Why A Jew Won’t Find Truth In India

I remember when I discovered Taoism. It was the most mind-blowing philosophy I had learned until that time. How during my freshman year my professor asked us to read the entire Tao Te Ching, and how it so deeply affected me.

Almost immediately afterward, I decided that I was going to go to China. I had been to Thailand and Hong Kong when I was younger, but I wanted so badly to learn Taosim, to learn even more eastern beliefs, from the source, from the country they came from.  More importantly, I wanted to leave Arizona.

Around the end of that year, though, I had let go of my plan. I was experiencing severe depression, the first clear hint of bipolar that was slowly creeping more deeply into my life.

Over the years, I kept devising ways to escape Arizona.  I tried to study abroad in France.  It fell through.  Whenever I had a chance, I would visit Chicago, my home, escape from the craziness.  But then my parents moved to St. Louis, and there was no home to visit.  Then, the last year I was there, I planned to move to Austin to get started in the movie industry.  And for absolutely no reason, at the last minute, I decided to stay to focus on my writing.

I kept staying, and whenever I tried to understand why, I couldn’t come up with an answer.  It’s taken me another six years to finally understand.

Tefillin_in_india1

We live in this world that tells us, if you have problems, the answer is outside of you. If you’re looking for truth, it exists somewhere else. If you want to grow, you need to leave your hometown, your community, your world.

That was the compulsion I had throughout college, and why I kept thinking that if I left, if I escaped, I would find an answer to the question of my life.

And so the more I stayed, the more that I realized I wouldn’t be leaving that crazy state, with the orange people and the white trash that are kind of in between Californians and Southerners, and the people that carried guns wherever they went, and the homeless hippies… the more I had to look inward, the more I had to stop looking for answers outside of myself. Because there weren’t any. Because no matter how much I tried to look into Taoism for answers, and tried to escape the world I lived in, none of these solved the problems I perceived in my world. I was still bipolar, I was still feeling lost, and five years after entering college a fresh-eyed young lad, I was a preschool teacher making just above minimum wage.

And so, in the end, the only place to look was inward.

It was only around that time that things finally started to calm down in my life. I spent time talking to a psychologist, to studying things that interested me, and to simply focusing on creating a stable life.

And soon, I was finding that inner calm that I was so desperately trying to find my freshman year.

I hear now about people that want to go to India or Japan or just to “travel the world”. These are people that seem so desperately to be searching for some truth, some sort of ideal that they can grasp onto.

And I’m so thankful, so thankful, that I wasn’t given the chance to do that. I’m so glad that G-d put obstacle after obstacle in front of me to keep me from journeying, to discovering the world around me.  I’m so glad I stayed with the homeless hippies and the white trash and the orange people with guns.

Because as much as Taosim meant to me, as cool as it might have been to start working in the movies, I would never have found a sense of inner calm until I stopped searching, stopped exploring and just stayed. Quietly listening to myself. Learning to trust a voice that had been whispering to me for years, a voice I hadn’t noticed because the voices around me were so much louder.

To be sure, traveling the world is a beautiful thing. We can see things we’ve never imagined, realize that the world isn’t America, that life is so much more complex than we ever imagined.

But we won’t find truth.

It was only after realizing that simple truth that Hashem gave me the chance to connect with Judaism. It was only after Hashem forced me to understand that every truth I wanted was actually inside of me that I was able to be exposed to Hassidus and Yiddishkeit.  And it was only after that that I was able to travel to Israel.

And for that I’ll always be grateful. Because G-d helped me understand that Judaism, that religion, isn’t external, it isn’t a bunch of rules and deep ideas that will save my life. It isn’t a drug.

It’s a truth that’s living and breathing inside of me already, quietly whispering what I had already always believed.

  • Rebecca Klempner

    This post rocks. A lot of young people follow the same path as you did. I think that people who experiment to flee their own inner conflicts often crash and burn. Sometimes it comes in the form of people who go to India or do drugs, but it also can come in the form of people who make aliyah primarily to escape painful family/home situations, and people who adopt a frum lifestyle too fast, without grasping the basics of emuna and middos development.

    No matter where we run, we carry “ourselves” in the baggage compartment above our seat (even in today’s days of limited carry-ons!).

    • Thanks for the comment, Rebecca. I always love your thoughts.

  • Genius. You did it again. Your articles get better and better. And like someone posted on a previous article, the more personal they get, the better they get, and I thank you for that.

    Keep ’em comin’!

    2 corrections: “I’m glad so I stayed with the homeless…”, “It was only after realizing that that Hashem gave me…”

    • Thanks so much for the compliments, Bentzy! And as I said before it’s a big relief to know that people appreciate the personal posts, since they are the scariest to write. So glad you enjoyed it.

      And thanks for the corrections! Amazing how I can edit this a few times and still miss stuff.

  • I think you are in need of building your spiritual foundation. Life is not always cut and dry. A strong spiritual foundation will enable u to discover God’s glorious world and learn in and from it. You seem very sheltered and need to realize we are all on this planet together. There are Jews in India, small in number, but few. Pls visit Mumbai. there is a temple there. Also, what about Indians adopted by Jewish families? Hmmmm…pls think more outside the box. Btw, I am also Indian and have lived globally 3 times. Thank u.

    • Hi Gabi. To be clear, I wasn’t trying to say there is anything inherently wrong with India, or that Jews don’t belong there, G-d forbid. I am aware of Jews having lived there and continuing to live there. I also agree there is much a person can learn from travelling. This post is talking about those people who travel to India or any other place in the world because they are searching for themselves, or searching for some sort of truth.

    • Hi Gabi. To be clear, I wasn’t trying to say there is anything inherently wrong with India, or that Jews don’t belong there, G-d forbid. I am aware of Jews having lived there and continuing to live there. I also agree there is much a person can learn from travelling. This post is talking about those people who travel to India or any other place in the world because they are searching for themselves, or searching for some sort of truth.

  • Princess Lea

    http://frumanista.blogspot.com/2012/09/master-of-good-name.html

    It says so black and white in the Torah!

  • Well done!

  • Bravissimo!

  • salo elison

    A man who leaves home to mend himself and others is a philosopher; but he who goes from country to country, guided by the blind impulse of curiosity, is a vagabond.

  • BirdieWaters

    Wow again. Such love and truth that reaches right to the heart.

  • HonestyWins

    Awesome. So much truth. Excellent job.

  • Zecharya

    Just wanted to point out that you are not bipolar. Never were either… Perhaps you have symptoms, or have been diagnosed with this, and struggle with it, but it is not you.

  • Alexander

    Hey! Nice post! I feel identified with it.. as I was in india two times,… 5 month the 2nd one in an Ashram (spiritual community)… i’ve been in an Indian master’s path for aroung 7 years looking and experiencing some kind of “deep” spirituality… until being there i felt a very deep voice telling me “Israel…. go to your roots!”….. now i’m studing Chassidus… and i’ve never felt such a strong spiritual identity as now… Thanks for sharing bro!

    • Nice. Thanks for sharing that.

  • Hi Elad! I love your blog. Thank you for being so thoughtful and honest. Your sincerity really shines through your writing. I agree with you post that real growth and discovery must come from within; however, there can be something very freeing and inspiring to leave where you grew up and see yourself in a new environment. HaShem says to Abram- Lek Leka, go for yourself from your land, from your relatives, and from your father’s house. He had to leave all that was familiar and known in order to start anew. When I traveled to Spain for 6 months just after becoming religious, I had to struggle with my faith on my own but I found that it also gave me the opportunity to make my own decisions without any other influences. And of course, traveling to Israel can make all the difference in the world!! Thanks for getting me thinking about these meaningful ideas!

  • Alexander Kaganovsky

    Nice article! If you don’t mind I’ll translate it for the newspaper of the Kharkov Jewish community

    • Sure!

      • Alexander Kaganovsky

        Thanks a lot! Enjoy your blog

  • jdc4

    Although this post is a few years old, it brings out some interesting points on the journey we all take to find ourselves. Some are more successful than others, at least we think that they are.

    One of the things that I don’t understand is when you go through this journey of self discovery how do you actually support yourself? I mean money. I have found that quiet introspection requires financing.

    I am semi-retired and am still looking inward to release the shackles of my past and upbringing. So far after all these years, it hasn’t worked. Perhaps it’s because I like many I have a fairly okay material life but an extremely poor spiritual life.

    My parents were holocaust survivors who gave us little of their baggage but had trouble managing their own. But they never did adjust to a North American lifestyle. They couldn’t get the shtetl out of their blood. They had a sense of community (belonging) that was lost when they come to North American and from this they never recovered.

    I remember hearing a radio show years ago where they interviewed a new immigrant to Canada (that’s where I am). He said that what he found interesting is that many were materialistically rich and spiritually poor. Nice houses, nice car, nice clothes. But they didn’t know the names of their neighbors, never hung out with people in the neighborhood, dropped by for a coffee or a yak. They were basically all alone rattling around in their houses or the mall.

    As you have written, we can only look to ourselves for salvation. The Torah, synagogues, rabbis, working for Israel all have a common theme. Being together with others stops us from being alone. It made sound like a stupid remark, but to me it’s a blinding flash of the obvious. But think about just how difficult it is whether you live in Arizona, Ontario or California. We can be surrounded by others and be all alone. How do you break through that wall?

    Comments appreciated. Sorry for the somewhat disconnected ramblings.