Sunday, November 2, 2008

Remembering Fr. Thomas Hand


Many years ago, a spiritual friend of mine, Dr. Vickie Dendinger recommended that I meet Fr. Tom Hand. I had the great privilege of sitting a few retreats with this great teacher at the Joseph and Mary Retreat Center in Rancho Palos Verdes which was a converted Convent located in the Southern California South Bay.
For those of you unfamiliar with Thomas Hand, S.J., he spent twenty nine years in Japan and was one of the first Western Catholic monks to practice Zen meditation under the direction of Koun Yamada Roshi of the Sanbo Kyodan. His depth of understanding of religious experience was moving and helpful to me in my early days of exploration and unfortunately he passed away in 2005. During one of my precious interviews with him, he gave me a book of letters from a Russian Rabbi and one of his American flock that was written in the early twentieth century.

This is one of the letters and it struck me so deeply, but my comments will remain my own. I would rather hear from all of you, this is a brilliant and concise work of spiritual understanding.

Reb Yerachmiel ben Yisrael
19 Tevet 5636

My Dear Aaron Hershel,

You ask me of God: to define the Nameless to place in your palm the ultimate secret. Do not imagine that this is hidden some­where far from you. The ultimate secret is the most open one. Here it is: God is All.

I am tempted to stop with this-to close this letter, sign my name and leave you with this simple truth. Yet I fear you will not understand. Know from the first that all that follows is but an elaboration on the simple fact that God is All.

What does it mean to be All? God is Reality. God is the Source and Substance of all things and nothing. There is no thing or feel­ing or thought that is not God, even the idea that there is no God! For this is what it is to be All: God must embrace even God's own negation.
Listen again carefully: God is the Source and Substance of everything. There is nothing outside of God. Thus we read: “I am God and there is none else [am od]” (Isaiah 45:5). Read not simply “none else,” but rather “nothing else”-not that there is no other god but God, but that there is nothing else but God.

Let me illustrate. It rained heavily during the night, and the street is thick with mud. I walked to the Bet Midrash (House of Learning) this morning and stopped to watch a group of little children playing with the mud. Oblivious to the damp, they made dozens of mud figures: houses, animals, towers. From their talk, it was clear that they imagined an identity for each. They gave the figures names and told their stories. For a while, the mud figures took on an independent existence. But they were all just mud. Mud was their source and mud was their substance. From the perspective of the children, their mud creations had separate selves. From the mud's point of view, it is clear such independence was an illusion-the creations were all just mud.

It is the same with us and God: “Adonai alone is God in heaven above and on earth below, there is none else” (Deuteronomy 4:39). There is none else, meaning there is nothing else in heaven or on earth but God.

Can this be? When I look at the world, I do not see God. I see trees of various kinds, people of all types, houses, fields, lakes, cows, horses, chickens, and on and on. In this I am like the chil­dren at play, seeing real figures and not simply mud.

Where in all this is God? The question itself is misleading. God is not “in” this; God is this.
Think carefully about what I have said. It is the key to all the secrets of life.

B'Shalom
this could have been written by a Zen Master or a Sufi Master; yet this is a Jewish Master in a small community in Russia who understands the truth.

1 comment:

henry said...

Yes. Actually the mud metaphor is a duplicate of an old Vedic one which speaks of how various items of jewelry may appear different, but, at root, are all gold.