The Jewish-Buddhist Encounter

Both faith communities have something to teach the other.

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Others, such as Kamenetz, argue that most Jews who dip into Buddhism eventually return to the religion and culture of their birth--although generally changed by the experience. Instead of condemning this spiritual wandering, Kamenetz argues, the Jewish community should emphasize its willingness to welcome home its prodigal seekers and the wisdom they have gathered. One such returnee is Rabbi Alan Lew, the ex-director of the Berkeley Zen Center, who since 1991 has led San Francisco's Congregation Beth Sholom, a Conservative synagogue. He recounts his spiritual development in One God Clapping: The Spiritual Path of a Zen Rabbi (1999), ending with his teshuvah, or return to Judaism.

Lew concludes his book by talking about how a decade of intense Zen Buddhist meditation "illuminated" his unconscious and enabled him to deal with "that pain" that kept him from growing spiritually. What surprised him, Lew wrote, "was how Jewish so much of this unconscious material was--how much of my unconsciousness was absorbed with the Jewishness I had held at distance for so long."

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Ira Rifkin

Ira Rifkin is a national correspondent for Religion News Service based in Washington, D.C. He is the author of Spiritual Perspectives on Globalization: Making Sense of Economic and Cultural Upheaval.