Heschel and the Prophets

Subject: Re: The Weekly Reader, January 16 (Heschel and the Prophets)

Hi Malka,
I recently was introduced to the “The Work” of Byron Katie. Do you know her stuff? It’s basically an idiosynchratic self-discovered form of Buddhist awareness, where the essence of the teaching (and the title of her book) is “Loving What Is.” She assists people through long-standing patterns of stuckness which cause them (us) great suffering, by arriving at a realization of the (supposed) underlying principle that what “should” be happening is whatever IS happening, and that fighting “reality” is what causes us our suffering. The Buddhist position that our mind and its clinging is in fact the source of the suffering.
When I heard her I was disturbed. (Just my mind??) I could see people letting go of very very intense and stuck ways of relating to the world and reality and becoming relaxed and joyful right before me. I often feel I could use a little of that stuff myself. And yet, when she arrived at the part about social change and working for justice I began to bridle. Her bottom line was that people could work to change the world so much better if they were relaxed and not in a state of fighting with reality. Could it be that one can “love what is” and still think it should be different and be motivated to change it? Your email began to focus for me as never before a tension between Judaism and such (Buddhist?) approaches to reality as Byron Katie’s. It suddenly began to feel like a really important question. We have so many Jewish Buddhist teachers and practitioners. What do we say about this very basic conflict, as it appears to me, between our Prophetic tradition that says the way things are is not OK, and the Buddhist/Byron Katie awareness that everything’s OK, in fact perfect and as it should be? What have you thought about this? I can imagine that Thich Nhat Hanh might have wisdom on this subject, coming as he did from the Vietnamese political arena, but I haven’t read him deeply.
Thanks for helping me think new thoughts. – a congregant
Rabbi Drucker’s response:

Regel echad, I’ve discussed this with Sylvia Boorstein, and we agree that tikkun olam is the name of the game. The key is our relationship to imperfection and perfection. Carry both the heartbreak of disappointment and fear, and know that each experience is pregnant with new understanding. How many stillborns, how many deaths? Until we learn to get it right. I won’t hate the isness, I won’t be impatient, and I won’t stop working to make the world more kind and loving.

Love what is suggests that one, we take the trouble to know what is, and that we see ourselves as God’s servants to perfect the world. When I see a minister thrown out of her position because of prejudice or indifference, I don’t accept the challenge of restoring justice with a smile on my face; I also recognize that my expectation for people to do the right thing didn’t happen. I’m never going to give up my expectation nor do I expect to find it everywhere.
Thanks for your willingness to wrestle.
Love, Malka