tension in interfaith marriages

tension in interfaith marriages

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Thu Jan 23, 2014 10:46 pm

Without wanting to go into too much detail, my partner is Jewish, and quite supportive of my Dharma activity. Raising our kids is a bit of a weird one, because to some degree they are getting raised Jewish, but with a lot of exposure to Dharma etc. In our household by itself, it is not an issue.

My wife is quite open-minded, and as I said quite supportive. The same cannot be said for some of her teachers, in fact there are some people she associates with who I believe (if they even knew I was Buddhist, which i'm not sure they do) would be very upset about the fact that my daughter grows up around, and participates in things like water bowl offering, mantra chanting etc.

It's not so much an issue of external things, I believe those are fairly easily figured out..at least so far. Internally I feel a definite, and fairly strong sense of aversion towards some of her co-coreligionists, simply based on the fact that I am aware of their general view of marriage to gentiles (dim, AFAIK), and of their reaction to what they perceive as "idol worship". It feels like I am having to kind of hide or subdue a piece of myself somewhat (so to speak, obviously), on the occasions I interact with them..which is of course, my problem and not theirs.

From a Dharma standpoint, what would you do, and how would you deal with this sense of aversion?
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: tension in interfaith marriages

Postby daverupa » Thu Jan 23, 2014 11:09 pm

Well, if they think it's idol worship they may simply be confused; nothing Buddhist is an idol as defined in the Tanakh, as far as I'm aware, though perhaps some Vajrayana practices will cross this line.

Maybe they'd enjoy a copy of e.g. The Jew in the Lotus? Y'all may simply be in need of more dialogue...

This would also address the aversion, I think. Approach them with patience and a calm composure, etc. If dialogue is out, then of course we can recall that no one is wholly praised or wholly blamed, and that in the most difficult situations the Buddha reminded us of the deep & abiding value of equanimity.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: tension in interfaith marriages

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Fri Jan 24, 2014 12:21 am

Thanks Dave, library doesn't have The Jew In The Lotus but it looks to be worth a read.

With these particular folks, I do not believe any kind of "interfaith dialogue" would be helpful, in fact I think it would likely make things worse. There is some possibility i'm wrong, but the risk outweighs the reward of finding out I think, at this point at least, though maybe in the future that could happen. So what i'm left with is my own insecurities about the situation, which are many, and the fact that I have trouble feeling compassionate towards people who seem to think I am somehow spiritually "less than" my partner, it would be less of an issue, but my daughter is around them for a small amount of daycare, my wife interacts with them regularly,.and I feel like it is only a matter of time before things come to loggerheads, my daughter chanting mantras and them going insane over it or something.

Maybe i'm just being fatalistic, either way, my main issue is that it creates a kind of "blockage" for me in a situation where I would like to develop equanimity, I cannot, due to this survival-instinct feeling of a threat to my own beliefs. if that makes any sense. Essentially, I know the real answer here is to change my own view of the situation, but i'm not sure how. It appears to be my own Karma to be put into situations where I need to get along with people who have very sharp views, which are different from my own. Amusingly and appropriately enough, my own tendency is the same "i'm right and you're wrong" kind of hardening of thought that I am seeing in them...so I know that ultimately, I can take this and make it an opportunity for practice, but i'm not sure how.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: tension in interfaith marriages

Postby tomamundsen » Fri Jan 24, 2014 12:59 am

daverupa wrote:Well, if they think it's idol worship they may simply be confused; nothing Buddhist is an idol as defined in the Tanakh, as far as I'm aware, though perhaps some Vajrayana practices will cross this line.

After reading the Wikipedia page on Idolatry in Judaism, it's clear to me that what Buddhists do would be considered idolatry to Jews and there's nothing that can be done about that.
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Re: tension in interfaith marriages

Postby tomamundsen » Fri Jan 24, 2014 1:09 am

Maybe just tell your daughter to "hide" her Buddhist activity from the Jewish community?
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Re: tension in interfaith marriages

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Fri Jan 24, 2014 1:13 am

tomamundsen wrote:Maybe just tell your daughter to "hide" her Buddhist activity from the Jewish community?



I am seriously contemplating this, I wonder if she would get it at four and a half lol, but it might really be the best option.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: tension in interfaith marriages

Postby daverupa » Fri Jan 24, 2014 2:17 am

tomamundsen wrote:
daverupa wrote:Well, if they think it's idol worship they may simply be confused; nothing Buddhist is an idol as defined in the Tanakh, as far as I'm aware, though perhaps some Vajrayana practices will cross this line.

After reading the Wikipedia page on Idolatry in Judaism, it's clear to me that what Buddhists do would be considered idolatry to Jews and there's nothing that can be done about that.


I can't see this conclusion; maybe this is a Mahayana problem, in that case.

:shrug:
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: tension in interfaith marriages

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Fri Jan 24, 2014 2:21 am

daverupa wrote:
tomamundsen wrote:
daverupa wrote:Well, if they think it's idol worship they may simply be confused; nothing Buddhist is an idol as defined in the Tanakh, as far as I'm aware, though perhaps some Vajrayana practices will cross this line.

After reading the Wikipedia page on Idolatry in Judaism, it's clear to me that what Buddhists do would be considered idolatry to Jews and there's nothing that can be done about that.


I can't see this conclusion; maybe this is a Mahayana problem, in that case.

:shrug:



Genreally, AFAIK any halachic Jewish tradition sees many Buddhist practices - even Theravedan refuge, statuary. etc. as idolatry..it has been my experience that reconstructionists, reform Jews etc. seem to be a different ballgame and far more tolerant. Hassids, Orthodox etc. pretty much take a hard line on it near as I can tell.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: tension in interfaith marriages

Postby daverupa » Fri Jan 24, 2014 2:33 am

(That's Funny, You Don't Look Buddhist: On Being a Faithful Jew and a Passionate Buddhist by Sylvia Boorstein, may also be of use.)

Johnny Dangerous wrote:Hassids, Orthodox etc. pretty much take a hard line on it near as I can tell.


This sounds closest to your own situation, if I understand things correctly. If so, the fundamental split between the Creator God and the Buddhist rejection of exactly that sort of God, even allowing for other sorts, makes the situation a little dicey; the idolatry aspect is a minor concern over the long term, I think.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: tension in interfaith marriages

Postby Adamantine » Fri Jan 24, 2014 2:55 am

Part of my family is Jewish, and I have spent considerable time connecting to that heritage, living in Israel briefly, etc. I read the Jew in the Lotus on the airplane heading to Israel, more to understand my Jewish roots better, since I was coming from more of a background in Vajrayana Dharma. While there is a considerable amount of positive things in the tradition, especially among reform Jews and those interested in the later mystical developments that tend to have quite an overlap: there is still a more general tendency in the majority of orthodox practitioners (or those raised by them) towards the superior tribal view of "we are the chosen ones" --since it is written into the old Testament that way-- and so there is a condescending approach to those who are outsiders, not born of a Jewish mother at least, etc. It is a tribute to your wife that she is tolerant of your views and didn't force you to convert in order to marry her! I know a couple people (one a man, one a woman) who converted in order to marry the person they loved, -- not because they really were devoted to the tradition.

But I don't see a way you would change this-- it seems they know you are NOT Jewish.. so you feel that condescension already. If they found out you were a Buddhist that would probably open a whole other can of worms. I wonder what your wife thinks about it?

I would think the best bet may be to simply adopt the external conduct of the "hidden yogi", and practice lojong and tonglen in relation to these people who you feel judged by or may feel tension with. It may also be prudent to wait until your children are older, and understand keeping things more hidden, before having them participate in practices like mantra.. etc.
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Re: tension in interfaith marriages

Postby Ayu » Fri Jan 24, 2014 8:16 am

For me the question of hiding or not hiding is the question of "How not to lie?"
But what is a lie? ---> To let somebody think the false... So, if i try to explain buddhism to anybody who is not willing and not able to understand it - then this would have the same effect like lying.
I hide my buddhism as far as possible. My shrine is in a quite hidden private place in the house, so visitors are not bothered.
If anybody asks, I'm honest in short sentences. But people don't want to know.

My sister-in-law and my nephew are jews. When I joined his bar-mitzvah the rabbi said in his speach:
"What is the difference between Judaism and other religions? We believe in God and we have a relationship to Him." I was really suprised. He said, that no other religion has an idea of God...
I would never try to explain Buddhism to such a man. And I would consider it as healthy for my children not to be forced to believe such teachings.
My sister-in-law said "Ah, don't mind what he said. This Rabbi is always talking such bigoted stuff."
Because, if our mothers, who have been kind to us
From beginningless time, are suffering,
What can we do with (just) our own happiness?
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Re: tension in interfaith marriages

Postby Jikan » Fri Jan 24, 2014 5:48 pm

daverupa wrote:(That's Funny, You Don't Look Buddhist: On Being a Faithful Jew and a Passionate Buddhist by Sylvia Boorstein, may also be of use.)

Johnny Dangerous wrote:Hassids, Orthodox etc. pretty much take a hard line on it near as I can tell.


This sounds closest to your own situation, if I understand things correctly. If so, the fundamental split between the Creator God and the Buddhist rejection of exactly that sort of God, even allowing for other sorts, makes the situation a little dicey; the idolatry aspect is a minor concern over the long term, I think.


Very unlikely: one of the ways in which Jews define themselves is by their refusal to participate in anything that looks like idolatry. It's part of what makes a Jewish person Jewish. These practical concerns come well before any theological niceties.
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Re: tension in interfaith marriages

Postby Jikan » Fri Jan 24, 2014 5:52 pm

daverupa wrote:After reading the Wikipedia page on Idolatry in Judaism, it's clear to me that what Buddhists do would be considered idolatry to Jews and there's nothing that can be done about that.


I can't see this conclusion; maybe this is a Mahayana problem, in that case.

:shrug:[/quote]

In contrast to devotional practices in Theravada that would appear to be idolatry to some among the Jewish community?

http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=24&t=478

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... el206.html

http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1 ... 44,8088133

Before you get to diagnosing something as a "Mahayana Problem," you need to establish that it is 1) a problem and 2) unique to Mahayana.
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Re: tension in interfaith marriages

Postby duckfiasco » Fri Jan 24, 2014 7:53 pm

There've been some challenges with my non-Buddhist partner as well.
When I took refuge, he was terrified. He kept looking out the window, wanting to be anywhere else. He thought he was losing me forever.
Things have calmed down a lot since then since none of the horrible things he worried about have happened.
I just continue my practice in a private way.
It may be different since he's indirectly exposed to the Dharma in a much more frequent and close-up way, but the folks you're talking about likely don't see you that often, and when they do, only see their own projections.

But fortunately, what I've found is the Dharma is one of those rare things that's so good that others are tangentially benefited, even those who look down on you for not sharing their views. It's so good that even when it's hidden or others think they hate it, they reap some benefit from our involvement.
They are helped by your forbearance and abstinence from the karma of clinging to views and aversion. Our main concern after all is the relief of suffering for beings.

I think you already have an excellent start in recognizing your own tendency to harden and tense around views, just like your wife's teachers do. That's something you have in common, that process rather than the specific content.
You see the dissatisfaction that it brings you, and how it prevents the release of suffering for yourself and others.
Yet sadly, for them the issue is compounded: not only do they suffer from aversion to other views, they prolong their pain by projecting their dissatisfaction onto others, making their own release that much more difficult.
I find that helps soften my heart, especially when faced with people clearly aflame with hateful views like certain politicians or friends I know.
It may be helpful too when you practice metta or tonglen to include specifically these people and the suffering of wrong views.
Including a little time for this every time you meditate may help address this particular blockage. And provide good practice for the real deal when faced with challenging people.

After all, short of enlightenment we're all subject to wrong view on some level, and ignorance is at the root of engaging in samsara.
Very worthy of our compassion and desire to selflessly help in whatever small way we can.
The Perfect Way knows no difficulties
Except that it refuses to make preferences;
Only when freed from hate and love,
It reveals itself fully and without disguise.
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Re: tension in interfaith marriages

Postby daverupa » Fri Jan 24, 2014 7:58 pm

Jikan wrote:In contrast to devotional practices in Theravada that would appear to be idolatry to some among the Jewish community?


No; in contrast to some Mahayana practices that actually engage with various deities as a form of practice, Theravada (your first link explains this part) doesn't call for an engagement with deities as a form of practice.

They all have a history of engaging with spirits in various non-worshipful ways, however, so that aspect isn't idolatrous...

But Jewish aniconism being what it is, I can see that any Buddharupa anywhere might count as idolatrous, though this requires the graven image itself to be the infraction irrespective of worshipful intent.

So, that's a trans-Buddhist problem with ecumenism among strict Jews, I suppose you're right (but it still pales in comparison to the God problem, in my opinion. Yahweh-atheism will be a problem for any practicing Jew that has an issue with idols, but even having no issues with idols one may nevertheless expect a problem over God's existence & importance).

Perhaps one solution would therefore be to reflect the aniconism of the early Sangha, in order to smooth out the environment around the OP? That still leaves you in the position of denying a Creator, however...
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: tension in interfaith marriages

Postby David N. Snyder » Sat Jan 25, 2014 7:07 am

One thing nice about Judaism is that they don't think gentiles are bound for hell. Gentiles only need to follow the Seven Laws of Noah. The Seven Laws are similar to the precepts except for the prohibition on idolatry. And by most accounts Buddhism would not qualify as idolatry since Buddhists don't see the statue as "possessed" by the Buddha or a divine being.

The Jewish reverence of the Torah scrolls includes bowing down to it on some occasions and the kissing of it indirectly with the hand or prayer shawl; which some people have compared to idolatry.

Some Jewish people have a problem with interfaith marriages because they see Judaism as not only a religion, but also as an ethnic group; a people if you will and want it to stay that way. I don't believe there is any pure race or ethnic group, perhaps in the world with interfaith, inter-race marriages throughout history. Humans left Africa only about 85,000 years ago, which is a very short time ago geologically speaking and we have been mixed up ever since.

One of the things I like about Buddha-Dharma, similar to Judaism is that it doesn't say non-believers will go to hell, with Buddhism going further with no different sets of rules for different people and that it can be practiced and progress can be made regardless of class, race, nationality or caste distinctions; a truly universal religion.

But to get back to the OP; how does she feel about practicing together with some methods common to both traditions, perhaps something like Kabbalah or Jewish meditation along side Buddhist meditation?
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Re: tension in interfaith marriages

Postby Berry » Sat Jan 25, 2014 10:45 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote:
tomamundsen wrote:Maybe just tell your daughter to "hide" her Buddhist activity from the Jewish community?


I am seriously contemplating this, I wonder if she would get it at four and a half lol, but it might really be the best option.


My opinion is that as your daughter is so young, it would be better not to directly involve her in your practice. If you wait until she's old enough to make her own choices - which could involve choosing to appreciate the more positive aspects of both Judaism and Buddhism - then there might be less possiblity of being in conflict with the beliefs of one of her parents.
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Re: tension in interfaith marriages

Postby greentara » Sat Jan 25, 2014 12:37 pm

Of course tension is something you want to avoid. Children are also unsettled by raised voices and arguments, they don't care who you worship or follow, they need stability.
I just feel because your wife is involved in 'mainstream' religion, is tolerated by family and friends and outspoken representatives, and that somehow you've been sidelined as if what you believe is exotic or on the fringe and therefore need not be taken seriously.
Sit down and have a long heart to heart talk with your wife, without getting excited, without saying shes wrong and you're right and explain that she doesn't have a monopoly on the truth. Furthermore when the children are a bit older you'd like to explain Buddhism in more detail and if they embrace it ...well and good and it not they've had a taste of it and may come back to it at a later stage when they're teens or young adults.
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Re: tension in interfaith marriages

Postby Berry » Sat Jan 25, 2014 2:25 pm

Just as an afterthought to my previous post, I think that showing your 4 yr old daughter through your own example, how to be kind, compassionate, and non-harming towards other sentient beings, might be more helpful to her at such a tender age than involving her with mantra recitation and making offerings. Its also unrealistic and not advisable to expect small children to keep secrets at that age.

I think there are some Buddhist activities for young children at the Buddhanet site which you might like to have a look at as an alternative.

:namaste:
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Re: tension in interfaith marriages

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Sun Jan 26, 2014 6:16 pm

David N. Snyder wrote:
But to get back to the OP; how does she feel about practicing together with some methods common to both traditions, perhaps something like Kabbalah or Jewish meditation along side Buddhist meditation?



Funny you mention that, she wants to do a "Bu Ju" seder: http://www.amazon.com/Haggadah-Jews-Bud ... 0977322122

Again, my wife is pretty liberal, if anything i'm more uncomfortable than she is with it lol, but i'm gonna do it.

The problem is with some of her teachers beliefs, not her, there are lots of positives with these teachers too, I just cannot accommodate their Jewish-exceptional viewpoint in our mixed family. So, i've set the boundaries such that while there can be some interaction, i can't have my kids being educated by them if they go to Hebrew school, etc.

On the idolatry thing, these people definitely believe it's idolatry and would be horrified if they knew there was an altar in our house, I mean I read up some of these exact comments on their organizations website. Far as I know almost any Orthodox-influenced variation of Judaism I think would view any offering as idolatry, much less ideas like statues being Nirmanakaya manifestations. Personally I find the whole idolatry thing amusing, since there are all kinds of Jewish customs that amount to exactly the same sort of practice, only with non-anthropomorphic symbols- as you mentioned.

in addition, I believe that many American Jewish leaders see Buddhism as serious competition, and this compounds the uncomfortable nature of things - American Buddhism is full of Jewish folks.

So for now, i've set my boundaries and talked about it with her, as always my wife is a wonderful, reasonable person, and hopefully we seem to have sorted things for now..thanks very much for all your advice guys.
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is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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