— 2.B.2 Jewish response by Alon Goshen Gottstein

(Response to 2.B.2 Hakuin’s Song of Zazen, presented by Ruben Habito)


It seems to me the message of this song may be abstracted in ways that could be meaningful to other traditions, in particular with reference to God. God’s nearness, His omnipresence, His being the only true reality are affirmed time and again within Judaism, and I believe in all other traditions as well (are there exceptions?). If there is nothing but God (Deuteronomy) etc., why is it that we are not aware of this fact? Having posed this question, I find myself reflecting on the question of the uses of motives in different traditions. God’s nearness can serve as motivation for good behaviors, because God is watching, or as the goal to be attained. Why does my tradition affirm the former more than the latter? Furthermore, if it is a description of reality, why am I not naturally aware of it? This ought to be a question that my tradition engages. The suggestion that the ego is the block emerges from a famous re-reading of Deut. 5,5 by Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the hassidic movement – I, the person’s ego, stands between you and God. The message is the same as that of Hakuin’s song. Yet it is not a major concern of my tradition to account for this problem. Why not? Is it because the covenantal relationship assumes presence, and therefore does not require wrestling with this problem? Does it require the emergence of a strong mystical movement, such as the one founded by the Baal Shem Tov, to work through these issues?