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But what happens to someone to tries to practice both?
In many ways Zen meditation, or zazen, seems to be the opposite of Jewish prayer. In this practice you do not pray for help daily, in fact, you do not pray for help at all. In zazen you sit, back straight, legs crossed, eyes down, facing the wall. You do not speak, reach out, touch, or listen to the troubles of others. You do not offer consolation or turn to others for support. In fact, what you thought of as support is taken away. If others are having trouble on the cushion, experiencing sorrow or pain, you do not interfere. Their experience is precious and they are now being given the opportunity to face it fully. The support you offer is silent and profound, just sitting strongly beside them, facing your own experience and not moving.
In Jewish practice you must be there for others. Gathering together in a minyan, a quorum of ten who have come to pray, is central. Individuals return twice a day to synagogue, not only to stand before God with their own personal cares, but also to be there for one another, to be conscious of and responsive to what their neighbors are going through. As they pray, they are accountable not only for themselves but for one another. Each person in the minyan takes a part of the others' burdens and offers his or her strength in return. Most of the mitzvot, or commandments, are based upon this. If someone has a need, it is also your need. Not only must you listen, you must also reach out your hands and give whole-heartedly.
The Torah declares, “These teachings are for all generations. Do not follow passing customs and fashions but hold on to the ways of old. If you connect to that which is timeless, it will prevent you from getting caught in passing fads, confused teachings, and customs, which can cause years of harm and waste. By understanding and following the teachings of the past, by honoring and following ancient sages, your life will bear rich fruit."
In striving to arrive at ultimate truth, Judaism insists on using the mind intensively, analytical thinking is honed to the finest extent.
The Zen student finds ultimate truth by not lingering in ideas of concepts; koan practice is designed to bypass the “thinking mind.” Zen practice is based on radical freedom, living from the mind that is boundless. Jewish practice is based on deep obedience and surrender to the word of God, as passed down through the centuries.
Zen practice proclaims that the past is gone, the future is not here and the present appears for an instant. You are to leave the past behind and not dwell upon the future. Instead, stay planted in the moment fully, right here, right now. You must not walk in anyone else’s footsteps; reject imitation. There cannot be real knowledge unless there are real people. You must have the courage to be who you are. In fact, unless you wake up and become able to do this, you are only a ghost. A great Zen poet, Basho, said, “Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of men of old; seek what they sought."
In Zen practice, and particularly during sesshin, it is necessary to withdraw from life and give intensive time to the practice of zazen. In Jewish practice you are not allowed to isolate yourself. The place to find God is not away from life, on a mountain top or in personal seclusion, but at the kitchen table, among family, friends, food, discussion.