The Tree of Knowledge
The Way of Grace
Gutman Locks, a Kabbalist rabbi who had spent time in India with many great masters before coming to Israel. My companion assured me that I would enjoy speaking to him.
As we walked, he asked me where I was from and why I had come to Israel. I told him I was there to teach yoga and visit Jerusalem. He told me that there was someone he wanted me to meet —
Gutman Locks had a brilliant intellect and a sharp wit. His face looked worn, yet his eyes sparkled. He had spent many years in India with various saints, learning about Eastern mysticism. He had acquired spiritual powers after some time and began to bless people. With his new abilities and heightened awareness, Gutman Locks took on the role of guru and set up an ashram in a small apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. His search for fulfillment finally brought him back to Judaism. He began learning Hebrew and lived strictly by Jewish law.
Our conversation then turned to me. I told him why I had come to Israel, and immediately he started to quiz me. “So why are you a non-practising Jew? You came to Israel to teach idol worship?” he asked, in a Jewish fashion that was familiar to me. “You’re no longer a Jew, you’re a ‘Hinjew’. You were not born a Hindu. You were born Jewish to be Jewish, not to be with a guru. Your dharma is to be a Jew and to practice Jewish law, to fulfill the 613 mitzvahs (the good deeds prescribed in the Torah). Krishna told Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita to fight and uphold dharma. If your master is a real master, he will agree that your dharma is to be a Jew.”
Gutman knew just what to say to a person like me to persuade him to come back to his Jewish roots. He knew the vocabulary and where all my buttons were. I was definitely on the hot seat. I began to explain, “But I was never attracted to Judaism. I never felt the presence of God in the synagogue.
“I understand,” he said. “Nevertheless, you are wasting your time following a guru. What you are being taught is not a reality. It is a dualistic approach. There are always two on your path, not one. There is the disciple who aspires to be like the master, but he never becomes the master. He is kept separate. Your master is above everyone. He sits on a couch with garlands and flowers all around him. Of all the people who follow gurus, who gets enlightened? Very few, or maybe no one at all.”
“In Judaism, the Shema is our most sacred prayer — ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.’ Do you understand what that means? You are involved in the path of idolatry. Your guru becomes your icon for God. Jewish law says, ‘Thou shall not have any other Gods before me.’ Do you see? By having this icon for God, you are putting the Guru before God.”
I was intimidated by his directness, and clearly out of my league. I felt defensive and didn’t know what to say first. I didn’t see my relationship with Guruji as idol worship. He was my mentor, my inspiration, my dearest friend. He was a pathway to God and an example of what the Divine is capable of. Many people considered Mother Teresa to be a living saint. She had a worldwide following, and was eventually venerated by the Catholic Church. And there was Padre Pio, a Capuchin friar from Italy, who was regarded by many as a holy man and became world famous for his stigmata. I also thought of the role of the rebbe as a spiritual leader in Hasidic Judaism. A growing number of Jews believed that Mendel Schneersohn, the prominent Lubavitch Rebbe, who lived in Brooklyn, was the manifest Messiah.
In fact, a few years ago my brother-in-law went to the Rebbe’s grave to pray for his family’s health and prosperity. Was that idol worship too? Where do you draw the line? Whether in sports, music, movies, business, or spirituality, heroes and mentors are there to inspire and honour. Even the Torah is kept in a special ark in the synagogue. Is the Torah an idol for God? Or is it honoured because it represents God’s grace? I was trying to find a way to express these thoughts, but it suddenly felt like an odd thing to defend.
“How can there be only one way to God?” I said. “It’s so personal.”
“No. You are misunderstanding me. I am not saying that Judaism is the only way to God. I am saying that each individual needs to follow a path of truth. Truth is following your dharma. Your dharma is to be Jewish. Why were you born a Jew? To live life as a Jew.”
What he said made some sense intellectually, but emotionally it felt so limited. Is everyone’s dharma only what they were born to? Would he stop someone from converting to Judaism? Should a slave remain a slave?
I realized that I wasn’t with Guruji to get anything. I just loved him and wanted to serve. Then it hit me this was the answer to the question… I wasn’t a student or a disciple. I was a devotee.
For such was the grace of my Guru…
One day, we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the church that venerates the place where Jesus was crucified. As I walked around the church, I cried, identifying with the pain the Apostles must have felt as they watched their beloved master hang on the cross. Inside the church, Guruji and I stood shoulder to shoulder in front of tomb where Christ is said to have been buried and resurrected from the dead. Guruji knelt down before the tomb in this sacred place, brought his palms together, and bowed his head. There was no need for words.
Later, our hosts provided a superb opportunity for Guruji to experience the Old City during the Sabbath. At twilight, seven rabbis escorted us to the Western Wall so that Guruji could join the thousands of Jews there for the Friday evening prayer service. Men were on one side, women on the other. Again, I was beside him as he made his way through the hordes of people, getting closer and closer to the Western Wall. I think it was the yarmulke, the Jewish cap that covered Guruji’s head, that made the congregation wonder. Dressed in his usual elegant, flowing, white Indian clothes, and with his long hair and beard, Guruji’s presence was confusing to the Chassidic and Orthodox rabbis who gathered to pray.
They stopped our hosts for details. “Who is he?” “Is he Jewish?” “Is he a great rabbi?” As he proceeded toward the Wailing Wall, Guruji greeted everyone who stared at him by nodding his head and smiling. Finally, standing before the Wall, Guruji reached out and touched it and then closed his eyes. His body began to rock as though he were davening, the slight movement people make during traditional Jewish prayer.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a small flock of children gathered. They pointed at him, declaring in Hebrew, “Mashiach! Mashiach!” (Messiah! Messiah!) Guruji turned his head, smiling, blessing them with his eyes. Hoards of’ Jewish children ran after him, laughing and singing, as we made our way across the courtyard to the Temple Mount, which is known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and Dome of the Rock.
The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism. Jewish legend holds that it was from here that the world expanded into its present form, and from here that God gathered the dust he used to create the first person, Adam. It is a shrine that stands where King Solomon built the First Temple and is the place that Jewish tradition says will be the site of the third and final Temple. The area is also the place where Islam says that the Prophet Muhammad, accompanied by the Archangel Gabriel, made the Night Journey to the Throne of God. And it is the site where Abraham offered his son in sacrifice. It is the most contested religious site in the world, holy to Muslims, Christians, and Jews.
We stood silently at the site. Then Guruji stood alone for a while, gazing at the night sky. It was a full lunar eclipse and the stars were shimmering brightly. I felt so lucky to be with Guruji at these holy shrines.
Source: Excerpts from ‘Stumbling into Infinity – An Ordinary Man in The Sphere of Enlightenment’ by Michael Fischman (2011)
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