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Is Buddhism Kosher?

Is Buddhism Kosher?

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Question:

I would be interested in your view regarding Buddhism. For example, do you believe that all Buddhists are nothing more than idol worshippers and that they must be converted to follow the Seven Noahide Laws, and/or do you feel that that there is something of value in Buddhist methods for spiritual cultivation?

Answer:

You will find throughout our people's history a process by which some elements of alien cultures are adopted while others are rejected. Not a very formalized process -- the rules are rather vague and tenuous -- but nevertheless successful in avoiding the syncretism that has dissolved other cultures while imbibing all that is good from the world about us. You will find distinct traces of ancient Egypt, Babylonia, Athens, Rome, Persia, Cordoba, Istanbul, Florence and every other civilization in which Jews have lived. But you'll only find those aspects which are in confluence with the body and soul of Torah. The rest we spat up like ipecac.

Interestingly, as much as we took from those alien cultures, they were even more affected than we were.

Today, this refinement process is extending to Buddhism. Many Jews began their spiritual trek with the path of Buddha and continued by discovering their own heritage in Torah. A twofold process occurs: Buddhism has evolved more in the past thirty years than in all its history before, to the point that what is presented today in America as Buddhism is already more Jewish than it is Buddhist. And, secondly, when those practicing "Jubus" return to Jewish practice, they reject those aspects that are anathematic to Torah, while making good use of those aspects that are complimentary.

Many of the Buddhist practices and world-concepts are in direct opposition to the Torah concept of singular Divine providence. When it comes to Tibetan rites, for example, Shamanism abounds. Even if the intellectual Buddhist conceives of these notions in a highly abstract fashion, they are still the notions of idolatry against which our father Abraham struggled. For a Jew to burn incense in front of a statue is horrifying, no matter what he will say are his inner intents. Similarly, the proclamation, "In Buddha I find refuge" is a catastrophe for the Jewish soul.

On the other hand, the mental rigor and personal discipline of these practices have proven of great benefit to many in their praying and meditation (both of which are organic to Judaism). Furthermore, it is likely that the essential teachings of the original teacher who is now called Buddha contain much of the ancient wisdom that was lost. Buddha lived at the time of the Babylonian Exile, as did Lao Tse (according to some historians) and Pythagoras. At that time, the Jews were deliberately transported to the frontiers of the Persian Empire. Along with them, they took their Torah knowledge and undoubtedly spread it to others. Perhaps we are now only sifting Solomon's lost jewels out of the mud in which they have been buried for two and a half millennia. On this, read The Palace & the Pigeons.

As for those who were born into Buddhist culture, I believe that they will find a particular path within the framework of the Noahide guidelines that leads them to the truth within their own heritage. In fact, I see at least one group in Japan quite close to this already.

I hope this helps. Please write if you feel there is something I have missed out.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Julie Sheard Durham November 30, 2016

Mathew Spot on Mathew. Reply

Matthew Alexander USA November 29, 2016

You really missed the boat this time.
Exactly how has "Buddhism evolved more in the past thirty years than ever before"? Why, because of Jewish influence? Really, what utter gall. Buddhism is more Jewish than Buddhist. Ridiculous nonsense. Granted there are a lot of Jews in the west that have taken up Buddhism as their shtick for making a buck, and there are a few that do excellent translations of Sanskrit and Tibetan texts but none of them have "influenced" the teachings. The former have fooled a few out of their hard earned cash and the latter are as usual for scholars underpaid for their contribution to learning, but that's the extent of it; nothing more or less.

At it's core Buddhism rejects the two extremes of nihilism (atheism) and eternalism (mono or polytheism). If you don't understand this you can't understand Buddhism. Actually, not that I'm a cynic but without the frontal lobe there would be no God, and no "no-God". Get it? Reply

Anonymous March 12, 2016

Author and Commentors misunderstanding of Buddhism Interesting topic. But you guys have mistaken the Buddhist concept of deities, Boddhisatva, and Buddha nature. I'm coming from a Buddhist tradition, we strive to reach nibbana, but different school has different method.
Is nibbana (ultimate reality=God)?
We don't try to explain too much with human words, practice it and discover it with mindfulness. We don't have the same concept of creator God, even the mahayanist don't worship Buddha as God, but out of reverence. Anyway, eastern and abrahaimic tradition has different understanding of worship and reverence (God too) You should study more in depth of Buddhism, just like now I'm studying Genesis. : ) Have you heard a Buddhist chanting mantra (meditate) in front of a personal deity, and then say the "it is the manifestation of my mind"? Do ponder on that. Reply

Zakai Ben-Chaim New York January 14, 2016

The Jataka Tales in Buddhism To Annonymous in London: there are plenty of tales like this in the Jataka Tales - some of the oldest and most revered texts in Classical Traditional Buddism. There are even stories of the Buddha himself murdering a shops captain to save the lives of others. Murder under any circumstance is strictly forbidden in Buddhism yet under the compelling of enlightenment the Buddha takes it upon himself to do so. And if you compare this and the many other tales of violence and murder in the scriptures to those to which you refer, one can hardly say that no violence or act thereof has not been carried out in the name of Enlightenment. There are actually accounts of war and retribution - even an eye for an eye in Buddhism similar to those in Judaism yet instead of in being commanded from G-d it is held and justified as a principle of the immutable principle of Karma. Reply

Anonymous London January 14, 2016

Obvious hatred to idolators in scriptures To Zakai ben-Chaim...
THere are quite a number of instances in Jewish scriptures where people are massacred purely on the basis of faith. How do you reconcile with that. You like to equate the exclusivity of Buddhism with Judaism. I do not know if there are any instances of Buddhist/Hindu/Jain/Sikh scriptures demanding punishments on others for religious reasons. Reply

Zakai ben-Chaim New York January 11, 2016

Exclusivity does not equate with Hatred To anonymous: your suggestion that because Jews worship and acknowledge HaShem exclusively it is tantamount to hatred is specious at best. I am a former Catholic seminarian who in my journey towards ordination, studied Buddhism extensively (as well as many other religions in an authentic attempt to accept pluralism). I am now a Proud Jew, I can tell you that all religions by nature are exclusive. They have to be. Even in Buddhism the slightest variance within a tradition can lead to imprecision in practice. Most acknowledged lamas require their students to attend to their teachings alone and though they may give nodding acceptance to other Buddhists, still they reject others as being "non-authentic." This is is not hatred. This is the basis of all discipline. Judaism acknowledges one G-d. But acknowledgement of one is not hatred of another. Why? Because to reject something in hatred one must first acknowledge that it exists. We do not recognize the existence ofgods other than HaShem. Reply

Tzvi Freeman May 14, 2015

For Anonymous Buddha is not a false god. He never claimed to be a god. Those who worship him have distorted his teachings.
The seven laws of Noah teach tolerance of the other. A person does not have to share your religion to earn your respect. But he must keep the basic laws of civil behavior. Many Buddhists do not worship Buddha and can be considered Noahides. Reply

Anonymous April 19, 2015

Intolerance Why are you so exclusive in your religion? Why are you so hateful to images?
If you actually believe that Buddha is a false God then why are you so scared of doing something as innocent as lighting incense?
How come yours is the only true God and everyone else is wrong?
Isn't this hatred for non-Abrahamic religion that caused the extremely violent genocides and cultural extinction in pre-Christian Europe, Persia and the Indian genocides of the Hindus by Arabs? Is it not this zeal to "refine the heathen" that led to the holocausts in America?
No, I am not saying Judaism did any of this directly. But the religious exclusivity(that all who don't follow my religion's teachings, in this case Noahide laws) inspired Christianity and Islam. And it has caused devastation to not only non-Abrahamic cultures but to Jews themselves.
Reply

Daniel February 17, 2015

Julie Sheard: Good question. Answer: Idolatry always includes, (a) negative view of the world, eg, life is suffering; (b) negative view of self, eg theory of karma; (c) worship of authority, identified with church and state and (d) necessary dependence on authority as a means of escape from hell-realms. Together, a - d result in acceptance of suffering and exploitation in the world, reinforced by the doctrines of the world as illusion (e) and reincarnation to transcendental enlightenment (f) beyond the world. Judaism on the other hand views life as holy (a’), substitutes justice in the world (b’) for karma, rejects worship of church and state (c’), views the world as non-illusory (d’) and finds enlightenment in doing G-d’s will in the world (f’). Therefore Judaism nurtures the development of democracy while idolatry invariably promotes authoritarian government.
Self-immolation is protest for freedom, the basis of happiness. We do not support Chinese rule in Tibet. Reply

Daniel February 17, 2015

It is no less unkosher for a Jew to convert to Buddhism than to Christianity, as both are guru-religions, i.e., based on worship of human beings. Guru-worship in Tibetan Buddhism = worship of the Dalai Lama and Rinpoches. The essence of Buddhist practice is guru-yoga, says Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. Guru-yoga liturgy reveals all the elements of worship applied to the human guru. Hinduism and Islam are also guru-religions. Judaism recognizes the primacy of non-idolatry: "Thou shalt have no other Gods before Me." Idolatry is unkosher. Therefore conversion to Buddhism is no less unkosher than to Christianity. Reply

Julie Sheard Durham February 10, 2015

to Daniel I read on some websites of Tibetans setting fire to themselves in protest to Chinese rule. Why would they do that if things were so bad pre-Chinese invasion?
Serfdom and slavery are everywhere. Low wages, unemployment, vilification of the poor - we have all this in England but we do make an attempt at religious tolerance. The Chinese were originally anti-religion, which is why they tore down the monastries and murdered the monks and nuns in horrific ways. It is often spoken of as the Tibetan holocaust, as some 4 million people died as a result of the Chinese invasion. I think they have mellowed a bit but enormous injustice still goes on. Whether Buddhism is idolatrous or not, the Tibetan people don't deserve what they got, nor what still goes on. Reply

Daniel February 10, 2015

"To Daniel
Thank you for pointing that out. Can you recommend any good reading on the history of oppression in Buddhist lands? (1) How do you explain that people preach compassion and yet support oppression?(2)
Tzvi Freeman" (1)See Wikipedia, "Human Rights in Pre-Chinese Tibet", for a list of sources on human rights in Tibetan society. (2) It is in the nature of society rooted in idolatry, [i.e., in guru-worship, defined as the worship of (a) human being(s),] that caste, [which is a system of institutionalized injustice, manifesting in feudalism, serfdom and slavery,] develops, whereas it is in the nature of worship without idolatry, as found among world religions solely in Judaism, that democracy, which is a system of social justice, is nurtured. Thus, although gentile religions preach love/compassion they practice feudalism & genocide (Christianity, viz., the holocaust), caste oppression (Hinduism and Buddhism) and violent intolerance (Islam), because love cannot flow via idolatry. Reply

Lara Auckland June 29, 2014

Interesting points. I'd say that in general, Mahayana Buddhism would not be compatible with Judaism, but Theravada Buddhism would as the existence or lack thereof of a deity is not relevant to Theravada Buddhism: the latter is purely about the teachings of the Buddha, and it does not deify him. I feel that the story of the Buddha has much value and is very inspiring even entirely out of a religious context: it can be thought of as a story of philosophy, about a man who had every material need fulfilled but rejected those material needs because he was more concerned for the welfare of others and the improvement of his spirit. Anyone of any religion can admire that story. Reply

Rabbi Shmary Brownstein Chabad.org June 15, 2014

To Zilverberg Rote and routine in religion can be boring, and it is the challenge of any religious individual to keep their worship from becoming stale. This is similar to the challenge of keeping ones marriage fresh. Many Jews seek spirituality in Buddhism or other Eastern religions because they are unaware of the deep and abiding spirituality that exists within Judaism itself. Specifically, in recent times the Chassidic movement begun by Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov infused Jewish life and practice with renewed energy and inspiration. Rather than seeking to reconcile dry Judaism with Buddhist spirituality, we do better to delve into the spiritual teachings of our own heritage. I would suggest beginning with the selection of Chassidic texts on our own site. Reply

Zilverberg Somewhere June 8, 2014

Oh man, I came here from google exactly because I'm facing this conflict and I'm leaving with more doubts than before. I was raised in a very conservative jewish ashkenazi family and more and more I feel attracted to Buddhism. But sometimes I wonder if I'm engaging in just another new age middle class adventure: I look at countries like Burma and Japan, and their religion seem as boring as anything for them, lacking the exoticness. Not to say that I'm unable to find myself in any buddhist sect. Reply

Anonymous March 20, 2014

Let's be specific It's not wise to say whether Buddhism is kosher. Rather what specific part of Buddhism is kosher. Reply

Tzvi Freeman February 18, 2014

To Daniel Thank you for pointing that out. Can you recommend any good reading on the history of oppression in Buddhist lands? How do you explain that people preach compassion and yet support oppression? Reply

Daniel February 17, 2014

Jews Duped By Their Own Good Hearts I was in Buddhism for many years and was recognized as an outstanding meditator. Jews who convert to Buddhism because they are unable to find spirituality in Judaism, themselves lack spirituality. Jewish spirituality is much deeper than Buddhist and therefore more difficult to understand; for example, guru yoga, the core of Tibetan Buddhism is much more powerfully represented in Judaism, as is lineage, another basic Buddhist concept. And that's only the beginning. Buddhism shares the fatal flaws of all forms of idolatry, not the least of which is the anti-democratic and therefore anti-spiritual government it imposes on its oppressed people. Have a look at human rights in pre-Chinese Tibet, a society based on slavery and serfdom, to see that a thousand years of Buddhist compassion in Tibet did nothing to begin to bring about a society of free men, human rights, equality or justice. Jews in Buddhism have been duped by their own good hearts. Reply

Anonymous November 30, 2013

Buddhism is Not Kosher Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity are all guru religions in the sense that that guru is worshipped. This is idolatry plain and simple.

Judaism rests on non-idolatry. The fundamental ethical abomination is idolatry. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA April 17, 2012

Susan in Tx: WHOOPEE. You taught me a new word! I am SO into Scrabble and word learning. Thank you so much. The other phrase I learned is: Confirmation Bias. That is when someone begins searching for answers but already believes in an answer, so he or she looks only for evidence that his preconceived notion is correct. Love it! Reply

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