What’s Judaism’s perspective on Yoga and Meditation? Why is Yoga and Mediation so attractive to so many people all around the world? The following is a beautiful letter of the Rebbe that was written to Dr. Yehuda Landes O.B.M a Professor from Palo Alto California, on the subject of Yoga and Meditation. It’s an excerpt from the new Book on the Rebbe “The Rebbe Inspiring a Generation” to see more on the book visit www.inspiringageneration.org
Preface to the Letter
A familiar feature of the contemporary spiritual scene is meditation. Many people enjoy practicing meditation because it is supposed to bring considerable benefits to one’s physical and mental health. During the 1960s and 1970s meditation began to spread all over the US and become a part of our culture. One of the most famous teachers of meditation at the time was Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who taught a discipline which he called TM, Transcendental Meditation. Several Jewish leaders were concerned that his methods were tainted by Hinduism, which is considered to be a form of Avodah Zarah, idol worship. A fellow from Palo- Alto California, Dr. Landes, asked the Rebbe if it was appropriate to use these methods. In a letter dated 16th of Adar 5738 (1978) the Rebbe responded to Dr. Landes concerning the practice of meditation, and in a memo appended to the letter the Rebbe outlined his view on the matter. The Rebbe’s view articulated in the memo was that, after culling the suitable elements from the improper, the benefits should be utilized.
Many Jewish authorities were quick to denounce all forms of meditation. They felt that, even if we are to distinguish between methods that imbued aspects from other religions and those that do not, it is nevertheless a deviation from the traditional ways of practicing Judaism. Therefore, they reasoned, Jews should be discouraged from performing any type of meditation. Remarkably, the Rebbe, in his response, agrees that the benefits of meditation should not be disregarded. And, in the proper manner, Jews who are in need of those benefits can avail themselves with meditation. In the coming weeks several letters will follow, in which the Rebbe expresses his recognition of more far-reaching and poignant benefits.
By the Grace of G-d
It is well known that certain oriental movements, such as Transcendental Meditation (T.M.), Yoga, Guru, and the like, have attracted many Jewish followers, particularly among the young generation.
In as much as these movements involve certain rites and rituals, they have been rightly regarded by Rabbinic authorities as cults bordering on, and in some respects actual, Avodah Zarah (idolatry). Accordingly Rabbinic authorities everywhere, and particularly in Eretz Yisroel, ruled that these cults come under all the strictures associated with Avodah Zarah, so that also their appurtenances come under strict prohibition.
Moreover, the United States Federal Court also ruled recently that such movements, by virtue of embracing such rites and rituals, must be classifies as cultic and religious movements. (Of. Malnak V. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, U.S.D.C. of N.J. 76-341, esp. pp. 36-50, 78)
On the other hand, certain aspects of the said movements, which are entirely irrelevant to religious worship or practices, have a therapeutic value, particularly in the area of relieving mental stress.
It follows that if these therapeutic methods – insofar as they are utterly devoid of any ritual implications – would be adopted by doctors specializing in the field of mental illness, it would have two-pronged salutary effect: Firstly, in the view of the fact that these methods are therapeutically effective, while there are, regretfully, many who could benefit from such treatment, this is a matter of healing of the highest order, since it has to do with mental illness. It would, therefore, be very wrong to deny such treatment to those who need it, when it could be given by a practicing doctor.
Secondly, and this too is not less important, since there are many Jewish sufferers who continue to avail themselves of these methods though the said cults despite the Rabbinic prohibition, it can be assumed with certainty that many of them, if not all, who are drawn to these cults by the promise of mental relief, would prefer to receive the same treatment from the medical profession – if they had a choice of getting it the kosher way. It would thus be possible to save many Jews from getting involved with the said cults.
It is also known, though not widely, that there are individual doctors who practice the same or similar methods at T.M. and the like. However, it seems that these methods occupy a secondary or subordinate role in their procedures. More importantly, there is almost a complete lack of publicity regarding the application of these methods by doctors, and since the main practice of these doctors is linked with the conventional neurological and psychiatric approach, it is generally assumed that whatever success they achieve is not connected with results obtained from methods relating to T.M. and the like; results which the cults acclaim with such fanfare.
In light of the above, it is suggested and strongly urged that:
Appropriate action be undertaken to enlist the cooperation of a group of doctors specializing in neurology and psychiatry who would research the said methods with a view to perfecting them and adopting them in their practice on a wider scale.
All due publicity be given about the availability of such methods from practicing doctors.
This should be done most expeditiously, without waiting for this vital information to be disseminated through medical journals, where research and findings usually take a long time before they come to the attention of practicing physicians. This would all the sooner counteract the untold harm done to so many Jews who are attracted daily to the said cults, as mentioned in the opening paragraph.
In conclusion: This memo is intended for all Rabbis, doctors, and layman who are in a position to advance the cause espoused herein, the importance of which needs no further elaboration.
Needless to say, even if one feels doubtful whether he can advance this cause, or whether the expectation warrants the effort – the vital importance and urgency of saving so many souls from Avodah Zarah, not only warrants but dictates every possible effort, even if there be a doubt about achieving success; certainly when there is every reason to believe that much, indeed, can be achieved, with G-d’s help and Zechus Harabbim.