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What makes Jewish Meditation Unique?
By Gutman Locks
For the Jew who is exploring meditation, the question could be asked: "If it is proper to meditate on a meaningful object, what is wrong with those who meditate on idols? These forms are meaningful to them. And if our meditating on form can bring us to higher understanding, isn’t this what they are saying about their idols? They say, such and such an idol is merely the personification of a certain attribute or characteristic of their god and those fierce dragons they depict and the many-armed creatures are just picturing man's moods. And when they meditate on that form, it brings to their mind “higher thoughts. So what is the difference between meditating on a meaningful form, such as the fringes, and meditating on an idol?”
The answer: It is true that in some meditations the Torah suggests a form to meditate upon, such as when (referring to the fringes) it says, "...and you shall look upon them . . ." (Numbers 15:37). Yes, the fringes are being used as a reference to meditate on, and to go even beyond. But we are not attributing a personality to the fringes, nor are we praying to them. We are not saying the fringes are a form of god. Yes, there are holy objects, like a Torah Scroll. Holy objects exist and should be revered, but not worshipped.
Conversely, deities do not exist and should not be revered. What happens is that the meditation subject becomes very dear to the meditator. When a personality is attributed to a meditation-subject, as is done when meditating on an idol, that personality will become adored, worshiped, even prayed to. No healthy person would attribute a personality to a scroll, or to a fringe and certainly they would not pray to them.
Jewish Vs. Eastern Meditation
What is the difference between someone who, using Jewish techniques, goes off and sits in a cave meditating for many years (as some famous Jewish teachers have) and someone who, using the Eastern techniques, also sits in a cave and meditates for many years? The person following the Jewish techniques might be meditating on light or on the underlying emptiness from which all creation is being formed, and the person following the Eastern techniques might also be meditating on light or on the vast emptiness.
The source of the Jewish meditation techniques can be traced to Abraham, and some of the Eastern meditative techniques can also be traced to Abraham. Abraham sent these teachings to their land (the land of the East) some four thousand years ago with the sons that he had with a concubine. (Genesis 25:6)
Both meditators go up and down, both see great wonders and deep darkness, both experience great highs and great lows. So does it matter which techniques you use?
The difference is; the Eastern meditator will receive ACCORDING to HIS intentions, words and deeds, and the ones that follow the TORAH’S METHODS will recieve ACCORDING to the TORAH’S intentions, words and deeds.
If one meditates on a lofty subject, such as visualizing the All as the Universal, Unchanging, single One, but still keeps an idol of any kind to adore, he will most certainly corrupt his spiritual path. An idol is a limited, formed particular within the all. The formed particular will not lead to the Universal, formless, Creator. It will merely burn its form onto the mind of the meditator. Worshipping form contradicts the lofty understanding that the All is all-inclusive and unlimited. Instead, this adoration claims that there is uniqueness to that particular idol. The worshipper concocts and attributes this uniqueness to that particular form.
Or, if despite one’s lofty insights that his meditation brings, he clings to immoralities thinking that he is above the limiting restrictions that common decency instills, he will fall lower and lower into the deepest pits of hell. His meditation will throw him down and down deeper again. Then suddenly he will be raised up seemingly into an ecstatic high, but this high will only be into a bright, brass dome. His highs will never get beyond this closed metal ceiling. He will go up again and again into its blazing glare, each time thinking that again he has found his spiritual goal. Its glare will convince him that he should continue on in his service despite his being deeply immersed in sensual immoralities. His lows will be substantial. His idols and immorality will prevent him from getting past the restricting concepts that his idol stood for.
Although his techniques might produce visions and wonders that glitter brightly, his highs will be limited by his principles. When he seeks “emptiness,” he will conclude, “all is emptiness.” If he reasons all he finds is finite and changing, therefore there must not be an Unchanging Infinite, or if he says; "I have found nothing eternal in all my searching, therefore it must not exist," or bows to “nothingness” and ultimately concludes that even he himself does not exist, he will receive what he intended to find. All these are common conclusions reached by meditators today.
These conclusions are not inherent in the MEDITATION TECHNIQUES but are reached solely because they are inherent in the MEDITATOR'S INTENTION. These students are taught such principles when first learning their technique of meditation. They look for these conclusions. No one can say: "I did not find it, therefore it does not exist." No one can say: "Someone told me, 'No one exists,' therefore, there is no one." The accurate conclusion will not be: "Reality is an empty meaningless illusion," nor is it “a dance raised up by a magician’s stick.”
Gutman Locks is a long time resident of the Old City of Jerusalem. Beside mastering Jewish meditation techniques, he also spent many years mastering various systems from around the world. His newest book, Taming the Raging Mine is an expert, clear, practical guide on both what to do and what not to do in meditation. His books may be purchased at the Old City book stores, or www.thereisone.com click on: "Gutman's books and Music" scroll down to: "Taming The Raging Mind"
from the January 2006 Edition of the Jewish Magazine