View Full Version : Hasidism, Martin Buber, and Budo

Joshua Lerner
12th May 2003, 18:13
I came across this quote in the book "Hasidism and Modern Man" by Martin Buber. It is from a work by the Baal-Shem-Tov, the 18th century founder of modern Hasidism. It struck me as one of the most profound explanations of the relationship between tradition and personal experience I've seen, and I was wondering how people here would respond to it. I think it applies equally to the study of budo, especially koryu, and also gendai budo that put an emphasis on their history, lineage and tradition.

"Why do we say, 'Our God, and the God of our Fathers'?

"There are two kinds of men who believe in God. The one believes because it is handed down to him by his fathers, and his belief is strong. The other has come to his belief through searching. And this is the difference between them: the superiority of the first lies in the fact that his faith cannot be shattered no matter how many arguments one may bring against it, for his faith is firm because he has taken it over from his fathers; but it has a defect: that his faith is only a human command, learned without meaning and understanding. The superiority of the second lies in the fact that because he has found God through searching, he has arrived at his own faith; but for him too there remains a defect: that it is easy to shake his faith through proof to the contrary. To him who unites both, however, none is superior. Therefore we say: "Our God," because of our searching, and "God of our fathers," for the sake of our tradition.

"And thus also it is explained that we say: "God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob," but we do not say "God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" by this is said: Isaac and Jacob could not rest on Abraham's tradition alone, but themselves sought the divine."

Joseph Svinth
13th May 2003, 03:03
Personally, I thought Popeye did a pretty good job of summarizing Buber: I yam what I yam.

That said, lots of budo folks get annoyed when you approach their folklore with the Pragmatism of Peirce or the questioning of a Jesuit.

Preachers ain't too thrilled, either.

13th May 2003, 08:32
"Beshert" is the term I always thought crossed well and explained both, so Popeye and Buber were correct in "I yam what I yam" and it is because it is.

Explaining it easily, though, doesn't make it any easier to accept. George Harrison said on his death bed "The search for God must never end." One could disect that to meet all expectations.


joe yang
13th May 2003, 12:00
Strongbad rocks too.

Joshua Lerner
13th May 2003, 16:30
What I was thinking of was replacing the word "God" with "martial tradition". I've known people who emphasize either one or the other side, people who blindly follow what they are told and people who refuse all tradition and insist on relying on their own experience above all else.

The Baal-Shem-Tov's quote suggests to me the power of, and relationship between, tradition and individuality, because tradition is in essence a long lineage of individuality that shares a common core, and individuality always occurs in the context of a tradition whether or not it is consciously accepted.

Tradition, being made up (hopefully) of the experience of generations who went before us, is like a shorthand, or code, that allows us to channel our energies in ways that have already been proven effective for some purpose. Of course, it also gives us a sense of meaning outside our own immediate experience. It can help to inform individual seeking by serving as a map to some hidden treasures we otherwise wouldn't find, and a map to help show us where the potential land mines are laid out.

Individuality is what keeps tradition from turning into stagnant dogma. If the purpose of a tradition is to help the individuals within it, then the individuals owe it to their tradition to not squander the resources provided to them by just coasting along. I think there may be a kind of imperative in an honest tradition that the individuals within it go out and prove or disprove the tradition within their individual lives, and come back to it with their own experience to enrich it. The purpose of doing so would be to further strengthen the tradition's capacity to guide people in a way that is worthwhile.

So, to me, the quote suggests how they feed into each other, and keep each other from going to the two extremes of a crusted-over, dead tradition and a foolhardy, immature independence.

And Strongbad rocks.

joe yang
13th May 2003, 23:43
Very good and very right, I think. Just wanted to weigh in before this gets out of hand or over my head.

Joel Simmons
15th May 2003, 12:35

Yes, I think you gave a good analysis of the quote you posted. However, be forewarned that the world of comparitive religious studies is thin-ice.

And yes, George Harrison was right.