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Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks Interview
Rick Archer: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of interviews with spiritually Awakening people have done about 385 of them now. And if this is new to you and you’d like to watch previous ones, go to batgap.com and look under the past interviews menu where you see them all organized in four or five different ways. This show is made possible by the support of appreciative viewers and listeners. So if you appreciate it and feel like supporting it, there’s a Donate button on the site and donate page which explains all that in greater detail. My guest today is Brian Yossef Schachter Brooks is a Jewish spiritual teacher, musician and founder of Torah of awakening. He has taught this Jewish path of presence to hundreds of students throughout the world through workshops, retreats, and his online program. He also served as clergy and sacred music director at and here we go. This is a hard to pronounce thing that Brian and I were practicing it but bear with me. He served as music director at Yeah, you say Brian, come on.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Oh, come on. Tell him. There you go. I
Rick Archer: can never could have done it. Say it again.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Hawk Matt,
Rick Archer: how live okay. And that’s the name of a synagogue in Berkeley, California. He served as music director there from 2000 through 2016. He received smitch ah organismic Smee cos omega sorry. I’m hopeless ordination as Minister of sacred music from Reb Zalman Schachter, Salome, 2013, spiritual teacher, from Rabbi Sarah Laya, Schley and Shaykh. Ibrahim Baba, Farah JRj 2013, and Jewish meditation teacher from Dr. Avraham Davis 2004. He holds a Bachelor in music from the Eastman School of Music 1991. And he lives in Tucson, Arizona, with his wife, Lisa, and their two children. So thank you, Brian.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Yeah, thank you so much. It’s a real honor to be on this show. I’ve enjoyed it for many years. And it was such a delight to get the email inviting you to be on this show. So I just want to make you a blessing for you and for your family. And all those wonderful people I know that are working on this show, that it should continue in success and help a lot of seekers and practitioners gain more useful tools for their practice and their awakening.
Rick Archer: Well, that’s our intention. And I hope we’re doing that. According to the feedback we get where we’re doing that to some extent, in a way, I’m a very unqualified person to interview you, because I don’t really know much about Judaism. But maybe that makes me more qualified, because I’ll ask all Kurt’s kinds of questions that other people who don’t know much about it would ask, and that’ll be helpful for them. I think so. Yeah. I was thinking we might start, I read the first few chapters of a book that you’re working on. And in the first chapter, I believe it was you tell a very kind of interesting story of your own the course of your own seeking, you know, and I think that might be an interesting way of starting because it would give people a sense of who you are and how you’ve arrived at where you’re where you’re at, at this point. You want to do that. Sure. Okay. So where would you like to start in that story?
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Well, I could start with I could start in childhood if you if that seems good to you. Sure. I’m open. Yeah. You can cut me off anytime.
Rick Archer: I will. I’ll probably ask questions as we go through it.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Okay. Well, for some reason that I can’t explain spiritual stuff always really kind of drew me. So I was looking at all kinds of books is when I was old enough to go and go to the mall by myself. You know, take the take the bus down to the mall and go to the bookstore there. I would go right to the esoteric section and I was always getting books on witchcraft or Western occultism or Eastern stuff. And and I didn’t have any formal Religion in my house so much we had, you know, we did Hanukkah, and that’s about it. But I have some cousins and aunt and uncle that we would go to for Passover. And when we would go there, I had such a visceral feeling that there was something there that was drawing me some kind of budget, but at the same time, it seemed like it was a mystery or a light that was hidden in some way. You know, almost like, like I had a sense, probably most of the people at the table weren’t necessarily sensing the same thing I was, but my uncle, my uncle Howard, who now goes by Higham would really engage me and have conversations with me sometimes for hours. And he was one of the few adults that I can remember that would really talk to me about this kind of stuff. Since I was a little kid, you know, that’s not a usual thing for adults to do. So it just drew me and I developed this seeking, particularly with regard to the Jewish tradition. And so as I got older, and I learned about different ideas of spiritual awakening, I learned transcendental meditation when I was 12. My father, who’s a holistic doctor in New York was interested in it because of mostly because of its health benefits. And so he paid for the whole family to learn Transcendental Meditation. So I started doing meditation regularly when I was 12 years old. And I was also looking at Alistair Crowley stuff and other Western occultism things, and kind of doing rituals by myself and meditations by myself, you know, freaking my parents out, you know, my, I was called into my parents were called into school a few times because of concerns that the teachers had about the strange magic books that I was reading. And, but at some point, actually, it was a friend of mine. His parents invited me to go to Europe with him when I was in junior high school. And when we were there, I came across a lot of books that kept making reference to something called the tree of life, and something called the Kabbalah. And it was at that point that I realized that a lot of the non Jewish Western spiritual materials that I was checking out were actually rooted in Judaism in a certain way, at least one stream of it was rooted in Judaism. That kind of took me back to wanting to really investigate this thing that had been exciting me since I was very young, but I didn’t know very much about which was the Passover Seder is that my cousins, and at the same time, my father had a partner at that time who he passed away he was killed in a plane crash in 1983. But before that, he was studying with a very famous rabbi and scholar of Kabbalah named Ari Kaplan. And this was in in Rockland County, New York in Muncie. And my father’s partner who is Dr. David Shanklin was learning with Arya Kaplan, and then starting to teach his own courses on Kabbalah, which were being recorded. And after he passed away, they needed to Xerox the transcripts of all of these Kabbalah lectures that he gave, and I was working at my dad’s office, I was given the job to Xerox all this stuff. So I’m supposed to be xeroxing the manuscripts and now people would come in to check up on me see, I’m doing and I’m just sitting there, like, reading the stuff, you know, so those, that’s a little taste of me. Of course, there’s a lot more, I don’t know, if you want me to go further, I
Rick Archer: think it’s cool that you are so serious at such a young age. I mean, some a lot of people I interview were, and I think that’s an interesting correlation. You know, in my own case, I wasn’t I was, aside from a few little profound experiences looking at the stars when I was a kid or something I’d it’s pretty frivolous, you know, and then kind of wise up until I was about 18. So I’m always a little bit envious of people like you who kind of caught on to it in the younger age.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: And I’m and I’m envious of people who were really motivated to practice music since a really young age. Yeah. Because I mean, I’ve music, of course, is something else that’s going on with me. But I’m really aware of how, you know, we we really develop whatever we’re passionate about based on how much time we put into it. Yep. Someone gave me a book recently about that. That was really just talking about how outliers. Yeah, I think that was it. Yeah, maybe that was it.
Rick Archer: Malcolm Gladwell. talks about how the Beatles and Bill Gates and people like that put in at least 10,000 hours, you know, yes. Yeah.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: That’s the book that I’m talking about. Yeah. So it’s not intentional, but we tend to be drawn to things, you know, and and then the more the more hours we put into it starts to bear fruit. Yeah. Yeah.
Rick Archer: On the other hand, we sort of do the best we can, you know?
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: No, I mean, yeah, absolutely. There’s plenty of other things. Besides spirituality that I’m still, you know, there’s doing the best I can, and I’m never going to be expert at it. But nevertheless, it’s good to continue to grow and, you know, not just be completely one track, which is what my tendency is.
Rick Archer: Yeah, yeah. versified. Yeah. So there was a story in your book about sort of a series of events leading up to a rather profound shift that you had, or might call it an awakening. Let’s, let’s talk about that, once you recount that.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Okay. So I think that I don’t remember when the idea of spiritual awakening kind of became a concept in my mind, but I know throughout my teen years, and before that, I had a sense that there was something like that. So I knew about it. And it was part of what was motivating me with all the spiritual studies and also the meditation I was doing. And I think I had certain ideas in my head about what it meant. Because of course, when we read a description of something that we have an experience, we tend to develop some idea of what that is, and it’s either attractive or not. But at a certain point, when I was 18, I was just spending time with a friend of mine. It was kind of the, I think it was in August, the summer between high school and going away to college. And we were having a spiritual conversation, which later I learned, just just the technique of having a spiritual conversation, like what we’re doing right now, is actually a technique that’s affirmed in many different traditions. But we didn’t know that we were just talking about it. And our conversation kind of wandered into the biblical legends of Moses in the burning bush and freeing the Israelites from slavery. And it just started sparking stuff within us about how that story is actually talking about something real that directly relatable to how we approach how we approach this life that we’re living. And, and something happened to us. The remarkable thing is, it wasn’t just me, it was both of us at the same time. I’ve never experienced anything like that ever again. But it was as if we both caught fire at the same time. And we both were crying and hugging, which is totally bizarre for high school boys. Yeah, you know, like, 10 minutes later, we would have been like making fun of ourselves. It’s just ridiculous. Yeah, like that,
Rick Archer: that scene in trains, planes and automobiles with John Candy and, and what’s his name? Anyway, I will go into the scene, but go on after
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: I know that I saw that movie, but I have to go back because I can’t remember now. But, um, yeah, so and the way that we were saying it verbally to each other was this is it, you just have to live for God. That’s it. You know, and there wasn’t, there wasn’t the concept of what the word God meant wasn’t getting in the way. You know, we didn’t have any shared, we weren’t religious people, we didn’t have some shared dogma or ideology about what God is or anything like that. It was just more that the stories themselves awakened something in us through the conversation. And we tapped into what it meant to be just living from this place of pure openness and love, that’s a way to say it, you know, kind of letting go of all the different ways that we get stuck. So there was a real experience of freedom from all that personal mishegoss, you know, that we all tend to experience. And it was and it was something that lasted, you know, for a period of time, but not it didn’t last forever. It was kind of it was it was kind of like a bomb, you know, and then and then the, the sound sort of faded over the next few weeks. And then after some amount of time, I don’t know, a month or whatever. I was just left with a memory of it.
Rick Archer: But it was obviously a genuine thing, not just an idea, because you know, it wouldn’t have lasted a month it would have lasted 10 minutes if it were just some philosophical insight or something. There’s some some obvious experiential shift going on there.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Yeah, it changed the way I was interacting with everything. It was changed the way I was living. But it also had a confusing effect because my my memory of it is that I had the sense that if I wanted to really stay in it and continue it, I had to kind of just renounce everything. Like literally everything like I had to just not go to college, but also not don’t really do anything like I had to just walk out the door and just start walking and trust. And that was it. And I wasn’t going to do that. Yeah. So, you know, so and of course later I realized that’s, well, that’s a way of life. For many people in India. That’s a that’s an actual, respected and known practice that many people engage with it. They want to just free themselves from all of the entanglements of ordinary civilized life and culture and so on. And they become one wandering mendicants or whatever that we call it.
Rick Archer: I interviewed a guy who did that he had like a successful printing company in Australia, and he had this epiphany. And he he literally took his shoes off and just started walking. Yeah. And he walked for years around Australia, without, you know, the clothes on his back, basically. And it was successful for
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: him worked out for him. Yeah. That’s great. It’s funny, because I later met somebody who said that he did that. And it wasn’t successful. He said that he. Because he wasn’t doing it as a result of an epiphany. He was doing it as a technique. Right, right. And so he decided, Okay, I’m gonna try this and see what happens. But it just kind of, you know, it just created its own entanglements. Yeah.
Rick Archer: For me, he read about somebody like peace, pilgrim, if you’re familiar with her, and she was, she was able to do what she did, by virtue of her enlightened consciousness. And yeah, you know, don’t don’t try this at home, basically. Exactly. Exactly.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Yeah, yeah. So I mean, in some ways, I think, you know, I wonder what, what if I had really just done that, at that point, things probably would have gone very differently. But instead, I just continued living regular life. And as it faded, I became interested in like, well, how can I? Is it possible to bring that consciousness into an ordinary, cultural civilized life as opposed to having to renounce everything? Because if you have to renounce everything, then you know, what good is it for most people then? Yeah, that was my thinking, you know, you’d
Rick Archer: already been meditating for what, eight years or something by that time and or six years, six years. And, you know, so that that obviously had had an effect. And it may have even been conducive to the shift or the epiphany you had?
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Yeah, actually, I want to say something about that. Because I was doing lots of different types of meditation. But as I said, I learned TM, which I know is a kind of native to your
Rick Archer: Yeah, and I was a teacher of it for 25 years, so I know. Okay.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Okay. So there you go. So then. So you’ll know what I’m talking about. I had a certain experience with that, which is that I read the book by my Rishi, the main I don’t know if there’s how many there are. But there was one main book that that was science
Rick Archer: and being an art of living probably. Yeah, maybe
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: it was that one. Yeah.
Rick Archer: He also did a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. But but go on.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: That one I didn’t see Yeah, I saw a swami Satchidananda his commentary in the Bhagavad Gita, which I love. But um, but anyway, one of the things that it said in there was that if you meditate, if you just do the practice, then very naturally, this, the, the potential for enlightened consciousness will, will begin to just make its way into your life, you don’t have to worry about it, you just have to do the practice. And it’ll happen over time. It’s just a gradual, it talks about dipping into it, and so on. And well, the effect that that had on me just that as a concept is that it put the idea of enlightenment in my head as something that was going to happen after I practiced enough. It’s very, it’s very interesting, you know, and it’s not that that’s not true. But one of the effects of that experience that I had when I was 18, was that I realized in that moment, that that was a wrong concept. Because it was because it was becoming an excuse. So that as I lived life, every time I was making a decision to you know, maybe it’s a decision to, you know, grasp after something or to be not nice to somebody or whatever it is, you know, so or to just be, you know, caught in whatever was arising, whatever mishegoss was arising. It didn’t perceive the choice in those moments, because instead I would, I would say to myself, Oh, after I’ve meditated longer, I’ll be more enlightened, and this won’t bother me anymore. But right now, this is where I’m at. And the that experience taught me that actually know like the time, the crucial time is always in the present. And that doesn’t mean that we can somehow instantly transform whatever level we’re at. I mean, of course, we’re all at a certain level. But nevertheless, there are, there is something that’s available in the moment, which is very important to, it’s actually the most important thing to kind of realize and engage with, and have that inform everything you’re doing and choosing, as opposed to saying, as opposed to having this concept of I’ll be enlightened later after I’ve practiced enough. Yeah, it’s an
Rick Archer: interesting consideration. And, and I’m glad you’re approaching it in a subtle way. Because on the one hand, some people say this thing of, oh, we’re all already enlightened, you’re already enlightened, just just realize that just accept that and you’re done. You know, that guy, which is sort of absurd, really, in, in light of what we see as possible. And in the example of some very great, obviously, genuine, genuine, enlightened people. But then, on the other hand, there’s the sort of the dangling carrot syndrome, which you mentioned, which is, you know, I’ll be chasing this. How do you shift from always chasing the carrot of future enlightenment to actually accepting it now? And right, you know, and I could give an answer to that, but let me have you respond to it?
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Well, so after I, after I realized that, so now this was a new concept in my head, my new concept was, my new concept was, I can be I don’t know, if I didn’t necessarily use the word enlightened. I know that that word is kind of problematic, anyway. But whatever the word is, like, if you want to engage in the in reality, as it’s arising in this moment, with as much awareness as possible, don’t, don’t put it off into the future, like engage with it. Now, this is the time to make the right decision. This is the time to accept things as they are or to choose action that’s going to bring about blessing as opposed to more conflict or whatever it is. The time is now. So that was an idea that I that was planted from that experience. However, after a few months, I didn’t know what that meant anymore. I mean, I didn’t know how to do it. Yeah, so So I was going on. Okay, so I know, I’m not, I know from that experience that I shouldn’t put it off. But I also don’t really know how to do it now. So So that led to like another many years of a much more intellectual kind of searching. And, you know, just taking the form of a lot of writing and reading lots of different books, and you know, college happened, and then post college and I moved to the Bay Area, and I was just kind of in my head a lot for many, many years. Yeah.
Rick Archer: Were you still doing some kind of meditative practices during those years?
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Yes, yes. Yeah, absolutely. And I was
Rick Archer: known as culturing some sort of experience.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Yeah, I mean, I would do, I was continuing to learn in the Jewish tradition, and, you know, informed by the esoteric side of the Jewish tradition. And I was doing a lot of exercises, which later, as I’m now I’m very much in the mainstream, maybe not mainstream, but the, I’m in the Jewish world of spiritual education. I know a lot of people that are doing it, I see the curricula that people are coming up with, and so on. And a lot of the things that exercises that people are putting out, are things that I had kind of come up with assignments I was giving myself in those years. Like, for example, going through the litany of traditional Jewish prayers, and contemplating the little pieces of it, trying to try to get it what it really meant to me, what was my intention behind this and rewriting them and then practicing them for many months, and then before using the actual traditional words, that kind of thing. So I was doing that for a long time, were you gonna say, I was
Rick Archer: just gonna tell you a little story, I was one standing on a stage with Mercy shooting my mouth off about something and, and he kind of interrupted me and he said, every day, his life, he said, Don’t pass over the present for some glorious future. And which is just to the point you were making. And, yeah, so I don’t, you know, it’s like, we always have some kind of discrimination is some kind of ability to, you know, be content to be fulfilled, to have insight, that wisdom, whatever, in the present. And, you know, I think if we appreciate that to the fullest extent we can, then it enables it to, to grow more than if we’re always sort of discounting the present and looking to some future thing for our salvation or something. It’s just just the point you’re making.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Yeah. Yeah. Let’s bookmark it for a minute because I have another story similar to that that but I’ll get to it in a little bit. Maybe. So so after many years of living, I guess it was my dream. My 20s that I was in the Bay Area. And I was in this internal search not really connecting with communities or teachers or anything like that. At a certain point, I felt like I reached the end of my rope. And I think it was because I had written an essay to describe the experience that I had had and to explain it in an intellectual way. And I was happy with it, I’d finished it. And I was like, Ah, good. I finished finally, like, explained what that was. And then after I was done explaining, I said, Great, so I explained it. Like that doesn’t get me anywhere. Yeah, more intellectual? No, right. I’ve explained it. So what? So um, so at that point, I got very serious, or something, I got very intention, I said, Look, now that I’m now that I feel satisfied with explaining this on an intellectual level, and realizing that it isn’t really helping me, I have to go somewhere else besides the intellectual. And I had had exposure to many different teachings, I talked about that. But there was a book that I had written by Steve Hagen, which was it was a book on Zen called Buddhism, plain and simple. And there was something about that book, I don’t know, I just picked it up. And I just sort of opened it and I was reading something, and something hit me. It just hit me all at once that, that my intellect was constantly, constantly moving me away from the present moment away from my direct experience, always, always creating this spiritual goal as a concept that I held in my mind, as opposed to doing the only really thing the only thing that’s really important, which is actually connecting deeply right now to this moment. And he had a certain way of explaining it. That struck me in that moment. And I’ve gone back and looked at the book, and I, I can’t completely I’m not really sure what it was about the book, I think it’s a very good book. But for some reason, there was something serendipitous about looking at it in that moment. Which connected to connected in a Jewish way, surprisingly, because it’s a you know, it was not a Jewish Book. And yet, it was something that, for example, Martin Buber constantly talked about, he always talked about the path of presence. And to him, that was what Judaism was all about. But but he didn’t talk about it in terms of the present moment. He talked about it in terms of your presence meeting this moment, mostly in terms of other beings that you’re relating to like this conversation we’re having right now. Like, it’s an eyebrow thing, like how are you fully engaging with those in front of you. That’s how he talked about it. And Reb Zalman also talked about it, that’s a whole other stream, maybe we won’t get into. But my connection with him was very profound throughout the years. And he always talked about a Hasidism of the year and now. So whatever it was, you know, ROM das be here, or whatever it was, I made a commitment in that moment. And I said, from this moment on, I’m just going to do my best to stop that avoiding of this moment. I’m just going to see what my mind is doing. I’m going to see how my mind tends to take me away from actually connecting with this moment, if that’s the way you want to describe it. And I’m just going to do my best to see that, you know, let it go and see what happens without any kind of expectation of it.
Rick Archer: And that didn’t mean that you’d had to stop reading and thinking and writing and intellectualizing. Right, but you could now you could do it from with a different orientation.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Yes, yes. I mean, one of the things that it meant was that it changed the context of the spiritual practices I was doing because the spiritual practice always fell somehow, in my mind in the category of a thing that you you stop life and you do your spiritual practice, and then you go back to life, like it’s like these two separate things. Yeah. So so this kind of crashed that down and made it made it universally applicable to practice now, whether I’m doing my spiritual practice or whether I’m taking out the garbage, whatever it is, like, I’m going to simply be awake to whatever is, yeah, I’m just gonna, I’m just gonna keep doing that and see what happens. And something started happening immediately. As soon as I made that decision, which I would describe as sort of just a subtle brightness. It just sort of started being this subtle brightness, which I could almost taste it and I’ll let it tasted like that familiar taste from when I was 18 from that experience, so immediately I thought, oh, okay, maybe this is this is like this is the right direction. This is the this is like I’m on to onto something here. So I just kept doing that and kept doing that. And then some crazy stuff started happening. I started feeling like the everything that I was doing all the elements in my life, felt more papery. Like, everything seemed more just, everything just took on a different texture, less solid, less, less, yeah, thick, so to speak, yeah, less thick, less dense. And also like the feelings that I had for things that feelings that would arise in the presence of the various stuff of life. Didn’t feel as, as much part of me, they were just kind of they were a part of the texture of what was happening, right, as opposed as opposed to like, me and my feelings. And this is a problem was more like, like feelings would arise. And then they would just kind of dissipate. And very intense situations would arise, it would be actually kind of like hell for a few minutes. And then, and then it would dissipate. There was one, one little thing that happened that, I’ll say that I was going to put in that in the intro of that book that I sent you, but I didn’t put it in there because I was just trying to condense and make it shorter and shorter. But to me, it was kind of a powerful thing, which was that I was driving and someone cut me off. And I got really, really angry. And I was about to maybe just lean on the horn and curse or something. And something said inside me, this is the moment like this is this is it. Are you ready to practice now? I said, Okay. So I just said, Okay, here’s the anger, here’s, you know, just I just open to it. And it was incredibly painful. And I just felt this like well of anger and negativity, almost like a scab kind of dislodged from my heart and kind of did a call and kind of left like smoke. Interesting. And it all happened within a few seconds. And it had rained recently, and there was kind of a sheen of rain on the road. And I just kind of looked about out of the windshield and out my window. And I could just sort of see the sun glistening on the road and a bird flew by. And all sudden it was like the Garden of Eden, but it was just in traffic and dealing with normal stuff. So so what I felt like over that week it took about a week is that there were these, you know, scabs of me that were getting dislodged and thrown out. During that time.
Rick Archer: God reminds me of Eckert totally story of looking at the ducks, you probably read that where he’s sitting watching ducks, the Ducks get into this little fight with each other over something. And then a few seconds later, they just sort of shake off their feathers, and they start swimming around again, as if nothing happened. You know, right. Imagine if all of humanity could function that way. What a different world it would be. Yes, yes, exactly. Yeah. Yeah. Well, that’s pretty neat. So have they were there any other significant like watershed moments? Or is just like rolling on now and living in a greater state of presence and on attachment?
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Well, yeah, no, there were a lot of moments. I feel like it’s, you know, the true way that, that it’s unfolded me unfolded for me until now is very complex, you know, and as a lot, lots to it. But I think the main theme is that after that week, it was a some kind of transformative process happened that was different from the first one when I was 18. Because the first one was more heart centered. And it was not intentional at all, it happened spontaneously, and I didn’t know how to get back to it. And after the second one, I felt that I had the I was given a key, you know, there was a, there was a door that now I could open it and knew I knew how to open it. And yet at the same time, it wasn’t like me with my key knowing how to open it, it was like this is a gift, you know, this is a I don’t have control over it. But as far as things go now, like I have this access to this eternal dimension. And now I have to work with it. Right so so I would say that, you know, there’s there’s certain ideas in the rhetoric of spiritual awakening and this is in Judaism as well. There’s concepts of different stages of development and beings who are more enlightened than that they don’t have an ego anymore, they don’t have a, what we call yet so hurrah, which means the, the inner force to do evil. And for me, I would just say that it didn’t really change any, if anything, except for that it gave me access to this eternal dimension. And then from then on, it was it is my choice to engage with that dimension. more deeply and more skillfully, as, as various challenges of life come up,
Rick Archer: it’s nice.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: And I also, just another little pieces that when it first happened, I just let go of all the formal spiritual practices, because I thought, well, this is it, this is all you need, really. But what I experienced is that life, regular life was actually very difficult. For me, it was very, I mean, it’s probably that’s true anyway, but but it was, it felt more abrasive, because after having all of this, all these layers of me kind of be stripped away, everything felt very abrasive, you know, so I’d walk into a restaurant, and I would to get a cup of coffee, or a pastry or something, and I would hear the people working there have a little argument, and it would just send me into tears, I’d be weeping, you know, for 20 minutes or something, because of the negativity that I saw there. Everything was just very, it became difficult to function very sensitive, very sensitive, vulnerable, which vulnerable. Yeah, exactly. Like, you know, like naked, or like a scab that was ripped off something like that. And so. So after some time, I started thinking, well, maybe this is part of why there are formal spiritual practices, and why there are certain lifestyle, suggestions or commandments, as you might call them, you know, in Judaism, mitzvah commandments, mate, what are the purpose of these kind of structural things that we have to learn mentally, and then practice them and then do them and so on. And it started to occur to me that maybe if I did some of that stuff, that it would be helpful that it would help me to live partially, in this eternal realm, and partially just in this crazy life realm that we’re living. Yeah. And, and, and what I found is that that’s true, you know, I found that it of course, you know, not 100%, there’s a certain skillfulness with which you have to take on these practices, because if you do too much at once, then it becomes disruptive in relationships and, and interferes with other things. But if it’s done skillfully, the whole purpose, as I see it, now of these formal practices, is not just to not just to reach the eternal not just to plug into that realm, but actually to help to integrate that realm with all of the ordinary ordinariness of life. And I think that that’s where Judaism has. It’s where Judaism excels, you know, I, I don’t have a lot of personal experience with other traditions from the inside. So I can’t compare it and say anything definitively like that. But I can just say, from my own experience, and from others that I know and talk to you that one of the high points of the Jewish tradition is that it’s, it’s very high on that particular helpfulness of helping you to connect, what we might call the higher and the lower worlds or the eternal kind of space within which everything is arising with all the stuff that’s all arising. Yeah,
Rick Archer: I think it’s a very important point. And it’s, I think it’s something that people in the spiritual community in general deal with constantly. And there’s been more and more talk of it in recent years, you know, words like embodiment and integration, yes, being thrown around a lot. I was just having a conversation with a friend of mine, earlier this week, or maybe it was last weekend, who was talking about how he felt so sensitive now, you know, because of whatever spiritual development he had been undergoing. And he found himself crying a lot and stuff, just like you said, and and I said, that’s great. I said, but you need to kind of counterbalance it with an equivalent amount of strength, and, you know, joked with him, you know, how the ladies like the strong sensitive types. So, go for both that and I think one can be just speaking simplistically, perhaps one can be very strong, but not sensitive, you know, the sort of the macho stereotype, right? One can be very, very sensitive, but not strong. And that make can make it very vulnerable. But I think it’s possible and valuable to develop both qualities commensurately. And you know, if you do you can be superduper sensitive and at the same time, not be so vulnerable, which is not to say that you’re not going to experience everything acutely and deeply and fully, but it won’t be overwhelming or overshadowing or wounding and so on, they’ll have the capacity to be so sensitive and, and function normally in the normal world in the normal world.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Yeah. And that what you’re talking about is a major theme and Kabbalah. So there’s, there’s a lot of images and teachings that are aimed at explaining exactly what you were just talking about.
Rick Archer: Great. Well, let’s talk a bit about Kabbalah Judaism, a friend of mine named David Dunn prepared some questions for this interview, because he’s really into Judaism and sort of a Jewish scholar and his brother is actually a rabbi or something. And
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: yeah, his brother is Danny, Danny, Matt is his brother, you know, Danny. Yeah, I know him. And he and I have actually done some work together some some musical services in Berkeley, that I’ve led. He’s also he’s done some teaching, and those and he’s involved in a very major translation of the Zohar, which is, which is a one of the most basic texts of Kabbalah from medieval Spain.
Rick Archer: Great. Well, it’s a small world, his brother, David lives in my town here and is an old friend of mine. He wrote a nice little thing about you here, he said, Brian’s main interest is awakening, and he is very well versed in the Jewish tradition. His specialty is that he has reinterpreted all of the important themes in Judaism, in terms of awakening, throughout Jewish history has been very much encouraged to come up with new interpretations of the sacred texts. Brian’s work is a perfect example of that. So let’s talk about some of these themes and your interpretations and so on, just as we can spend at least an hour on this, you know, and perhaps if you want to dip back into your personal experience, from time to time to, you know, things come to mind, you want to illustrate points, we can do that. But you know, assume someone like me, who knows very little about Judaism and wants to learn more, this is a perfect opportunity for you to explain it. So David wrote out a lot of questions and a bunch of themes and all and you probably have that document in front of you as well. Where would you like to start in explaining all this to us?
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Well, maybe I’ll just start with first letting everybody know that today is the new moon. So the new moon in Judaism, the New Moon is a Jewish holiday. It’s called Roche Kodesh, which means the head of the month, and the particular month, that’s beginning now is called the a dar is the name of it the month of Adar. And there’s a saying in the Talmud that says Mishnaic nimasa, die my beam Simka, which means when a dar enters, Joy increases. And the the understanding is that there’s this holiday and Adar called Purim. And Purim if you’re familiar in the Bible, there’s a there’s a book called The Book of Esther, the scroll of Esther. And it’s a story it’s a it’s actually a very, you know, engaging kind of narrative about the Jewish people during the first exile during the after the First Temple was destroyed. And it’s a whole bunch of stuff that happens that I won’t go into. But but one of the interesting things about that book is it’s one of the few places where God’s name is not mentioned at all in the entire book. And yet, it’s considered a sacred text. And so the esoteric tradition understands that the special thing about this text and the special thing, also about this time period that we’re in, is that divinity is hidden. But it’s underlying everything. So the rest of the biblical texts tend to objectify divinity talk about God as a character, who says and does things and people interact with God. But, of course, for for most of us, the experience of what we call divinity or being or existence or sacredness is something that is underlying everything. So the question is, Can we tap into that? And can we approach life and also sacred texts from the sensitivity to that? And so, when you talk about these different Jewish concepts, Judaism is a very, very intellectual kind of tradition. It says that’s the intellectual stream is very strong. And so likewise, even in the esoteric realm, I know many Jewish people who I’ve interacted with and say, oh, you know, they they love the the tour of awakening stuff because They feel like it’s not just intellectualizing the that esoteric realm, because you can study Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism for years and years and years. And all you’re doing is thinking about stuff, you’re not actually. Right, you’re not actually going into it. So my approach when I look at all the different elements of Judaism, which is, you know, really a vast ocean that you could never cover in a lifetime, there’s so much there. But whenever I look at it, I try to simply look at it from the point of view of what’s available in this moment. In other words, what is the what is the text or the practice or the idea trying to tell me about what I can tap into in this moment. And when I do that, things tend to kind of open up and reveal themselves in a certain way. So that’s how that’s how I’m approaching those things.
Rick Archer: As notes here, David wrote, yeah, God is the name. The basic name for God is that it’s made up for the four Hebrew letters that correspond to the English letters YHVH. It means being so God is being right. Would you agree with that? Got it. Essentially. How would you define God? Let’s spend a minute I’m we’re everybody talks knows the word what? People have different concepts of it. What how would you most deeply most profoundly define what God is?
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Well, when we say the word God, you know, God is it’s a concept, right?
Rick Archer: So anywhere is a concept representing something Apple is a concept, but that you can bite into one also. Yeah,
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: exactly. Exactly. Right. That’s right. Right. So taking that analogy of an apple, apple is a word, it’s a concept, but then you can actually take the physical apple and bite into it. So so my, my question then is with the word God, and with any religious or spiritual words, is does the word help you to bite into the apple? Or is the word leading you somewhere else down some other road? And my sense is that when we get into theology, when we get into talking about what is God, and you know, what’s the nature of God, and you know, this kind of stuff, then we’re kind of moving away from the apple.
Rick Archer: We may be, but as long as we can really understand, I mean, we, if we want to communicate, we have to use words, and if we really understand where, so you know, there are words like God and enlightenment, and so on, that are very people don’t like to use them because they have so much baggage. But you know, maybe we can make up new words. But maybe if we define our words, and we don’t think of God as the old guy in the sky, with the beard, you know, enlightenment is being able to walk through the clouds or whatever, then you know, we can actually still use those good old words.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. So like, if we say that God is being or existence, which the most sacred name in Judaism actually indicates, because the, the name itself is a permutation of the letters of the verb to be, which is, for those who know Hebrew, the letter letters are Hey, you would Hey, so that’s the verb to be. So, you put them in a certain order, you add a letter vav in there, which has to do with a very seldom used present tense of the verb to be. Then you have this name, this divine name, which gets translated in transliterated into English in various ways. But if you look at the Bible, most English translations, I think, just say the Lord, you get it, it says the Lord but actually, it’s pointing to this unpronounceable Hebrew name. That means being or existence. So then the question is, well, if it being or existence and why Why use the word God? Why not just use the words being or existence? Think Like, we’re totally talks about that sort of like, God is a closed concept. Why do we use the word God? And my answer to that, the Apple want to point to, and to that you take bite is the Avenue of the heart. In other words, there’s a relational experience with being or existence or reality, reality is also a good word. Because maybe the word reality is a little more all inclusive. The point is that, that there is that reality is right here. Right? This is reality. It’s very rich. It includes everything that’s happening in our experience right now. There, it’s it’s our physical sensations, our sensory input, it’s our all of our memories and concepts. It’s whatever feelings are arising within us. It’s the fullness of it, it’s all of reality, and the tendency that we have as human beings which makes spirituality something that we’re interested in, right, because why does spirituality exists at all? Why do we need spirituality? Well, it’s because we have this tendency to feel ourselves to be separate from the fullness of reality. We’re not separate from reality. There’s not us in reality, right? There’s just reality. So but why do we have this feeling of like, I’m separate from reality. We may not say that intellectually to ourselves, but there’s a feeling of, there’s a problem here, right? There’s something, there’s something not right. Or there’s a way this manifests different ways for different people, maybe it’s a feeling of alienation, or a feeling that I’m not good enough or that things aren’t happening in the way they’re supposed to. It’s just these different senses that are created, by the way our minds work. That gives us a sense of separation from reality. And so if we use the word God in a way that’s useful, then I would say, what, what is God? What is that? What’s the connotation of God? It’s a connotation of reverence. A connotation of surrender a connotation of trust, like, ah, you know, this isn’t we’re not just out here, like these fragments, you know, wandering aimlessly around, but there’s actually some sort of greater coherence to things. There’s a greater power, there’s a greater reality, and all these things help to loosen up that constriction of the heart that that puts us in hell. Yeah, you know, so so that so the concept of God is good and useful if you’re using it prayerfully you know if it’s inspiring your heart to open and for those, what we call Mido, Mido means measures. But in Judaism Mido, it means spiritual qualities that flow from the heart. So for example, gratitude is Amida reverences Amida. Trust is Amida loving kindness is a meet all these meet don’t flow naturally, when we take a prayerful attitude toward reality. And that’s helped by calling reality God. That’s my sense of it.
Rick Archer: One reason I like using word like that is related to what you’re saying, actually is, is that, if you just say being, it doesn’t necessarily connote all the qualities that I would ascribe to God, for instance, yeah, and a single grain of salt, they’re a billion billion atoms, which is an incomprehensible number. And each one of those little atoms is a marvel, in terms of, you know, what it actually is and how it functions and so on. So to me that that indicates a vast unfathomable intelligence, orchestrating and permeating every bit of creation, with with no break anywhere, it’s just the present everywhere. And so intelligence equality like that, I mean, is a physicist tell us that in a cubic centimeter of empty space, at the level of the vacuum state, there is more energy than there are, then there is in millions of atomic bombs, you know, huge vast energy latent within every iota of creation. So that implies the quality of energy, intelligence, energy, and, and we can enumerate other qualities. And so um, if we kind of ponder what what is actually going on, you know, what we’re actually perceiving and engaging in, in this universe. It’s, it’s this amazing thing. And you know, which is not just random billiard balls, dumbly banging into each other, but is obviously something of, you know, amazing complexity and brilliance in its design and orchestration. So, yeah, that’s the reason I like to use the word God, it just implies all that to me.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, exactly. I mean, I think that’s, that’s just, that’s another example of exactly what I’m talking about, is that there’s a certain certain qualities that we have what what you were just saying, there’s a term that we’ve used by Abraham, Joshua Heschel, all of us Sholom great rabbi who’s not alive anymore, and he coined the term radical amazement. Love it. And so that’s just a, you know, radical amazement is something that’s not just there all the time, in the sense in this in the way that awareness is there all the time. It’s something that it’s it’s a fire that flame and it flares up when you contemplate in a certain way, so that that contemplation that you just led us on of the atoms, the million million atoms and the grain of salt and the you know, the incomprehensible amount of energy, just as I was hearing you say it, there’s a sense of like, all that comes from just in becoming aware of that. And to me, that’s what, that’s what prayer is about, as opposed to meditation.
Rick Archer: I think you’re gonna end up living in that state of law more and more all the time, just the way you were talking earlier about living in the state of sensitivity and strength all the time. It kind of all becomes like part and parcel of your, your ordinary experience, you know, right. Right. Right. Cool. So feel free to ever always pipe up if I’m not asking some question and something comes to mind just jump in. Okay. So, you know, one thing about God is that God is often in treated, you know, with prayer. And, you know, and often when that happens, people have this sort of concept of God is off someplace, and I’m sending him this message, you know, and I hope he hears it and gets back to me. And there’s a there’s a duality implicit in that. So what would you say? What would you say about that? Suppose the duality and God’s ability to respond to prayers?
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Well, as long as there’s a sense of duality in life, which I think it seems to me that there’s always a sense of duality, as long as we’re functioning in ordinary life, there are moments when that sense of duality drops away altogether. But in order for me to have figured out how to put this headphones in the right hole into clinic, this stuff that it was all new to me. That was, man, that was duality, right? I mean, I didn’t know and then I, you know, Jerry helped me and right, like, there’s we’re dealing with life in time. And so as long as that is present, then there’s going to be the tendency to be a sense of me. And the rest of it. Like, that’s the basic duality. There’s me, and then there’s everything else that’s going on. And there’s going to be concern that arises. Whenever we do anything, we do things in order to bring about a certain result. And so there’s always the concern, like I’m not, I’m not in control. Therefore, you know, I hope that this works, right? And that situation that we all find ourselves in, is potentially constricting. And other words, it’s it’s a, it’s constricting to those Midelt we were talking about before the meet of all of gratitude of trust, just open heartedness, of connectedness, all those things tend to get constricted, the more the mind is concerned about how things are going to work out. And so when you pray, you say, God or Hashem. Hashem is one of the Hebrew things that we say as a very casual way of talking about God, it literally means the name referring to that name that we were talking about the name that means existence or reality. And so it’s it’s kind of funny because if you said hey, reality, you know would sound strange to impersonal? Yes, I’m very impersonal. But you say, hey, Hashem, you know, it sounds very, sounds very personal. And yet the word Hashem means the name that means reality that we can’t pronounce. But we say Hashem, you know, like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, like, please, you know, help me out, you know, help this thing that I’m trying to do work out, help this person to, you know, not be judgmental of me or what I’m, you know, whatever it is, like, Whatever, whatever is heavy on your heart that you put out in a prayer helps to really internalize the fact that you’re not in control. And that you’re and that you’re surrendering the control to that which is beyond you. Now, of course, that only works if if your prayer is really prayerful, because prayer can also be grasped, be like, Oh, God, please. Well, right. Right, then, then that’s not actually a real prayer. It’s just
Rick Archer: some more like, man, almost. Yeah. Desperation.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Yes. desperate and expression of desperation. Yeah. And the, the tendency, we have to grab after things, right, to insist on things to want to control things. Those, those are basic ego qualities, that it’s part of the spiritual work to to relax those qualities. And prayer very much helps you do that, in my experience, if you’re if it if you’re able to do it, of course, some people can’t handle the word God and they don’t want to deal with that at all. But Judaism Yeah, Judaism is a is a theocentric path. It uses that concept of God. It’s filled with prayers. It’s very dualistic in that sense. And yet, there’s also the awareness that as I prayer for as I pray for what I need, it’s actually not even me praying. It’s like God doing its own process, because really, there’s only God. So God is praying to itself in this form. You know, so God
Rick Archer: actually recognizes that that there’s only God and that in the although we may think that we’re separate from God, we’re only God, playing hide and seek with himself God. I mean, Judaism recognizes that kind of notion.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Yes, absolutely, there’s different I would I would qualify that by saying there’s different streams, of course of Judaism, different streams of Jewish thought, like any tradition, but it’s very complicated. There’s no just Judaism or Buddhism or whatever standard. But the, but the stream that I’m talking about is the stream that comes from Kabbalah, which itself has different streams. But nevertheless there is a basic theme in Kabbalah of this non duality notion, what we and what’s it called in Hebrew, sometimes referred to as octave, which means oneness is referring to the basic oneness of all reality. And then that comes through different Hasidic teachings, of which there are many lineages. And the particular stream that I’ve studied more than others is the lineage that comes from Hyderabad and the the basic text of Kabbalah, which is called the Tanya. So in my book that you read, some of it makes some it makes some reference to the Tanya, which is also which is available in many translations, and people can, can check that out. But But that’s very clear, in the stream of Hasidic teaching, that we’re not talking about God, creating the universe. And then these are two different things. But rather, we’re talking about this one reality, which then appears through a and it goes in, there’s lots of very fancy, very intellectual language for explaining how it can appear to be not not all one. But but that’s the basic but that’s the basic premise, you know, that we’re, there’s a purpose for, for feeling like we’re not all one, it’s not like, it’s not like duality is the enemy. And I guess that’s one of the hormones hallmarks of Jewish spirituality that is different from some forms of Eastern spirituality that emphasize transcendence. And you know, the idea and the goal of this human life is to, is to transcend it and then kind of disentangle yourself from it. A major theme in Judaism is that, yes, you should transcend it and disentangle yourself from it, but not for the purpose simply of realizing it. But for the purpose of then bringing that transcendence into ordinary, mundane, gritty existence. Yeah,
Rick Archer: well, like you say, I mean, there’s different streams and some streams of Eastern thinking, say just that as well. I mean, even even in the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says to Arjuna, transcend, and then three verses later, he says, established in Bing, go and fight this battle, you know, perform action. Yeah. Related to all this, I think there’s a fella named Mark from Santa Clara, who asks, you know, you talked earlier about how you had this shift where you finally were kind of like residing in presence and functioning from there more or less spontaneously. But although I imagine you would agree that even doing that there are times when you get gripped, or drawn out. So Mark asks, what what triggers or reminders do you use to routinely fall consciously back into presence? Can you suggest any particular practice to make the noticing increasingly habitual?
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: There is a temporary glitch there.
Rick Archer: Oh, I’m sorry. I’ll read it again. Okay, well, basically, he just asked what triggers are reminders and triggers to make this noticing more habitual and, you know, I also add maybe more stable, so you don’t get drawn out of this easily?
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Yeah, to me that I mean, that’s a super important question. And I think that, uh, you know, maybe, maybe there’s two questions that are like the most basic, important questions. And the first one is how do you get to experience in the first place? And the second one is how do you bring it how do you deepen with it and maintain it more and more, yeah, and not not be like this yo, yo, kind of, or seesaw sort of thing? So so first of all, Judy, is Judaism is chock full of practices to help you do that. So for example, as anybody who has any Jewish background is watching knows that there are certain blessings you say before doing different things like before eating, there’s a special blessing you say when you wake up in the morning, there’s times during the day where you stopped to do certain prayers. And so your day if you’re doing traditional practices is filled with these opportunities to come back to presence, however, qualify that with the the big obstacle and that, which is that when you teach this stuff in a religious culture you’re telling people to do it before they necessarily have The hunger for it. I mean, we have this exact I have this challenge right now with my own children, like how do you teach these practices? And actually have them be real as opposed to like, Okay, I’m going to rush through this blessing. So I can take my bite as well. But thanks for the grace of God. Exactly, exactly. And it becomes a thing where you feel like, oh, I have to, you know, maybe you feel bad if you don’t say the blessing, because you think you’re supposed to, but you’re not really taking it as an opportunity to do that. So that’s something that exists in Jewish culture, there’s that there’s that obstacle, and it probably exists, I would think, in any religious culture, you have the same thing. And that that’s also the function of spiritual teachers, or really anyone that they don’t have to be formally a teacher, but anyone is plugged in who’s in your tradition, and you’re in their presence? Why is it good to be in their presence? Part of what’s so good is that when you go to do the things you’re doing anyway, you’re coming to say, this blessing, you suddenly bring a lot of presence to it when you’re in the presence of someone who has a lot of presence, right. So,
Rick Archer: like, so it’s so yeah, like it was kind of like a dog chasing its tail or pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps or something? Yeah, there’s that saying, some Christians say, Well, what would Jesus do? Well, right, you kind of have to be Jesus to really know that, because then then you’re functioning from his level of consciousness, and you’ll spontaneously act in that way. But can you really mimic his behavior? And, and have the same effect?
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Yeah, well, I think that in to a certain degree, you can, in a sense that if you’re, if you’re behaving out of certain unconscious impulses, and then the thought arises in your mind, you know, what is that? Say? What is the Baal Shem Tov, do, you know, whatever it is, whatever the spiritual master, you’re going to envision, then that can help you access some more presence, and from that presence can flow, some greater creativity and wisdom, how to deal with this situation that whatever your situation is. So I just wanted to give as a suggestion to, who is the fellow who asked,
Rick Archer: Oh, Mark, Mark, and Sam, are there,
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: okay to mark is that, that there’s this whole richness in our tradition of all these different practices that you can do, but there’s also a wisdom of how you take them on, like, if you’re not already doing them, then you don’t just take them all once, you know, you try one. And it’ll have a very profound effect, probably, if you do it with that type of intention, just with one practice. But soon, it’ll there’ll be a tendency for it to become rote, you know, so then you have to overcome that and realize, oh, this is my mind just being accustomed to it. It’s becoming rote. And perhaps, then now it’s time to take on another practice to help to be a more more fresh reminder. Yeah. And, and that’s how you work with it. So it’s a lot. It’s a process working with these traditional practices. But I’ll also say that there’s a certain practice that I developed which is, which you can check out so if you go, will I know we’ll say later, but if you want to go to, if you want, go ahead, okay. Okay, so if you go to torah of awakening.com, what you’ll find there is that you can download a guided meditation practice, which I call integral Jewish meditation. And the reason I call it integral is because over the years, as I noticed the beneficial elements of many different Jewish practices, I realized that for a lot of people who want to just do something, you don’t necessarily have 10 years to learn all these Jewish practices, maybe you want to just try something that’s from the Jewish tradition, but that’s also very accessible. So what did I what I did is I didn’t want to say I did it, but it kind of developed over time with working with people is to is to take the positive elements of these different practices and create something that’s very doable, even in a few seconds. Yeah, I
Rick Archer: read those instructions. And it actually seems a little bit TM, like in terms of its effortlessness. And its simplicity. Yeah. And it’s something you could do 20 minutes, twice a day, or 10 minutes, twice a day, or whatever works for you. And that kind of thing has a cumulative effect.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, it can be it’s very, very powerful. One of the things that, that that is somewhat unique, not completely unique, but I know that it’s, you don’t find it in some other practices, is that it integrates kind of somatic elements, you know, there’s, there’s body motions, there’s, there’s vocalizations, there’s chanting things, there’s kind of thoughts, streams that you contemplate and so on. And that is the opening to then sitting in silent presence for the open meditation. So you can end up that opening, which is really the part that’s unique about the IgM. The integral Jewish meditation is something that you can also do throughout the day, many Many times, just for a few seconds, in addition to doing a 10 minute or 20 minute or even four minute silent meditation, whatever you can do whatever you can integrate into your life, you can also in transition moments before you get out of bed before you get into your car, before you enter a building, you can do this practice of integral Jewish meditation, which helps you to plug into all these different elements of presence that we’ve been talking about.
Rick Archer: Okay. We can talk about that more, if you want to refer back to it towards the end, we’ll remind people towards the end of the interview. Okay, you mentioned the Baal Shem Tov a minute ago, and back in the 70s, I think it was I read a book about him and was very impressed. He seemed like a remarkable Saint really, even had some amazing cities apparently, like being able to teleport from one place to another, and things like that. I mean, is, what is your take on him? And are there people like that? Similar to that in Judaism? Is there a sort of a history of remarkable saints? are citizens enough to use the Eastern term?
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Yes, yes, there’s a there’s a big history of it, it’s not at all unique. He, of course, holds a very special place in the history of Jewish spirituality, because he’s seen as the, really the grandfather of the entire Hasidic movement. And just for those who don’t know what, what that is, Hasidism, you know, today, you see, you know, maybe you live in a place where you see men in black coats and black hats with the long braids on the side and exactly right. And you don’t know what’s up with those guys. You know, like any, like any real life, religious culture, it has its problems, and its history and so on. But the forces that gave birth to the Hasidic movement, as I understand it, was the, the need for genuine, esoteric Jewish spirituality to become available to everyone. Yeah, that was, that was the impulse that created Hasidism, because prior to that, the whole esoteric aspect of Judaism was considered very nice star means hidden, it was it was it was studied by elite groups of people that were already at a very high level of learning. And all of that Jewish learning, which is really very much on an intellectual level was considered the prerequisite. And so the Baal Shem, Tov comes along and says, you know, we are perceives, apparently, that, that that depth has to be made available to the peasant, you know, the, the guy with his milk cow, you know, I mean, it has to be available, because otherwise this, this whole, we’re going to be destroyed, you know, we’re, we’re not going to survive, because Judaism is becoming so there’s this separation of the elite, scholarly type people, and then there’s all the peasants that are becoming, you know, assimilated, they’re disappearing, and so on. So there was this, there was this flaring up, it was like a fire, a bonfire that flared up Jewish spirituality starting with the Baal Shem, Tov, and then many, many, very inspired very plugged in rabbies that came after him in his lineage. But even way before him, like in atomic, for example, there’s lots of, and ever since then there’s many stories of miracle workers. There’s a there’s a wonderful story in the Talmud that talks about. It’s off the top of my head. So I don’t remember the details. But I think it’s Rabbi Akiva. For those Jewish scholars out there, you might correct me, but I think it’s Rabbi Akiva, who goes around and he heals people, you know, he enters their home, and they’re in bed like ready to die deathly ill, and he takes their hand and they stand up and they’re fine. And, and then one time, he’s very sick. And another rabbi, who I’m not remembering at the moment comes in and says, Are these afflictions dear to you? And he says, Neither these afflictions nor their reward now meaning that they’re supposed to when you suffer, there’s spiritual reward that I say, No, I don’t want to I don’t want these afflictions and I don’t want the reward. So he picks picks, takes his hand and picks him up and heals him. And so the tama then asks, like, Well, why couldn’t he heal himself if he’s such a great healer? And the answer is that a prisoner can’t release himself from prison. Interesting. So there’s the concept that there’s a certain communal elements and how this stuff flows. Yeah. Which which I think, is is hinting at the importance also of connecting with with others, not necessarily in business. physical healing but in the process of spiritual development, spiritual awakening that we help each other Yeah, like
Rick Archer: you and your friend when you’re 18 there was a sort of a chemistry that made that happen. Exactly, yeah. Regarding like, you know, the Baal Shem Tov and in you know, re ignition have some kind of spiritual thing going on. Is it reminds me that story of, you know, God and the devil are walking down the road, and God sees something and picks it up. And the devil said, What’s that? And God said, it’s the truth. And Devil said, Oh, here, let me organize it for you. So it seems like these sort of bursts of light that come along from time to time always end up getting dimmer as they crumble on the hard rocks of administrative ignorance and whatnot, and then it’s time for a fresh one to come along.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Don’t we know it? We know it yet. And in that vein, you know, the Baal Shem, Tov didn’t write anything, himself. Yeah. And then and then the different disciples wrote things about him and quoted him and so on. But it’s interesting. I never wrote
Rick Archer: books. A couple of questions have come in this will cause us to jump around a little bit, but it’d be fun to ask them. David from Israel asks, In the Vedic tradition, the world is created from sound. In the Hebrew tradition, the world is created from the Hebrew letters. My sense is that there’s a deep truth here, and that these are not just concepts, what are your thoughts?
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Yeah, I agree. I would also just say that if, if we’re taking the biblical creation narrative, the Torah creation narrative, just on its face value, the universe is created with sound. And that story as well, it doesn’t say it’s created with Hebrew letters. But in Kabbalah later on it as the tradition develops, it talks about how the Hebrew letters are the DNA of the of the universe. So that’s, I think, where that idea is coming from
Rick Archer: consensus. He says that to Sanskrit says that its letters and its sounds are the DNA of the universe, basically. I mean, it says for speaking of apples, for instance, if it says that the vibratory quality of the Sanskrit word for Apple, whatever that word might be, has the same vibratory quality as an Apple itself. This the the apple is more sort of manifest.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Yeah. And it says that in Kabbalah to exactly the idea of the Hebrew words for things are not merely representations. Yeah. But somehow, somehow they’re they’re kind of spiritual DNA for the things
Rick Archer: like it’s the language of nature in a way. Yes. Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: So as far as I know, I haven’t heard of anything except Judaism and Hinduism, where that concept because it concept exists. And I don’t know if there’s other cultures that also say that about their language. And, yeah, anyway.
Rick Archer: Well, actually, in a way, physics says stuff about how certain frequencies end up getting more and more concretized, as the process of manifestation occurs. And I’m sure a physicist could explain that more clearly. But there’s, there’s a parallel there.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Yeah, yeah. I mean, my, it’s a interesting idea. You know, in terms of how is that idea helpful. My experience is that the chanting of Hebrew sacred texts, both the prayers and also the scriptures, which is a regular part of Jewish practice, both of those things, is tremendously presence inducing, you know, you want to it’s a powerful, powerful spiritual practice. And, of course, that exists in the Vedic traditions. I know that TM is also based on this with the mantras that are given. But not but you know, and there’s, you know, there’s just, it’s tremendous, tremendous power. So I would just encourage people to, you know, we have this, we have this gift, we’re given these gifts of these practices. And we can look at them and say, Wow, that’s amazing, amazing idea. Or we can do them regularly and see what effect it has on our nervous system, how it affects our consciousness, what potential brings forth. And so I’d say do the experiments in my experience, the experiment is, is very fruitful. So the concept that the universe is created out of the DNA of Hebrew letters, is that literally true? I have no idea. But I can say that it’s that it’s very, very powerful. I wonder
Rick Archer: if You know, if you could really go back far enough and understand what was going on well enough, I wonder if you would find some sort of, you know, merging or original source of both the the Hebrew and the Vedic traditions, you know, if they just sort of dovetailed and branched off of an original trunk and someone just speculating.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Yeah, I mean, I’ve heard some scholars say that that is the case. I think there’s, there’s a mainstream, this is not my area of expertise at all. But from the little bit that I know, there’s a mainstream understanding that the Hebrew lineage of language and the Sanskrit lineage of language are different that they’re actually two different streams. But I’ve heard other scholars point to these very hard to hard to ignore parallels almost almost identical words, you know, in the two different traditions. So it seems as if the alphabet itself is really different. But but that the, but that the sounds are probably the same, the Hebrew alphabet is really the same lineage as the English alphabet. There’s like, just like, we have abc, there’s Aleph Bet. gimel. Diamond, it’s like very, very obvious the connection. But as far as I understand, the whole Sanskrit symbology, is that that’s a, that’s a completely different system.
Rick Archer: Well as we get a little esoteric here, but as I understand it, the the Devanagari alphabet of Sanskrit wasn’t originally used. I mean, it was sort of relative relative innovation. But anyway, let’s, let’s go on to another point, because we get a little geeky here. Dan from London asks, How is reincarnation viewed or understood in Judaism? Is it well, reincarnation,
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: as is a traditional Jewish concept? Is it? Yeah, yeah. But it’s not. It’s not emphasized or talked about anywhere near as much as it is, as I understand it to be in traditions that are coming from India,
Rick Archer: are most Jews aware of that fact?
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Probably not. But I would say more today than ever, because Kabbalah and books on the whole esoteric tradition of Judaism have become so much more popular, well have been written, you know, for the, you know, in the first place, starting in the early 70s. Until today, there’s tons of people talking about it. So I would say that people are more aware of it today. There’s a word for it. In Hebrew, it’s called Gilgal. Which means like, you know, cycles circles, the soul gets incarnated and leaves and then it gets incarnated again, there’s actually an interesting concept in Kabbalah that not only is the reincarnation, but that our spiritual DNA is actually not just one thing, but there’s various levels to our soul. And they get dis assembled and they may reassemble in different forms for the next incarnation. So, so some aspect of me, for example, that didn’t finish some work in some area, may kind of hitchhike on someone else’s incarnation and not even be very active, but just be going through the experience, those those ideas like that in Judaism. But the but the concept that I’ve heard about in Indian based religions where there’s like, you know, in an uncountable number of incarnations, that the the the sheer vino, magnitude of it is emphasized, I haven’t seen that. In Judaism, it’s more like, there’ll be pointing out specific things like, oh, this teacher is the reincarnation of that sage from them, you know, certain people will point that out, but they won’t talk about it a lot as an important part of the teaching. In my experience,
Rick Archer: I remember hearing that the Buddha said that if you took all the bones that you’ve had, and all the bodies that you’ve occupied, and pile them up, they would be bigger than all the Himalayas or something, and not just a huge number of lifetimes. Right. But anyway, in Judaism, so the idea is that there’s a, you pick up where you left off, there’s a sort of a progressive sequence. Hopefully, if you do well, in one lifetime. You just sort of are able to pick up from there and continue to progress.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Yeah, there’s a sense yeah, there’s a purpose to the incarnations. There’s certain work that has to be done on oneself, and there’s certain work that you have to perform. That’s kind of both kind of both, like there’s the personal evolution of it. But then there’s also some kind of role that you were incarnated for, that you might not fulfill in your lifetime, or in any particular lifetime, you know, and then and then there’s a series of lifetimes that would have to happen in order to fulfill whatever particular function your your soul route came into being four.
Rick Archer: So next time for you Rockstar, right?
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: I hope so. My son was just asking me he’s like, whoa, why didn’t you ever become like, you know, big rock star? Yeah. Yeah. Cuz I was lazy. I don’t know.
Rick Archer: So my friend David, you know, as I mentioned, he wrote down a bunch of points. And he mentions a certain prayer called Shama, Israel, which I know nothing about. But it you know, you indicated to me before resuming recording that that was an important thing. So let’s talk about that a little bit.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Yeah, so Jewish folks are out there watching who had you know, any, any little tiny bit of connection with Judaism, which I’m sure there are many who have not none. But still, if you had a little bit, you probably know this prayer. It’s not really a prayer. But it’s a verse from the Torah that is chanted in traditional prayer services. So when a boy or girl becomes bar, a bar mitzvah, and they get up there, and they’re leading the prayers, of course, they’re going to do this one, at the very least. It’s also the prayer that a traditionally religious person will do their best to say if they know they’re about to die. They’ll say it say it out loud. So once I was driving one of my teachers back from a retreat that he was leading, and I was driving him back to the Bay Area from Santa Cruz, and I was getting too close to a car in front of me and he said, Shema, Israel,
Rick Archer: kind of a spontaneous reaction.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: So I love that because it was I had never experienced someone saying it when they were really afraid they were about to and that was amazing, amazing react, you know,
Rick Archer: yeah, most people would use some kind of, you know, four letter word. Yeah.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Exactly, exactly. That reminds me of some of the, I think it was such the non does Comment Commentary in the Bhagavad Gita, that he was talking about the importance of keeping God consciousness or maybe he called it Krishna Consciousness right before, like every moment, because you never know when you’re going to die. So we have the same we have the same kind of concepts and Shama Israel’s a way of embodying so the word
Rick Archer: before they lose that thought of what you just said that the Vedic Tradition says that the last thought at the time of death determines the nature of your next life, and that your last thought is usually sort of a distillation of the quality of the life you’ve lived. But you know, there’s stories of people getting distracted by some goofy thing at the moment of death and going off in that lifetime instead.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: That never reminds me of another little legendary piece where there’s a I can’t remember which rabbit one of the rabbi’s of the Talmud never dies. Because, in order for the angel of death, to grab you, there has to be a space in your consciousness to allow that to happen. And his mind was so engrossed with the, with the being immersed in the words of the of the scriptures, like his mind was constantly immersed in these sacred words. And so the Angel of Death had to create a distraction to you know, surprise him or something. So we’d stop thinking holy thoughts for a moment and then he could take his soul and kill his body.
Rick Archer: So anyway, you I ended up to do we’re gonna say more about Shema Israel.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Yeah, yeah. So, the words there are six words it’s Shama Yisrael, Adonai, Eloheinu, Adonai, God, and the straight up English translation that you’ll see in many seadream prayer books, says, Here, meaning this kind of here, here, O Israel, the Lord, our God, the Lord is one. And that’s it, right? So it’s been taken. In mainstream Jewish culture, you’ll hear this talked about as as a creed, it’s basically a creative belief. We believe, you know, like, listen up, we’re telling you something important. This god, this, the one God of the Bible, and so and so on is our God. You know, we’re like a tribe of people who are related to this God, and there’s only one of them, there’s not like a whole bunch of them, right. So that’s on the X exoteric level. That seems to be what it’s saying. What about that stuff
Rick Archer: in the Old Testament, where God is referred to as jealous and he kind of seems that way, but based upon the stories of his behavior, it’s it seems like a very Yeah, petty, localized sort of consciousness.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: That’s right. Right. Well, that’s a different what should we get onto that?
Rick Archer: Well, no offense. thought I’m taking you off but
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: okay. That’s a good line of conversation. Yeah. So anyway, if we look at these six words is actually it’s actually giving a deep instruction, in the practice of presence and in the realization of the oneness of reality. Because the the beginning of it, it says Shama Shama means listen or hear. So, right away, it’s telling you the basic practice, it’s saying if, if we’re, if we’re thinking of listening, not in the limited sense, but as a metaphor for being aware, right, it’s saying to be attentive, be present, be conscious. And then it says, Yes, threat L. Now, the word yes, threat L is Israel, right, referring to referring the Jewish people, but the word itself seems to be composed of ye SHA l Yasha. Means straight, straight, but also having the connotation of not distorting things, but with with ulterior motives like a straight A person who’s straight who’s like honest, straight shooter, straights. Yeah, straightforward person, they’re not going to, they don’t have other things hidden that’s going on, you know who you know, they’re there with you. And then l is the generic word for God. So for example, in Hebrew, if you’re referring to other gods of other traditions, you still use the word L. It’s a generic word for deity. Okay? So yes, ra l could be understood to mean straight to God, meaning that if you’re being very simple, if you’re being attentive with what the reality of this moment is, then you’re going to be making a basic connection with that, which is we call divine, the divine aspect of experience or reality. And then it says, Adonai Eloheinu. It sounds on the surface, it sounds maybe very ethnocentric, like, like this, God is our God, right? ello Hanaa. That Ainu end means ours. It’s a suffix that means ours. So L is God. Elohim knew our God. The word Adonai is a word that is often used in formal prayer, when you see that name we were talking about before, which has four letters that’s not pronounced. Because it’s considered so sacred, you don’t try to pronounce that word. But instead, you say the word Adonai, which has a more relational devotional connotation, because it’s similar to the word de ne which means my lord. Okay, so you’re calling this name of God, which means being or existence, my Lord, when you say, deny, and we talked about before, how the personalization kind of brings forth this relationship of surrender and reverence for all of its for the majesty of being. Now Elohim, who means our God, but a way to understand that is not our God is in some separate God that is ours that we possess, but rather our own inner divinity. So what is our own inner divinity? It’s the miracle of our sentience, it’s the miracle of our consciousness. So when you say, other Nihilo, hey, no, the hidden message there is that existence being reality is not something separate from our own consciousness. Right? And this is something that’s actually very straightforward and obvious. But you know, it’s, it’s not something most people consider, which is that inner awareness is showing up all these things that we consider external to ourselves, right? I’m talking to you on this screen, the screen seems external to me, and you’re somewhere totally different. And we’re different people. And we’ve never met before this day, except a little bit on email. Seems like we’re separate, right? And yet at the same time, how can I possibly interact with you, if it weren’t for the fact that you are living right now in my awareness,
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: and I’m living in your awareness. So there’s actually no separation between that which we perceive as separate, and the awareness within which it’s arising. It’s actually one single thing. Now psychologically, because we think of it as separate. We tend to hold emotionally in our body, this feeling of separateness, but if we bring to mind the fact that actually everything that exists is arising as one reality, and it’s arising in this one consciousness. Then there can be this. This real waxing this softening of that solid sense of me. And, and with that, the anxiety and stress and and fears and all those different things that are characteristic of what we might call ego can kind of melt away simply with these two words adenylyl Hainault. All of existence all of being is not separate from this divinity, which I am, it’s my own inner divinity, not even enter, it seems enter but it’s really not even enter because it’s inclusive of everything that’s that’s perceived right? Then it says finally, I deny God. Again existence being reality, God is one. So it’s not taught telling me about some separate God that there’s only one of it’s reminding me that there’s one reality right here. And the access point to that one reality is not somewhere else. It’s it’s exactly this. Yeah. Right. So when we see it when we when we understand the Shama and that way, then just by dropping in and saying those six words can be a tremendous it’s like a key. It’s like a key to unlock the door of presence and to open up that eternal dimension of reality. That’s that’s always here, but that we tend to block
Rick Archer: nice. I wonder if your friend went through all that when you were about to hit that car coming back from Santa Cruz?
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Probably not.
Rick Archer: Here’s a question from Brian in Fairfield, Iowa, my hometown. I know several Brian’s here. I don’t know which one this is. He says. And this relates to what you’re just saying, which is why I’m asking it now. Could you talk about awareness aware of itself?
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Yeah. Well, as we know, we can’t have any experience. Without awareness, like the word awareness simply refers to the most basic fact of our experience, you know, our thoughts are coming and going, or thoughts or changing our feelings or changing our outer setting or feeling of our body, life keeps, keeps rolling on. And yet, we only know that because on the basic level, on the most basic level, there is awareness that’s there. And so when we say awareness, awareness, is aware of itself or, or awareness being aware of itself. As soon as we say that, right, there’s the invitation to become aware that you’re aware. Right? And if it remains merely intellectual, like just calling the thought into being, oh, I’m aware, okay. Oh, wait, I’m aware now that I’m aware. That’s not necessarily so transformative. But if we bring it back to the thing, actually, the Shama that we were just talking about, and remind ourselves that not only am I aware, it’s not, it’s not that me, my sense of me has this thing called awareness that it possesses, right? But rather, that the entirety of experience as it’s happening in this moment is all happening within awareness. That means my feeling of me, is happening within the field of awareness, and all everything that’s external to me, right, you look out the window, the, you know, the trees, and the clouds and the sun, you know, as far as we can perceive, all of that is all happening within this awareness. And then, and then you can maybe go further, you can ask, well, am I not that awareness? Like, is that awareness, something other than me? I mean, that’s maybe not how we tend to frame ourselves, right? We tend to frame ourselves as this body, and these thoughts, and this history and so on. But if the awareness is actually the entire field of experience, and everything in that field of experience is not separate from this awareness, then that’s, that’s a very radical invitation. Yeah, that’s, that shifts things. Right. And that really, oh, I’m sorry, go ahead. Oh, I was just gonna say that that’s that invitation is present in the saying of the Shama, right. Yeah, as well as many other Jewish prayers, by the way.
Rick Archer: Yeah. And that actually kind of leads us right into another question that just came in. And this one also seems to be Brian day. This is Brian from Norway. He’s asking, how do you see the relation between the expression I am that hombre Masami in Sanskrit? Nisargadatta, his book because he has that title, and the name God and the name God revealed to Moses, I Am that I Am and this is there’s a He had a sharp Jewish Hebrew thing here he a Asher he higher or something you can pronounce that. Yeah. Yeah. So again just to repeat the question because I followed it up the religion relation between I am that and the Eastern tradition and I am that I am in from that which God revealed to Moses.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: So the name that he’s talking about in the Torah is Ada a share a PA, and that that word ADA is another form of those same letters that we were talking about before the most sacred name, which is four letters is a different permutation of that same verb root, which means being, and the straight, straightforward translation of that name is, I will be what I will be. Right?
Rick Archer: So it could also be as a future tense to it, obviously.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Exactly. Yeah. And that tenses are a little ambiguous in Hebrew. So it’s not you could also say I am that I will be or I am that I am or I will be what I am, you know, all those things are possible translations of it. But straightforward, it’s a future tense.
Rick Archer: Well, the whole point of it in the Vedic tradition, though, is that to realize that one’s essential identity is the totality is you know, all encompassing reality. So is that what this conveys in the Torah?
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: I think so. Yeah. And it through a different through a different angle, because in the Vedic thing and I I’m not sure if I’m understanding actually the Vedic I mean, you you just explained it. So I,
Rick Archer: the idea is that reality is one contiguous, indivisible, whole. And, you know, we kind of miss perceive it as fragmented. But right fact of the matter is, there’s only that that alone is and our that.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Okay, okay, good. So what comes to mind when I hear that phrase is that it’s very interesting to me that, and I don’t know if this is the way in the original, but in English anyway, when you say the word that you’re implying a duality in that very word, because that is pointing away from yourself. So for example, one of the things that that came to me at certain points, you know, in my process, is I am this. That came to me, and then I heard later that I am that and I, well, wait a minute, am I that? Or am I this? Anyway, they actually say all this is that there is that right? Right. So the word This, to me anyway, implies the fullness of this experience. Right? Right. Where does that implies, like, I’m over here, and that’s over there. But that’s great, too. Because then what that seems to be pointing out is, that thing that seems separate from me, is actually something is actually a perception that lives in my awareness right now. And therefore it is at 100%. Me. Right? There’s nothing in the experience, that’s not part of me, because because everything in the experience is happening in awareness, which means it’s made completely out of awareness. And what am I except for awareness? Right? So So I am that is completely true. And that sense? Where is in the in the Torah, the context of that narrative is Moses is saying to Hashem, you know, I’m going to go to Pharaoh and I’m going to try to free the slaves. How am I going to do that? That’s, you know, that doesn’t make any sense. And at the very least, when I come to the Pharaoh and say, that this God has sent me to free the slaves, he’s gonna say, what God who what God he talking about? So what’s your name? And God says, I will be what I will be. That’s, that’s and then he says, Tell tell the Pharaoh I will be is my name.
Rick Archer: That’ll convince him.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: That if you’re not, if you’re not convinced that there’s this, that there’s this non duality, esoteric dimension to the Torah, that line right there should convince you. There’s something going on here. The I mean, this is a very cryptic little passage here in the Torah that he’s picked out to ask about, right. So we can go in a lot of ways. The wonderful thing about Judaism and the Jewish scriptures is that there’s no like, Oh, this is the answer to that. These are things to contemplate and to work with, and to allow them to unfold. So I would just say, you know, what’s coming to me in this moment about that particular name, which is different from other moments, is that the mind tends to always make this duality between what I consider to be spiritual what I consider to be godly, divine or so on and other stuff. right though that’s that’s one of the basic tricks of the mind the basic dualities that the mind creates, which then prevents us from actually opening to fully to this moment, and to that eternal dimension. So when God comes along and says, Look, I will be what I will be, it’s saying, look, there’s nothing, there’s there’s nothing that can arise. That’s not already always me. Don’t you don’t need to know that I will be this way. Or that I will appear this way. You know, yes, we have these ideas, Grace, graceful, graceful, merciful, compassionate one, you know, the healer, the creator, you have all these things. But that all that puts concepts in our head that we want to pay God into certain categories, and say, well, then this is not God, then. And so then that puts us back into this dualistic framework. And God is reminding us, you know, what the basis of this whole teaching is, I will be whatever I will be, you don’t have to worry about it. You don’t have to preconceive it because everything that is, is my name, because is is my name. My name is business. Yeah. That’s how I understand that.
Rick Archer: Okay, good. Yeah. I have the sense and see if you agree that there is some sort of global spiritual awakening taking place. And one way that that’s manifesting is that, you know, people are not satisfied with just being told what the truth is, by some intermediary, or, you know, just by they’re not so satisfied with dogmas are empty rituals or, you know, doctrines and so on. They, they’re, they’re questioning a lot of those things. And they also are kind of getting more and more interested in every tradition in the sort of the more mystical, esoteric, experiential aspects of their tradition. So you kind of see that happening. And do you see that happening in Judaism? Is there kind of an upwelling of I know, Madonna was interested in the Kabbalah stuff? I mean, is there sort of an upwelling of serious interest in the deeper aspects of it? And that and by serious, I mean, people actually want to experience it, they don’t want to just believe it or intellectualize about it.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Yes, absolutely. And as I was mentioning, before, when we were talking about the beginning of the Hasidic movement, which was happening in the beginning of the 1700s, that’s exactly the same thing that was happening, then, of course, under very different cultural circumstances. But maybe the root of it is the same, meaning that in order for the tradition to survive, it can only get so far on telling people what they’re supposed to believe and what they’re supposed to do. Now, now, that does work, if you have the means, if you have the luxury for a lot of religious cultural stuff to happen, like if you have the money, you’re being supported, you live in an environment where you’re studying the Scriptures all day, then maybe that’s very stimulating, that can make you feel like you’re a great scholar, and you know, you’re doing something worthwhile, you’re communing with these ancient teachers, and you’re, that’s wonderful, maybe you don’t actually need deep spiritual experience to sustain that. That’s not to say that they don’t have deep spiritual experience, just to say that the culture of that doesn’t need that experience spiritual element to exist because there’s enough normative elements that just that make you feel like you’re a person that you’re doing something worthwhile, right. But when you when you’re back in those days, a peasant who doesn’t have the means to do all that learning and to become a respected scholar, but you’re struggling all day just to survive. And yet, you’re being told you have to do this stuff and believe this stuff, it’s not enough, you need some real juice, you need something that’s gonna really nourish you. And I would say, today, we have a similar situation. But it’s completely different in the sense that people simply have the freedom, they don’t need to listen to what religion is telling them. And then you add on top of it, the incredible dysfunction with through which Judaism has been transmitted in this country. Again, this is not for everyone. Some people have had wonderful experiences with their Jewish upbringing, going to Hebrew school and so on. But many, many, many people simply leave because their experience growing up seemed punitive. You know, but I know Catholics feel this way they had, they went to a Jewish school or a Catholic school and it just felt like they were being yelled at and told what to do. And it doesn’t make any sense to them. And there was nothing nourishing about it. So they just they leave it completely. And then sooner or later. For whatever reason, then there’s a spiritual longing that is awakened. So in our recent history, I would say the late 60s, early 70s. Is, is really when that Renaissance Renaissance started happening in American Jewry stimulated a large part by all of the Eastern teachers that were coming to the United States and teaching yoga and Zen and different, you know, Kundalini yoga and all the different things that that was coming to this country. And those Indian teachers were really, they knew how to, they knew how to get those hippies. Right. Right, because they were saying, because the hippies were already taking LSD and doing different things like they were already transcending to a certain degree that constrictions of the normative culture, and they were open to other things. So then these teachers are saying, hey, you know, you can do this in a way that like, our traditions are helping you do that. It’s not just about taking drugs and listening to rock and roll, like there’s a whole path. And you can, you can really reap the benefits of this path, if you’re passionate about it, and you have commitment. So people started doing that. A lot of those people happen to be Jewish. And there’s many Jewish people who tell the story people who are like the generation ahead of me people on their, you know, in their 70s or older or a little younger, who were around during that time, and there’s many books about it now. And they’ll say, hey, you know, we were we started chanting, Hari Krishna, or we started doing, you know, various Sanskrit chants, and so on, or Japanese, The Heart Sutra, or whatever, and all of a sudden,
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: those prayers from Hebrew school started coming back into my mind. And I started thinking, Wait a minute, if I’m going to sit around chanting some other language. Why am I chanting in Sanskrit? I have the languages. Yes. So they started getting curious. And there were a few very powerful Jewish teachers back then, most notably, Reb Zalman Schachter Salome who I had a deep connection with, and Reb Shlomo Carlebach, who I didn’t know but but who I also have a connection and because of all the music that he created, those guys and many others that were connected with them, kind of created a renaissance of American Jewish spirituality. And, and a lot of what’s going on today is the result of that a lot of the surge of interest in Kabbalah and esoteric Judaism comes from what happened back in those days?
Rick Archer: Do you have a sort of an esoteric understanding that your that makes sense to you? of why the Jews have always had such a hard time of it? I mean, there’s the whole thing with Egypt, way back then, you know, the slaves and all and, and then obviously, there’s the Holocaust. And these days, you know, there’s a rash of synagogue threats and bombings and whatnot. Um, I mean, is there some kind of, Mark? I mean, what’s going on? Do you have any sort of sense of why it’s always been that way? Seemingly?
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Well, I have to, you know, I have to preface saying anything about that, that, you know, when you start talking about that, then you potentially start setting off these triggers in Jewish psyches. So and, by the way, and I don’t I don’t have those triggers so much. For some reason. I don’t know why not. At all that they deserve it. It’s
Rick Archer: just see oh, no, I
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: know, I didn’t think you know, I didn’t think you were, I’m just saying that as soon as you start giving a reason for it, then people say start saying, wait a minute. Are you saying that? Oh, yeah. Like you’ve
Rick Archer: said, about karma or taking on burning off karma or anything like that? Yeah.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Right. Right. So, I mean, I would just, I just want to first of all acknowledge that that’s, that that’s true, that that exists, that that’s a that’s a hallmark of our history. And there’s lots of different ways that you can go with it. I kind of I I hesitate to I do have ideas about it, but I hesitate to actually get into that. But I do want to maybe just say something from a slightly different angle about it. Which is that
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: that there is a there’s something universal about it. There’s a deep wound in the collective Jewish psyche that’s there about being oppressed about being victimized. And of course, that’s not unique. Many people’s maybe all peoples at some point or another have experienced those kinds of things. And because of that there’s a certain flow flavour to Jewish spirituality that reflects that it’s a kind of a longing, a heart longing for redemption, you know, for an end to human suffering that I think fuels the, for example, fuels the tremendous concern of social justice, that seems to exist in just a disproportionate amount in Jewish culture. And that, perhaps Jewish people as part of their spiritual work I think, I guess what I want to say is that Jewish people, but really all people should open themselves to feel the pain that arises from that collective wounding, because ultimately, that brokenness is, is is a you know, as a famous song said that brokenness is where the light comes through. Leonard Cohen and Leonard Cohen, yes, Rabbi Leonard Cohen’s. So when we, when we have these wounds, and maybe you’ve experienced this with other people, I’ve experienced that so much in the in the Jewish world, is that there can be a tendency to, to contract. And to become too much on what we call the what you were talking about before actually about not just being vulnerable, that being strong. There can be this sense of kind of over the strengthening yourself coming. insular and, or maybe just neurotic, you know, and anxiety ridden?
Rick Archer: Woody Allen?
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Yeah, exactly. It’s a stereotype, right? It’s a stereotype that comes from a real real, it comes from a historical reality. And then there’s also a way in which you can consciously open to all that pain, and let that pain become your prayer and let that pain become your empathy.
Rick Archer: Yeah, there’s another thing, which is disproportionately characteristic of the Jewish population, I would say. And that is brilliant. I mean, if you look at the percentage of Nobel laureates, and, you know, Pulitzer winners and great musicians and stuff like that, it just seems like, whoa, you guys have good genes or something? What’s going on?
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Well, I would just add to that, as a, you know, kind of a humorous thing in spiritual circles that are also happened to be Jewish circles is the disproportionate amount of Jewish spiritual teachers and non Jewish traditions in America very
Rick Archer: true. I mean, in the TM movement, the number of TM teachers was very disproportionate. Right, yeah. Right.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: So you know, I have no idea just seems
Rick Archer: like there’s a propensity toward excellence, you know, and,
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: yeah, well, there’s a, the, the most obvious answer for that is, is that traditional, traditional culture, traditional Jewish culture, emphasizes, the development of the mind, it emphasizes has always been at least going back about 2000 years probably before that, too. It has its roots before that. But when the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans, there was a question, you know, whether the Jewish people would continue to exist. And there were different answers to the question at that time, you know, how, how should we continue to exist now that our, the central institution of Jewish spirituality, which was the temple in Jerusalem has been completely destroyed, and Jews are, you know, sent into exile, east and west and north and south? What do we do now? And different, different solutions were proposed, but the solution that that has survived, you know, if we talk about Darwinian survival of the fittest, that Judaism that has survived is the Judaism of the mind. And the the early rabbis, who existed, both in the few 100 years leading up to the destruction of the temple, and the several 100 years after the destruction of the temple, did this monumental thing I still want to know from historical you know, people who really don’t understand the history, I’m baffled by how they did it, like how would they even support it to do this, but they created the the mission on the Talmud, which are the rabbinic works of Rabbinic Judaism, which are if you study them, you’re learning how to argue you’re learning how to have multi perspectival thinking you’re you. Judaism is not a religion of dogma, even though of course there are Traditional dogmas. But it’s really a tradition of arguing, and conversation. And there’s a there’s a phrase, a famous phrase that says these and these are the words of the living God. And meaning that when this rabbi says this thing, and this rabbi says something completely the opposite. And these two schools of thought are really like, at war with each other intellectually, there’s an understanding that this argument, this debate is for the sake of heaven, meaning it’s for the sake of the revelation of divine reality on this plane. And so when you go to the Shiva traditional place of Jewish learning, you’re not just learning what to believe in and what the books say, you’re learning how to think as they think. And, you know, a big part of that is law, you know, is so I mean, it’s no surprise that Jews would, you know, excel in professions and like, Yeah,
Rick Archer: that’s really cool. You know, Nisargadatta said that the appreciation of paradox and ambiguity are hallmarks of spiritual maturity, then use those exact words. He said, those qualities of being able to, you know, not be polarized in your understanding of things, but to be able to accept paradoxically apparent, you know, things in one mind and one awareness and appreciate the things don’t have to be nailed down. But the reality itself is rather ambiguous, as quantum mechanics tells us, our, you know, indicative of a certain level of spiritual development.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Right, it’s like, you know, Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, right?
Rick Archer: Yeah. And then finally, his daughter wants to go off to Siberia, he says, There is no other hands.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Right, at some point, you have to stop and make a decision.
Rick Archer: One thing we haven’t talked about much, maybe we could spend our final few minutes talking about this is music. You’re a musician and music is really big in your life. But you know, what would you like to say about it?
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Well, it was a, I consider it to have been a gift that was given to me to even be able to connect the two things of spirituality and music because it didn’t really begin that way. Not that music wasn’t always a spiritual thing. Of course, music is inherently spiritual in a sense. But when I was growing up, and I went to college and learning and meditating, and all these different things, I didn’t really think of my work with music. Went to, you know, I went to college for musical composition. And I was on a track of composing classical type music, and also working with avant garde rock bands, and so on. And that was one thing, and then all this spirituality stuff is something different. And back in 1999, I met someone named Dr. Avraham Davis, who had founded this place in Berkeley called hochma, to live. And his vision for that was to be a Jewish meditation center. It’s a synagogue now, but at the time, it was started as a Jewish Meditation Center, which, I don’t believe that there were any that existed at that time. Now, there’s several throughout the country. But he didn’t want it to be a place that you’re going to do of upasana, or Zen or something like that. But with a Jewish twist, he wanted to really teach the techniques of Jewish meditation that exist in our tradition, to people and have that be a place that people could come and learn. And so anyway, he had started that a few years earlier, and I met him, we had many conversations. And he said, I want you to come and start playing music for our Friday night Shabbat service. And I said, No, no, you should have me come teach meditation. That’s, that’s what I want to do. And he said, I said, Okay, maybe but first, you know, come in, let’s get a band together. And so I did it very reluctantly, because I just wasn’t, I wasn’t interested in that, you know. But amazingly, it was like one of these serendipitous things where they bought a building, right around the time when the band kind of came together and was ready to do something. So in February of 2000, the new building opened, and we had our band there playing music for this service. And like several 100 people showed up and packed to this place. And it was instantly like, Oh, my God, I guess this is what I’m doing now. I didn’t have any preconception about it. And it took me several years of doing it, to realize that this was actually this was actually its own art in its own right. It’s really something very different from musical performance and General where where you can use the music and, and speaking and traditional prayers and these different things that make up a sacred gathering and use those things to induce people into a deep state of presence and prayerfulness. So that, even though I didn’t have the idea at all that that was something I was going to do. I felt like that was something that started developing on its own. And then I realized, Oh, yes, I want to do this. This is this is really, this is powerful stuff. This is what I do now. And, and it’s, you know, there’s nothing more fulfilling than then playing music, you know, with other musicians who are kind of coming from this intention, and then looking and seeing the community there. And people are just opening up, and people are crying, and people are joyful, and people are letting go of stuff. And they’re dancing. And it’s just such a wonderful thing. Yeah.
Rick Archer: And it’s certainly a universal phenomenon, you know, kittens and bhajans. And, yes, Native American Trent chants and Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead, wrote a book called drumming at the edge of madness, which is about rhythms in all the different cultures as a spiritual technique.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Yeah, yeah. And are saying actually, one of our singers Jeanette Ferber sings regularly with with Phil Lesh, I think it’s fair that
Rick Archer: she was with that. Yeah,
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. Cool. She does work with those guys. And yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Rick Archer: already? Well, this has been a great conversation. I feel like I’ve learned a lot. And I hope that listeners and viewers feel the same. Of course, be creating a page for you on that gap, about your with your bio and link to your website and all but we won’t just say verbally what your website is again.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Okay, so the website is torah, of awakening.com. Torah is T O ra h, of awakening. And some resources that you can get there is that I teach a practice called integral Jewish meditation. And when you go to tour of awakening calm, there’ll be a button right there that says, something like, get the free metta guided meditations. And it will teach you a special practice, which is rooted in traditional Jewish practices, but which is also very accessible for anybody to learn in 25 minutes. And you can use it both to meditate every day, you know, however, it works for you. But you can also use it briefly at different times throughout the day in order to cultivate greater presence and connect with those inner resources of peace and creativity, and open heartedness and all those positive qualities. So,
Rick Archer: and obviously, you don’t care if people are Jewish, and they can do learn that, you know, right? I mean, it’s not
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: absolutely, yeah, absolutely. This is a an open gift to anybody that wants to partake. Yeah.
Rick Archer: And you have some other ongoing things don’t do like you some kind of regular membership thing we provide songs or something online.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Yeah, so for those who want to go deeper, if you’ve tried the integral Jewish meditation, it’s working for you and you want more, what I do is I put out a new teaching every week both in video form and in written form that contains a new chant that takes a piece of Jewish sacred text from the traditional prayers, but a little piece that anyone can learn, and teaches it in a melody and then does a new guided meditation. So you get this practice weekly, usually on Mondays, that’s about between 20 and 30 minutes long. And for a monthly contribution that you can sign up to make you can you can become a member of torque awakening and receive these instructions every week. As part of that you can also do some one on one guidance with me, I allow, you know, the members can just click on something and schedule 20 minute calls with me which are free. And if you want to do longer, it’s on a donation basis for for members. When you download the free guided meditations, you’ll also then be on my list and I’ll send you a brief teaching weekly as well. So you’ll just be receiving that for free anyway. But if you want to go deeper, you can sign up and support this work. monetarily. Yeah.
Rick Archer: Do you have a job outside of being a spiritual teacher?
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Well, I when I was in college, I was complaining to my mother on the phone that I didn’t have enough money. And she started singing get a job. Yeah. So yeah, so for many years, I taught people Piano privately that was my main income. And I started doing the musical Jewish stuff that I was telling you about telling you about in 2000, that eventually grew into a job as well. So before it, we recently moved to Tucson last July. And so prior to that, my main livelihood was a combination of the work I did in the synagogue and also the private music. And I’ve been kind of kind of transitioning to this online teaching so that I could connect with more people. And that’s been slowly growing. And it’s been sort of a phasing of these different, different things that I’m doing. So I do do some workshops, and retreats, and different things like that, that people asked me to do that are kind of like little gigs. I do a little bit of private music teaching. And I still actually work at that synagogue in Berkeley, but just on a much smaller basis, I returned there once a month. We also have some other tour of awakening things that are developing there in the Bay Area, and here in Tucson as well.
Rick Archer: Great. Well, hopefully, this interview will give you a bit of the BatGap Bump.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: That’s right, a Shem. And I thank you for that very much. And I just also want to encourage all the watchers, that if you’ve enjoyed this and enjoy all the different things available on BatGap to go ahead and make a contribution and support BatGap This is a good week to do that. Because every week, there’s a certain piece of Torah that’s read traditionally, and this week is called partial to rumo, which means portion or a contribution. And it says and it says, um, you know, Tiku, lead through my eight coal Eesh I share you Vayner libo, that every person who’s hard is motivated to give meaning if they’re liking it, if they’re enjoying it, they should give a little contribution. And you should really get it get an influx of energy as well from
Rick Archer: Oh, thanks. And little ones add up. You know, it doesn’t have to be. That’s right. Yeah,
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: that’s for sure. For sure. Yeah. I say the same for me too. Yeah. And you energetically if there’s if you like it, and you support it, even if it’s very little. That’s very helpful.
Rick Archer: Yeah. Great. All right, thanks. So let me just make a couple of general concluding remarks. I’ve been speaking with Brian Yosef Schecter Brooks, and this is part of an ongoing series of interviews. We’ll be hopefully doing them for many years to come. If you find this interesting, and we’d like to get more involved, go to batgap.com where you can check out the previous ones and sign up to be notified of future ones. There’s there’s a menu called add a glimpse or something like that at a glance, where all the various features of the website are summarized. See, you could check that out as a good jumping off place. So thanks for listening or watching and we’ll see you next week. Thanks, Brian. Yeah, thank you. Fun.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks: Definitely a lot of fun.