Give and Take with Wes Nisker

Contributing editor Andrew Cooper chats with Vipassana teacher, comedian, and author Wes Nisker on the topic “Jewish and Buddhist.”

Have you ever noticed that there are a lot of Jewish Buddhists? You don’t say! Maybe it’s because opposites attract. You’ve got your Buddhists, with their© Terry Vandiver cool detachment, quietude, and inner peace. And then you have your Jews, with their emotionality, verbal dexterity, and worldly chutzpah. Maybe the two sets of characteristics are complementary. Go figure.

What do you think of the idea of having retreats geared especially for the Chosen People? Sure. The retreat could be like a long Passover dinner. (Not that there is such a thing as a short Passover dinner.) We’d thank the great adepts of the past for telling us that we are already enlightened and can finally relax. Everybody would sit on a couch, and we would slouch and eat and gossip and recall that, while it was Moses who led us to the Promised Land, it is Buddha who leads us to the promised Pure Land.

Do you ever worry that, with so many Jewish Buddhists, there might be talk of an international conspiracy to control the world’s supply of good karma?
Not really. But based on our historical experience over the past several millennia, I’d say that setting a little bit aside might not be such a bad idea. You never know.

Which Jewish writer would you rather have as a dharma student, Marcel Proust or Franz Kafka? Oh, without hesitation I’ll take Kafka. You certainly wouldn’t have to explain the First Noble Truth to him, and furthermore, he already knows that he is part cockroach, something most Buddhists don’t understand until after many years of practice.

Which Marx brother would you most like to have as a dharma teacher? No contest. Harpo is my teacher. His perfect silence and perpetual grin are marks of a great sage, and always remind me of our sublimely ridiculous human condition. In fact, I believe that Harpo must be the reincarnation of a high lama: his air horn is reminiscent of the great Tibetan horns that announce emptiness whenever they are blown. And, of course, he always practices the great mudra of placing his leg in someone else’s arms, which is a gesture of surrender and great compassion. “Here,” he is saying, “take my leg in case you might someday need an extra one.” Could there be a greater bodhisattva?

Why is Y*hw*h so touchy about things? So you’ve noticed that, too. I’m relieved, because I thought it was maybe something I’d done.

Know any good Jewish Buddhist jokes? I haven’t heard any, but how about a new twist on a familiar Buddhist joke: The Jewish Buddhist comes up to the hot dog seller and says, “Make me one with everything. (Pause) Does that come with something to drink?”

Image 1: © Terry Vandiver

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