Friday, January 08, 2010

Today I am a Hindu

[This was written before dawn on January 8, 2010 in Venice, CA.]

In a few hours I will be initiated into the Ramakrishna Order of Vendanta Hinduism at the Vendanta Center in Hollywood, CA. It is something I have thought about doing since I began to study the nondual teachings of Hinduism during my junior year of high school.

I am excited and not a little nervous. Neither feeling is especially interesting to me. I’m not expecting any great awakening; certainly not enlightenment. I am doing this for two reasons: First, to honor a tradition from which I have gleaned great wisdom and insight for fifty years, and, second, to move more deeply into that tradition by receiving a mantra and learning how to work with it.

One thing that does interest me as I prepare for this morning’s initiation is what it says about my identity as a Jew. It is one thing for a Jew to study another tradition, and quite another for a Jew to become an initiate in it. The mere fact that this thought arises in me suggests that my Jewish identity is still compelling to me, but not so much that it stops me from doing what I am about to do. Why not?

I know a wise and wonderful rabbi here in Venice who also shares my interest in other faiths, but when offered the opportunity to participate in an offering to Krishna politely refused, saying that for him it would be idolatrous. Yet in a few hours I will offer flowers and fruit to Brahman, a clear act of avodah zarah, idolatry, and yet I won’t hesitate to do so at all. What kind of Jew am I? Or am I Jew at all?

Meditating by a lake in Cape Cod forty-two years ago it became clear to me that Lao Tzu was right: the Tao that can be named is not the Eternal Tao. YHVH, Allah, Brahman, etc. are just names, verbal placeholders, that, when properly used, hold open the place of not-knowing. They are like the “—“ in G—D; reminding us that reality is unnamable. True, I love to talk about God, but I do so as a game, piling thought upon thought, and hoping to have them all collapse under their own weight. I’m not looking for the “true” name, but rather for a moment without names.

The Rig Veda’s teaching that “Truth is one, different people call it by different names,” frees me from both abandoning names and having allegiance to them. But being a Jew is all about names, especially The Name, and taking that Name very seriously. Yet I just can’t do so. I love languages, I love names, but I never mistake the menu for meal, the name for that toward which it points, and it is the meal I desire.

Judaism is my primary menu. It is the system of names I go to first and most often. But primary does not mean exclusive, and I find value in many names and many systems. And while I do love to explore the differences and incompatibilities between systems in an academic setting, in my personal life they all point me to the same reality, the nameless “—“ that is both the One and the Many.

So today I become a Hindu, but this label adheres no more tightly than any other. In the end I practice a Teflon spirituality allowing me to mix lots of ingredients without worrying that any will stick.


Raima said...

I very much like the points you make here. Oh...and congratulations, too!

Raksha said...

This is one of your best posts ever.

Namaste, Shalom, Blessed Be,

natbas said...

sir, you are in good company- Maurice Frydman.

J. Krishnamurti, Ramana Maharshi, U.G. Krishnamurti, Gandhiji, Nisargadatta Maharaj and who else? Maurice Frydman has closely associated with them:

Please check these links:

and, comments of david godman's blog:,

"Frydman made a point of doing things anonymously and not taking credit for his accomplishments. I am fairly certain, for example, that he was the editor of Maharshi's Gospel, and that the the questions in part two are his, but I can't prove it because he covered his tracks so well.

Long comment, sorry, but i do want to appreciate the greatness of Frydman.

Hope you find him of interest, because I am fairly convinced that but for Frydman, the translator compiler of Nisargadatta Maharaj,s "I am That", advaita's standing wouldn't be where it is now.

Please feel free to delete this comment.

natbas said...

Sri Ramana Maharshi:

"'I am' is the name of God. Of all the definitions of God, none is so well put as the biblical statement 'I am that I am' in Exodus chapter three. There are other statements such as brahmavaiham [Brahman am I], aham brahmasmi [I am Brahman] and soham [I am He]. But none is so direct as Jehovah [which means] 'I am'."

I found this at David Godman's blog:

For people of Jewish faith, this could be an interesting article, for it discusses Judaism from a nondualistic core:


"According to the Jews of the biblical period, to have no name meant to have no existence in reality, for when one's name is taken away from one, one ceases, quite literally, to exist. The giving of a name, therefore, is not merely an act of identification; it actually brings into existence the object named and summarises verbally its inherent properties. In Genesis, the first book of the Bible, God gives reality to His creation by naming its components: He names the day 'day', the night 'night', the sea 'sea', and so on (Genesis 1:3-10). Only by doing so can He bring them into a real and permanent existence. For the same reason He commanded Adam to give a name to each of the animals (Genesis 2:20). As for the name of God Himself, He had been called by several names prior to His famous declaration 'I am that I am': 'El' and Elohim', meaning 'God', and 'Shaddai', meaning 'Almighty'. But these names were not revealed by God Himself, they were merely convenient designations attributed to Him by a people who were as yet ignorant of His true name. When God finally revealed His name to be 'I am', He became more of a living reality to the Jews, and more accessible to them."

Unknown said...

That was delicious ;-)

By the way,thank you for knowing the menu title of my primary meditation instructor, Gesshin Myoko.

We miss you here in Alabama.

Mano said...

LeRav Ram haYakar

mazal tov, today you are a fountain pen, Hindu Shmindu, once a shmendrick always a shmendrick - take comfort in your shmendrick being, it will always guide you...Isaac Babel tried to become a cossack, but in the end said he remained a man with glasses on his nose and autumn in his other words a Type 4 according to Enneagram typology...anyway enjoy, celebrate..

as for Maurice Frydman...yes, wanted to make a documentary with him, first he is with Ramana in the 1930s and 40s, and then he pops up with Nisarghadattha, and yet can find no susbtantial record of him. he was born, I believe, in Cracow, which had a large and thriving Jewish community before the Germans and Poles murdered them all...

Hari Hari, Rama Rama, ve Eyn Od Milvado - he devours all G-ds and all names of G-d's, \\Jah Bless,

Immanuel S

Mano said...

Ah zzz....thank you very much. Toda raba. Dhandavhar. Shukriya. I have just read that bio of Frydman and it filled in all the gaps in my knowledge...since I first read I Am That studiying in a yeshiva (Jewish Ashram) in Jerusalem some 27 years ago I wondered about the surface details of Frydman's life....

Yevarechecha Adoshem veYishmarecha - may the nameless formless one bless and keep you

Phil said...

That's one small step for a man (of whatever wisdom tradition), one exemplary leap for cosmopolitanism. Good going, Rami!

Di said...

OH NO!!! Does this mean I have to get married again? Are the last 18 years null & void? Or, looking at things more optimistically, am I released from this marriage and free to roam places like

eashtov said...

Shalom Raima,

You wrote: "You are right in the sense that the US certainly controls a lot of the wealth in the world, though."

Yes we do and as I said there is no country on the planet as generous as we with our blood and treasure.

You wrote: "I loved the version of Isaiah 45:6-7 you posted. Beautiful."

Thanks and its just my translation from the original