Boorstein, Sylvia

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

BOORSTEIN, Sylvia

PERSONAL: Married. Education: Earned Ph.D. Religion: Jewish and Buddhist.

ADDRESSES: Office—Spirit Rock Meditation Center, P.O. Box 169, Woodacre, CA 94973.

CAREER: Psychotherapist, teacher, retreat leader, and writer. Spirit Rock Meditation Center, Woodacre, CA, founder and teacher; Insight Meditation Society, Barre, MA, teacher.

WRITINGS:

It's Easier than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness, HarperSanFrancisco (San Francisco, CA), 1995.

Don't Just Do Something, Sit There: A Mindfulness Retreat with Sylvia Boorstein, HarperSanFrancisco (San Francisco, CA), 1996.

That's Funny, You Don't Look Buddhist: On Being a Faithful Jew and a Passionate Buddhist, Harper-SanFrancisco (San Francisco, CA), 1997.

Pay Attention, for Goodness' Sake: Practicing the Perfections of the Heart—the Buddhist Path of Kindness, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2002.

Contributor to The Buddha Smiles: A Collection of Dharmatoons, by Mari Gayatri Stein, White Cloud Press (Ashland, OR), 1999, and Meditations from the Heart of Judaism: Today's Teachers Share Their Practices, Techniques, and Faith, edited by Avram Davis, Jewish Lights; author and reader of sound recordings, including Road Sage: Mindfulness Techniques for Drivers, Sounds True, 2000, and The Courage to Be Happy, Sounds True, 2000.

SIDELIGHTS: Sylvia Boorstein began to practice insight meditation in the 1970s and later helped to establish the Spirit Rock Meditation Center in California; she has also taught in Massachusetts. Her first book, It's Easier than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness, was called "a spiritual exercise in enthusiasm" by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, reviewers for Spirituality and Health online. Boorstein, who calls herself a "Jewish grandmother bodhisattva," uses anecdotes from her life and the lives of her friends to demonstrate how one can be spiritual within the context of normal life. Booklist reviewer Donna Seaman wrote that Boorstein, who is known for her "wisdom, common sense, humor, and ability to translate complex concepts into everyday language … brings these invaluable qualities to her book."

Similarly, Tricycle contributor Tracy Cochran said that "Boorstein's stories provide fresh evidence of the good-news aspect of Buddha's message—that we all have the potential to be enlightened, that we have a built-in capacity to experience the truth directly and to be transformed."

Don't Just Do Something, Sit There: A Mindfulness Retreat with Sylvia Boorstein outlines the author's methods for taking a personal retreat, and in That's Funny, You Don't Look Buddhist: On Being a Faithful Jew and a Passionate Buddhist Boorstein recounts how the practice of Buddhist meditation helps her to experience a richer Judaism. She relates that many of her experiences occurred in Catholic monasteries. The Brussats wrote that in this book, Boorstein "makes a good case for the cross-fertilization of different religious traditions."

Tikkun reviewer Nathan Katz called Boorstein's declaration of being both a Buddhist and an observant Jew "a significant, difficult claim. … This claim is a challenge to anyone who takes Judaism seriously because it implies that practicing Buddhism adds something to Judaism which was otherwise absent, and that if Buddhism can enhance one's Judaism then in some sense Buddhism must be 'kosher.'" Katz said also that Boorstein's journey "is not simply idiosyncratic, but it reflects the experience of an indeterminate number of synagogue-attending, kashrut-observing, Torah reading, shomer Shabbat Jews. … they all tell me essentially the same thing: that their spiritual peregrinations have made them better Jews."

Katz continued: "Whether we are aghast at the thought that avodah zarah (commonly translated as idolatry) is being sanctioned Judaically, or whether we believe in a post-modern ecumenical openness, reading this book forces one to like Sylvia Boorstein. … Her book is a very personal one, chronicling her mid-life discovery of Buddhism, the experiences triggered by meditation, her yehidut (one-on-one encounters with rebbes) in Jerusalem, and her teshuva (return) to Judaism without leaving Buddhism behind."

In reviewing Boorstein's book Pay Attention, for Goodness' Sake: Practicing the Perfections of the Heart—the Buddhist Path of Kindness, a Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that "Boorstein's teaching and writing style is like chocolate: what she has to say goes down easily and smoothly, and you want a whole lot more of it."

The volume contains a chapter for each of the ten Paramitas, or perfections of the heart, which include generosity, morality, renunciation, wisdom, energy, patience, truthfulness, determination, loving-kindness, and equanimity. For each, Boorstein first explains its meaning within the context of Buddhism, then explains how to use it to the greatest effect in meditation. She also offers examples from her own life. Boorstein writes that any level of spiritual practice will help in the understanding of life, enabling one to become more compassionate and aware.

Seaman noted that Boorstein, in Pay Attention, for Goodness' Sake, shares her observations "with warmth, humor, and an irresistible, down-to-earth attitude that makes her advice and explications genuinely useful and comforting."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, September 1, 1995, Donna Seaman, review of It's Easier than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness, p. 13; February 15, 1997, Donna Seaman, review of That's Funny, You Don't Look Buddhist: On Being a Faithful Jew and a Passionate Buddhist, p. 975; September 15, 2002, Donna Seaman, review of Pay Attention, for Goodness' Sake: Practicing the Perfections of the Heart—the Buddhist Path of Kindness, p. 182.

Library Journal, February 1, 1997, Marcia G. Welsh, review of That's Funny, You Don't Look Buddhist, p. 86; August, 2002, David Bourquin, review of Pay Attention, for Goodness Sake, p. 102.

Publishers Weekly, July 15, 2002, review of Pay Attention, for Goodness' Sake, p. 67.

Tikkun, March-April, 1997, Nathan Katz, review of That's Funny, You Don't Look Buddhist, p. 67.

Tricycle, spring, 1996, Tracy Cochran, review of It's Easier than You Think, pp. 103-105.

ONLINE

East West Bookshop,http://www.eastwest.com/ (September, 2002), Susanne Spitzer, interview with Boorstein.

Spirituality and Health,http://www.spiritualityhealth.com/ (October 15, 2002), Frederic Brussat and Mary Ann Brussat, reviews of It's Easier than You Think and That's Funny, You Don't Look Buddhist.*