Thursday, April 5, 2012

Jewdaism and the reduction of suffering

The strange thing about Judaism is that, despite Jewish experince through the ages being so associated with suffering (in the eyes of so many) suffering and the reduction of suffering do not seem to be at the core of its theology. Suffering is a non-issue. What is central is the requirement to perform the creator's commandments, and to believe in a redemptive creator (less central than the former) who acts in history and both creates the conditions for people's bondage and then the conditions for them to become liberated.

While many of the mitzvot (commandments) may have the effect of reducing suffering [and some may have the effect of increasing it] this is never proffered as their primary function. Mitzvot are performed becuase the eternal suposedly commanded them, and if they have some benefit in terms of increasing soial cohesion or individual self esteem, or more profoundly, assisst each individual to express more profoundly what is at the core of their being as created reflections of the divine, than those are added benefits, but not the reason. There is no utilitarian ethos which underpins the mitzvot, and what could be more useful than reducing the ubiquitous suffering which seems to characterize our experience as embodied - read limited -beings?

Interesting to compare and contrast some "mission statements" of Judaism with those of Bhuddism:

"To be a light unto the nations" (Bereishit - genesis)
"He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does Yud-Kay-Vav-Kay require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your G-d." (Mikah)
"Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole [duty] of man." (Kohelet - Ecclesiastes)
"What you yourself hate, don't do to your neighbor. This is the whole law; the rest is commentary. Go and study." - Rabbi Hillel

To reduce the suffering of all sentient beings

As for these mission statements, for them to make any kind of sense, what kind of context must be assumed?

That there is a world
That we have bodies
That embodid units - called people - are organised into discreet nations.

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