Brenda Shoshanna is a practicing psychologist with more than 25 years of experience. She is the author of several books including Zen and the Art of Falling in Love. Raised in an orthodox Jewish family, she is now a long-term student and practitioner of both Judaism and Zen Buddhism. As an interfaith counselor, she has written an extraordinary book that vividly demonstrates the rich cross-fertilization that can take place when your spiritual practice stems from two traditions. Of an estimated three million practicing Buddhists in the United States today, nearly one third also identify themselves as Jewish. Shoshanna addresses them and all others who are open to the adventure of interspirituality.
The material covered in this book conveys the wisdom and ethical sweep of both Judaism and Zen. The chapter titles preview her broad perspective:
• Jewish Prayer and the Practice of Zazen
• Seeking Understanding: Torah Study and Koan Practice
• Disciplining Yourself: Mitzvot and Mindfulness
• Calming the Restless Mind: Sabbath and Nondoing
• Giving Up Defensiveness: Charity and Open Hands
• Guarding Your Words: Lashon Hara and the Zen Practice of Silence
• Finding True Support: Dissolving False Attachments and Letting Go
• Discovering Yourself: Jewish Identity and Selflessness and more.
• Building Relationships: Marriage and Courtship; Monks and Nuns
• Making Peace in the Family and the World: Forgiveness and Renunciation
• Healing Sorrow: Tikkun Olam and Total Acceptance
• Understanding Life Purpose: Caring for One Another and Bodhisattva Activity
Shoshanna uses many colorful anecdotes from Judaism and Zen but the major emphasis is on the practices which animate these two sturdy traditions. She points out that in the Zen tradition if you want to see the beauty of a room, you take everything out so that you can get a glimpse of its original nature: "In Zen practice you do the same. You take everything out of your life that causes clutter, static, confusion, and greed. . . . As you do this, you naturally find your own inner balance and strength."
Both Zen and Judaism require persistence the ability to absorb disappointment and disillusionment. Each calls us to live in the present moment, to eschew distractions, to abandon pride, and to practice love and kindness. Both traditions present a new way of life: Zen as the middle way and Torah as a life of balance.
The discipline and structure of spiritual practice in both Judaism and Zen offer an alternative to the compulsive behavior and addiction that is so rampant in our culture. Observing the Sabbath in Judaism and the practice of nondoing in Zen are antidotes to restlessness, greed, and consumerism.
In closing, we present just two examples of the kind of practices that make this such a rich and practical book, one that you will turn to again and again. From Judaism, here is a practice of charity. And from Zen, a practice of hospitality.
"Open your hand and give many times. It is a mitzvah to give charity (tzedukah) to the poor. You are more obligated to do this mitzvah than any other. It says that whoever sees a poor person and turns his eyes away, transgresses. You should not think that by giving charity you are losing money; just the opposite, you will be blessed. There are many forms of charity money, time, attention, work, giving someone else the benefit of the doubt. Give with an open hand and heart, and your life will be fruitful. The highest way of giving is simply to give, wanting nothing in return."
"From the Zen point of view, the deepest kindness and generosity is to welcome others exactly as they are. This deep form of welcoming strangers welcomes them in truth and simplicity; it welcomes the authentic person, not the persona or mask that we wear. In many Zen centers, individuals wear plain robes. The purpose of this is so that no one can feel more important if he has fancy clothes or fine jewelry. With robes on it is more difficult to compare oneself to others, or to focus on external presentation. And one, in turn, cannot rely on costumes or props. Who one truly is, speaks for oneself."