by Rabbi Rami: Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler…
I’m a Christian and I’ve been reading the Bhagavad Gita. Can God incarnate as both Christ and Krishna?
Rabbi Rami: If God can incarnate as one person, why not two? I believe God incarnates as all reality. To borrow from Paul Tillich and St. Paul: God doesn’t exist, God is existence: that dynamic, evolving process in which we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Christ and Krishna knew they were God; you can also. The great spiritual awakening that some religions foster and others fear is that one day all humanity will put on the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) and realize in all truth and humility that “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30) and Atman, the universal Self, is Brahman, Absolute Reality (Upanishads). So yes, God can be both Christ and Krishna, and you and me as well.
My 22-year-old son says, “Life has no point and living is pointless.” He isn’t suicidal, only philosophical. How might I respond?
I would say this: Yes, life has no point; life is the point, and living is how life makes that point. It took 13.8 billion years for the universe to manifest as your son—a precious, never to be repeated “I” whose purpose is to move life further along the path to awakening, justice, and love. Then I would ask him how he is achieving this purpose, and how I might be of assistance.
When we discover sentient beings on other worlds, how will our Earth-centric religions respond?
Given our history I suspect it will spur our missionary religions “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations” and convert them. It may only be a matter of time before the eight-legged residents of some distant planet attend hot yoga classes, practice mindfulness, praise Jesus, fast during Ramadan, and marry Jews. Or perhaps things will be different this time, and we will realize that just as the sun doesn’t revolve around the Earth, neither does God. And if this happens, our Earth-centric religions will either change or die.
My sister got married and converted to her husband’s faith. Now the two of them can’t stop trying to convert the rest of us. How can we get them to stop?
Convert to their faith. If that’s not an option, tell them that if conversion is the only thing they can talk about, there isn’t any reason for you to talk at all. Insist that family gatherings be proselytizing-free zones. If they comply, they are welcome. If they refuse, they are not. If they stop attending, your problem is solved.
When asked, I say my religion is kindness. But when pressed about what I do, I have nothing specific to offer. Can you give me a concrete kindness practice?
Try this: cleanse your speech of gossip, lies, and cruelty. Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698–1760) taught that each person is born with a fixed number of words to speak, and when you have spoken your allotted number of words, you die. What words you speak are up to you; the number is not. Since you cannot know how many words you have left, whenever you are about to say something, ask yourself: “Is this word worth dying for?”
I attend a lot of interfaith retreats. Why do teachers tell me to follow the religion of my birth rather than convert to their religion? Do you give the same advice at your retreats?
Urging you to change religions implies that one religion is superior to all the others—an affirmation frowned upon in interfaith circles. Rather than focus on any one religion, my advice is to follow the Perennial Wisdom of every religion that reveals the unity of all life in, with, and as God (however named), and promotes the ethic of compassion and justice that arises naturally from this unity.
My family is struggling in the aftermath of the Baton Rouge flood. Why did God inflict such evil on us?
If you believe in a God who uses nature to punish and reward, the answer must be that you are guilty of some great sin. I don’t believe in such a God, nor do I believe floods are evil. Floods are natural; people and companies that exploit flood victims are evil. I suggest you admit your innocence, challenge the real evil, and find a better God.
My husband and I are expecting a baby. We want to raise our child spiritually but without religion. Is there a spirituality we can join?
It sounds like you’re looking to plug your family into a prepackaged spiritual system. Look instead to befriend fellow seekers, questioners, and spiritual creatives who are devoted to truth seeking without falling into the trap of truth owning; who play with ritual and are committed to innovation; who share the values of justice, compassion, peace, and the honoring of all beings; and who actively work for the welfare of person and planet. Raise your child in this company and with these values, and feel free to borrow from any religion you like.
I’ve been praying and asking God to tell me whom to vote for this year, but I get nothing. Why is that?
God isn’t called the King of Kings for nothing, and there’s a reason you don’t get to vote on creeds, commandments, rituals, and who gets into Heaven or who goes to Hell. Chances are, your God isn’t a Democrat and the Kingdom of Heaven isn’t a Republic. Voting should be an affirmation of your values, and a call to review and perhaps rethink your worldview and vision of the future. Voting is a spiritual act in which the God to whom you pray just isn’t all that interested.