Comparative religion; emptiness; nothingness; compassion; reincarnation; cognition, scientific spiritual; spiritual experiences; Buddhism.

Correspondences Between Jewish Mysticism and Indian Philosophies.
SomeSignificant Relations to Science

Axel Randrup and Tista Bagchi

International Center for Interdisciplinary Psychiatric Research, CIRIP

March 18, 2006. Electronic publication only.

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Abstract: In the literature we have found correspondence of several significant traits of Jewish mysticism with traits of Buddhism and other systems of Indian religion-philosophy. Among the corresponding traits is the fundamental idea of emptiness or nothingness, shuunyataa in Sanskrit, ayin in Hebrew. Also corresponding are attempts to harmonize the idea and experience of emptiness with fullness, and with the experience of the secular world with its many things and concepts. We list eight significant traits of Jewish mysticism, which we find correspond with traits of Indian religion-philosophies. We also discuss some important relations of these Indian and Jewish belief systems with modern science. We contend, that natural science is built on spontaneous sensory experiences; on this basis concepts and theories are constructed. Likewise we think, that spiritual experiences occur spontaneously and contribute to the basis of religious, mystic and some philosophical belief systems. We thus think, there are important parallels between scientific and spiritual cognition.
Key words: Comparative religion; Emptiness/fullness; nothingness; God; compassion; reincarnation; cognition, scientific spiritual; spiritual experiences; Buddhism.


In a widely known paper Katz (1978) emphasizes differences between Buddhist views and Jewish mysticism. Surely such differences exist. Particularly, the central position of God in Jewish mysticism contrasts with the abscence of God in Buddhism. Still, in the literature we have also found significant similarities in Jewish mysticism to Buddhist and also non-Buddhist Indian views. Of course both Indian religion-philosophy and Jewish mysticism have long histories, and each comprise several schools. The features we find corresponding may not be found in all Indian or Jewish schools, some of them are restricted to certain schools only.

Some Significant Traits of Jewish Mysticism

1. Nothingness

God is fundamental in Jewish mysticism as in all Jewish tradition, but God is imagined in various ways. The expereienced scholar, Daniel Matt, professor of Jewish mysticism, Berkeley, USA, writes that "God is greater than any thing one can imagine, like no thing." (Matt 1990, p. 121). In the Jewish literature God is often referred to as nothingness (ayin in Hebrew) or as Ein Sof (with no end, infinite) (Dan 2003, pp. 139-142; Matt 1990, pp. 127, 129 etc. and 1994, p. 29; Scholem 1955, pp. 5, 12-13, 25 and 1991, pp. 51-52; Steinsaltz 1980, pp. 35-37).

2. Nothingness is also fullness

The negative theology in Jewish philosophy and mysticism emphasizes the understanding of God solely by means of "no", but Jewish mystics of the kabbalist school (an important part of Jewish mysticism) see God as the paradoxical fullness of the great divine nothing, and they maintain, that the nothing is infinitely more real than all other reality, more existent than all the being of the world, that it contains a wealth of mystical reality, and that the nothing is brimming with overwhelming divine reality; it is mahut, the "whatness", the quiddity of God. Ayin is said to symbolize the fullness of being that transcends being itself, the mysterious palace of ayin, in which everything dwells (Matt 1990; Scholem 1955, p. 25; Werblowsky 1971, p. 30; Winther 1986, p. 126).

Jewish mystics also maintain that the world was emanated from God (Kook quoted by Bokser 1998, p. 165; Matt 1990, p. 129; Scholem 1955, p. 221; Steinnsaltz 1980, p. 37; Werblowsky 1971, p. 30). The Jewish mystic of the hasidic school, rabbi Kalman Epstein wrote about the essence of divinity, "That He was, is and will be and that He is the ground and root of all worlds." (Jacobs 1977, p. 220).

The idea that the world emanated from God is often understood in the way that the world also is God (Elior 1993, p. 59; Matt 1994, p. 24; Winther 1986, p. 124). This may give the impression, that there are two parts of God, the nothing, incomprehensible to humans, and the emanation, the world which humans know. Such an idea would, however, contrast sharply with the strong belief in Jewish tradition, that God is One, a unity. Kabbalist speculation (represented in the medieval book Zohar) is bent to the task of escaping from dualist consequences ( Matt 1994, p. 24; Scholem 1955, p. 13 and 1991, p. 52) Various solutions have been suggested.

Thus it is maintained, that the hidden God, of which nothing is known to us, and the living God of religious experience and revelation are one and the same. There is a distinction merely from the human point of view (Elior 1993, pp. 60-61, 77; Matt 1994, pp. 68, 153; Scholem 1955, pp. 13, 220 and 1991,
p. 52; Winther 1986, p. 124). It is also said, that the something is in the nothing in the mode of nothing, and the nothing is in the something in the mode of something (Matt 1990, p. 132).

Steinsaltz (1980, p. 36) writes in a more complicated way, that there is an unbridgeable gap between God, the infinite and His finite creation, a gap that is more than a consequence of the inadequacy of the human mind. To bridge the abyss, the infinite keeps creating the world, His creation being not the act of forming something out of nothing but the act of revelation. The world being constantly created is also mentioned by Elior(1993, p. 61).

Shoham (1994, pp. 326-327) writes, that kabbalah views the inner self of man as identical to the universal awareness of God. Man's pure self, his Ani, and God are one. The Ani does not reflect God - it is the Godhead.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman described the human soul as a "part of G-d above", a spark of Godliness which inhabits the body in order to create an abode for the Allmighty in this world (quoted in Dubov 2005, section: The soul dimension)

3. No isolated or independent existence

In Jewish mysticism it is maintained, that there is no such thing as isolated existence, everything is linked with everything else, and nothing exists outside God (Elior 1993, pp. 49-50; Scholem 1955, pp. 223-224). The hasidic school teaches, that defending an independent sense of self is a sign of false pride. Independent existence may be experienced from the human point of view, but not from God's (Elior 1993, p. 50; Matt 1990, p. 139; Winther 1986, p.124).

For Kook all existence is an interdependent, or organic, universal whole. He noticed the great difference between human personalities, but found that it is precisely through their differentiations that they are all united toward one objective, to contribute toward the perfection of the world, each person according to his special talent. Through the fusion of all the diverse minds and physiognimies there emerges a unified structure of consummate harmony (Bokser 1978, p. 6).

Steinsaltz (1980, p. 38) writes about the ten sefirot (emanations from God, fundamental in the world view of Jewish mysticism): "The ten Sefirot taken together constitute a fundamental and all-inclusive Reality; moreover, the pattern of this Reality is organic, each of the Sefirot has a unique function, complements each of the others, and is essential for the realization or fulfilment of the others and the whole." Scholem (1991, p. 43) states, that the sefirot are connected with one another by means of secret "channels", tsinorot.

Kook's description of human cooperation as well as the descriptions of the interaction between the sefirot actually have much in common with modern
systems science (

4. Reconciliations of conventional thinking with the world view based on God

As a bridge between conventional thinking and mystic experience kabbalists maintain: "All created existence has a certain kind of reality to itself in which it appears independent .... But in the sight of the mystic the separate outlines of things become blurred until they, too, represent nothing but the Glory of God and his Hidden Life which pulsates in everything" (Scholem 1955, pp. 223-224). The hasidic school teaches, that in the mystic's gaze the world no longer appears as essentially distinct from God. "If we perceive the world as existing (independently), that is merely an illusion" (Matt 1990, p. 143).

Matt (1986, p. 367) writes about Jewish mystics thinking that alignment of legal and mystical realms is not an imposition or an overlap of one realm on the other, that the two are in fact one. Abiding in the presence of God, the social mystic abides by the law.

5. Experience of nothingness

Within Jewish mysticism there are various views about human experiences related to the divine. Devekut, meaning cleaving to God, communion with God, is a fundamental and general experience, but among scholars there are different opinions about how close the communion can be. Scholem (1955, pp. 122-123) writes, that even in an ecstatic frame of mind the Jewish mystic almost invariably retains a sense of the distance between the Creator and his creature, so it is only in extremely rare cases, that ecstasy signifies actual union with God. But Idel (1988, pp. 35-73 and 1988a, section 12, pp. 123-134) proposes an alternative view on descriptions of unio mystica in kabbalah: "far from being absent, unitive descriptions recur in Kabbalistic literature", and he gives many examples. Also Jacobs (1977, p. 223) and Halevi (1979, p. 91) write about attaining the unio mystica, or complete union with God.

Matt (1990, pp. 121, 128, 135, 140) states, that the ayin cannot be known by thought, but can be experienced directly; in this experience thought may be annihilated. Other authors describe the experiences of spiritual ascent and approaching or uniting with God or ayin as associated with the qualities of bliss, joy, and light and with annihilation or dissolution of thought (Idel 1988a, pp. 77-83 and 184; Jacobs 1977, p. 151; Winther 2001, pp. 296-297).

The first step in the emanation of the world from the nothingness of God (the highest of the ten sefirot, the keter) is often also designated as ayin or "the annihilation of thought" (Matt 1990, pp. 129-130 and 1994, pp. 40-41, 176). Fortune (1995, p. 107) reports about her ascent towards keter " the one occasion where I touched its outermost edge, it appeared to me as a dazzling white light, in which all thought was completely annihilated."

The hasidic school of Jewish mysticism (founded around year 1750) is said to psychologize the kabbalistic material. Ayin does no longer belong to theology but has become a psychological reality, the only state of mind appropriate for one , who seeks to become a divine vessel. In the annihilation of the intellect distinctions vanish; all is equal. The mystic empties himself and makes room for an infusion of divine wisdom from beyond the normal borders of consciousness (Matt 1990, pp. 139-140; Winther 1986, pp. 124, 144-146). The immersion in nothingness does not induce a blank stare, it it has been described as the highest experience for the Jewish mystic, and it may be associated with extreme delight and enthusiasm, hitlahavut (Jacobs 1977, p. 219; Winther 2001, pp. 292-297). The state of ayin is said to engender new mental life through a rhythm of annihilation and thinking; a hasidist, Lev Yitzhak of Berditchev,has declared: "When one attains the level of .... gazing at ayin, one's intellectis annihilated .... Afterwards, when one returns to the intellect, it is filled with emanation." (Matt 1990, pp. 139-140) (Note 1).

6. Compassion directly related to religious views and experiences

Compassion and care for the welfare of other people are essential in Jewish mysticism (as in all Jewish tradition) and is directly related to the religious views and experiences.

Steinsaltz (1980) writes, that the soul of man is a part of the Divine (p. 51) and that any injury to another person is like doing an injury to the divine image in oneself (p. 169). A deeply entrenched phrase in the tradition is gemilut hassadim (the granting of kindnesses which denotes a general mitzvah: to do good and help people in every way possible (pp. 169-170). Mitzvot (plural of mitzvah ) are acts beneficial for one's fellow man and also acts of performing religious ceremonies.

Winther (2001) writes about uniting the desire to become absorbed in God with concern about the material welfare of associated people (p. 266) and also states, that the more intense the search for God is in te heart of man, the more the love for all humans will grow in him (p. 329).

Jacobs (1977, p. 219) writes, that if a man wishes to attain to the stage of refined prayer, with stripping away of corporeality, he must study the Torah (the five books of Moses) and carry out good deeds.

The school of German hasidism respected the "heavenly law" which was particularly about social relations an demanded altruism. In the state of true fear and love of God a flood of joy enters the soul and sweeps away every trace of mundane and egoistical feeling (Scholem 1955, pp. 94-95; Werblowsky 1971, p. 35).

In the 20th century Kook (Bokser 1978) wrote: "Whoever contemplates divine ideas in their purity cannot hate or be disdainful of any creature or any talent in the world, for through each does the Creator reveal Himself" (p. 8), and he emphasized a love for all people and a love for all nations, expressing itself in a desire for their spiritual and material advancement (p. 136). Kook also extended his concerns to animals (pp. 8, 22-23).

7. Reincarnation and its termination by perfection of the soul

Certain schools of Jewish mysticism, particularly the lurianic and hasidic schools, believe in reincarnation. Each soul has a task in tikkun, the restoration of the world, and in its own perfection or spiritual restoration. As long as the task is not fulfilled the soul remains subject to the law of reincarnation. Rebirth of the soul in another body is not only a retribution, but also a chance of fulfilling its task, which it was not given the soul before, a continuing process of perfection. The soul that has fulfilled its task can wait till after death for the perfection of the world as a whole; it can also return to help another soul to fulfil its task and so escape further reincarnation (Halevi 1979, pp. 29-30 and 1986, chapter 7; Scholem 1991, chapter 5; Steinsaltz 1980, pp. 63-65; Werblowsky 1971, p. 41; Winther 1986, pp. 71, 98-99).

8. Eating rules distinguish between levels of living things

Steinsaltz (1980, pp. 163-165) writes about the Jewish rules of eating, that food is a matter of levels of essence, graduating in quality of being from the level of matter to that of a living thing, plants. animals and special kinds of animals, with a proportionately increasing number of restrictions in the way each type of food is prepared and eaten.

With respect to vegetables the only restrictions relate to that which grows in the Land of Israel . The holiness of the land gives things a higher level of being and sensitivity to holiness. All that grows outside the Holy Land is considered edible.

With respect to animal meat there are several categories of prohibition. Most fish with fins and scales are permitted, and there is no special preparation needed for eating fish. Of fowl there is a certain list of birds that one may eat; but they have to be slaughtered in a special way, with the recitation of certain prayers and with the least possible amount of pain and suffering. Even more severe are the rules concerning the eating of the higher animals. The slaughtering process and the preparation before cooking are described with exactitude. More about Jewish eating rules, see Wikipedia (2006).

In the 20th century Kook has maintained that love is to extend to animals, precluding our eating of them (Bokser 1978, pp. 22-23, 249). For a more extensive discussion of Jewish vegetarian views, see Anonymous (2006).

Comparable Traits in Buddhism and in Other Indian Religion-Philosophy

The subsections are here numbered in parallel with the previous section.

1. Shuunyataa, emptiness, nothingness

is fundamental in the Buddhist world view, particulatly in Mahayana Buddhism as taught by Nagarjuna. Shuunyataa is not a thing or a concept as conventionally understood. This Sanskrit term is translated into English as emptiness, voidness, nothingnes, or openness. This means that shuunyataa is empty of concepts (mental fabrications) and without boundary (infinite), the open dimension of being (Dechene 2004; Hayward 1987,
pp. 202-205, 262; Lindtner 1982, pp. 262, 275-277 and 1997 a, 2003; Wallace 1996, pp. 149-150, 159-160).

2. Shuunyataa is also fullness

In Buddhism shuunyataa is not seen as emptiness only, but as transcending and embracing both emptiness and fullness. Its fullness is wondrous Being and also what is, free from concepts and perticulars., the totality of things as they really are, and the potentiality to give rise to all phenomena as subject and object arise interdependently. Emptiness is seen as a mark or characteristic of every phenomenon, and as the ground of all phenomena
(Austin 2001, pp. 570-572; Epstein1992, entry, emptiness; Griffith 1990, section 3; Hayward 1987, pp. 203-225).

To the western mind it may appear paradoxical that shuunyataa can denote both emptiness and fullness, because it contrasts with traditional western logic, saying that a thing can be either A or not-A. But shuunyataa is not seen as a thing, and it conforms with traditional Indian logic, both Buddhist and pre-Buddhist. This logic comprises also the two possibilities: both A and not-A; neither A or not-A (Bagchi 2002).

Perhaps the combination of emptiness and fullnes can best be illustrated to the western mind by means of reports of direct experience of the combination. An atheistic western scientist and materialist writes:

At this point I merged with the light, and everything, including myself, became one unified whole. There was no separation between myself and the rest of the universe. In fact to say that there wa a universe, a self, or any "thing" would be misleading - it would be an equally correct description to say that there was "nothing" as to say that there was "everything." (Smith and Tart 1998, p. 100).

The western author Merell-Wolff (1973, pp. 36-39) has given a similar description. He experienced voidness, darkness, and silence, but realized them as utter, though ineffable, fullness in the sense of substantiality, light in the sense of illumination, and sound in the sense of pure formless meaning and value.

The words shuunya and shuunyataa have a long history in Indian culture and thought. In mathematics shuunya denotes zero, and in astronomy a universe, an infinite space in which nothingness can flower into entities, into living beings, and into interconnections among entities and among living beings. In pre-Buddhist philosophical and mystical traditions shuunya denotes Brahman, God on one side and void or abscence of all phenomena, both material and abstract on the other. Shuunyataa occupies a central position in the Indian mystical tradition, even aside from its prominent role in Buddhist philosophy. It is often crudely translated as emptiness, but the term is complex in meaning and can also be interpreted as the quality possessed by infinite space; a common meaning is the sense of profound emptiness that a bereaved person feels upon the loss of a near one (Bagchi in press; Sharma 1996, pp. 2-3 and 188).

Root (2004, note 6) thinks, that, in agreement with Advaita (pre-Buddhist, Hinduist), the Mahayana (Buddhist) notion of emptiness is simply another way of indicating the sole reality of consciousness, the deep realization of which leads to enlightenment.

Sharma (1996) compares four main systems of spiritual non-dualism or absolutism in Indian religion-philosophy. He reports both differences and similarities and writes, that the Upanisadic seers and Buddha both believe that the Absolute is at once transcendent to thought and immanent in phenomena. Lindtner (1997, p. 112) thinks, that Brahman, atman, dharma, Buddha, and nirvana were originally more or less synonymous terms.

According to Advaita Vedanta (a Hindu philosophy) only the innermost part of you (atman ) is aware or conscious. It is the part of you that is really you. Atman is believed to be the same as the underlying absolute reality of the whole universe, which is called Brahman (Anonymous 1999; Anonymous 2005; Sharma 1996, pp. 185-188).

3. No separate or inherent existence

The conventional belief in separate things, concepts and persons having inherent existence is regarded as false conception, in conflict with the absolute truth of shuunyataa. This also applies to the I or self. The world is seen as a vast, undivided, causal web of interdependent and interconnected phenomena (Bruun, Lindtner and Boile Nielsen 1992, pp. 91-93; Epstein 1992, entry, no self; Hayward 1987, pp. 49-53, 202-208, 217; Lindtner 1982, pp. 19, 272-275 and 1997 a, pp. 94-119; Miller 1996; Wallace 1996, pp. 149-160).

In a personal conversation Tetsunort Koizumi, professor at the Buddhist university, Ryukoku in Japan stated, that he found Buddhism has much in common with modern systems science. Macy (1991, see i.a. p. xii) has stated the same view in book form. Modern systems science emphasizes the importance of interconnected, organic systems in both the natural and the humanistic domains (

4. Reconciliations of conventional beliefs and action with ultimate truth (shuunyataa)

In the fourth century Asanga introduced "dependent truth" as a bridge between the ultimate truth and the conventional beliefs, thus elaborating Nagarjuna's doctrine of two truths, a definite (shuunyataa ) and a provisional. In the dependent truth the world and the mind are seen as an ever-changing web of interdependent and impermanent phenomena. This also means non-duality of mind and reality, and the rejection of metaphysical realism, materialism (Wallace 2001, pp. 222-223) (Note 2). When inherent existence is seen as a false imputation to things, and reality is experienced directly, the dependent truth is not really different from absolute truth, shuunyataa (Hayward 1987, pp. 209-225; Lindtner 1982, pp. 275-277 and 2003, pp. 3-15; Wallace 1996, pp. 149-150, 160).

Hayward (1987. p. 210) writes: "When perceptions and thoughts, electrons, emotions, and trees manifest out of emptiness, their nature continues to be emptiness."

The Japanese Buddhist scholar D. T. Suzuki said, that enlightenment was like everyday consciousness but two inches above the ground (quoted in Root, 2001).

Suzanne Segal (1996) has written an elaborate, book size report about her experience of permanent emptiness/fullness compatible with normal functioning, practical and social. She writes, that sexuality still functions, but without the self-referencing aspects of that function. When lovemaking occurs, there is no one making love to no one (no "I" or "other" is experienced, separate or merged). Sex has no deeper meaning that makes it anything but what it is at the moment (p. 143). Segal's experience differs from the the dualistic mystical state experienced and described by Forman (see subsection 7 below).

Various other examples of egolessness are quoted by Randrup (2005, section, egoless experience). Austin's experience is particularly relevant here; " .... the purely optical aspects of the scene are no different from the way they were a split second before.. The pale-gray sky, no bluer; the light, no brighter; the detail, no finer grained. But there is no viewer. The scene is utterly empty, stripped of every last extension of an I - Me - Mine." Austin's experience did not become permanent, it lasted only a few seconds, after which the experience of I gradually returned (Austin 2000).

Dechene (2004) writes about the two truths : ultimate truth (shuunyataa ) and the relative, practical, everyday truth, which he designates as illusory.
He thinks, that we must work out our lives, in this illusory truth, we must lead our lives, as if the unreal world is real. To a western and scientific mind this would indicate, that the everyday world is real. The important difference between these two views may be related to our life styles. To a western engineer or consumer the world with all its particulars is the most important and therefore the real, to a person much occupied by meditation and experience of emptiness, nirvana, or closeness to God these experiences are the most important and real.

The idea of fundamental impermanence may be seen as contrasting with the belief of modern science in permanent structures (atoms, electrons etc.) and in permanent laws of nature. We shall make a brief commentary to this by referring to the ancient Greek philosopher, Heraklit who also believed in impermanence. It is said, Heraklit postulated, that the same man cannot bathe twice in the same river. We find this is true, if all features of the event are considered, including the emotional state of the man, the exact water flow of the river etc. But science extracts from this totality certain features, which are repeatable, such as the DNA-profile of the man. Science has in this way been able to make precise predictions of some events such as moon eclipses, while other predictions are less accurate, for example the weather forecast (Wiin Nielsen 1987). Although science believes, that the development of the weather is fully determined by permanent natural laws, predictions still suffer from some imprecision, because of the complexity involved, and in some countries, like Denmark the weather is ever-changing. The same goes for predictions and impermanence of human behaviour.

5. Experience of emptiness

In the Buddhist literature it is often stated, that shuunyataa can be experienced directly. Austin (2001, pp. 570-572) thinks, that you can't grasp emptiness from the outside, it must be experienced, not thought about. And D. T. Suzuki (quoted in Forman 1999, p. 126) states likewise, that shuunyataa is to be experienced and not conceptualized.

This spiritual experience is not seen as merely empty (a mere blank). It is without conceptual discrimination, but is often described as having the qualities of bliss, joy, clarity (luminosity, immense brillance), and complete purity, fully open without boundary, or like a boundless space suffused with transparent light (Austin 2001. pp. 570-572; Hayward 1987, pp. 211-217, 257-264; Lindtner 1998, p. 47; Wallace 1996, pp. 147-159, 187 and 2001, pp. 212-213, 226-228).

Chen-Chi (1960, pp. 162-163) writes about the elevated state samadhi, known in both Hinduism and Buddhism: "blissfulness, illumination, and "thoughtlessness"are the three basic experiences of samadhi." By "thoughtlessness" is meant a stabilized illuminated awareness devoid of any thought-in-motion. Human thought is awareness in motion, while samadhi is awareness at rest.

In psychiatry the word nothingness (in French le vide, le néant) is used to designate a completely different state of mind, which comes closer to a mere blank, The patients in this state feel, that they miss or lack something, and they often feel depressed, lonely, and bored. Life has little value, nothing has importance (Baruk 1959, pp. 1389-1394; Janet 1903, pp, 375-377; Kraft 1974).

6. Compassion inseparable from shuunyataa

In shuunyataa there is no separate or independent I or self and therefore no real difference between I and other, who is none other than oneself. Indeed this collective view extends beyond humans to all sentient or living beings. And it is believed, that loving kindness, maitri, and compassion as the corresponding action arise directly from this collective view. Compassion is seen as inseparable from shuunyataa (Austin 2001. pp. 650-653; Bruun, Lindtner and Boile Nielsen 1992, pp. 90-91; Chen-Chi 1960, p. 159; Epstein 1992, entry, compassion; Hayward 1987, chapter 22 and p, 264; Lindtner 1998, pp. 10-12; Wallace 1996, chapter 25, p. 185 and 2001, pp. 209-229).

7. Reincarnation and its termination by attaining the state of nirvana in this life

Buddhists believe in reincarnation. According to Tibetan Buddhist contemplatives there is an unbroken continuum of consciousness throughout life, the death process, an intermediate state, and on to the next life. By realizing the truth of the Buddha's teaching, especially the Four Noble Truths and attaining the state of nirvana one can bring the process of rebirth to an end (Bruun, Lindtner and Boile Nielsen 1992, pp. 59-61; Hsu 1990, pp. 89-90; Lindtner 1997, p. 109; McDermott 2005; Wallace 1986, pp. 184-187).

Nirvana is described in various ways. Hayward (1987, p. 52) writes, that in the dharma analysis neither "I" nor "things" are found among the elementary constituents of experience, and thus this analysis leads to the realization of egolessness and impermanence and thence to the underlying openness of mind that is nirvana. Epstein (1992, entry, nirvana) mentions four qualities of nirvana; Permanence, bliss, true self, and purity. Bhikshu (2005) thinks, that nirvana is the end of suffering, while enlightenment is the wisdom of emptiness. McDermott (2005) contends, that nirvana is an enlightened state in which the fires of greed, hatred and ignorance have been quenched. It is a state of consciousness beyond definition.

After attaining nirvana the enlightened individual may continue to live. Nagarjuna wrote; "This is nirvana in this very life - one's task is accomplished"(Lindtner 1997 a, p. 77, verse 11). A state of final nirvana is attained at the moment of death (Epstein 1992, entry, nirvana: Lindtner 1997, p. 132; McDermott 2004).

An individual who has attained perfect enlightenment may delay entry into final nirvana in order to help others. (Anonymous 2004, sections Nirvana and MahayanaMcDermott 2004; Sharma 1996, p. 37). It is told about master Xu Yun, that he was able to postpone his entrance into final nirvana .... until he had fulfilled his sacred obligation to use his influence to protect all clergymen in China. He entered final nirvana,. when he died in 1959 at the age of 101 (Shakya 1996, end of preface )

Forman (1999, part 3) writes about "the dualistic mystical state" in which an inner silence or emptiness is combied with perceptions, thoughts, and practical life, "cutting carrots". Forman gives a comprehensive description of this state including a detailed autobiographical account. He thinks, that this state is comparable with the Buddhist nirvana in this life (p. 133) and we agree with this.

8. Eating rules distinguish between animals and plants

Based on the idea of reincarnation including both humans and animals Buddhism is against eating of animals, but not against eating of rice, because plants, unlike animals are not generally considered sentient (Epstein 1992, entries, liberating living beings and living beings; Ohlsson 1998).

Summary, Discussion, and Conclusions

We think, that the exposition above demonstrates differences, but also correspondences between Jewish mysticism and Indian religion-philosophy, particularly Buddhism. The correspondence appears clearly with respect to the significant issues listed below, these issues are here numbered in parallel with the numbering of the subsections in the two previous sections.

1. Emptiness, nothingness is fundamental.
As emphasized by Matt (1990, p. 121) the Sanskrit word shuunyataa and the Hebrew word ayin do not express an identical meaning, since each mystic expresses himself from within a realm of dicourse shaped by his own training, outlook and language. But we find, that even if not identity, there is certainly correspondence between the meanings of the two words.

2. Emptiness, nothingness is also fullness, but it is empty of separate concepts and particulars.

3. Separate existence of both things and self is denied.

4. Reconciliations of conventional/mundane views with emptiness, nothingness.

5. It is possible for humans to experience emptiness, nothingness directly or feel close to it, but it cannot be grasped by thought. The experience may be associated with the qualities of bliss, joy, light, and no thought. Nirvana, perfection, and union with God is possible during life in this world.

6. Compassion is closely associated with emptiness, nothingness.

7. Belief in reincarnation. The process of reincarnation can end, when the soul has reached a state of enlightenment (nirvana) or perfection and has fulfilled its task. The soul may delay the end of reincarnation in order to help others.

8. Eating rules distinguish between vegetable and animal food.

Katz (1978) used the differences he found between Buddhist and Jewish beliefs as an argument against the Perennial Philosophy, which asserts, that there is a common essence or core to all mysticism. In our literature survey we found differences too, but in addition the significant correspondences listed above (see also Note 4). This demonstration of correspondences of course weakens Katz' argument and thus constitutes a contribution to the comprehensive international discussion of the Perennial Philosophy (for surveys of this discussion we refer to Ferrer 2000 and Randrup 2003).

It seems that spontaneous, unmediated experiences form the basis of both natural science, psychology, philosophy, religion, and other systems of thought (a similar idea has been expressed by Shoham 1994, p. 305). Natural science and its concepts are built on repeatable sensory experienses. The earliest development of these concepts in children has been studied by Piaget (1937) and later child psychologists (Freedman 1997). Scientific psychology is built on a wider range of experiences: sensory, emotional, ethic, aestetic etc. We think, that also spiritual experiences (characterized by intensity, unity, and felt importance) occur spotaneously (Note 3), and that religions and some philosophical belief systems may be seen as thought systems covering and connecting our spontaneous experiences, including the spiritual experiences in a way that corresponds to the way natural science provides theories covering and connecting our sensory experiences. As there are different religions, so also in science there are different theories covering the same domain of experiences, for example the standad theory and the Bohm theory in quantum mechanics.

Belief systems, when formed, act back on the basic experiences to some extent. Thus scientific concepts and theories influence which sensory experiences are attended to and also exert influence via apparatus constructed for special scientific observations (Diettrich 1995; Randrup 2004). Religious and philosophical belief systems also act back to some extent. Jewish mystics experience closeness or union with God, while Buddhist mystics experience enlightenment, nirvana.

We thus think, there are important parallels between scientific and spiritual cognition.

In Buddhism compassion is seen as inseparable from the experience of shuunyataa, and it is likewise my personal experience (A. R.) that compassion and ethical attitudes are directly associated with spiritual experiences seen as spontaneous. In the Jewish tradition the laws of God demand compassion and ethics ("thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself"). The Buddhist view, the scientific psychological view aware of the spontaneos experiences, and the Jewish religious view have therefore significant moral as well as experiential features in common.

The scientific psychological view seems to be acceptable to people with a general critical and scientific attitude. This view can be gradually developed, both general features and personal or group life styles, where knowledge and spiritual experiences are developed interdependently.


1. Personally one of us (A. R.) has experienced several times, that after coming back from a spiritual state of mind the intellect was felt particularly lucid. Forman (1999, pp. 21-29) has reported similar experiences. In the Buddhist literature Wallace (1999, p. 185) writes, that one experiences a heightened sense of attentional vividness in between sessions of Samatha (quiescence) meditation.

2. For a modern view of non-duality of mind and reality based on natural science, nature spirituality, and idealist philosophy see Randrup (1997 and 2005).

3. Evidence for this may be found in the Internet collections Taste ( and Torote (, in Forman (1999, p. 106), in Hardy (1979), and in Randrup (1997), all with comprehensive references. Hardy has collected more than 4000 first-hand accounts of spiritual experiences and writes (p. 1), that they often occur to children, to atheists and agnostics. About spiritual experiences in children occurring spontaneously, see also Piechowski (2001, p. 2). A spiritual experience of an atheistic scientist is reported above in subsection 2 of the section on Buddhism etc.

4. After the completion of this manuscript we found a publication, which discusses direct comparisons between fundamentals of Indian traditions and Jewish mysticism (Drob 2000, pp. 78-80 and 86-112). Drob finds, that various Hindu, Jainist, and Buddhist formulations bear "remarkable resemblance" to important kabbalistic symbols and themes (p. 78).The pieces of evidence presented in Drob's book and in our paper are mutually supplementary and therefore mutually reinforcing. "Similarities" between Jewish and Buddhist mysticism were also noted at a meeting between a group of Buddhists (including the Dalai Lama) and a group of Jews (Kamenetz 1994, pp. 200, 204).


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