The Jew In The Lotus

In my Modern Jews vs Israelites post I mentioned the ability to retain Jewish identity in exile as the hallmark of the Jewish people from ancient times on forward.

Actually there was a documentary and book written on this very topic, called “The Jew in the Lotus.” This is the true story about the time the Dalai Lama called upon Jewish leaders to teach him how they kept Judaism and the culture of the Jewish peoplehood together, alive and relevant throughout thousands of years of exile.

The Dalai Lama is the leader of Tibetan Buddhism living in exile in India. He was forced to flee his native China in 1959 under threat of death or torture and imprisonment by the Chinese government.

Driven from Tibet by invading Chinese troops bent on obliterating Buddhism, the Dalai Lama sought to know the secret of the spiritual survival of Jews over millennia in the Diaspora.

In 1990, a group of rabbis and the author, (invited to document this historic meeting), traveled to Dharamsala, in northern India, to meet with the Dalai Lama in response to his call.

The meeting had a great impact on the author. Reb Zalman became his mentor and his book put the term “Jubu” (Jewish Buddhist) on the map.

The Jew in the Lotus is a 1994 book by Rodger Kamenetz about a historic dialogue between rabbis and the Dalai Lama, the first recorded major dialogue between experts in Judaism and Buddhism. The book became an international best-seller.

Writing in the New York Times, Verlyn Klinkenborg cited its broader relevance as a book “about the survival of esoteric traditions in a world bent on destroying them.”

The book was primarily potent in capturing an ongoing engagement in the US between Jews and Buddhist teachings. Kamenetz popularized the term JUBU or Jewish Buddhist, interviewing poet Allen Ginsberg, vipassana teacher Joseph Goldstein, Ram Dass and other American Jews involved with bringing Eastern traditions to the West.

The book also made prominent a Jewish mystical response to Eastern spirituality in the Jewish Renewal movement, led by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, and Jewish meditation as taught by Rabbi Jonathan Omer-Man.

In 2007 the paperback was reissued with an afterword that updated readers on Jewish-Buddhist dialogues.


An estimated 30% of US Buddhists are Jewish from birth. Jubus do not consider Zen Buddhism to be in conflict with Jewish theology. Compatibility is based on the fact that Zen Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism do not have a Creator GD, Messiah figure or deities in the Western sense of the term.

There are divinities, but they are not akin to Jewish, Christian or Muslim “God’ concepts. For greater clarity, I recommend, Is Buddhism Non-Theistic?

The Buddha did not consider himself to be a god, nor did he worship any gods. Buddha was an enlightened human being. More importantly, Buddhism doesn’t require anyone to reject or disavow their religious beliefs.

The Buddhist path embraces everyone, regardless of any belief in God — or not. Atheists Buddhists, Christians, shamans, pagans, agnostics, or “undecideds” can all equally practice the Buddha’s teachings. Whether your concept of God is an all-powerful, all-knowing “capital G” God, or a less defined concept of universal consciousness, or a nature deity, or the more practical “meditational deity” — Buddhism welcomes all of these equally.

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (Reb Zalman), founder of the Jewish Renewal movement, embraced Jews practicing Eastern traditions that do not proselytize practitioners.

Under Reb Zalman’s leadership, the Jewish Renewal movement incorporates Eastern practices such as Zen meditation into prayers.

Rabbi’s death brings to life his message of renewal” is an excellent article about Reb Zalman (Z’L) and his meeting with the Dalai Lama, who he saw as a kindred spirit.

9 thoughts on “The Jew In The Lotus

    1. The Wild Pomegranate (Abi)

      Thank you for reading and engaging! Quite a number are Jewishly engaged. Many practice a hybrid of both Jewish and Eastern traditions. Outside of Orthodoxy, Jewish denominations embrace Jubus and Jubu-ism.

      Others return to Judaism as a primary practice, after discovering Judaism has spiritual beliefs and practices many Jews never learned about growing up — such as Hitbodedut (Jewish meditation), reincarnation, prophetic dreams, karma (middah-k’negged-middah) and mindfulness (Mussar).

      This is a fairly typical story: JuBus — Embracing Judaism and Buddhism


  1. Very interesting and not surprising — in all the good ways not surprising can be. As I study more of Buddhist concepts, I find them quite compatible with my own Judeo-Christian belief system and the practices are more than simpatico, they are one and the same with rather different names. The problems have been mostly in my own particular religion (Christianity) and so while I find great joy in the journey of having an open mind and seeking heart, and yet, still believing in the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus, I don’t tend to share these thoughts so openly with people who have been prejudiced by their upbringing and stated religion — I say stated because it so often is sadly more about the talk than the walk. Love your posts! Jane

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The Wild Pomegranate (Abi)

      Thank you, Jane! I love your engaging comments! I agree the practices are simpatico. I’m sorry that you haven’t found Christianity to be accepting. That’s too bad, as there is such richness in the inter-spiritual journey. Abundant blessings to you. I’m very grateful our paths are crossed. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Shaina Nash

    The main point, for me, is not to criticize or reject any other religions. Any path to “God”, (spirituality) is good. The crusades, Jihads, etc. were horrific, formal acts of violence against our fellow man, in the name of “God.”
    Whereas, the Jubu is looking for and promoting peace and is seeking peace of mind. This is very attractive for me, right about now. Thank you, Abi, for your spiritual enhancement.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Shaina Nash

        Abi, Your knowledge and insight blow me away.(in a good way) I am learning things from you that I didn’t learn in Hebrew school or adult education. I think that maybe the “synagogue” was avoiding certain ideas because it may take away from its “brand.” The synagogue perpetuates a draconian way of life through promotion of the “building”, Jewish causes, and arbitrary events. It feels as if it is pursuance of dues and other donations. I am not comfortable with this way of life. I am very comfortable with your blog because you are generous. You not only come up with interesting subjects, you provide primary evidence, but you are compassionate. You donate your time with alacrity. You do not try to get anything in return. I do not generate a substantial amount of money and I would constantly get anxiety attacks when the Rabbi asked for money for a new Torah or for the building fund. At times, I even felt shamed, when I was not able to donate to all of the causes that were announced in the synagogue. I grew up like that. It is exhausting. Thank you for being calm and serene. You contribute to my peace of mind. Peace and serenity are the intangible gifts. This is what you provide for me.


  3. Interesting thoughts, Abi. Much the same has happened in the Catholic religious sphere. Not necessarily with Buddhism but with Eastern meditation techniques. From the sixties, there was a push in some quarters to integrate Eastern meditation techniques with Catholic forms of prayer. The two proponents of this I followed were Thomas Merton and John Main. I have a number of their books. With this emergence, and similar to one of the outcomes from The Jew in the Lotus, there was a rediscovery of ancient forms of prayer/mysticism that had fallen out of favor. For Christianity, it was the rediscovery of the desert fathers. Thanks for this, Abi. Always enjoy your enlightening posts.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The Wild Pomegranate (Abi)

      Thanks for reading and engaging, Len! I did not know the same sort of thing happened in the Catholic church. Good to know about Merton and Main — I’m always looking for new reading material. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post and found it interesting. 🌻


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