Principles of the Baal Shem Tov – Br. Shankara

Sunday, October 1, 2017

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October is a month for study of Karma Yoga, a spiritual path leading to the abandonment of selfishness. As a karma yogi, you practice offering your actions and their results, as well as your perceptions, thoughts, and feelings to the Divine Presence.

Even before fully knowing this Presence, you hold firmly to the belief that the Presence is within each person or other living being that you interact with or serve. Working and abiding in this spirit, you are increasingly able to release attachment to your activities and their results. This is the freedom promised by Karma Yoga.

“Even a little practice of this yoga will save you from the terrible wheel of rebirth and death …” 
— Sri Krishna to Arjuna, Bhagavad Gita, Ch. 2

7 candle menorah“Neither thinking about the day of one’s death nor the fear of punishment in hell will arouse a person’s heart to serve God. But yearning to cling to the source of life and goodness will do so. And neither fasting nor afflicting oneself will be of any help. But forgetting oneself out of the depth of one’s yearning will do so.” — the Baal Shem Tov

This Jewish saint’s mystical wisdom is familiar to us. Sri Ramakrishna also taught that yearning can draw you into an intimate relationship with the Personal God or Goddess (“the source of life and goodness”).

Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), which means “master of the good name,” was founder of the 18th century chassidic movement in Eastern Europe. He helped revolutionize Jewish thought, and gave new hope to an embattled people.

During the late 17th century, European Jewry was still recovering from the pogroms of 1648-1649 CE. Those massacres killed tens of thousands of Jews; survivors struggled to rebuild their broken lives and communities.

The transformative power of the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings are still felt today — both by his followers, the chassidim, and by other rabbis and observant Jews, who experience the uplifting effects of the saint’s legacy.

In this talk we hear more of the Baal Shem Tov’s principles, and relate them to what we can see as a synthesis of Karma and Bhakti Yoga.