On Spirituality and Religion
Q: Can you tell me just what it is you do believe?
Rami Shapiro: I believe that there is only one reality- call it God, Yah, Allah, Tao, Brahman, Great Spirit, Mother/Father, etc- that manifests as the infinite diversity of the universe. I believe that experiencing the One calls us to engage life justly, compassionately, humbly, and with utmost respect. I believe that the extent to which the world’s religions contain helpful means for translating these principles into action they should be honored. I believe that the extent to which these very same religions preach dualism, xenophobia, misogyny, racism, violence, homophobia, etc. they should be rejected. If I have a creed, it is this: Love God (Reality, Life) with all your heart, with every breath, with all your being and becoming; and Love your neighbor and the stranger as yourself.
Q: Which is basically what Jesus taught.
R: I added the “stranger” part, but you can’t get much more Jewish that Jesus.
Q: How so?
R: Jesus was a Jew who adapted the teachings of his people for his time. Jesus did just what I am doing, and I often look to his example for guidance.
Q: Doesn’t that make you a Christian?
R: Not at all. A Christian is one who makes a god of Jesus. For me he is a great sage, rabbi, and prophet, but not a god. When allowed to read the words of Jesus as they come down to us with the awareness of first century Jewish life under brutal Roman occupation, Jesus is clearly a son of his people, and a lover of God, neighbor, and stranger.
Q: I read that you take the Bible seriously but not literally. What does that mean?
R: I believe that the heart of the Bible is myth, and that myth is among the most powerful tools we humans have for excavating the deepest layers of consciousness where the awareness of the nonduality of God is felt most strongly. A literal reading of the Bible robs it of its mythic depth and reduces it to nonsense. While you cannot ignore the literal layer of the text- Moses encounters God at the Burning Bush not at Wal-Mart- sticking to the literal level alone has for centuries been a sign of illiteracy among Jews.
Q: I was taught that the literal reading is the only true reading.
R: This is another difference between us. The ancient rabbis taught that there are four levels to the Bible: Peshat, the literal, Remez, the allegorical, Drash, the imaginative, and Sod, the mystical. When you learn to engage with the Torah on all four levels you enter PaRDeS, the first letter of each of the four levels of literacy, which is the Hebrew word for Paradise.
Q: So the study of text is for you a spiritual practice? Which of the four levels do you find most enlightening?
R: Study is a spiritual practice if you learn to operate on all four layers. The Drash level is the one that most intrigues me. Drash is the interpretive level of reading where the imagination in the reader spins new stories from the old. The rabbis taught that the Torah is written in black fire, the fixed letters, on white fire, the spaces around and between letters and words. You have to learn how to read both. You read the black fire by seeing what is printed on the page; you read the white fire by seeing what is hidden in your own imagination.
Q: For example?
R: For example, after the near sacrifice of Isaac Abraham returns home alone; the Torah doesn’t say where Isaac goes. Abraham returning home is the black fire, the unwritten adventures of Isaac are the white fire. What happens to him? What is he thinking? What does he do? Let your imagination run with these kinds of questions and you will discover things about your self and life that the black fire cannot reveal.
Q: About myself? How does that work?
R: The Bible is myth, myth is a map of the deep levels of the human psyche. The Bible is about you. When you engage in the free flowing imaginative play that is Drash you will learn new ways to tell and understand your own story. To stick with our example of Abraham and Isaac, when you explore what Isaac does after escaping the murderous intent of his father you are bringing into consciousness your own unconscious insights into how to handle the potentially life threatening actions of your parents. Drash sees the Bible as a dream you dreamed the night before, and making midrash, imgagining new stories, is the dreamwork that reveals the deeper meanings and messages your unconscious mind is sending to your conscious mind. The Bible from the Drash perspective is, like a dream, all about you
*** *** ***