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Enlightenment is to be Lived

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My best friend and I are intrigued by enlightenment but can’t define it. What is enlightenment?

Rabbi Rami: For me enlightenment is the act or art of embracing what is as it is, accepting that it is what it is because at that moment it cannot be other than it is, and then engaging justly and compassionately with what is. Nothing to be intrigued about, just lived.

If God is infinite, God is everything.
If God is everything, God is also ego.
If God is also ego, why should we kill the ego?

Many spiritual systems wrongly demonize the ego. Without our egos we couldn’t dress ourselves, bathe ourselves, hold down a job, love, raise a family, or do so much else that makes human life worthwhile. Spirituality doesn’t kill the ego but nurtures it through practices that help the ego to realize its proper place and function; in this way spirituality helps the ego to stop playing God and become a vehicle for godliness instead.

I’m seeking a Jewish spiritual path. My rabbi says Judaism isn’t about spirituality but about compassion and justice. Is she right? Do I have to change religions to find what I seek?

First of all, you should align yourself with whatever religion with which you feel the most comfortable. Secondly, while your rabbi is correct that Judaism is about compassion and justice, Judaism teaches that compassion and justice arise when we walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). Judaism offers many spiritual practices for doing this. Central to my own Jewish practice is chanting (in Hebrew) the 13 attributes of God, based on Exodus 34:6-7: hidden; manifest; creative; compassionate; graceful; patient; overflowing kindness; overflowing truth; preserving kindness; forgiving deliberate sin; forgiving inadvertent error; forgiving missed opportunities to do good; and cleansing oneself of pride, arrogance, fear, and anger. Ask your cantor to teach you how to chant the attributes, and repeat them over and over throughout the day. This plants the attributes within you. Over time, they will sprout like holy seeds and shape your every thought, word, and deed in alignment with justice and compassion. And, as your rabbi said, that is the heart of Jewish spirituality.

My 15-year-old son is selfish, greedy, and often very angry. Can spirituality be of help to him?

When I was 15, I, too, was selfish, greedy, and often very angry. Some 46 years later, I’m still selfish, greedy, and often very angry. Adolescents are developing egoically, and the developing ego often feels alienated. With alienation comes fear, selfishness, greed, and anger. Spiritual practices geared to the needs of adolescents help the ego to mature fearlessly. Moving beyond fear allows one to move beyond alienation, selfishness, greed, and anger as well. So, yes, spiritual practice can help your son, but take care to find a teacher who understands the spiritual needs of adolescents and who can midwife the birth of a healthy ego rather than seek to transcend the ego prematurely.

What can we do to end religious fear, violence, and war?

The solution is to realize that religions are human inventions. As such they often reflect, feed, and magnify our fearful, violent, and warring tendencies by creating and then worshiping a God who does the same. Once we know that we create God in our image, we can measure the quality of our lives by looking at the quality of our God. The more angry, judgmental, violent, and demonizing of others our God is, the more angry, judgmental, violent, and demonizing we must be. Cease to be this way and God and religion will cease to be this way as well.

I’m sort of a Catholic-Hindu. How do I free myself from original sin and karma?

Stop being Catholic or Hindu and become a Jew or a Muslim instead. Neither Jews nor Muslims suffer from original sin or karma. Karma and original sin are just concepts fed to you by your parents, teachers, community, or religious group. Rather than focusing on concepts about reality, just engage each moment as it is. This won’t free you from karma or original sin, but it will free you from the need to be free.

I believe Krishna, no less than Christ, is God. My pastor (I’m Southern Baptist) says this is heresy. Why can’t he see what I see?

It’s a matter of brand loyalty. Religions tell us what to see and often condemn us for seeing something else. If you’ve moved beyond this and see Christ and Krishna as equal manifestations of God, fine, but don’t expect your pastor to do so or condemn him for not doing so. Blindness, bigotry, and bias are not limited to the brand-name faiths. Honor what he does see rather than bemoan what he doesn’t.

Why do people believe in eternal damnation?

People like to win. Winning is more fun if others lose. For some people winning is even more fun if losing means losing for all eternity, and it’s the most fun if it includes endless torture. Such people scare me not because of what they believe but because of what behaviors their beliefs excuse.  —S&H
 


Rabbi Rami Shipiro

Rabbi Rami Shapiro is an award-winning author, essayist, poet, and teacher. His spiritual advice column, "Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler," addresses reader questions pertaining to religion, spirituality, faith, family, God, social issues, and more.

His newest book is Surrendered—The Sacred Art: Shattering the Illusion of Control and Falling into Grace with Twelve-Step Spirituality.

He has this to say about religion: “To me, religions are like languages: no language is true or false; all languages are of human origin; each language reflects and shapes the mindset of the civilization that speaks it; there are things you can say in one language that you cannot say or cannot say as well in another; and the more languages you know, the more nuanced your understanding of life. Judaism is my mother tongue, yet in matters of the spirit I strive to be multi-lingual. In the end, however, the deepest language of the soul is silence.”

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