Sunday, September 23, 2007

Breaking the Fast

What a lovely evening! Ellie and I did, indeed, observe the Yom Kippur fast from (approximately!) sundown on Friday through sundown on Saturday, and spent the daylight hours quietly at home, giving thought to the past year and the direction of our lives. The fact that Debra and Richard, our good hosts, had done the same brought us together in a special way, and when we arrived at their home we spent the first hour listening to a recorded dharma talk on forgiveness--which opened up the space for us all to go into some intimate depth about our lives and families. It's rare, honestly, to be able to talk with such ease and comfort about things which can seem too personal, in normal social circumstances, to broach, and we enjoyed that opportinuty.

Breaking the fast, after that, was another delightful shared experience. After a day of abstinence, the taste buds seemed that much sharper than usual, and we feasted on a wonderful, fresh salad and a simple rice noodle dish with vegetables and a touch of turkey, followed by a fruit salad that Ellie had prepared and a dollop of Debra's Greek yogurt made rich and creamy by hours of straining through cheesecloth. Accompanied by generous mugs of ginger tea, the whole meal was a pleasure to the palate, and the conversation, having opened up so nicely before dinner, led us into all kinds of common interests and mutual experiences.

Coming from a Jewish background, like Ellie, our friends have begun to embrace the Buddhist teachings as we have done ourselves. One thing the two religions have in common is a healthy skepticism that encourages--no, really, requires--that we continually question the dogma. I wonder if this is why so many of the prominent Buddhist teachers--and so many of those, like ourselves, who have discovered in Buddhism a practice that responds so deeply to our needs--come to the religion from a grounding in Judaism. It may even be that many of those influential Britishers (I think of pioneers like Alan Watts) were attracted by the essential pragmatism of the Buddha's teachings--a pragmatism related, as I see it, to that same skepticism.

Perhaps I'm speaking here--I usually do!--out of my own prejudices and preconceptions. The (again, healthy, I believe) skepticism and pragmatism I inherit in my English genes, along with the dis-belief in God that I have come to in my life, are certainly important factors in my own embrace of the constant intellectual questioning and the growing personal freedom that Buddhism seems to ask of me.


robin andrea said...

A lovely description of the breaking of the fast. I remember when I was little wanting to fast, but never making it to sundown.

When you write of Alan Watts you remind me that it was his books that opened my eyes to Buddhism. I was a big fan and got to hear him speak in 1972 at a small college in McMinneville, Oregon. I had my first vegetable garden that summer and decided I had to bring Mr. Watts a zucchini. I thought it was special because it was the first one I had ever grown. He was rather amused to have someone bring him a vegetable. I haven't thought of that story in years.

I think you are right about the healthy skepticism that underlies some aspects of Judaism and Buddhism. It does make the transition from the first to the second much easier. I suspect it doesn't happen in the reverse very much.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I was raised in a non-practicing Jewish family, but ethical issues were always stressed so it was not a stretch to find myself drawn to Buddhism.

As a child, I flirted briefly with Catholicism but soon realized that I could not fit comfortably into a system that seemed to discourage questions.

I believe that Buddhism offers the best guidelines available to navigate our lives while doing the least harm to others, and also makes the most sense in terms of explaining our existence and purpose here.