Meditation and the Bible PDF
by Aryeh Kaplan
Two people suggested this book, probably based on the title. I have been taking a quick read through, and find it has a very mixed appeal.
One the one hand, I find it very interesting to get to know a Jewish understanding of the Bible, since the way in which events and prophecies and such are interpreted is sometimes quite different. So this book offers some of that, though that's not the main point of the book at all.
The main point is to show how the accounts of the ancient prophets (Ezekiel, Moses, Elijah, etc.) can be studied with an eye to understanding what kinds of practices they were doing to train as prophets. The idea being that in ancient times prophecy was a type of practice. There were systematic methods of training involving asceticism, purification, meditations, mantra-like use of special texts, visualizations etc. And all of this can be drawn out of a close study of the accounts in the Bible.
That said, the author, Kaplan, is a Kabbalist, so he has a particular interest in levels of symbolism, numerology etc that are more complicated than I am interested in. THAT said, at the end of each chapter he quotes source material from various famous Kabbalists that relates to the material in the chapter, and this is kind of interesting to read, at least as a peek into another worldview and epoch.
Finally, I think the part where I find the book not quite convincing is in Kaplan's understanding around divine union, enlightenment, prophecy, mysticism, and how all these things relate. Worldview stuff. His approach (which may be simply the norm for Judaism or at least Kabbala, I don't know) is very heavy on "ascension", with layers of realms one has to conquer through very elaborate practices and such. This kind of approach doesn't resonate much for me. Though I can see the practical use of the various exercises in most cases (at a minimum, supernatural effects aside, they certain train concentration, intention, self-discipline, filtering out the lazy,and so forth), at the same time they seem like a lot of Making Complicated. Then again, Catholicism has it's own layers of Making Complicated, and I like those, but they are familiar.
And sometimes Making Complicated turns into a Big Thing you hang on to, and you never get across the river because you are too busy endlessly re-decorating your raft or showing off how many cool dance moves you can do from the middle of the river.Not a huge fan of the river metaphor either, but I figure it's probably familiar. Anyway.
There also doesn't seem to be a lot of clarity around effort vs grace. That is, while he seems to imply that the "skill" of prophecy is something one has to train for by using very specific methods and studying under a master (and there are no more masters since the Babylonian Exile anyway, so....), at the same time he admits that prophecy is God-sent, something that is given as a gift at any given moment. So you doing the years of training and then asking for a prophetic vision can never be guaranteed to cause one, because it's God who decides if He feels like doing it at that moment. And all this, of course, must be done in a completely ego-free state. And yet the emphasis on mastery, special powers and skills seems to me to teeter around the edges of maintaining quite a bit of ego. I'm not sure Kaplan is clear on all this, or it may be that it's not an important angle on the subject for him, but sometimes he seems to lean more towards "gift" and sometimes more towards "special power".
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Download PDF Meditation and the Bible