A Jewish Art of Listening?

We’ve been wanting to call your attention to a new book on the interface between Judaism and Buddhism—Rodger Kamenetz’s The Jew in the Lotus: A Poet’s Rediscovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist India (HarperSanFrancisco, 1994). The book documents a trek to the Dalai Lama by Jews who wanted to share with him clues about how a people can maintain religion and culture in exile. Two women we know—Blu Greenberg and Joy Levitt—were among the eleven Jews on the journey. In a recent issue of the journal The Reconstructionist, Levitt, a congregational rabbi, describes a most instructive experience on the trip.

For an hour at a time, the Dalai Lama listened with an intensity that comes from several hours of meditation each day. More than any other single attribute (including his charming sense of humor, his remarkable humility and his simple acts of kindness), it was his manner of listening that overwhelmed me. The Jewish art of dialogue, at least as I have understood it, involves thinking of what you’re going to say when the other person finishes talking, which he rearely gets to do because you usually interrupt him. I had never experienced the kind of deep listening that the Tibetans practice, and I noticed that it changed the way we spoke. I found myself wanting to say exactly what I meant, speaking more carefully because I knew that each word would be heard and appreciated.