In Judaism, we’re taught, everything has the right context.
Some days, you shouldn’t eat anything.
Other days, you should stuff yourself like a pig.
Some days you shouldn’t have sex at all.
Other days, sex is a big mitzvah.
Some days, you should be happy.
Other days, sad.
And others still, you should get so blacked out drunk that you can’t remember a name.
Yes, you should have the right intention. That takes everything to a whole other level. But with the right intention and the right time, there’s no limit to how much cholent you can eat.
Buhddism takes a different approach – a psychological, experiential one. It says, if you attach yourself to something, no matter what context, no matter what your intention, it will cause you suffering later on.
That cholent tastes great today. But tomorrow you’ll crave it. Suffering.
That sex was great today. If you attach to it, you’ll suffer tomorrow when you can’t.
So there’s really nothing that’s inherent in a specific day or in “having a higher intention” with any act. It’s all about your relationship with the act itself.
And one really nice thing? It tells you “Try it out. If this philosophy feels right to you, stick with it. If not, feel free to walk.” This a very refreshing attitude that actually trusts the ideas themselves. It doesn’t require expensive trips to Israel or $100 stipends to get people to “buy in”.
To me, this philosophical distinction is one of the most fundamental differences between Judaism and Buddhism; it’s a key reason why I wasn’t able to find happiness in Judaism and why Buddhism has been so much more helpful to me.
King Solomn asks all the right questions in Koheles – “I tried everything, and everything sucked. Nothing I did or tried made me happy. Also, what’s the point?” But then, “the wisest of all men”, instead of providing a useful answer, throws in a one line solution at the end of ten depressing chapters: “Fear god, keep his commandments.”
Thanks a lot, Sol. I tried that. Didn’t work.
Buddhism would even go a step further and criticize his entire approach. You want to know why you’re depressed? You attached to things. All of Song of Songs is one big craving – whether for a woman or a God shaped woman; it doesn’t matter what you crave, it will make you suffer.
Bresolv has attempted to address the classic dilemma of feeling depressed when you can’t sustain your spiritual high. Their answer? Don’t get depressed. Go shout at a tree.
Buddhism would say, your mistake is not feeling down when you feel distant. It was attaching too much when you were feeling great. There is no such thing as the right moment being better or worse. If you eat cholent the right way, you can eat it on Tuesday. If you do it wrong, Shabbat isn’t gonna save you from the soul crushing weight that all that cholent will wreck on your psyche (and stomach).
This is all more anecdotal than my other points, I recognize that.
I’m speaking from a very experiential place where non-attachment makes me happier.And therefore I find the complete absence of any mention of this life-changing idea in a book written by God himself, to be a terrible shortcoming.
And to make it worse, many acts (Purim, Sex, Shabbat) and ideals (Song of Songs, Yedid Nefesh) that are interwoven into Jewish life are actually the antithesis of what makes me, and many other people, actually happy. So much for “Wisdom for Living”.