. "There is a
lower self, a higher self, and our mask. The lower self is the yet undeveloped
part in us that still contains negative emotions, thoughts, and impulses, such
as fear, hate, or cruelty. The higher self is the divine spark in us, which is
part of the universal intelligence and love that pervades life. The mask is
the outermost layer, with which we cover up our lower selves and often even our
higher selves as a protective shield.
"The task is threefold," Halperin explains. "To become aware of the mask so
we can free ourselves of its automatic patterns; to transform the negativity of
the lower self and to get more connected to our higher self.
"My mask is one of being nice. I was nice to everyone, always. Even if it was
not appropriate to the situation. I wouldn't put boundaries when I needed to;
I couldn't get angry. That was the way I learned to behave as a child in
order to get love. Part of the goal is to become aware of these automatic
patterns, so we can become more authentic and free to choose more adaptive behaviors.
"People often have a lot of anger about their childhoods, their parents. When
our parents' love was limited, it hurt us. In the work, you connect with the
anger in you and you express it. These feelings have energy. If you just sit
and talk like in therapy, you understand, but you don't get the energy of it
out. So we yell, we hit pillows. You feel the energy leaving your body. It took
me two-and-a-half years to be able to do this. I'm a nice person. How could I
show anger? But once I did, I felt surprisingly stronger, more whole."
Halperin says one of the most moving things in the Pathwork is to see other
people doing this kind of work, to "watch people going to really low places
that in daily life we don't dare go, to give it real expression and to transform
it. I see it as an alchemy of the soul."
Halperin is now translating Creating Union, the book that brought her to the
Pathwork. "Pathwork says that as you work on connecting and integrating
different parts of yourself, you can connect better with others and you will feel
more connected with the universe - which is what we all long for."
The universe figures prominently in Emin as well. "We see personal
development as a necessary stage for fulfilling a higher goal," says Dani Davidi, 44, a
father of two and one of the six world leaders of Emin and the promoter
(usually known as "secretary") of Ma'aleh Zvia, a Galilee village whose adult
residents are all Emin members.
That goal, man's purpose, is nothing less than to help the development of the
"We think the entire universe is in a process of continual development and
that it's now in a transition from being automatic and robotic to being more
conscious," Davidi says. "Man is the crown of creation that helps the universe
get to a higher consciousness by his own conscious development and as a result,
the growing consciousness of the human race.
"The last 150 years have seen more changes than the past thousands. Why?
There is a new permission from the universe, from God and all of his messengers,
to the human race to move into another evolutionary stage. That's why we're
seeing so much interest in spirituality now."
Just what is personal development? Davidi sees it as a multilevel process
that lasts a lifetime: getting to the point where we can live according to values
we consciously choose; shrinking the size of the ego so that we see ourselves
in proportion and not as the center of the universe; working on personal
weaknesses to reduce them as much as possible; and enhancing our human faculties
to enrich human life.
A concrete example is to be able to see a problem from all perspectives and
not just our own.
"The Israeli will always look at the Arab-Israeli conflict from the Israeli
point of view and the Palestinian from the Palestinian point of view. Neither
will see it from a common perspective or even a higher one," he says. "This is
true also of personal conflict. We don't try to understand the other side. If
we try to understand the feelings of the other side, we have a much better
chance of solving the conflict."
Emin teaches that all the answers are inside oneself. Hence the name Emin
which is an anagram for "in me."
The movement was founded in London in 1971 by a salesman and seeker who calls
himself Leo. There are 1,700 Emin members in the world, 500 of whom live
Members believe that the world is going through great changes and that many
templates are in the process of changing: families, nations, health, religions,
ecology. Emin members work in groups to discover new templates through
research, study of ancient cultures, and experimentation. They believe that
intuition is our sharpest and most acute tool and that we need to develop it.
Davidi speaks of the template of gardening that uses special knowledge of
plants and their influence on people. "Cherry trees will sedate mental activity,"
he offers. "Weeping willows are calming and inspire peace. We're working on
how to use this knowledge to create special gardens. Ma'aleh Zvia is probably
one of the most beautiful villages you'll ever see. It incorporates color,
form, structure, buildings, gardens, lakes, water canals, special healing
Davidi stresses that he is first a Jew, second an Israeli, and third a member
of Emin. His spiritual explorations in Emin led him to study in yeshivot for
Stephen Fulder, the Vipassana teacher, has become Sabbath observant since
Ruthie Avidor and her fellow moshavniks built a synagogue and put a lot of
energy into celebrating Jewish holidays.
Is this kind of searching kosher? While the spokesman for Ashkenazi Chief
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau refused to comment on the phenomenon, other Orthodox
figures, familiar with people who have explored other spiritual paths, mostly take
this kind of searching in their stride.
"People are searching for spiritual meaning and many of them - especially at
the beginning of the road - are incapable of looking within Judaism because of
the conflict in Israel between the religious and the secular," says Rabbi
Mordechai Frank, 33, a Braslaver hassid and head of the Or Torah boys' yeshiva in
Jerusalem. Many searchers, especially those who traveled to India, eventually
reach the Braslavers.
"Things are much more spiritual than we think," he adds. "Why didn't this
happen 50 or 100 years ago? I think it's the beginning of the fulfillment of the
prophecies of the End of Days. The prophet Amos said that there would be
hunger in the land - not a hunger for bread or a thirst for water but for knowing
"Israel will search, long, feel that something isn't right - and from this
will burst forth the great redemption. We are part of that process."
Frank says he sees the kind of searching described in this article as a
positive phenomenon. "We know that the moment a person begins to search, he'll get
there," he says. "I know many returnees to Judaism whose gurus and spiritual
teachers told them, 'What are you doing here? There's a lot more where you come
Mordechai Gafni, an Orthodox rabbi and head of Bayit Chadash, a local
spiritual community, says the black-and- white choice of religious or secular with
which Israelis are presented does not satisfy their spiritual yearnings.
"Israelis are seeking a new vision indigenous to Israel, deeply Jewish and
connected to mitzvot, yet rooted in love and spirit and not politics," he says.
"The ability to provide such a narrative will determine the future of the
State of Israel. If Israelis are forced to look outside Judaism for their primary
source of spiritual nourishment - well, this will be Judaism's greatest
failure since the destruction of the Temple."
Gafni uses the metaphor of a symphony to describe his position. "Each
musician needs to master his or her own instrument in order to make music," he says.
"To dabble in other instruments is lovely, to appreciate the music of the rest
of the orchestra is essential. But one only makes music through one's own
Sarah Schneider, who founded A Still Small Voice, a correspondence school in
classic Jewish wisdom, traveled her own circuitous spiritual path to
"It's not surprising that Israelis are looking around," she says. "We say
that every Jewish soul experienced the revelation of the Torah at Sinai. It whet
our appetite for spiritual content; we know how sweet it is. It's in the
nature of the Jewish soul. Nothing else is going to satisfy it."
Schneider says that the power and the drawback of the Jewish path is that
"there aren't a lot of peak experiences built into it. At a certain level of
search, people are looking for that. We were peak experience junkies. I think it's
a stage in the process. But transformation that happens during a peak
experience doesn't sustain itself. A person's taste buds become more refined and they
start looking for teachings that penetrate more deeply even though they may
not feel as exciting.
"That's when a lot of people start exploring their Jewish roots. Jewish
practice is very deep and is able to bring light to the Jewish soul, to touch
certain places there that can't be touched with any other practice. It's like a
glove that fits your hand. No other tool is shaped to fit that place."
Schneider says she thinks traditional Judaism is enriched by returnees who
come back enhanced from other spiritual disciplines.
"They bring a newness that enlivens the traditional Jewish world, a freshness
that enriches us all."
(Box)A partial glossary of wide-world spiritual paths in Israel
The Fourth Way of G.I. Gurdjieff
Groups meet to work on themselves in an effort to awaken from the "waking
sleep" in which all humans live, according to this Armenian mystic, and to
discover the true nature of man and the cosmos.
Developed by Austrian philosopher-scientist Rudolf Steiner who had mystical
experiences since childhood. Teaches that we have different bodies, including
non- physical ones. Has many practical offshoots including Waldorf education,
biodynamic agriculture, medicine, architecture, art, and movement (Eurythmy.)
A psycho-spiritual path based on a series of lectures from a spirit "guide,"
channeled by Eva Pierrakos, wife of John Pierrakos, co-founder with Alexander
Lewin of bio- energetics. Emphasizes work on the "lower self" in order to
attain higher consciousness.
Founded by the Javanese, R.M. Muhammad Subuh Sumohadiwidjojo (1901-1987), who
received what he called "the great life force" and could transmit it to
anyone who asked for it sincerely. After going through an initiation called an
"opening," people meet in groups for bi-weekly "latihan" during which they open
themselves to receive the divine.
The Art of Living
A path founded by the contemporary Indian guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar based on
breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, and service to others.
Founded in 1971 by an Englishman who took on the name Leo, Emin describes
itself as "a cutting edge exploration into the fundamentals of how things
actually work, why and how this can be useful in the improvement of a persons' life
in all aspects."
An "ancient teaching" which resurfaced in 1965, Eckankar teaches spiritual
exercises to experience the "light and sound of God" and to engage in "soul
travel" which moves us into "greater states of consciousness."
An intense form of Theravada Buddhist meditation that encourages
practitioners to look within. "The meditator comes to understand, though personal
experience, the truths of dukkha (suffering), anicca (impermanence), and anatta (lack
of an enduring self.)"
Keywords: Philosophy. Judaism. Israel. Perception. Personal. Religion.
Copyright 2002 Jerusalem Post. All Rights Reserved