I’m not interested in religion, but I am looking for a standard by which to live my life. Any suggestions?
RABBI RAMI: The Talmud, the ancient anthology of rabbinic wisdom, teaches that four questions will be put to you when you die:
- Did you make time to pursue wisdom?
- Did you cultivate love and friendship?
- Did you treat people honestly?
- Did you yield to hope more often than you gave into despair?
Living your life devoted to wisdom, love, honesty, and hope may be the standard you are looking for.
As a believer in reincarnation, I am haunted by the harm I have habitually committed over many lifetimes. How can I atone for what I’ve done?
Reincarnation isn’t about atoning for harm done in a past life but about breaking the habit of harming still operative in this life. You break that habit and achieve atonement by realizing your atonement with all life and engaging with each life in a way that is both just and kind.
My church offers yoga classes. Am I right to be upset by this act of religious appropriation?
If Christianity’s appropriation of ideas and practices from other religions troubles you, yoga is the least of your problems. Imagine cleansing your faith of just its Jewish appropriations: the messiah (Mashiach), the Sabbath (Shabbat), Palm Sunday (Sukkot), Easter (Pesach/Passover), Pentecost (Shavuot), Eucharist (Ha-Motzi and Kiddush/blessing of bread and wine), much of your liturgy (Tehillim/Psalms), and the Old Testament (TaNaCh/Hebrew Bible). I’d worry less about your church’s act of appropriation and more about it not honoring the sources from which it appropriates.
My kindergartener keeps asking me about God and death. What should I tell her?
Before you tell her anything, ask her to share what she thinks and work with that. If she still wants to know what you think, share what you know to be true, even if the truth is you don’t know anything at all.
When my five-year-old grandson asks me what I think about God, I tell him God is everything, and if he wants to see God, I draw his attention to a flower, an ant, a honeybee, and ultimately himself. When he last asked me about death, we filled a clear bowl with water and dropped a salt tablet into it. Stirring the water, we watched the tablet disappear. Then we took a spoon and tasted the water from different parts of the bowl—surface, depth, and sides—and noticed that the salt had spread throughout the water. This is like what happens when you die, I told him: Your form disappears, and you become part of everything.
During meditation I notice an inner ringing in my ear. My doctor has ruled out tinnitus. Any ideas?
The universe is fundamentally vibration, and you can hear this vibration during meditation. This is not a sound you can produce but a sound you can perceive. The Bible calls it kol demamah dakah, the subtle voice of silence (I Kings 19:12). If you hear this sound, simply attend to it, rest in it, and over time notice all sound, all vibration, all life, arising from it. Two books that might help you here are Ajahn Sumedho’s The Sound of Silence and Edward Salim Michael’s The Law of Attention: Nada Yoga and the Way of Inner Vigilance.