Sample from the Spring 2004 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine

An Interview with Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

By Padma Wick

Reb Zalman, as he is affectionately known, is a major figure in the Jewish spiritual renewal movement, presenting the central teachings of Hassidism and Kabbalah in a contemporary and heartfelt manner. Sri Gurudev and Reb Zalman participated in many programs together and held each other in great esteem. We are delighted to have Reb Zalman’s inspirational reflections in this interview.

Padma Wick: Reb Zalman, you have led a long and very influential life. You’ve served as a bridge between Hasidic and Reformed Judaism. You are loved and respected by people of all backgrounds.

Reb Zalman: I came from a very narrow place-a Hasidic yeshiva. Nevertheless I got to find out about Christian mysticism. I found a little book called The World Bible. And I read about Sri Ramakrishna. From that time on I was getting interested in what other people do. I tell people I’m a spiritual Peeping Tom. I like to see how people get in touch with God. The deeper I went in my own tradition the more I found parallels with other traditions. I began to see that human behavior is really hard-wired; different parts of the brain perform different functions. But then there is the other 85% of our brain capacity that has not been formatted. That’s where intuition is operating. That’s where Raja Yoga is…

PW: Yoga means union. In the Jewish tradition there is the unification of the broken parts. Could you please speak to that?

RZ: In Judaism we speak of the broken shards, the sparks of holiness, which have broken and fallen all over the place. The word that has to do with unification is very important. When a Hasid goes to his master for counsel, that’s called a yihud, a unification. At that moment they become one, they merge into one, in the Presence of God, and that is what makes their meeting significant. It’s not just advice from a smart person; it’s guidance that comes from God.

Who is it is that makes the great unification? When you learn Hatha Yoga you learn the unification of your body. When a person is chanting and there is no longer a difference between the adorer and the adored, this is unification. We call it either yihud or d’vequt, which means “to stick to.” When a person is in d’vequt they are not separate from the One whom they adore.

A yihud comes when a great paradox is being held in the mind. It looks like a contradiction. At first we say, “How could this be?” And then there is this deep “aha” which is what people call enlightenment. There is a sense that there is moksha there. There is a sense of being freed. That is a yihud of the mind. There is another kind of yihud, which is not of the mind. It’s in the being, at the deepest level. For example, it is when I wake up in the morning and ask myself, “Good morning. Who am I?” and I realize that I’m God being Zalman for another day. So what can Zalman do about it? Zalman can give God a noble ride for the day. That deep sense is where Judaism and levels of Vedanta are very close.

I gave a course at Naropa, called “Lineages in Upheaval.” I pointed out that since we are going through a paradigm shift in the world now, all religions have problems. How do you manage to take an ancient religion into the 21st century? Many of the sadhanas require a lot of time. The problem with that is that people need quality time with their families. I ask people who come to me, “What’s your practice?” They say “Oh, it is wonderful, a little Yoga, a little tai chi and chi gong and this and that and vipassana.” And I say, “Well, how often do you do it? How much time do you spend on it?” and they say “Well, I can’t really do much because I have to spend quality time with my family.” Then I say, “How much quality time do you spend with the family?” They say, “We’re not together enough.” So I say, “You know what, why don’t we do something I call socialized meditation. Take it out from inside of you, and begin to share it with …

Read the rest of this article in the Spring 2004 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.