Besserman, Perle 1948-
Besserman, Perle 1948-
(Perle Epstein, Perle S. Epstein)
Born August 21, 1948, in NY; daughter of Jacob and Lillian Besserman; married Manfred Steger (a professor of political science), 1988. Education: Columbia University, Ph.D. Hobbies and other interests: Running, hiking in Hawaii, movies.
Home—Melbourne, Australia and Honolulu, Hawaii. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Palgrave Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.
Writer. Has worked as instructor of literature and writing at New York University, Southwest China University, Briarcliff College, University of Hawaii, Rutgers University, and at Illinois State University. Professor emerita, Illinois State University. Writer-in-residence, Mishkenot Sha'ananim Artists' Colony, Jerusalem, Israel. Presenter of workshops on Kabbalah, Zen, and women's spirituality; teacher at Princeton Area Zen Group; has appeared on radio and television.
Theodore Hoepfner Fiction award.
(As Perle S. Epstein) The Private Labyrinth of Malcolm Lowry: Under the Volcano, and the Cabbala, Holt (New York, NY), 1969.
(As Perle Epstein) Individuals All, Crowell-Collier (New York, NY), 1972.
(As Perle Epstein) The Way of Witches, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1972.
(As Perle Epstein) Monsters: Their Histories, Homes, and Habits, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1973.
(As Perle Epstein) Oriental Mystics and Magicians, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1975.
(As Perle Epstein) Kabbalah: The Way of the Jewish Mystic, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1978.
(As Perle Epstein) Pilgrimage: Adventures of a Wandering Jew, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1979.
(With Manfred Steger) Crazy Clouds: Zen Radicals, Rebels, and Reformers, Shambhala (Boston, MA), 1991.
(Editor) The Way of the Jewish Mystics, Shambhala (Boston, MA), 1994, published as Teachings of the Jewish Mystics, 1998.
Owning It: Zen and the Art of Facing Life, Kodansha (New York, NY), 1997.
The Shambhala Guide to Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism: An Essential Introduction to the Philosophy and Practice of Mystical Tradition, illustrations by Zoe Trigere Besserman, Shambhala (Boston, MA), 1997.
(With Manfred B. Steger) Grassroots Zen, Tuttle Publishing (Boston, MA), 2001.
A New Kabbalah for Women, Palgrave/Macmillan (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor to A Malcom Lowry Catalogue, by J. Howard Woolmer (New York, NY), 1968. Contributor to Southern Humanities Review, Briarcliff Review, Transatlantic Review, 13th Moon, Bamboo Ridge, Lilith, Hurricane Alice, Crab Creek Review, Midstream, Mademoiselle, Manoa, Village Voice, A Different Drummer, Canadian Literature, and East West.
Besserman's works have been translated into German, Spanish, Japanese, Czech, Italian, Hebrew and Portuguese.
A number of Bessemer's books have been recorded.
Perle Besserman traces her spiritual lineage back to the founder of Hasidic Judaism, the Baal Shem Tov, and she writes widely on mysticism, particularly Jewish mysticism. Besserman has written several books on Kabbalah, a tradition that began in biblical times and was elaborated in the nineteenth century by Hasidic scholars. Besserman provides an overview of this complicated and rich area in The Shambhala Guide to Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism: An Essential Introduction to the Philosophy and Practice of Mystical Tradition. In this work she outlines the history of Kabbalah and its place in Judaism and also discusses methods for integrating Kabbalah into meditation practice. The book addresses topics such as righteous living, devoted practice and meditation, and the Kabbalistic world view; provides information on teachers of the Kabbalah from Rabbi Akiva and the Baal Shem Tov to Aryeh Kaplan; and discusses the relevance of this ancient mystical system in the modern age. An extensive bibliography allows interested readers to find more information.
In Teachings of the Jewish Mystics, which was originally published as The Way of the Jewish Mystics in 1994, Besserman compiles Jewish mystical writings throughout history. This collection of tales, maxims, and teachings is divided into topics such as nature, creation, daily life, good and evil, female divinity, meditation, and ecstasy. As a Publishers Weekly critic noted, this "collection of short, thought-provoking tidbits of wisdom points to a universal practice of the heart."
Traditionally, women have not studied the Kabbalah, and Besserman is particularly interested in reconciling this tradition with modern times. "Twenty-first-century Kabbalists will have to redefine the meaning of unification for themselves," she writes in The Shambhala Guide to Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism. She describes great teachers and mystics of the past who involved their wives and daughters in their mystical studies, such as the Baal Shem Tov, who went against tradition by teaching Kabbalah to his gifted daughter, not to his less-talented son, and the Hasidic Rabbi Shalom of Belz, who taught with his wife. "Contemporary female Kabbalists are few," Besserman writes, "but it is through them that the breach between male and female will eventually be repaired. It would be a mistake, as some female teachers are doing, to isolate themselves by creating a strictly women's practice." She cites Rabbi Abraham Kook, who "joined with men and women, devout and secular, Jews and Gentiles, educated and illiterate, and rich and poor to share the fruits of his own hard-won insight." Ilene Cooper, reviewing the title in Booklist, concluded: "If you have need of just one book on the topic of Kabbalah, this is an excellent choice."
In her 2005 title, A New Kabbalah for Women, Besserman provides a "thoughtful, insightful and deeply spiritual" guide to the Kabbalah for women, according to a Publishers Weekly critic. With A New Kabbalah for Women, she opens up the teachings of that rich tradition for women of all faiths. Graham Christian, reviewing the title in Library Journal, found it to be "highly readable, persuasive, and a pleasure to read."
Besserman began practicing Zen in 1981, with Kyudo Nakagawa Roshi of Ryutakuji Monastery in Mishima, Japan. With other Zen practitioners, Besserman later founded the Soho Zendo in New York City. In 1984 she became a student of Robert Aitken Roshi at the Diamond Sangha in Honolulu, Hawaii. She worked with Pat Hawk, Aitken's successor, and then with Manfred Steger, with whom she wrote Crazy Clouds: Zen Radicals, Rebels, and Reformers. In 1991, with Steger, she founded the Princeton Area Zen Group, where she continues, as co-teacher, to lead meditation retreats, offer "dharma" talks, and provide private Zen interviews with students.
Besserman and Steger share their experiences in starting up a Zen group in their Grassroots Zen. The book looks not only at their Princeton Area Zen Group, but also at the large ramifications of this phenomena, for the authors discovered that theirs was only one of many such grassroots Zen groups. Further, they find that such informal groups are part of a long Chinese tradition of establishing such groups outside of the formal institutions of a monastery. Besserman goes on in Grassroots Zen to also show how such groups can maintain the most essential Zen practices. Graham Christian, reviewing the title in Library Journal, believed that the work "deserves applause."
In Owning It: Zen and the Art of Facing Life, Besserman applies her experience with Zen meditation to ordinary life. Through true stories of people dealing with various difficulties and crises, she shows how Zen practice works and how effective it can be in changing the real lives of ordinary people. Writing in Library Journal, Bernadette McGrath called Owning It, "a straightforward approach."
Besserman once told CA: "Through storytelling, I hope to convey the path of joy and spiritual fulfillment. I try to accomplish this by combining my meditation experience and my love of literature and performance. Increasingly, I find myself moving beyond the classroom and teaching a more diverse group of people in my workshops and book tours—and enjoy this way of communicating immensely. Opening myself to the world of ‘ordinary life in the marketplace’ has enriched my writing more than I had ever imagined."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Besserman, Perle, The Shambhala Guide to Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism: An Essential Introduction to the Philosophy and Practice of Mystical Tradition, illustrations by Zoe Trigere Besserman, Shambhala (Boston, MA), 1997.
Booklist, January 1, 1998, Ilene Cooper, review of The Shambhala Guide to Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism: An Essential Introduction to the Philosophy and Practice of Mystical Tradition, p. 748.
Library Journal, July, 1997, Bernadette McGrath, review of Owning It: Zen and the Art of Facing Life, p. 90; July, 2001, Graham Christian, review of Grassroots Zen, p. 98; January 1, 2005, Graham Christian, review of A New Kabbalah for Women, p. 120.
Publishers Weekly, April 27, 1998, review of Teachings of the Jewish Mystics, p. 59; June 11, 2001, review of Grassroots Zen, p. 82; December 20, 2004, review of A New Kabbalah for Women, p. 56.
Illinois State University Web site,http://www.search.ilstu.edu/ (April 17, 2006), "Besserman, Perle."
Princeton Area Zen Group Web site,http://www.zengroup.org/ (April 17, 2006), "Teachers: Perle Besserman."