I have three passions: Judaism, spirituality, and Murphy, my Goldendoodle. Of the three the only one I embrace without ambivalence is Murphy.
My ambivalence regarding Judaism has little to do with Judaism itself and more to do with Jews. I love studying Judaism but often when I speak to Jews about the potential of Judaism to transform their lives with new meaning and purpose, I am met with blank stares and apathy. I want to believe that the reason so many Jews are only nominally engaged in Jewish life is because the Jewish life they are offered is only nominally engaging. But in those dark moments when belief gives way to truth I suspect the reason that most Jews are apathetic regarding Judaism is that they are simply apathetic toward Judaism. They really don’t care. And because they really don’t care there is nothing any of us who do care can do about it.
My ambivalence about spirituality is different. Here the issue isn’t with the people, but the enterprise itself. Spirituality is the practice of connecting to Reality (God, Tao, or whatever you choose to call it), but the fact is (and for me it is an experientially confirmable fact) there is no need to connect to Reality since you cannot be disconnected from Reality. All the systems we create and organizations we build are, as my Zen teachers used to say, selling water by the river. The more I travel and teach ways of awakening to Reality the more I spread the illusion that you need to awake, that you are asleep.
Perhaps it is the recent death of Toni Packer and my rereading of her books and those of J. Krishnamurti that has me thinking this way. In any case, do we really need all the initiations, workshops, mantra, speakers, gurus, etc.? Is this really the alternative to organized religion that so many participants claim it is? Or is it just more of the same?
My ambivalence doesn’t keep me from doing the work I do. I continue to invite Jews into a new Judaism of my own imagining, and I continue to invite the spiritually independent to learn from the wisdom of the world’s great spiritual texts and teachers. But I continue to doubt the efficacy of both efforts.
Thank God for my dog and the simple truth of wagging tails and chasing Frisbees. While I never answered the koan “Does a dog have Buddhanature,” I have definitively answered the koan “Is it the Buddha’s nature to have a dog?