Author: Menachem Ekstein|
Translator: Yehoshua Starrett
Foreword by: David Zeller
Visions of a Compassionate World is a practical guide for spiritual development that addresses the whole person: Mind, body and soul. In an age of self-discovery and search for self-awareness, this dynamic work from half a century ago brings clarity through meditation, guided imagery, psychology, and kabbalah. With its uplifting message of universal peace, Visions of a Compassionate World reveals a spiritual path, away from ego-traps and self-centered consciousness, toward the pursuit of a more compassionate life.
R. Menachem Ekstein, son of R. Mordechai Ekstein, a prominent Zhikov hassid and communal leader in Reisha, was born in the early 1890's. He printed this unique book, his only work, in 1921, and parts of it were translated into Yiddish during the 1930's. He perished along with his family during the Holocaust.
Yehoshua Starrett studied in yeshivot in New York, and later in Jerusalem, where he was introduced to the teachings of Rebbe Nachman and his followers, and to the world of hassidic teachings in general. He is the author of The Breslov Haggadah, Esther: A Breslov Commentary on the Megillah, The Inner Temple, To Heal the Soul, which includes the spiritual journal of Rebbe Kalonymus of Piasezna, Peace Talks: Greeting Your Fellow Human Being in Jewish Law and Practice, and the following works in progress: The Breslov Bencher (grace after meals), Chanukah: Breslov Teachings, and a rabbinical commentary on the Bible.
Rabbi David Zeller is the Executive Director of Yakar: Center for Tradition and Creativity (an Orthodox/Pluralistic Educational Institution) and director of Shevet ("Sitting"): Center for Jewish Meditation, both in Jerusalem. He is a pioneer in combining transpersonal psychology with Jewish spirituality and meditation and works with Renewal, Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, and Orthodox communities, as well as with Yoga, Sufi, Buddhist and Christian centers, and with psychological programs in North America, Europe, and Israel.
Hardcover, 189 pages
Dimensions: 6" x 9.5"
Praise for Visions of a Compassionate World:
This presentation of a disciplined path for spiritual practice in the chassidic tradition is remarkable both for its straightforward simple instructions which will make it accessible and useful to many people as well as for its contemporary relevance, especially since it was written eighty years ago.
Author of Don't Just Do Something, Sit There: A Mindfulness Retreat
Visions of a Compassionate World is a wonderful book of chassidic wisdom teachings that will help readers infuse the light of higher consciousness into our inner worlds. It is a well-written guide that encourages and invites us to participate in a number of beautiful meditation practices that deeply nurture the soul. Highly recommended.
David A. Cooper
Author of God is a Verb
You [my son] have managed most wonderfully to enclothe the rays of this great light, which fills the soul of the Jewish people, with such beautiful words that all can see clearly. I have no doubts that this work, please God, will make a momentous impression.
Rabbi Mordechai Ekstein
Zhikov Hassid (father of author)
Everyone talks about soul and spirituality, but no one knows the melody. And now, here is a teaching, a work, that goes straight to the heart of the spiritual hunger and searching we feel all around us. This work is about the soul. It is about what I've come to call: The organ of true delight, a wellspring of true compassion.
Director of Yakar: Center For Tradition and Creativity
It's exciting to think about the benefits this [book] can have on individuals and society. We know that it is important to have empathy. But have we ever spent half an hour meditating on what it is like to be another person, conjuring up his experience in vivid detail, trying to duplicate his feelings inside ourselves? Imagine what a difference it would make if we did this exercise before we were about to chastise a child, give a friend advice, or just have a casual conversation! Imagine what a society we could create if we would teach it to children! R. Ekstein says that we will indeed be transformed. We will feel a great fulfillment from helping people. We will know how to relate to a child's emotions. We will know to guide people, and people will confide in us.
To a Torah observant Jew, spirituality means the intense study of Torah and performance of mitzvot. We're doing mitzvot. So what else is there to do? Yet, something doesn't seem right. The spiritual growth that takes place in childhood should not end at adulthood, but should continue over the course of a lifetime. However, many of us feel that we don't know how to grow.
Visions of a Compassionate World tells us how to reach the Torah's ultimate goal - to uplift the soul from its feeling of separateness and bond with the Creator. This is not a book about spirituality; it is a guide to spiritual practice. Know yourself! That's the first step. If we really and truly know ourselves, we will inevitably come to know G-d. The surest way to attain this knowledge is to separate ourselves from our emotional attachments and see ourselves objectively. We use guided imagery to heal and free ourselves from egocentric and sensory illusions. We replace those illusions with images of reality, in great, vivid detail. There are two kinds of visualizations—seeing the universe and man's infinitesimal place in it, and deeply feeling various life experiences of other people. The result is control over our mind and a feeling of one-ness with humanity and with G-d.
Visions teaches some very deep truths about the psychology of human emotion. We may think that being in control of our minds is the antithesis of emotion. It's not. We will actually experience emotions more richly, and have a greater repertoire to choose from. Only if we allow ourselves to feel pain will we deeply feel joy and pleasure. The ability to access a particular emotion at will means that we are using it in a way that helps us to grow, not allowing external events to trigger our feelings or unconsciously consume us. The author is very realistic. He warns against pitfalls and tells how to avoid them. He reminds us that growth is gradual and that we should expect setbacks. It may take years for the visualization to have a really transforming effect. At the same time, change is slowly taking place, so that the grip of unconscious thoughts gets a little bit weaker and we will gain more and more control each day.
This is not only a guide for individuals. It contains the belief that in order for the world to be healed, individuals need to be healed. It presents a hopeful vision for all of humanity. Perhaps Divine Providence has brought about its translation now, because now we are ready to hear it. If you master this process, R. Ekstein writes, "You will feel the daily need to nurture your soul just as you feel the daily need to nurture your body."
Our search to find meaning and spirituality in the universe leads us in many directions. Chassidic writings are a wonderful source for such information. This book, written in 1921 by Menachem Ekstein, a Chassid from the Zhikov dynasty and first published in Vienna in Hebrew, brings together meditation, Kabbalah, therapy and psychology to teach us how to achieve self-awareness through greater sensitivity and consideration toward ourselves, others and life. There are no short-cuts in this book because there are none in trying to attain this higher level of consciousness. Instead, we are given a path which is a life-long process. There are helpful insights, advice, suggestions and encouragement that will aid us "grow beyond the path's inherent pitfalls, and even grow as a result of them."
Dr. Alex Grobman
When you read this amazing book, you would be forgiven until you reached its latter half, for believing it had been written by some New Age guru rather than by a Chassidic rebbe in 1921.
The chapter on Ego Traps states: "When we are upset, we completely forget how we felt a moment ago, and how we may feel in a few moments. We are also unaware at the moment of how others are feeling, and of what those around us are doing.
We go through life vacillating from one emotional state to another, from one stimulating experience to another, without ever being aware of what is happening inside us. This human condition chokes our consciousness, preventing detachment from the ego-self, and preventing the development of our spiritual sensitivities." The answer is a series of meditations on Planet Earth and the various emotional experiences which affect all mankind.
A hassid from the Zhikov dynasty born in the 1890’s, Ekstein published his only book in Hebrew, in Vienna, in 1921. Parts of it were translated into Yiddish during the 1930’s, but Starrett, who has written widely in the hassidic tradition, is the first to put it into English. The work combines psychology, kabbalah, therapy, and meditation to instruct readers on gaining self-awareness through consideration of others.
It is amazing that in 1921 a book about guided imagery and meditation was published by a Zhikover Hasid. His only book, published at about age 30, this pious soul perished in the Holocaust with his family.
Long before the popular phase of New Age enthusiasm for meditation and guided imagery, the author captures some of the same patterns as are promoted in the popular bookstores today. In psychosynthesis, for example, one is invited to look upon the planet from high above, and see oneself as a small part of the universe. This teaches us a sense of perspective and humility, reducing the awesome stature of our problems. In the same vein, Ekstein suggests that the reader do this exercise:
Begin by envisioning planet Earth, as if you are actually seeing it from outer space…
Visualize its continents and its oceans….
Envision mankind as he lives on Earth….
The different nations and their national borders….
The populations of each of these nations….
Visualize this clearly in your mind’s eye until you feel that it is actually before you….
Another popular visualization today by personal growth gurus is that of “prosperity consciousness.” Rabbi Ekstein suggests that the reader, likewise, see oneself as amassing large numbers of properties, his naming becoming renowned, attaining great prestige and fame, as his highest hopes come true, being able to afford all his dreams. Anyone can gain from this meditative and spiritual book.
Dov Peretz Elkins
Jewish Media Review
Merging psychology, kabbala and meditation, this book offers “a practical guide” for achieving self-awareness through “enhanced consciousness and greater consideration of others.” Unique in its time, the original Hebrew version was published in Poland in 1921. Ekstein tried to capture the essence of hassidic teaching without references to hassidic masters, or even the Bible. His goal was free consciousness, using visualizations and meditations from egocentricity.
How can we heal our souls from crippling illusions? “Replace them with images of reality.” Envisioning the entire universe - planets, earth, country and city - stretch the mind and foster great awareness. One of the goals is to free oneself from emotional self-centeredness. Toward this end, Ekstein recommends focusing on either the negative - the death of a child, details of a burial, mourning, poverty - or something uplifting, such as a wedding. All these visualizations can enhance inner life.
This book was written amidst massive social and economic upheaval. It offers a tranquil refuge during a time of chaos, a sense of balance when everything seemed to be going crazy. And it suggests a historical dimension as well. The book ends with the 1920 San Remo conference where the Allies approved the Balfour Declaration. This officially recognized the right of the Jewish people to be a homeland in Palestine.
The political achievement for Ekstein was matched by a spiritual purpose. Despite the suffering and persecution of the Jewish people, and internal struggles, the establishment of a state was the “recognition of our ancient people’s true inner life, so that they too learn how to heal their souls, thus releasing all mankind from its prison.” This, Ekstein believed, is our redemptive purpose - as a people and as a nation. “The Jewish people would help humanity, it would heal man and release him from pain. But the nations do not want to hear.”
This book contains exercises and explanations of how to envision and create a better world. It is easy to read and Rabbi David Zeller’s insightful forward is a helpful focus on the importance of doing one’s soul work.
Visions of a Compassionate World is a practical guide to spiritual growth. The work includes four sections:
1. The Practice - This section presents practical methods for emerging from a subjective, egocentric perception of the world to a broader, more objective view. The reader is provided with meditation exercises, called visualizations, that serve two functions: a) to enable one to visualize the universe from the outside (seeing man and the world as one), and b) to enable one to experience the emotions of another (focusing on individuals).
2. The Theory - This section provides the psychological and theological foundations of Ekstein's approach. Although based on Hassidic thought, the first two sections of this work are somewhat generic without much reference to Jewish sources.
3. The Ritual - This section connects Jewish ritual to spiritual growth. It focuses primarily on prayer, Shabbat, and the Festivals.
4. History - This brief section connects the exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah to events in modern Jewish history including the resettlement of the Land of Israel.
Visions of a Compassionate World is a refreshing book that will be of particular interest to those seeking alternative methods of spiritual growth within a Jewish context.
Rabbi Stanley Peerless
Torah Community Connections