by Don Ani Shalom Singer
Once when I was preparing for the High Holy Days, I told Maezumi Roshi that in Hebrew the holy days are called the Days of Awe, the Ten Days of Repentance. “Mmmm,” he pondered. “Repentance?” He looked me in the eyes and said, “We call sitting repentance.” Then he smiled. Delighted, I am sure, that he had hit the mark. He had shown the one heart in the two traditions.
Of course he knew that I knew that repentance, atonement is not only about guilt and forgiveness. In its fullness, it is the total movement of awakening. Of ending the cycle of travail and going beyond to wisdom and heart in daily life. We are more familiar in Zen with the use of the word Enlighten. In the Jewish way the word Atonement is more widely used: At-one. Enlightenment is Atonement. Atonement is Enlightenment. It is not that the traditions have met, but that the soul, the selfless Self, the wisdom of the heart, IT is working within us all.
Why do we sleep when our true nature calls us to awaken?
I often quote a passage from the Song of Songs, the great song of love in the Bible. “My heart was awake but I was asleep.” The song is a dream of wholeness which the dreamer could know intimately if only she would awake. Why do we sleep when our true nature calls us to awake? Is it because of the insistent preoccupations of the self?
“Rabbi Pinhas often cited the words, ‘A man’s soul will teach him.’ And emphasized them by adding, ‘There is no man who is not incessantly being taught by his soul.’ One of his disciples asked, ‘If this is so, why don’t men and women obey their souls?’ ‘The soul teaches incessantly,’ Rabbi Pinhas explained, ‘but it never repeats.'”
The early morning meditation at ZCLA begins with the Buddhist vow of atonement, “…now I atone for it all.” Now. Awake is always now. One of the names of God is Now. “Right now! What is your name?”
The Shofar is the symbol of awakening, and so it is the symbol of the days of repentance. The meditation that introduces the sounding of the Shofar begins, “Awake you slumberers.” When you are responsive and the shofar is well sounded, it happens. You feel at rest, present. Our home: vast and boundless. Intimacy with the living and the dead is profound, and there is love. Sometimes tears fill your eyes. Atonement is called the ending of sorrow.
Atonement has names without number. How can one number the present? There are names that testify to the depth and the height of insight: Love, Understanding, Joy, New Song and Silence. “With every insight there is new heaven and new earth.” Atonement is also called HaKol, everything. Atonement is a good word. At a glance, one can see its meaning: “at one.” But perhaps it is enough to say, “one.” One.
“Once Rabbi Menahem Medel spent an entire night in the company of his Hassidim. No one spoke, but all were filled with great reverence and experienced great elation. Finally the rabbi said: “Well for the person who knows that the meaning of ‘One’ is one!”