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5 Reasons Jews Gravitate Toward Buddhism | HuffPost

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Ellen Frankel, Contributor Author, Speaker and Grief Councilor

5 Reasons Jews Gravitate Toward Buddhism

01/24/2013 08:06 am ET Updated Mar 26, 2013
A woman wearing a face mask walks in front of a large Buddha statue at a pagoda on Ba Na mountain outside the central Vietnamese city of Da Nang on June 25, 2009. The popular Ba Na mountain tourist spot located around 40kms from Da Nang is crowned with a pagoda boasting a 27-metre tall seated Buddha. AFP PHOTO/HOANG DINH NAM (Photo credit should read HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images)

In Jewish and Buddhist circles, there is the story of the Jewish woman who schleps to the Himalayas in search of a famous guru. She travels by plane, train and rickshaw to reach a Buddhist monastery in Nepal. When she gets there she's shvitzing and exhausted but she is committed, and thankfully she is wearing sensible shoes. An old lama in a maroon and saffron robe opens the door, and the woman promptly requests a meeting with the guru. The lama explains that this is impossible because the guru is in silent retreat, meditating in a cave high on a mountaintop. Not willing to take no for an answer, she insists that she absolutely must see this guru. Finally the lama acquiesces while insisting on the following rules: The meeting must be brief, she must bow when addressing the guru, and she can say no more than eight words to him. The woman agrees and says a silent prayer that her years with a personal trainer will pay off and somehow get her up the mountain. After hiring a Sherpa and a yak, she sets off for the grueling trek. With hardly an ounce of energy left, her spiritual search brings her to the opening of the cave high on the mountain. Keeping within the eight word limit in addressing the guru she breathes in deeply, sticks her head in the opening of the cave, bows and says, "Sheldon, it's your mother. Enough already, come home!"

A JuBu refers to someone with a Jewish background who practices some form of Buddhism. It has been estimated that 30 percent of all Western Buddhists are of Jewish heritage, and many of the prominent Western Buddhist teachers were born Jews. Here are five reasons why Jews are attracted to a Buddhist path:

Spirituality

Many Jewish seekers find that the Judaism they grew up in lacked a spiritual component with which they could connect. While many Jews today can identify with the cultural, social and historical aspects of Judaism, the spiritual dimension for many is significantly lacking. Today, increasing numbers of rabbis are acknowledging this problem. They maintain that there is a deep spiritual Jewish practice (through mystical Judaism and study of the Kabbalah) but that it has been inaccessible to the majority of Jews based on the way that Judaism is practiced in most synagogues across the country. Jews seeking a spiritual connection often find it in Buddhist philosophy where practices such as meditation and mindfulness are both central and accessible.

God

Because Buddhism in non-theistic in nature, Jewish believers in God, as well as Jewish atheists and agnostics, can find a home in Buddhist practice without having to compromise or struggle against opposing belief systems.

History

Jews and Buddhists have no baggage with one another, making exploration of this spiritual path much easier and more acceptable that joining a religious tradition where there is a history of conflict.

Open Invitation

In contrast to other religions, it is unnecessary to formally convert to Buddhism in order to follow this spiritual path. There is room for the decision to practice and identify as a Jew while embracing a Buddhist belief system and Buddhist practices.

Suffering

Both Jews and Buddhists share a deep understanding about the nature of suffering. Buddha's Four Noble Truths explores this concept in depth, offering a way to understand both the causes of suffering and a path to end suffering. These ideas resonate with Jews who have struggled with a history of persecution that culminated in the horrors of the Holocaust. Applying a Buddhist perspective to such atrocities can offer many a path of healing.

As Jews continue to explore Buddhism and its practices, more JuBus will be able to discover the "OM in ShalOM," creating a rich and fruitful spiritual path. Both traditions have much to offer and boast a rich legacy of dialogue and thought provoking debate to cultivate both wisdom and compassion and a whole lot of JuBulation!

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