Reflections on the Weekly Torah Portion - Yitro
(adapted from Shavu'ot message 2016)
In honor of this week's Torah portion, which includes the Revelation at Mt. Sinai, I thought I would share some of my own revelations, with commentary.
1. My parents told me I could be any religion I wanted, before they told me that I had to be Jewish. They had stuck on a bookshelf Huston Smith's 1958 classic The World's Religions. I read it and decided I wanted to be Buddhist. My parents were Marxist atheists, so we believed in nothing and therefore Buddhist attachment to Nothing was familiar. (In June 1967 was informed that I was Jewish and that was it.)
Revelation: When one chapter of a survey of religion seems the most compelling, you might want to look behind the curtain. Turns out that Huston Smith was probably a Buddhist when he wrote the book.
Commentary: I learned later that Huston Smith was far more than a great surveyor of religion with a hidden Buddhist agenda. His 2001 Why Religion Matters, for example,is one of the most insightful books on religion that I have read. He wrote several books after the 2001 book. He died December 30, 2016, at age 97. He was truly an awe inspiring, amazing human being.
Note to self: Read all his books. Talk about them on Shabbat.
2. I have been recently sharing my own intellectual / spiritual autobiography on Shabbat mornings and I have spoken about my first spiritual mentor, my high school science teacher, Jack Bishop. Jack taught me mostly about expanded consciousness. I found out years later that he was teaching me Gurdjieff and that therefore I have been teaching Gurdjieff here and there throughout my teaching career.
Revelation: Science teachers in out of the way places like Lynwood, CA can be Gurdjieff adepts. You never know who the spiritual illuminati are until you are already half way illuminated and by then it is too late, or just on time.
3. I finished high school in 1973 so I was too young for the revolution. My older sister and her friends, however, left books lying around that the "turned on and turned out" were reading. I read Camus, Sartre and Herman Hesse, probably too young for my own good. The Plague, Nausea and Steppenwolf. I remember reading them, but I don't remember what I thought about them other than that there are very strange things going on in the world that you would never infer from a southern California suburb.
Revelation: mystery lurks.
4. From Camus, Sartre, et al. I entered into the supposedly disenchanted forest of Existentialism. Later on in college I read William Kaufmann's Existentialism From Dostoevsky to Sartre. Kafka was in there somewhere. Existentialism, I discovered, may be disenchanted, but it definitely is spellbound by the meaninglessness and thrown-ness of existence. The spell of charred woods at night years after a forest fire.
Revelation: You sit in burned-out woods at night long enough and you hear voices.
Concern: I often found books that I was missing in my kids' rooms. Some of them the same books I had nabbed back in the early 70's.
5. I went into a Mysticism class in college in 1978 or so as an Existentialist and came out a Kabbalist. One thing Existentialism and Kabbalah have in common is that they don't just face the problem of being ("ontology"), they stare it down. I was no longer an Existentialist because I became an Essentialist.
6. Essence of the spiritual psychology of the Kabbalah: You rise from the false self into the broken self into the broken vessels into the broken heart of the Divine, up into the structure of existence up into pure potentiality up into Nothingness (Hebrew "ayin") expressed as the silent Hebrew letter "aleph." Mystics like to clarify Nothingness by adding a hyphen: No-Thingness.
Revelation: A hyphen at the right time and place can reconfigure reality and that which lies beyond. And lead to a reappraisal of Huston Smith's writings from let's say 1958. Did I really find my way back to the Nothingness? Odd.
Commentary: the "No-thing" and "All is in the One" are two versions of the same truth. This truth can abide deep in consciousness but must not be taken literally. If the Nothing and All, leading back down to pure potentiality and then the structure of existence, do not metabolize into e.g. Love, Justice, Truth and Beauty then the charred woods remain silent. Consciousness goes nowhere.
Note to self: rethink how expanded consciousness with a Kabbalistic bent pours into prophecy, expressed in Revelation and creates religion. Go back to Huston Smith.