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Jewish DharmaReview - Jewish Dharma
A Guide to the Practice of Judaism and Zen
by Brenda Shoshanna
Da Capo, 2008
Review by Lucia Teszler
Jul 21st 2009 (Volume 13, Issue 30)

This is a book that on one side ultimately overthrows the prejudices about the impossibility of a real communication between religions by presenting us a new way of understanding the relationship between them, in this case between Judaism and the practice of Zen; on the other side it is a practical guide of the serenity of soul, giving useful pieces of advice for a serene and rich spiritual life. Thus it is a book both for the mind and for the soul, and I recommend that you read it slowly as a practical guide, the value of which will reveal itself completely only if it is followed as a spiritual exercise.

The author, Brenda Shoshanna makes a parallel analysis of the spiritual practices of Judaism and Zen, both of which she performed, so the book is the testimony of an experience, of a journey on a spiritual path. Even if we don't consider the book as a spiritual journey, it is interesting to discover how two religions, two spiritual paths which we considered so distant from each other can complete each other so wonderfully. Because we talk about completion, rather than resemblance. For example, in the Jewish tradition the emphasis is on sanctifying our daily life, on being together, on daily giving our attention, support etc. to others, while in the practice of Zen the emphasis is on finding a refuge to quiet our minds. If Judaism insists on the value of the words which can build a reality and which we have to use carefully because with their aid we can destroy a person or we can elevate their self-confidence, the Zen practice of silence reveals that the real meaning of things is beyond words, that often words, concepts are only the cause of misunderstandings and of many prejudices and that we shouldn't mix words with reality. Thus results a surprising complementarily of the Judaic and Zen practices, both of which, separately and together inside a Jewish dharma, lead to the same serenity of the soul, to finding our light, compassionate side, to being responsible for others.

As I mentioned before, beyond this aspect -- the practical demonstration of the fact that the two religions not only support each other or diplomatically sympathize with each other, but enrich and complete each other -- the book is in fact a guide of practical and spiritual exercises, a spiritual pathway. We can analyze more deeply and compare the Jewish prayer on one side and the practice of Zazen on the other side, the study of the Torah and the practice of the Koan. It is interesting to see how relevant for today's man are the practices of calming the mind and the thoughts in order to remove the dependencies and automatism, the false attachments, by which we risk to reduce our mental outlook, for example by locking ourselves into the virtual world or into our work. Calming the mind is made in the two traditions either by emptying the mind (restless mind) or by keeping the Sabbath. Of course as a spiritual guide the book must contain exercises in order to live the clarity, by removing the defenses or by controlling our language, by blessing, marriage as compared to the way of living of the Zen monks, forgiveness, family peace, healing the pain, total acceptance, understanding the meaning of life and rediscovering the light, our internal serenity.


© 2009 Lucia Teszler



Lucia Teszler is a PhD Student in Philosophical Hermeneutics at University of Turin



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