I just went to a fascinating seminar on the intersections between Zen Buddhism and Judaism. It sounded crazy to me too, which is exactly why I went.
It was held at my temple and run by our new cantor, who grew up Jewish but also found Zen and studied it devoutly. I very much respect him for his clarity of thought, precise memory for quotations and stories, and of course his amazing voice.
The seminar went through the history of both Zen Buddhist and Jewish/Kabbalistic traditions and showed how many of the most influential thinkers in each tradition were saying the same thing, but with different words. There were important differences between the two disciplines, but many of the core messages were extremely complementary and shockingly similar.
I learned way too much to write here, but I figured it would be interesting to point out the idea that resounded with me the most and the idea that was the most difficult for me to grasp.
(As an aside, both traditions teach that once you have grasped an idea, you have failed. It is in the act of grasping and striving that one learns.)
Idea I relate to the most: Having a beginner's mind.
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few." -Shunryo Suzuki-Roshi
This quote sounds very close to home for me because I am always interested in the things that I know nothing about and in how I can always improve in various ways rather than how I'm good at something. Though at times my "beginner's mind" can seem limiting, it is often what drives me to learn and study hard and to always be prepared and expect the unexpected.
Idea that I struggle with the most: Finding myself where I am and feeling the emptiness.
"If you cannot find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?" -Dogen Zenji
The seminar talked a lot about the idea of non-attachment as well as of dependent co-origination -- that all things in life are somehow connected and affect each other. And it is only when we can quiet our minds and feel the emptiness around us that we can truly feel ourselves. This concept is so difficult for me and is what I'm struggling with right now -- how to quiet my mind and all my busy-ness and just be.
I've learned a lot already and look forward to the next two meetings of this seminar. In the meantime, I hope to just be with my beginner's mind.