No Third Party Certification
Today, many prefer to eat organic food. I know I do. How do you know if something is organic? A third party organization certifies it. It’s the same if you want to consume only kosher foods, or fair trade foods, gluten free, and so on. But what if you grow some blueberries in your back yard? When you go to pick some berries, do you look for the organic label on them? Of course not. It’s your garden.
A certification can be helpful, but it’s not the thing that makes the food organic. The food itself is organic or it’s not, regardless of what anyone says about it. It’s the same with the truth of your own being. We tend to think that there is some condition that has to be met before we can find our inner “jewel” Divinity. Perhaps we have to get rid of our arrogance, our fear, our anger, or our desires. Then we would be “certified”. But the awareness that sees your arrogance, fear, anger and desires is already free from them! You don’t need to get rid of those things to get to the truth, because truth is not something you get; it is something you are. In fact, there is nothing but the Truth everywhere, always. As it says (Isaiah 6:3), “m’lo khol ha’aretz k’vodo- all the earth is filled with the Divine glory!”
“But,” you may ask, “how can I see my inner jewel of Divinity if all I see is a trash heap of vanity?” Again, you don’t see the jewel of Divinity, you are that jewel. The “jewel” is that which sees the “trash heap”; what is needed is to notice that which is noticing, to fall into that which you are. Let go and fall. There is no arrogance in falling. There is no resistance either, and therefore no negativity, no judgment. Falling into the purity of your own awareness, the vanity drops away on its own. And that is the paradox- it is the seeing of your own imperfections that allows you to discover the perfection!
To clarify further- in this week’s video, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef tells his disciples an enigmatic story… enjoy!
Falling into G-d's Hands
There is a prayer called takhanun which is a supplication for forgiveness. In Takhanun there is a quote from King David in the Bible. In the story from which the quote is taken, King David had done something wrong and was realizing that he would have to face the consequences of his actions. In his plea for mercy, he prays that he should “fall into God’s hands for His mercy is abundant, but let me not fall into the hands of humans.”
On the surface, it seems he is saying that he should receive his punishment as an “act of God”- like sickness or something- since God is likely to be merciful, rather than receive his punishment from people, who are likely to be harsher. But hidden within this duality is the hint of an underlying non-duality: that rather his prayer is to be aware of whatever happens to him as an expression of God, regardless of what form it comes in. In this sense, the verse is referring to an absolute relationship with Reality, where your consiousness is an open field within which this moment unfolds. Good, bad, indifferent- they are all passing experiences in the unbroken oneness of being that you are, that everything is.
How do you open to this relationship? Simply by remembering to relax into Reality as it is, rather than resist it. But this doesn’t mean powerlessness; it doesn’t mean resignation. To go into this further, I’ve prepared a little video on the subject. My eight-year-old son Eidan taught me some tricks on the computer, so this video has a few more bells and whistles. Enjoy!
Weekly Torah Portion- Korakh
Once there was a farmer who lived on his farm with his son. The son grew up helping the farmer with all the chores- cleaning the chicken coup, milking the cows, planting, tending, harvesting and so on. As the son grew up, however, he became disdainful of the farm life. He resented his father for raising him in such a sheltered life, and he wanted to experience more.
As he grew more and more restless, he would get into fights with his father, insulting him and calling him a bumpkin and a hick and so on. Eventually he left the farm and set out for a more urban evnvironment. He became a party animal, living for the nights when he would drink himself into oblivion with his newfound crowd of party animals.
One such night, one of his companions who knew about the son’s origins got out of hand and started insulting him and his father. The son suddenly felt protective of his father’s honor, and threatened to beat the guy up. Some other people restrained him, and said “why don’t you settle it with a drinking contest?” They both agreed.
As the son downed shot after shot, there was something different in the way he was drinking. In the past, he drank for his own pleasure. Now, he was drinking for his father. This gave him more drinking strength than ever, and he easily won the contest.
The next night, when he went out drinking, he was reminded of what it was like to drink for his father, and how it somehow gave more strength and depth to his drinking, so he tried it again: Before taking a sip, he would say, “Dad, this is for you”. From then on, every night he went out, he would dedicate his partying to his father. After some time, he felt something like a fire kindle inside his heart. A great love for his father grew inside him. Sometimes he would sit with the glass of wisky for long periods without drinking anything, just savoring this love that was growing within him.
Eventually, he began to realize that the love within him was infinitely more deep and sweet than the scrap of pleasure he got from the alchohol. He knew he had to return home, but he felt so guilty facing his father.
When he arrived and saw his father, he said, “I left here because I had felt like I was just one of your animals, mindlessly doing your farm work. But now that I’ve been out in the world, I feel like I am not even as good as your animals, because your animals at least faithfully serve you, while I just run around after my own pleasure. I am less than an animal. But I love you, and I realize I was wrong, and I want to come back.”
The father was in tears. “My son, these animals don’t serve me on purpose. They follow their instincts, and I know how to work with them so that they serve me and the farm. You, on the other hand, have chosen to some back out of love, and that is the most precious thing to me.”
In the story, the son follows his own desires, satisfying himself through drinking. But when he accidentally imbues his drinking with love for his father, the drinking begins to have a new effect. It becomes a path of transformation.
On Shabbat, as we come together to sing and dance and praise in joy, most of us are drinking in the tavern for God. We’re doing enjoyment, but dedicating it to God, so it becomes a path of transforming the heart, of awakening the power of love. But in order for that power to become a true transformation, we have to take it back to the farm.
But of course there is something in the way; it is easier to drink for the farmer than to clean the chicken coup for the farmer. So the story is really about the very beginning of the son’s spiritual work- the real work begins after the story ends. That’s where the transformation of ego happens- when you clean the chicken coup, when you endure the hardships of life and are able to dedicate it to the One. The other day, I lost my kippa, and I was afraid- it’s my last one, what am I going to do? Then I realized what a crass materialist I was being. What kind of spirituality is that? Worrying about a hat? So insignificant compared to the real hardships of life, but it affected me. But those to me are the golden spiritual moments- when you get to see your own ego at work- because that is the opportunity to drop it for real. Real transformation happens in the flow of actual life, when we offer the whole of our life on the altar of actuality.
In this parasha, Korakh makes a rebelion against Moses with 250 followers, accusing Moses of exalting himself over everyone else, and calling for something more democratic. The midrash asks why this incident comes right after the mitzvah of tzitzit- the ritual fringes worn the corners of the one's garment to remind one of the Path. The tzitzit are supposed to have a special thread of blue in them. It answers that Korakh came to Moses with a garment made entirely of blue and asked Moses, “Does this need tzitzit?” Metaphorically, Korakh was saying that he was totally aware of God’s presence everywhere, so there was no need for the specific tzitzit as a reminder; Korakh was like the garment that was all blue. There was no need for Moses to lead him, Korakh argued, because whatever happens, God is always in control anyway. It’s a very spiritual argument, and it is actually true from a spiritual point of view. But he was using a spiritual argument to justify being a farm animal rather than being a son of God. The farm animals do what they do, and the farmer manipulates the situation. But the son comes back to serve out of love and awareness of the farmer, and that’s the difference between Moses and Korakh. Korakh’s actions did ultimately serve a holy purpose- the story is in the Torah, and is part of the Teaching, but Korakh was motivated by ego. Moses was trying to do his job.
So the point is not using spiritual ideas as argument; the point is our relationship to the present moment. It is being willing to allow this moment to be what it really is anyway, and serving That. This is what it means to serve in simkha- in joy- but also in yirah- in fearsome awe; because only awe and surrender can the things we resist transform us into hearts that burn with Divine Love. May we merit truly spiritual lives, so that the ecstasy of drinking in the tavern be channeled into cleaning the chicken coup. Shabbat Shalom!
The Low and the High
Last week, on the holiday of Shavuot, I led a workshop at the Berkeley JCC. After talking a bit about awakening as the transcending of mind and the opening to Oneness/God that is Reality, someone raised his hand with a question. He said, “I’ve heard about the state you’re talking about, but it seems you have to be a spiritual superman to achieve it. What about the rest of us?” This is a common misconception that our minds tend to come up with: the mind imagines that it must be super human to overcome itself. But the truth is actually just the opposite!
In the Talmud (Tractate Megilla 31a), there is a powerful expression of this principle: “Rabbi Yokhanan said: Wherever you find the greatness of the Holy Blessed One, there you will also find Its humility… as it is written, ‘For so says the Exalted and Uplifted One, Who abides eternally, “I abide in exaltedness and holiness but I am with the contrite and lowly of spirit, to revive the hearts of the contrite” (Isaiah 57:15).
The mind tends to make a duality: exalted spirituality one hand, and our own ordinary imperfection on the other. But this remarkable quote by Rabbi Yokhanan reminds us otherwise! As long as we imagine God, enlightenment, Oneness or whatever to be something separate and other, we will remain far from it. But there is another possibility: drop the duality and open to the ordinariness. Admit your flaws, but don’t remain in judgment about them. Let the Light shine through reality as it meets you, now. As the quote says- “…to revive the hearts of the contrite”- this is not just metaphor. This reviving, healing Light is available when you let it into the ordinariness of this moment, when you open to the symphony of Being that is this moment. Enjoy!
Revelation of Nothing
Imagine for a moment that you are one of the ancient Israelites who were liberated from slavery in Egypt. The event was so unexpected and seemingly impossible that you saw it as nothing less than miraculous. You sensed the Divine power and Presence at each step of the journey. And that is why now, as you camp at Mount Sinai, you diligently follow Moses’ instructions to purify yourself and get ready to meet the Divinity Who liberated you, face to face.
After three days of special purification, you stand with your people, ready to encounter God… or so you think. A long shofar blast sounds; fire and smoke are on the mountain. Then, God begins to speak. What do you hear? According to one teaching, the only sound you hear is the letter aleph, the first letter of anokhi- “I”- which is the first word of the Ten Commandments. This is too much- you and the rest of your people tell Moses to please make it stop. After all, Moses is the prophet; he should hear the Voice and bring back God’s message.
But what was it exactly that was too much? We tend to imagine that the experience must have been too intense, like taking too many hits of acid or something. But what is the sound of the aleph? Absolutely nothing! The aleph itself has no sound. No content. And yet, the shape of the aleph with its two yods above and below, bridged by a vav in between, is said to represent heaven, earth and the connection between them- in other words, everything. So, we might say that the “sound” heard at Sinai was the realization that everything is really nothing- meaning: there is no purpose, no hope, no big deal, no little deal, just Presence- the “I” of God, as it is, manifesting in and as all creation, now and always. What if, in the moment we expected to hear the Divine Voice, all we heard was a breeze, maybe the sound of a bird. What if the Presence we sought was That which is always here- silent and yet bubbling with life. What if, in the wake of experiencing liberation from the external Pharaoh, God offered us inner liberation- the true liberation of recognizing our own nothingness, of recognizing the One Presence that is pouring out Its beauty and love toward everything, as everything. What then? Perhaps it would have been too much because it was too little, too subtle. Perhaps we would have preferred something we could cling to rather that the Nothing of freedom.
Which do you prefer? Do you prefer the words and concepts of your own mind, or the silent stillness beneath the mind that is Source of liberation? Tomorrow night begins holiday of revelation, Shavuot. This Shavuot, can we let go of the idea of revelation enough to allow true revelation to unfold? Join me at the Berkeley JCC at 10:40 pm and we will find out together!
And, here is another offering to further clarify! A video entitled “Fall Through the Cracks”- enjoy!