A Jewish Buddhist Monk?
It’s a true story…really
By: Ken Goldberg, Meditation Guide & Buddhist Monk
I was born into an affluent family on the south side of Chicago. A middle class Jewish family and my father slapped and whipped me with a belt regularly. I grew up angry and dysfunctional. My brilliance as a lawyer gave me no respite from my resentments. I relapsed into a drug infested world of meth and alcohol. Years later I got clean of intoxicating substances, but I was still a spiritual mess.
I met a Buddhist monk from Thailand and we entered into an agreement. I would lead him on hikes through the mountains of southern Arizona and he would teach me meditation. What most folks do not know is that mindful meditation and its big brother Vipassana (Pali for Insight) meditation are part of a practice that requires the development of 1. wisdom ( panna-insight in the true nature of reality and 2. compassion/kindness (metta).
Now to the point. I struggled most of my life with residual hostility towards my father. Despite therapy, 12 step recovery and maturity, I could never quite let him off the hook. I always wondered how a man like him, obviously intelligent, liberal with hints of compassion could have inflicted such suffering on his own child. Intellectually I trusted that it was not personal. Clearly, he didn’t live for the purpose of tormenting me. I knew he treated others badly; I was not his only victim. But why? How come he could give himself permission to repeatedly hurt me and deprive me of the joy of childhood?
And the beginnings of an answer came to me on one of my many solo mountain hikes. Although he had already passed, on this hike, I truly accepted that he had mental problems and demons I would never fathom. He had an abusive mom and he was simply incapable of rising above his own personal dramas and despair. What and how he perceived his life would never be accessible to me. He had never shared and all I had were third party anecdotes about his early life. It was the beginning of the final phase of the journey to redemption. The rest came through the Buddhist practice of metta, meaning loving/kindness. I became a practitioner and student of meditation. I ordained as a monk for several months. During that time, I lived in Arizona in a Buddhist temple amongst life-long monastics from Thailand.
So, a couple of years after that initial realization that I could never understand him, I arrived at a place of forgiveness. I will never forget that moment. I suddenly wished in my heart that I could have taken his suffering from him for just one day. I wished that he could have had one day free from any and all spiritual suffering. I arrived at a place in my heart and soul where I would be willing to have suffered in his place to give him that gift.
In that moment, the anger dissolved after 55 years. It has never returned. I am sorry that any living being has suffering emanating from any cause. What a marvelous moment when I realized that I was capable of letting go. What a great thing to have lifted the yoke of resentment and breathed pure fresh air. Untainted by hate or resentment, I felt better about him and better about myself. Over the years, I have heard the lament of many a person over the abuse, misuse and pain they have had inflicted upon them. I know they generally cannot believe me when I tell them there is a better way of life, life free of resentments. I teach others how to reflect on loving/kindness in hopes that someday they will experience the loss of their anger and hostilities. Reflecting on Loving kindness for me brought down a lifelong wall of hostility and animosity. It freed me to turn my efforts to helping others in my life who, while I didn’t have the same history as them, I still had the same result. I still bath in hatred and hostility at times. Sometimes it seems I take out a resentment and nurture it and feed it until it is as strong as a bull. But I can now reflect on my experience with my dad and realize that I am capable of overcoming my negative thoughts and emotions.
Mindfulness has been co-opted in our Western culture and is being taught as a growth and relaxation technique. But the Buddha taught that you meditate for sanity not serenity. Relaxation is a by-product of mindful meditation, not the objective. It is said by the monks that a person with wisdom but without compassion is prone to cruelty but a person with compassion but without wisdom is a kind-hearted fool. They are the two wings of a bird which are needed to fly.