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Home > Approaching Buddhism > Modern Adaptation of Buddhism > Tibetan Buddhist-Jewish Dialogue: Brief Report

Tibetan Buddhist-Jewish Dialogue: Brief Report

Alexander Berzin
Dharamasala, India, October 24-29, 1990

From October 24 to 29, 1990, eight rabbis and Jewish community leaders from the United States and Israel visited Dharamsala as a continuation of a Tibet-Jewish dialogue that had begun during His Holiness the Dalai Lama's October 1989 visit to the United States. This was the first time that a high-ranking delegation of Jewish leaders has visited Dharamsala. They had two afternoon sessions of talks with His Holiness and also met with a distinguished group of Geshes as well as representatives of the young Tibetan lay and monastic communities.

The discussions with His Holiness were extremely warm, frank, and stimulating. The rabbis outlined the secret, esoteric Jewish teachings – the basis, path and goal, the Jewish system of meditation and the tradition of textual commentaries with four levels of meaning for any passage. Many parallels were discovered with the Buddhist teachings. Of special interest was the sharing of the Jewish experience in maintaining their culture and religion during almost two thousand years of exile, and how they are facing the challenge of modernity.

The Jewish leaders explained that one of the secrets of the Jewish survival has been the emphasis on the family and community. Much of the Jewish religious practice is done by the individual families within their home, and often as part of a large family meal. It is the duty of all Jewish parents to educate their children in the Jewish tradition. In this way, even if temples and places of worship are forbidden in certain countries, still the religion and culture will survive. All births, reaching of adulthood and marriages are celebrated by the entire Jewish community of any city, and deaths communally mourned. This helps to maintain a sense of cultural identity and belonging. All rituals and religious observances include a remembrance of the loss of the Jewish homeland and prayers for its speedy recovery.

Jewish community centers are established wherever Jews live so that, in addition to the synagogues or places of worship, there are facilities for Jews to meet socially and special schools for educating their children in the Jewish religion, culture and languages after the hours of their regular schooling. Summer camps are run for the children so as to immerse them in their own culture and adult education programs are held. His Holiness and the various Tibetan leaders who met the delegation found these ideas very stimulating.

His Holiness said he was extremely pleased to receive such a clear, open and warm presentation of Judaism and that he had not previously appreciated the depth and sophistication of the Jewish religion and experience. He said that the Tibetans and Jews share many things in common, not only their experience of exile, but their view of themselves as being chosen people. Just as the Jews have a special relation and bond with God, so too do the Tibetans with Chenrasig. Both therefore have a comparable sense of universal responsibility to help the world as a consequence of their being "chosen." The meetings were emotionally moving to all participants, and there are hopes for future closer cooperation and sharing of ideas.