Brian Sullivan

When you think about orthodox Jews, you probably don’t think of yoga.

Yet Chabad, the orthodox Lubavitch Jewsh movement led famously by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, or the Rebbe, as he is known, has a center in Dharamsala.

And it seems to have a collection of Guru Jews. The Dalai Lama, seeking how to guide a people in exile, has met with a number of Rabbis including the Australian mystic and kabbalist Rabbi Laibl Wolf.

Both Hinduisn and Judaism teach that that there is an underlying divinity that is in and through every level of creation and spirit.

It is not surprising then that Judaism has its own forms of mediation, usually visualizations. The practice of davening, which combines sequential bending the knees and bowing, is continued after prayer in a meditative repose by some Jews.

Some Jews even believe that that Indians are offspring of Abrahams second wife, Keturah, who some Rabbi’s believe was noneotherthan Hagar under another name, the mother of Ishmael, ancestor of Islam.

However, few imagined that the Rabbi Schneerson would send an emissary to ‘kosher’ yoga and mediatation practices.

In Hinduism the Ultimate Reality is described by the Vedic phrase "Ekam sat vipraha, bahudha vadanti" or "Truth is one, the wise call It by various names."

Ultimate Reality possesses infinite potential, power and intelligence, and therefore cannot be limited by a single name or form. Therefore the ultimate reality is described as having both personal and impersonal aspects.
The impersonal (Nirguna Brahman) has no attributes and is beyond reasoning, thought and conception, is not an object of prayer but the object of meditation and contemplation. However, the personal aspect (Saguna Brahman) is creator, controller and sustainer of the universe, however, being unlimited Saguna Brahman is unable to take only one form and so is worshipped via both male and female deities.

Judaisms famous declaration of faith, the shema, declares, “The Lord is G-d, The Lord is one.” In kabbalah this is not a mere statement of monotheism. It is a declaration of the divine unity permeating all things.

Ten divine qualities, or sephirot, that come from G-d’s light are compared to the spectrum, each a different quality of G-d. How these qualities relate to each other profoundly effects creation. In Kabbalah every level of creation, spiritual, physical and psychological in some way mirror each other in various degrees.

Although both faiths share a belief in a unifying oneness, Jewish law expressly forbids idols or the chanting mantras that include the names of deities. Not that all Buddhist, Hindu’s or yoga practitioners use images. Hindu writers like Mahatma Gandhi argued against idols, he conceded they were necessary for some people.

The Rebbe then began a program that took the therapeutic benefits of "Transcendental Meditation (TM) and dressed them in Judaism.

This way a person could enjoy the calming and physical benefits of yoga and meditation while not compromising Jewish faith.

"It follows that if these therapeutic methods, insofar as they are utterly devoid of any ritual implications, many could benefit from such treatment," said the Rebbe.

"This is a matter of healing of the highest order, since it has to do with the mind. It would therefore be wrong to deny such treatment to those who need it . . . if they had a choice of getting it the kosher way."

He sent emissaries, including Dr Yehuda Landes, to meet with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Together the Rebbe and Dr. Landes planned center that would teach meditation, breathing and posture exercises for health developed "with halachic (legal) and general chassidic orientation for the dissemination... of these techniques to Jews and non-Jews."

The Rebbe offered to assist with funding and although the project did not get off the ground as was hoped for, today the project has become possible.

“In Judaism meditation is often associated with hitbonenut (contemplation), hitbodedut (isolation and conversation with G-d), and kavana (Divine meaning), practiced while praying or learning of deep concepts” said Lubavitcher Audi (Yehuda) Gozlan, founder of Kabalah Yoga.

“These forms of meditation have existed since Biblical times and were all developed by the founders of Chassidus” he said.

The word yoga means union or to join and is practied to unify mind and body with postures and breathing.

“When you physically move your body with more awareness and join your actions with your breathing you can become more energetic and graceful” said Gozlan. In the classic Chassidic text, Tanya, this is known as the mind focusing the heart.

“When the mind and heart are aligned then we can live in harmony and reveal the benoni, someone totally self-controlled.”

Gozlan was able to take this idea further when he realized some postures resembled Hebrew letters.

In Torah, G-d spoke and the universe occurred. The letters of the Hebrew alephbet , the language of Torah, in combination created the world.

As the physical, spiritual and psychological world are seen as one, each letter has profound spiritual and emotional significance and have been meditated on for centuries.

Gozlan was able to develop a kosher way to meditation whether in movement or in stillness.

The Rebbes approach was not just to keep Jews from leaving their faith. Chassidus, inspired by Kabbalah, teaches finding the spark ofdivinity in all things andreleasing it to the world. Even in the most mundane things.

The Rebbe envisioned of a harmonious world ready to welcome Moshiach and to release the possibilities within us.
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