My “spiritual” friends are so self-righteous about their so- called holy diets that I sometimes eat junk food just to spite them. Does eating really matter spiritually?
Rabbi Rami: I think all consumption—food, clothing, electronics, cars, etc.—matters and impacts us physically, emotionally, morally, environmentally, and spiritually, and we would be wise to consume in ways that are beneficial in all five dimensions. Without telling you what to eat, I suggest that you ask yourself whether what you consume is of benefit to you in each of these five ways. If it is, consume it. If it isn’t, don’t.
I find the idea of killing animals for meat repellent, and yet I can’t stop eating it. Can you help me break the meat-eating habit?
Sure: eat only meat that you yourself have killed and prepared. In this way you can make the killing heartfelt and the preparation mindful. Do this and you will overcome your disgust or you will stop eating meat. In either case the drama over eating will end, and that alone may be a good thing.
I am considering becoming a Buddhist, but I can’t imagine living without alcohol. Any suggestions?
My Zen master loves his sake, and he says the prohibition is against intoxication rather than alcohol per se because intoxication leads to wrong thinking and wrong action while Buddhism promotes right thinking and right action. Even so, if you can’t imagine living without alcohol, you should consider the Twelve Steps of AA as well as the Eightfold Path of the Buddha.
I eat out a lot for work. Is there a way to make dining out with clients a spiritual practice?
Absolutely. First, eat simply and as low on the food chain as you can. Second, eat slowly and really taste your food. Third, avoid drinking alcohol to the point of impairing your judgment. Fourth, elevate the quality of your conversation: speak honestly and plainly, and cultivate a genuine curiosity about and compassion for your dinner partners. And fifth, treat the wait staff courteously and tip them generously.
My spiritual journey has taken me into a variety of religions, and I like mixing ideas from different faiths to create something that is meaningful to me. Is there something wrong with this?
No. In fact you are part of a growing trend of spiritually independent people who refuse to confine their search for truth to any one path or institution. I would suggest, however, that you devote yourself to a daily practice that helps you see what is true rather than a root faith that demands you believe what others say is true. While community can be a great aid to practice, it is practice rather than belonging that matters most.
When I was a kid, I had lots of questions about God, heaven, salvation, etc. The answers I received made no sense, but I was told that would change when I grew up. Well, I grew up, they still make no sense, and I’m still asking questions. Did I miss something?
I suspect what your elders meant was this: “As you get older you will stop asking questions, and when you do the quality of our answers will no longer matter.” Lucky for you this didn’t happen. Too many people have stopped asking good questions; yet questions, not answers, are key to living spiritually. It isn’t an accident that “quest” and “question” share the same root.
A guru once told me that I’m one with God. If I’m one with God, why meditate? If I’ve already “got it” what’s the point of trying to “get it”?
It isn’t that you’re going to get something you don’t have; it’s that you’re going to realize what you do have and how to live from it more effectively. Meditation shifts you from narrow mind to spacious mind, from a fearful sense of alienation to a realization of loving integration. Living from love rather than fear is the gift meditation offers.
I recently heard a well-known spiritual teacher say, “If you’re on a spiritual path—get off!” What’s wrong with being on a spiritual path?
A path implies that there is someplace to be other than here and sometime to be there other than now. My experience suggests otherwise: there is nowhere to be but here and no time to be here but now. Spirituality is awakening to what is, as it is. I suspect this teacher meant that if you are on a spiritual path you may be postponing that awakening.
I realize that living is suffering—not just experiencing suffering but causing it as well. Can I live without suffering?
I doubt it. For me the issue isn’t the fact of suffering but the kind of suffering. There is necessary suffering that benefits life—think of the suffering involved in the creative process. And there is unnecessary suffering that debilitates life—think of the suffering caused by abuse, assault, and exploitation of people and planet. Rather than trying to avoid all suffering, do your best to minimize unnecessary suffering.
I’m a Jew, and I’m thinking about keeping kosher. The rules seem rather obsessive, however. Do you keep kosher? Is it relevant?
Most people think of kosher as avoiding pork products and not mixing meat and dairy, and I follow both traditions. Kosher, however, is far more than this. Kashrut/kosher means “fit for human consumption” and applies to the way animals are treated, how products are produced, shipped, and sold, and how well workers are respected. I observe kosher less “by the Book” (the Talmud) and more by striving to elevate all my consuming to the highest ethical and environmental standard I can. In this way kosher is always relevant.
Author and teacher Rabbi Rami Shapiro has been called “one of the best bridges of Eastern and Western wisdom.” His newest book is Embracing the Divine Feminine.