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Book Commentary and Review

Minyan: Ten Principles for a Life of Integrity

by Rabbi Rami M. Shapiro

Reviewed by Travis Meeks


Recently I was pleased to be given a book by a fellow therapist called "Minyan:Ten Principles for Living A Life of Integrity by Rabbi Rami M. Shapiro. Minyan is for all spiritual seekers and looks at Jewish spirituality, but from a variety of perspectives. It emphasizes the ten practices of Minyan, meditation, repetition of sacred phrase, inspiritational reading, attention to the present moment, generosity, kindness performed with no thought of reward, dreamwork, ethical consumption, self perfection and celebration of the Sabbath as keys to a more spiritual life.

What fascinated me about the book was that it integrated the insight of other religions and schools of thought in the discussion of the Ten Commandments. The approach is to look at the Ten Commandments as Ten Vows from a more Buddhist perspective.

"..........the Ten Commandments into vows, adapting them to a highly personal and direct style I learned from Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, whose reading of Buddhism opened my eyes to the power of the Ten Commandments as daily affirmations. There is a real difference between a commandment and a vow, especially as Buddhists understand the latter form. A commandment is an order levied upon one by a superior. A vow is a personal statement of intent. The former implies an enforceable hierarchy of power, the latter relies solely on your own integrity. One who breaks a commandment is liable for punishment. One who fails to keep a vow is liable to self incrimination. One can and should return to a vow over and over again to bolster ones intention to proceed with the avowed action. It is a matter of not breaking the rule and of being punished, but of recognizing ones limitations and recommiting to a goal."

This concept is one that for me as a therapist has so much merit. In substance abuse therapy or addiction one finds that the person has to want to change, and this would apply to many different forms of therapy and issues. There are different schools of thought on the matter. Some would go with the school of thought that basically behaviorial (behavior modification/conditioning i.e. learning as in Pavlov), if you violate the rule there are consequences or punishments. Others emphasize the idea that it is not about consequences alone but about personal commitment. It is about cognitively recognizing the need for change and implementing those changes. The consequences should be imposed by the individual in their own way. However unfortunately especially in substance abuse we do find as well that there are natural consequences to behavior, such as legal consequences and a whole host of others that arise. Programs for whatever issues at the core talk about real change. Many systems look at reviewing ones actions as opposed to ones supposed view point or beliefs. In reality therapy we find the key questions:

1.What was your goal?
2.Did you accomplish your goal this week?
3.What prevented you from accomplishing your goal?
4.What are you going to do about it to overcome the barrier?

Then from that point it is an analysis of your actions versus your words. It is not about punishment but about recommiting to your goal. Solution based therapies such as reality therapy can be very effective. The book looks at the practical aspects of the path of searching for truth in spirituality for each individual. Above and beyond that, it looks at the implications of what these changes might do to each and every person life. That it is life changing, world shaking, effecting ones reality. Rabbi Shapiro relates a teaching story from the Ayin Yaacov, an anthology of Talmudic legends from the first five centuries of the Common Era:

"Four sages entered the heavenly garden of spiritual awakening : Ben Azai, Ben Zoma, Elisha Ben Abuyya and Rabbi Akiva. Ben Azai gazed upon the mystery and died. Ben Zoma gazed and went mad. Ben Abuyya gazed and lost faith. Only Rabbi Akiva entered in peace and departed in peace." The book goes on to discuss how in the above metaphorical story ones world view is shaken by spirituality and new practices and life changes upon ones spiritual path. In the example above Ben Zoma loses faith because what he expected to find was different than what he had always believed. He wanted his view of what the heavenly garden should contain to remain, not what was but once again his own system of what was right. For those of you who read my article "Path of the Sage" it is the concept of when one can overcome the ego to know truth, when it is more important to recognize the truth than to be right. The story challenges us in many ways, and the author looks at how Rabbi Akiva survived, that he entered in peace and left in peace, and this word Shalom is related to the Hebrew word for wholeness shalem. Rabbi Shapiro postulates that "True peace is being whole, integrated, your self at one with the universe."

The book Minyan is rich with many such pieces of knowledge and is a part of an integrated more complete program that is accessible and fascinating no matter what your path of spirituality. It provides practical exercises as well as timeless wisdom to contemplate. It is truly an excellent doorway to a new journey or a wonderful adjunct to those already on a continuing pathway or journey of spirituality. I highly recommend it.


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