Rabbi Rami on love, marriage, and God.
Q: I have fallen in love with a man I only recently met. I want to yield to my feelings, but I don’t want to end my marriage. What should I do?
Rabbi Rami: How wonderful to fall in love! I’m happy for you! As for wanting to yield to your feelings, that has already happened. There is no “wanting to yield” to feelings. Feeling is itself yielding. Feel all the feelings that arise in your situation: joy, fear, lust, love, guilt, etc. Don’t fix them, argue with them, or repress them; just don’t imagine you must act on them, either. Feelings are for feeling, not necessarily doing. Action should be rooted in your greater life-purpose and not in ever-shifting feelings. As my teacher David Reynolds put it: Know your purpose. Feel your feelings. Do what must be done to fulfill that purpose.
Falling in love is a marvelous thing. Be grateful. Don’t be stupid.
Q: A friend of mine is always singing the English nursery rhyme, “Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, mer- rily, merrily, life is but a dream.” She changes the word “merrily” to “maya,” illusion, and insists life is an illusion. Isn’t this a call to passivity?
Rabbi Rami: Not at all: You still have to row, row, row the damn boat. You still suffer, fall into and out of love, grow old, get sick, and die. Maya doesn’t mean the world isn’t real, it means the world isn’t real the way you imagine it is real. Maya is like a magician’s illusion: The elephant really does disappear before your eyes, just not the way it appears to disappear. When you believe what you see, you are trapped in maya. When you see through the illusion to what is actually happening, you see it as “lila,” play. You still have to row your boat, of course, but now the rowing is done for the sheer joy of rowing and not to achieve some lasting reward which, I humbly suggest, is the real illusion.
Q: I took a Muslim friend to church last Sunday and was mortified when our pastor said God and Allah are not the same. “The One True God has a Son,” he said, “Allah does not. Only the Father is God.” I was shocked when my friend said, “He’s right that only one god is God, but wrong that his God is it. Allah gave us the Holy Qur’an through His Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), his God did not. Hence Allah is the One True God.” How do I know which one is true?
Rabbi Rami: To paraphrase Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching, “The god who can be named is not the One True God.” Each religion has its own One True God who, not surprisingly, upholds that religion as the One True Religion. If there is One True God, it is beyond religion and the- ology. Still names, if held lightly, can be useful. My preferred name for God is the Hebrew term “chiut,” meaning “aliveness.” God is the Aliveness happening as all life, and knowing God calls you to live in a manner that benefits all life. When any religion points beyond itself to Aliveness and in God, then you don’t believe in Krishna, and dedicating food to Krishna is a meaningless act rather than an idolatrous one. So, again, eat. As the Bible says, “Taste and see that God is good” (Psalm 34:8).
Q: I’ve been invited to a Hindu ceremony where food dedicated to Krishna is served. I’m worried that eating the food is an act of idolatry. Am I overthinking this?
Rabbi Rami: On the contrary, you aren’t thinking deeply enough. If you believe in God, know that in Hinduism Krishna is just one name of the singular God worshipped by many names (Bhagavad Gita 7: 21-22). Given this, food dedicated to Krishna is food dedicated to God, including God as you understand God. So, eat. If you don’t believe in God, then you don’t believe in Krishna, and dedicating food to Krishna is a meaningless act rather than an idolatrous one. So, again, eat. As the Bible says, “Taste and see that God is good” (Psalm 34:8).
Q: My parents are pressuring me to give my kids more religion. But I find religion sort of dead and at odds with truth. Where do you stand in this debate?
Rabbi Rami: There is no debate. There is truth and there is falsehood. Truth lifts us out of the zero-sum patriarchal world of winners and losers, us against them, saved and damned, chosen and not chosen, believer and infidel, high caste and low, etc.; falsehood plunges us ever more deeply into it. If you can find a religious community that serves Truth rather than theology, you might satisfy your parents and yourself by participating in it.
But, with all due respect to your parents and with all due concern for your kids, I’d rather be the midwife to the true than the pallbearer of the false.
Q: I believe everything that happens is God’s will. My problem is reconciling a good and loving God with all the horrible things that happen. Can you help me make sense of this?
Rabbi Rami: Yes: Stop insisting God is good and loving. I too believe that everything that happens is God’s will, but I don’t believe that God is good or loving or that God wills freely. God is Reality, the Happening happening as all happening. God’s will is that everything happens because the conditions for it happening are such that it must happen. God’s will doesn’t make things happen, God’s will is what happens. When you know that all happening is God and God’s will, you are free from the distraction, “Why did God will this to happen,” and free for engaging with what happened. When a tragedy happens, don’t ask, “Why?” ask, “What can I do to alleviate the suffering happening with this tragedy?”
Q: Jesus commands me to love God (Matthew 22:37), but how can you command love?
Rabbi Rami: Jesus is quoting from Deuteronomy 6:4-5: “Listen O Israel, God is one. You
shall love God with all your heart, with every breath, and with all you have.” Read this as a statement of cause and effect: If you listen, then you will love.
Listening, not love, is what’s being commanded. Love arises when listening happens. Check this out for yourself. When someone listens to you without distraction, you feel loved by the other. When you do the same, you feel love for the other. When you listen to the oneness of God arising in, with, and as all life, you love all life. And when you love all life, you love God who is Life.