My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I got this book back in 2002 when author Audi Gozlan came to talk at my synagogue in Miami Beach. At the time I found his lecture, focusing on Abraham as the father of meditation in both east and west, interesting, so I purchased the book. It took me 10 years to get to it, but the timing was just perfect.
Gifts of Abraham presents a look at meditation across the world religious landscape and shows how it all ties back to Abraham with the use of Biblical commentary, Talmudic discussion, midrashim (legends) and the tools of Torah exegesis. His presentation is clear and concise, well-documented via endnotes showing his sources (both Judaic and otherwise), and thought-provoking for anyone willing to consider a far grander picture of world history. Though the book is geared toward Jews and Judaism, I believe it should prove an interesting read for anyone who appreciates theology, world history and philosophy, not to mention meditation and meditative practices.
Gozlan presents a new understanding of Abraham as the progenitor of meditation, and then launches into the tale of the spread of this knowledge across the world. Genesis 25:6 says that Abraham gave gifts to his six sons by his second wife, Keturah, and sent them to the east. Gozlan presents the story of how those sons took Abraham’s gifts–gifts of wisdom, awareness of a greater power, and meditation–and eventually built the nations and philosophies/religions that we know of in the east. Each Eastern religion/philosophy is explained in lay terms, presenting its core tenets, as well as how these are similar/differ from Judaism, all in a very respectful manner, something I greatly appreciated.
The second half of the book presents a complete system of Jewish Meditation that takes the ideas and practices of meditative exercises and focuses them into a practical guide for a Jewish audience, from environments, postures and breathing, to meditative exercises and mantras that fall perfectly in synch with Torah observance.
I loved this book, both for the theory and for the practical application. If I have any criticism of the book is that I find the subtitle, The Untold Story of Brahman, a bit misleading since this particular topic is only addressed in the section on Hinduism and the book really is about so much more (though, that said, I would still read the book that is the connection between Abraham and Brahman in a heartbeat!).
Sadly this title is out of print, though it can still be purchased online via used book stores. I’d love for the publisher to bring it back, or at least to offer an ebook version. For Jews looking to integrate meditation and meditative exercises into their lives, I cannot think of a better book than this.
Why was this book timely for me right now? As I mentioned, I have started to do yoga, and one of the issues I had as I delved beyond the physical poses into the meditation side was how it would fare against my Jewish beliefs. Gozlan’s book saved me that trouble. Gozlan himself has been doing yoga for years and has reached an understanding of how to mesh the physical side of yoga and other meditative practices with Torah-observant beliefs and lifestyle. He also developed a whole system of yoga poses modeled on the Hebrew alphabet (something I remember him mentioning he was working on when I saw him 10 years ago) which I cannot wait to delve into.
I cannot recommend this book enough.