Many have been the people I have learned from and who have contributed to what can now be expressed as this blog. Three in particular should be mentioned, and by expressing my gratitude to them, I am, by proxy, expressing my gratitude to all the others, and to the glory of learning that makes us human.
1. Shlomo Lipetz (שלמה ליפץ).
Had Mr. Lipetz, my 12th grade Bible teacher, been alive, he would have been surprised to find his name here. In the secular high school that I went to in Tel Aviv there was little interest and passion for Bible studies. It was simply one of the subjects that we were required to take for our final exams.
Mr. Lipetz had no illusions about our religiosity or interest in the Bible, but as an old pro charged with teaching us The Psalms, he knew how to deal with us, wild teenagers in the late sixties. He required to memorize a few Psalm verses before each lesson, randomly spot testing one or two students at the beginning of every class. He made it known that failure at these tests would jeopardize our final grade, irrespective of how well we did on the final exam.
I did not like Mr. Lipetz at the time—none of us particularly did—but in retrospect, he gave me a gift which I will always remember him for. Committing these powerful words to memory gave me a first glimpse of what devotion to God means.
Mr. Lipetz, wherever you are, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have given me what turned out to be the most useful gift from my high school education. And it is as surprising to me as it would have been to you.
P.S., I have recently came across a book Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent by Rabbi Rami Shapiro. In that book, Rabbi Rami speaks about the practice of Passage Meditation:
In Passage Meditation you choose texts that articulate your deepest insights and values, commit them to memory, and then silently repeat them to yourself during formal meditation sessions . Internalizing texts through memorization is like planting seeds in a garden. The seeds are plunged deep into the ground , watered, and allowed to germinate and blossom of their own accord. In Passage Meditation, seed texts are worked deep into your psyche through memorization, watered by daily repetition during formal meditation practice, and allowed to shape your thoughts, feelings, and actions as they become your constant companions.
I did not know about Passage Meditation in high school, and I doubt that this is what Mr. Lipetz intended when he had us commit the Psalms to memory. Yet this was the effect.
By the way, if you are interested to experience Passage Meditation for yourself and are looking for a powerful collection of passages for the practice, Rabbi Rami’s book is an excellent place to start.
2. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
I learnt to practice Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation during my military service. Three weeks after learning the technique, I listened to a recorded lecture in which Maharishi described enlightenment, or “Cosmic Consciousness.” I was already enthusiastic about the effects of the practice, but Maharishi’s lecture set me on fire and I resolved there and then to become a teacher of Transcendental Meditation and work closely with him.
Curiously, in those early days, when I was asked about my experience in meditation, all I could think of in response were those verses from the Psalms that Mr. Lipetz forced me to memorize. It was as if the practice of meditation opened my awareness to a deeper appreciation of the scriptures. I responded with a passionate study of the Torah and other religious texts, exploring correlations between them and the teaching of consciousness expounded by Maharishi.
I became a teacher of Transcendental Meditation two years later, and soon after that, in 1976, still in my early twenties, I had an opportunity to present to Maharishi some some of my findings about the parallels between his teaching and Hassidic thought. You can watch it in this short video (starting from 1 minute and 22 seconds into the clip).
Maharishi did not forget this interaction. A few years later he invited me to work full time under his guidance and locate parallels to his teachings in the scriptures of the major world religions. I did this for about twenty joyful years, until we parted ways. In 1990 his university, Maharishi European Research University, granted me a doctorate degree (DSCI–a Doctorate in the Science of Creative Intelligence).
Besides providing me with spiritual nourishment that sustained me for decades, Maharishi treated me with fatherly love and utmost care. I feel privileged and grateful to have had the opportunity to know him, to work closely with him and to have served him. Jai Guru Dev.
3. Andrew Cohen
In 1998 I was exposed for the first time to the writings and teachings of Andrew Cohen, and was struck profoundly by his depth and outrageous courage. I joined his community in London in April of 1999, and remained his student until the dissolution of his organization, in 2013.
While Maharishi brought me to God, Andrew forced me to reckon with the need to be a humble—or at least humbler—human being. The purpose was not self-improvement, but rather the creation of a new order of human relatedness. Andrew attempted to show, and to a great extent succeeded, that this new way of relating is itself a sacred act and a means of shining God’s light on earth (I am paraphrasing his words. He, who was brought up as a secular new yorker, shied away from using such religious language to describe his efforts).
For all this, and for invoking in me a love so profound and delicate that it was painful as much as it was ecstatic, I will forever be grateful to Andrew.
On Relationship with a Spiritual Teacher
Responding to the utopian urge within oneself (or, if you wish to use religious language, answering the call of God) is always risky. This is especially true when that urge stirs you into a relationship with an enlightened teacher, or one whom you believe to be enlightened.
There may never have been a utopian movement that did not cause some collateral damage. Utopian leaders forge new pathways without an instruction manual, and inevitably make mistakes. Google the names of both my spiritual teachers and you will find websites devoted to defaming them, “exposing” them and warning against their “dangerous” teachings.
Dangerous it is indeed. As the great Indian teacher Shankara said about 2,000 years ago, walking on the spiritual path for earnest is like walking on a razor’s edge. And yet, on the whole, utopian movements have brought humanity forward, gross exceptions like Germany’s National Socialism notwithstanding.
Having said that, there are many voices in the spiritual arena who claim it may be time to rethink the relationship with a guru, a spiritual master, or a rebbe. The traditional model of complete obedience, they claim, may no longer be appropriate for postmodern people in the 21st century. Interestingly, Rudolf Steiner claimed as much already 100 years ago. While I have no regrets, I have come to the conclusion that those voices are right.
THEN said Almitra, Speak to us of Love.
And he raised his head and looked upon the people, and there fell a stillness upon them. And with a great voice he said:
When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And When his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And When he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.
For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you.
Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.
Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.
He threshes you to make you naked.
He sifts you to free you from your husks.
He grinds you to whiteness.
He kneads you until you are pliant;
And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God’s sacred feast.
All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart.
But if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor,
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.
Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love.
When you love you should not say, “God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am in the heart of God.”
And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.
Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.
But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.
Copyright © 2014 Igal Harmelin-Moria
(Copyright does not pertain to illustrations, video clips, or quotations which are copyrighted by their respective owners)