My husband and I have a saying, “The truth is the truth.” We usually say it after reading some spiritual text and marveling how easy it is to connect the dots from the key points in that book, be it Buddhist, Hindu, Christian or Jewish, to the countless others we have read because, “The truth is the truth.” That is a very simplistic way to describe what Rabbi Rami Shapiro refers to as “perennial wisdom,” and he has plenty of it to share with us.
I was first introduced to Rabbi Rami through his monthly question and answer column In Spirituality and Health Magazine called “Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler.” When we get the magazine at our home, the first thing we do is turn to his column and read it straight through. Rami has a way of answering questions from people of all faiths that transcends specific religious dogma, and touches both the universality of our experiences and the heart of each spiritual traveler’s concerns. And when you finish reading his column, or any one of his many books (and he’s written over 30), you know, for sure, that Rami is an uncommon Rabbi.
Here are just a few things about Rabbi Rami that make him unique:
· While he was ordained as a Reform rabbi from Hebrew Union College, and has a PhD in religious studies he’s also a zen rabbi and Reb Zalman Schacter Shalomi welcomed him as a rebbe which in Chasidic Judaism is a title given to a teacher who touches not only your mind and your heart but can reach your essential being and guide you to find yourself there.
· He was made a 32nd Degree Scottish Rite Mason and he’s also been initiated into the Ramakrishna Order of Vedanta Hinduism
· And he’s been named a Holy Rascal by Seneca Elder and Franciscan Sister Jose Hobday; a Holy Rascal is someone whose experience of god transcends theology and religion, and is willing to live with the unanswerable questions that reality poses, rather than conforming to the answers religion offers.
An unusual resume for a rabbi, indeed.
When Father Richard Rohr was asked to write the forward to Rami’s 2013 book, Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent, this is what he said: “Who would have thought that a Franciscan priest in New Mexico, trained in classic Catholic theology, would even be invited to do such a thing? Or even want to do it? Yet, I read Rabbi Shapiro’s words and all I keep saying is “Yes,” “Of course,” “Makes total sense.” And “This fits my own experience and education!”
Or as my husband and I would say, “The truth is the truth.”
So, just what kind of Rabbi is Rami??
In answer to that question on his blog, Rami simply, but profoundly, answered this way:
“For me, . . . being a rabbi isn’t about making Jews Jewish, but about using Judaism as a tool for making meaning and discovering wisdom. I am interested only in truth as best as I can discern it, and I fashion Judaism as a way of articulating that truth.
Because my loyalty is to truth rather than Judaism, I see myself as spiritually independent, and thus free to explore and draw from the entirety of human wisdom, and I want the Judaism I teach to be of value not only to Jews, but to other spiritually independent seekers as well. Just as Jews borrow from Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism, and Christian mysticism, I want followers of these paths to borrow from Judaism as well.”
“So I guess I am the kind of rabbi that my rebbe once told me to be: a rabbi to the world.”
Indeed, Rabbi Rami has traveled the world bringing the perennial wisdom of the world’s religions to spiritual seekers of every faith and no faith for over forty years. He IS a rabbi to the world and we are fortunate to have had this Holy Rascal with us in our little corner of the world on April 25, 2015 to share his perennial wisdom with us for two hours, which wasn’t long enough and left us wanting more.
The theme of Rabbi Rami’s Sacred Threads presentation , “The Heart of Spirituality: Bridging the Wisdom of East and West,” which carries through the theme that on a mystical level, all the texts of every religion are saying the same thing. They all agree. They all have had the same experiences. As he says, “This is the perennial wisdom that transcends form and unites all in a common experience of the truth.” And, when we tap into this perennial wisdom and experience of the truth, Rami reminds us that we are more loving, open-hearted and compassionate, less fearful and angry. He presented this concept of perennial wisdom through four shared points of connection:
Point 1: Everything is a Facet of the One Thing:
There is nothing but God; we are all one. Everything you see, think, feel, imagine, is a part of and never apart from the same Source, whether we call it God, Allah, Krishna, etc.
Point 2: YOU are a manifestation of God, but you have two states of consciousness.
Everything is a manifestation of God and that means You are. To know God is to know yourself and to know yourself is to know God. When you know God directly, you realize that ultimately there is no You or anything/anyone else. Only God, which is simple to say, but living in this world, there is a big HOWEVER that doesn’t make it easy for us to accept it. Rami explains that we have 2 states of consciousness: one see ourselves as separate from God (ego) and one that sees ourselves as part of God (spirit). When we are separate we are anxious, fearful, angry, needy, narrow minded, feel threatened and live in a zero sum world. This is the mindset that scares people and sets us on a path to war. When we see ourselves as a part of God, we are compassionate, expansive, loving, just, spacious minded and believe there is enough for everyone. When we are in this state, our sense of self drops away and there is deep joy in what we’re doing. (Sounds like the place we want to be, doesn’t it?)
Point 3: When you are in the Zero Sum Self, separate from God, life is suffering.
We suffer because we want things to be other than they are. We ask the narrow mind questions like “why would God do this to me? To others?” when the spacious mind question is, How shall I respond to this? What can I do?
Point 4: We are here to be open hearted and use our spacious minds
We are here to realize the oneness and divinity of everything and to move from conditional love, fear, “a constricted heart, closed mind and clenched fist,” to unconditional love, and an open heart, mind and hand.
These four points of perennial wisdom could easily be philosophical concepts that have us scratching our heads and furrowing our brows, but Rabbi Rami has a way of presenting them that makes them easy to understand and touches our collective hearts. And we laugh a lot too! He has a unique ability (and an endless font of knowledge) to finds ways to connect the four points right to our everyday experiences, to people of all faiths and to the spiritually independent, and when he explains the wisdom inherent in them, we DO understand that we are all connected, and that the “truth IS the truth.”
Rami ended his presentation with a discussion of the powerful time in which we are living, a time of great religious turmoil and potential spiritual advancement, referring to it as the “Second Axial Age,” a concept explored in Karen Armstrong’s book, The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions. Some two thousand years ago, during the First Axial Age, all the great religions came into being and the world shifted from magic to morals, ritual to compassion and from an “us thinking” to an “all of us” thinking. Today, Rami explains, we are amid a second Axial Age and are undergoing a period of transition similar to that of the 1st Axial Age. Now once again, we need to redefine the notion of the sacred so it can become relevant and enter our lives in new ways. As he puts it, “At the heart of the 2nd Axial Age is the realization that religions must transcend the zero-sum world view of saved and damned, believers and infidels, enlightened and unenlightened. Rather than a focus on religious dogma, in our non zero-sum world the focus of religious life is spiritual practice and expanding our sense of compassion to embrace all living beings.”
Rami called us to our spacious minds and engaged us in the perennial wisdom that sees our lives, every life as sacred. He says, “you know you have had a mystical experience because it transforms you; you are more loving, compassionate, less fearful and angry.” If that is the case, and I believe it is, then all of us had a mystical experience spending two hours with Rabbi Rami. He left us with spacious minds, open hearts and a strong desire for him to return to Sacred Threads soon so he can continue to share his perennial wisdom with us.
Armstrong, Karen. The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Religious Traditions. Anchor Press. 2007.
Shapiro, Rami. Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent. Skylight Paths. 2013